Paradise in the shadow of Mt Agung
If you're wondering about the rumblings of Mt Agung in East Bali, this is a quick local update from my neck of the woods. I've been here since early October, and well, not felt any tremors at all.
Mt Agung's threat was raised to its highest level on September 22, triggering an overnight stampede of car, trucks and bikes down the mountain. By the end of the week, 185,000 residents had been evacuated from a 12 kilometre radius around the volcano.
On the 4th October expert vulcanologists at the Rendang observation centre about 12 km from the crater, predicated an eruption within "the next 2 days".
This week there has been significant activity, and eruptions, reported in a breathless minute-by-minute account by a UK correspondent, with eruption of 6.7 magnitude at 2.23pm on Tuesday 24th, which he reckoned sent millions panicking.
Thing is, I was sitting in a dentist's chair in Denpasar at that precise moment and felt nothing but the reverberations of his drill. I haven't felt any tremors in Mendira where I, local villagers and 400 evacuees stay - at all. Just saying.
Villa Nilaya, where I stay, is well beyond the 12 km 'red' exclusion zone, and not in the line of previous lava flow. The weather is mild, the breezes are gentle - it is, frankly, idyllic.
image above: these billboards , erected throughout East Bali indicate evacuation roads and the 3 red zones - The dark red 'number 3' is a police-guarded no-go zone, the crimson area towards the East coast is the evacuation no-go zone and the light red area has also been evacuated, but residents are mainly returning during the day to work their fields, check on homes and animals before returning to their temporary housing by nightfall.
image below: Miguel Covarrubias created this treasure-island map of Bali in the 1930s - the tiny blue speck on the east coast indicates our village of Mendira and Villa Nilaya
Mendira, and the area of coastline between Padang Bai and Candi Dasa is protected by a range of hills, the Tengenan Ridge, and life more or less as continues as usual, albeit on high alert, and a heavy presence of police and evacuation vehicles near Padang Bali. everything looks incredibly orderly. On Tuesday I saw dozens of officials from the Jakarta inspecting evacuation camps in Manggis. evacuation signs are clear, obvious and plentiful. The organisation is impressive.
image below: From the vantage point of the Tengenan Ridge above the village of Manggis, the peaceful village of Mendira, and the larger town of Candi Dasa (just a little to the left of Villa Nilaya) looks due south towards Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida.
Many Balinese believe that Agung will erupt in the next 3 or 4 days, as a sort of geological anniversary with its last mjor eruption in 1964, which occurred the day before one of the islands's most important important recurrent ceremonial periods, Galungan and Kuningen, when 1100 people lost their lives.
Symbolically or perhaps provocatively, Galungan commemorates the victory of Good over Evil when the spirits of deceased relatives who have died and been cremated return to visit their former homes, and the current inhabitants have a responsibility to be hospitable through prayers and offerings. The celebrations end 11 days later on Kuningan, when the ancestors leave the earth, only to repeat the cycle 211 days later.
This year the festival (similar to Diwali), which was celebrated elsewhere in the world Hindu 2 weeks ago) but in Bali, marching to the beat of its own spiritual drum, takes place on 1st November, and we are all on close watch.
At the villa we have taken precautions to stock pile bottled water and food basics, and should extra accommodation be required for more evacuees, we will be ready to accept people where possible.
All of Balinese ceremonial life revolves around gratitude and appeasement.
For the rest of us, vigilance is the order of the day.