Volcano: Batu Tara, Paluweh, Kelimutu, Lokon
Indonesia has a large number of active volcanoes and is thus one of the only countries in which it is possible to visit several erupting ones in a single trip. The initial aim was to visit Batu Tara volcano with volcanodiscovery, leaving a further 10 days in Indonesia completely unplanned, although Paluweh volcano was already under consideration before flying down. Batu Tara forms the volcanic island of Komba about 50km off the northern coast of Lembata Island. It is reachable by chartering a fishing boat from Larantuka harbour. Four days and nights were planned for maximum viewing opportunities.
Things did not start well as regional shortages meant the boat did not have enough fuel for the trip. After a one day delay we could finally set off for the about 7 hour trip to the island. The sea was relatively flat, making the trip pleasant and landing after arrival easy. A camp was set up on a sheltered bay on one side of the island, although the activity could only be observed from a beach at the foot of the collapse feature below the crater, so the fishing boat had to shuttle people back and forth. The crew were not used to dealing with tourists so problems arose. One morning we couldn’t go to the volcano as the captain was tired and eventually we left in the evening, losing a further morning as the crew wanted to return fish they had caught to harbour.
Activity was also lower than in August 2011 and inconsistent in magnitude, making photography much more difficult. Nevertheless, eruptions were occurring at least once every half hour.
After returning from Batu Tara, several group members decided to go ahead with a visit of Paluweh volcano. Again, this required the use of a fishing boat, although only for the transfer to the island which lies about 10km north of Flores. The island is populated although no tourist facilities are available, so one has to rely on local village hospitality. The inhabitants were however generally very friendly and interested in the rare foreign guests.
Paluweh has been developing a new lava dome since October 2012 and occasional ash eruptions had also been reported. After adhering to local tradition and sacrificing a chicken, we were allowed to proceed to the summit area with its active dome.
The dome had reached quite a substantial size and frequent rockfalls testified to its continued growth, however only tiny pyroclastic flows were observed for most of the visit, possibly as the magma was not very gas-rich. After the first night, three people including myself decided to stay on the summit with others climbing down to return in the evening with food and water. However, due to the change in plan, nobody had any sunscreen on them which resulted in a nasty sunburn.
After climbing down again a quick visit was made to a site where locals collect fumarolic steam to obtain drinking water. This used to apparently be the only source of water on the island.
Following a return boat trip to Flores we drove to Kelimutu for early morning viewing of the famous crater lakes. We decided to go after sunrise and then got stuck for an hour in traffic by the local market. Clouds were rolling in by this time and things were looking bad. Fortunately, cloud cover was not continuous so there was lots of good viewing time of the lakes once we reached the summit area.
After Kelimutu, we drove to Ende, at which point I was hoping to get a flight to Manado (via Bali) to go and visit Lokon-Empung volcano. However, getting flights short-notice in Indonesia seems to be difficult at present. Neither from Ende, nor closest other airport Maumere, were seats available for the next 2 days. Eventually I got a flight from Maumere to Makkasar on southern Sulawesi and there again I had huge problems getting a flight to Manado.
Finally reaching Manado, it turned out that the hotel I was planning to stay in was fully booked by a film crew. This turned out to be fortunate though as I eventually landed in the Highland Resort which has an extremely friendly staff and very picturesque view to the volcano from near its entrance. Activity had unfortunately dropped off from the previous week and if staff had not come running to get me I would have probably missed the one daytime eruption in my stay. At dusk a dark ash cloud rose from the crater on the saddle between Lokon and Empung twin volcanoes. The eruption probably lasted about 10 minutes.
A second eruption occurred 3 days later during the last night of my stay but I was tired and did not notice it. It is virtually impossible to observe a volcano round the clock for days.
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