Visit to a killer volcano By Carol...

A MEMORABLE PLACE

October 14, 2001|By Special to the Sun

A MEMORABLE PLACE

Visit to a killer volcano

By Carol Stephens

SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Indonesian island of Krakatoa is a mere speck on the map between Sumatra and Java, yet this speck triggered a natural disaster whose effects were felt around the globe.

Krakatoa erupted in 1883, killing more than 36,000 people. It was one of the worst volcanic explosions ever recorded.

Amazingly, after self-destructing, Krakatoa resurrected itself -- rising unexpectedly from the sea in 1928. Located in almost the same spot as before, today this active volcano is technically known as Anak (child of) Krakatoa.

One weekend my husband and I -- we live in Indonesia -- found ourselves pounding across the choppy Sunda Straits in a small motorboat with 11 other passengers to explore Krakatoa. After an hour of dodging driftwood and trying not to be thrown overboard, we were rewarded by the sight of Krakatoa -- fascinatingly aloof and mysterious.

Nothing exists here unless it has been generated by the volcano itself. There are no hawkers or natives about and no T-shirts or drinks for sale. Except for a few birds or insects, evergreens spawned from the volcano's rich topsoil provide the only color in a landscape of charred rocks, carbon-colored sand and relentless shades of gray.

Yet the simplicity is breathtaking. And although as a traveler I am always looking for remote destinations, I found it both exhilarating and disconcerting to experience one to this degree.

There are no docks or landing facilities, so to disembark we jumped from our boat into knee-deep water and waded ashore. As we ascended Krakatoa, steam flowed lazily from the cone and hissed from various vents in the mountainside.

The scent of sulfur permeated the air. The volcanic soil provided little traction and easily gave way as we trudged along with only the rocks helping to anchor our steps.

Finally, when the intense heat from the cone prevented us from getting any closer to the rim, we stopped and enjoyed the view.

While climbing a volcano is a great adventure, caution is important. Several years ago a woman visiting Krakatoa died when hit by a rock from a small eruption. Another, less-obvious danger stems from toxic volcanic gases.

With this in mind, at the end of our climb I felt a slight tremor and heard a distant rumble. Were we having an earthquake and a thunderstorm at the same time? It took a moment to realize that the sensation came from beneath my feet.

Was it time to leave? There seemed to be nothing to fear, but then, why risk it? Despite its beauty, if Krakatoa was getting restless, this was not the place where I wanted to wear out my welcome.

Carol Stephens lives in Indonesia.

MY BEST SHOT

The fruits of Seattle

By Jeanne Marie Pugh, Baltimore

Many people mention Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle and how aproned, singing men toss fish from mounds of ice to clerks waiting at the counter. It is a show, indeed, but the most memorable show is the display of fruits, vegetables and flowers. The peaches are big enough to eat with a knife and a fork. The cherries are eye-popping. As I walk along, I feel like Alice in Wonderland in the Garden of Eden.

READERS RECOMMEND

Versailles, France

Carmen Wessel Zavorotny Belcamp

"My husband had wanted to visit the palace at Versailles since he was in high school. Seeing the opulence of the home that Louis XIV built for himself was amazing. We toured the interior, and then spent time viewing the lovely gardens and extravagant fountains."

Tanzania

Joan Singman, Lutherville

"A safari took us to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, as well as Lake Manyara in Tanzania. We saw lions acting like playful kittens, cheetahs chasing gazelles (the gazelles won), an angry elephant chasing a Land Rover and a wildebeest migration across the Serengeti."

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