Indonesia’s Ring of Fire Activity: Yes, It’s Spectacular, But it Shouldn’t Keep You Away
In February of 2018, Mount Sinabung on the island of Sumatra erupted. There have been other recent eruptions in 2010, 2013 and 2014. News of this eruption scared a great many potential tourists from visiting this far-flung series of magical islands, one of the largest nations in the world.
According to Wikipedia, It is the world’s largest island country, with more than thirteen thousand islands, and at 1,904,569 square kilometres (735,358 square miles), the 14th largest by land area and the 7th largest in combined sea and land area.
That’s simply enormous. Beyond imagining, if you’ve never been there. It’s also easy to assume that Bali is Indonesia (yes it is, but only a tiny part), and because it’s widely known, that’s it. Also, that if there’s and earthquake or tsunami, which just recently devastated Sulawesi, it’s easy to think that it’s just not safe to travel there.
While it’s most certainly true that traveling to these specific islands right after or during one of Mother Nature’s most dangerous expressions can be dangerous, the truth is that with some all those islands stretched across a huge swath of sea, chances are you’re going to be fine.
Not only that, tourist dollars are critical to the local economy. In an article by The Jakarta Post, tourism can provide much-needed labor for the growing labor force. (http://www.thejakartapost.com/academia/2018/09/06/hunting-for-tourist-dollars.html) Not only the hotel and restaurant industries, but all of the services, cottage industries, and in particular, the adventure travel opportunities.
The Western dollar goes a very long way here, and those dollars provide critical support for islanders. Along the way, many of us have the experience of a lifetime.
Especially if you go by sea. Stay with me here.
Indonesia, by all accounts among the last, great, gorgeous places on earth, has endless islands to explore in complete safety. There are few greater pleasures than sitting atop the ironwood decks of a great sailing ship, soaking in the sun, and stopping in at various islands to learn about the people, their lives and their worlds.
Part of the greatest pleasure is that, this far out to sea, there is no wi-fi. For so many, being unplugged causes a day or two of disorientation. Then, not only do we discover the world around us, but also each other. The way life is meant to be, in other words.
I’ve had the good fortune to experience doing just that with a seagoing outfit called SeaTrek Bali Sailing Adventures (www.seatrekbali.com), which is the only fleet allowed these unique island drop-ins. Earlier this year, when the volcano erupted on Sumatra, a number of guests thought it prudent to cancel.
They needn’t fear.
Here’s what to understand: most of these incidents are very localized. They do indeed cause terrible devastation, and if you can send funds, please do. As a Third World nation, life can be terrifyingly precarious.
However, if you’re going to be at sea, which as it relates to this sprawling nation, it’s one very large chunk of geography. The chances of your being in any danger are very low.
Coming ashore on Komodo Island, for example, isn’t just about seeing these remarkable modern-day dragons. It’s also a chance to spend a few pennies- especially relative to what you would spend in a gift shop in the US or elsewhere- for hand-carved goods made by locals. You can peruse these beautiful pieces of art and have great fun haggling over prices before boarding the dinghy back to your boat.
This money provides income for the islanders, and you and I get a terrific bargain. This is nothing like purchasing a souvenir at gift shop at the airport. The intimacy of being able to purchase a piece of art from the artist changes the conversation, and boy, have you got a story to go with it.
On many of the islands I visited, we had a choice of either climbing the local- and relatively reasonable- hills, or sitting on the beach, or snorkeling, or padding in a kayak not far from our ship. Or, for that matter, in a cool volcanic lake, surrounded by dense foliage. Or standing in the sweet, swirling mist of a waterfall.
The advantage of being on such a large sailing ship meant that we could either sail or motor from one place to the next, and at any time change our course due to weather or a better location for the evening dinner on a sugar sand beach.
The two ships that make up SeaTrek Bali’s fleet are handmade by traditional shipbuilders in Sulawesi and Borneo. Both are gaff-rigged ketches. Without going into dense maritime detail, suffice it to say that both the ships feature great, tall, gorgeous sails, which reflect the setting sun when full. It really is quite a sight from atop a nearby mountain.
For an idea of what any of this might look like, feel like, please see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1UFp_XKwdmc. Watching this video reminds me of why I can’t wait for my birthday. In January I am returning to sail to the far flung east, Raja Ampat, the spice islands. Twelve days aboard ship, surrounded by simply astounding beauty, generous people and other folks like me who are happy to turn off their devices and immerse themselves in blue heaven.
The fleet features terrific food and all the comforts of home, including a bar and some of the best food on the ocean. That, along with all the safety equipment which can allow the skipper to redirect should a storm or problem be on the horizon, makes for a terrific adventure. We are at all times accompanied by well-trained crew members who take delight in our pleasure.
SeaTrekBali Sailing Adventures is also deeply committed to conservation, with its owners and operators involved in many aspects of plastic cleanup (https://seatrekbali.com/blogs-awards/detail/keeping-a-check-on-ocean-plastics)and reuse as well as programs to uplift local women out of poverty. This is a company not only determined to show the world the gems of Indonesia, but also to help protect her and her people from environmental harm. Those of us who have traveled with SeaTrekBali are equally invested in seeing this island nation prosper, her islands protected, her beaches pristine, her wildlife safe.
In the Pacific Rim of Fire, in one moment there is terrible loss. At the same time, shipbuilders who have handed down their craft from father to son for centuries put their sweat and love into yet another traditional pinisi ship- the same that you might be on — which have plied trade around through these islands since the beginning. Birds of Paradise showcase their wings, and traditional dancers demonstrate their skills.
Much as in the Hawaiian Islands, one island may be watching lava march down a main street, while other islands are enjoying sweet breezes and gentle waves.
All too often, tourists change their destinations because of a natural disaster. Sometimes this makes perfect sense. However, not so in Indonesia. There are endless beaches, endless opportunities to explore and play. Along the way, what we spend can help rebuild lives, and provide critical income to rebuild infrastructure.
This is the Pacific. Mother Nature at her most dramatic, most beautiful, most terrifying, most calming.
Indonesia is not as far away as you think. If you plan to come, consider seeing her at her most glorious: by wooden sailing ship. By eschewing the heavy traffic and dense populations of the main islands, you see the very best of what this magnificent, huge archipelago has to offer. And along the way, our dollars can make a big difference.
You will never be the same.
And that is a very good thing indeed.