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Waiting game in the shadow of Bali volcano




“Depending on the wind direction, speed and time between the bouts of rain, I can smell something I want to liken to smoke or diesel from another planet. Something unfamiliar and familiar at the same time,” she says.

Volcanic ash poses a deadly threat to aircraft, and ash from Agung is moving south-southwest toward the airport. Ash has reached a height of about 30 000 feet as it drifts across the island.

“On Monday morning, tiny white flakes fell onto my phone as I watched the sky turn from black to pastel at sunrise,” continues Kaye. She arrived in Bali for a vacation after attending a friend’s wedding in India.

“I was aware that the volcano was active and could erupt, but these warnings have come and gone before, without major eruptions before, so I didn’t know with certainty that the volcano would erupt,” she explains. “I did my research and knew I would be safe from the eruptions as long as I stayed 10km or more away from the volcano. The areas of Bali I planned to visit were 40-50km away from the volcano, so I felt safe.”

Kaye is currently staying at Komune resort on Keramas beach – 40km away from Mt Agung. In an Instagram post, she said that “everyone is carrying on as though nothing is really happening… but no one is leaving.” 

At first she was excited at the prospect of spending a few extra days in paradise, “but the last 48 hours have been more stressful than relaxing. The information we have been given is very ‘last minute’, meaning that I’m almost constantly searching for Wi-Fi and trying to find live updates on the airlines and airports and flights – and update the relevant people, appointments and ‘real world’ things that this affects in my life,” she says. 

At the time of going to print on Wednesday night, the airport had just reopened, but it wasn’t clear whether it would remain so indefinitely. And there is a massive flight backlog, so people like Kaye would have to wait her turn.

Thousands of tourists have been affected after a spike in volcanic activity grounded hundreds of flights. Aviation authorities will continue to monitor the situation on the ground, amid the possibility of another eruption.

“If somebody told me I would be here a month and that I had a place to stay and food and drink was taken care of, it would be a different situation, but as I am losing earnings daily I am also aware of the holiday bills I could rack up if I am stuck here for weeks over the festive season – which puts a damper on the festivities.

“Costs and admin aside, I feel privileged to have seen the volcano cast in pastel colours yesterday in the sunrise – and to have smelt that unique smelling smoke. I would like to experience as much as I can during my time on earth and this experience will add to the richness of my life and memories.”

Kaye has been told that the people living closest to the volcano are among the poorest in Bali. Those within a 10km (originally 7km) radius have been asked to evacuate the area – but some have elected not to for fear of losing their livestock or homes or for other personal reasons.

“I have been told the authorities are attempting forced evacuations for the remaining families living on or around Mt Agung. The evacuees are currently living at the mercy of others in temporary evacuation camps.”

These evacuation camps are desperate for supplies – most notably food, medical supplies and air masks. South Africans can help by making cash donations that will be used towards these supplies. “I know that when the volcano does erupt, the people whose homes are closest will lose everything they own – so if anyone back home has it in their hearts to organise a collection, drive or fundraiser, anything and everything would be welcomed by these people who stand to lose everything,” concludes Kaye.

Liat Solomon has lived in Bali for over 20 years. An Israeli by birth, she explains that Judaism is not allowed to be officially practised in Bali, but she hosts Shabbat dinners every Friday night at her home, and even turns her dance studio into a makeshift shul – including a Torah.

She lives about 70km away from the volcano, and has watched dark clouds of ash, lava and smoke eruptions for three weeks now. It has affected her life as it is currently the height of the tourist season in Bali, but no tourists are allowed in or out, and everyone on the island depends on tourism in some way.

“If the airport is closed, we are stranded… the only other way out is by ferry and then a car ride, which is all about 12 hours away from where we are,” says Solomon. She is supposed to go to Europe in December, but doesn’t know if that will happen now.

Locals are also concerned about breathing in the toxic ash, which is filled with glass particles and can cause acid rain. If the wind changes, she will have to don a mask to protect herself. However, she is accepting of the situation: “We will have to surrender to Mother Nature!” 

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