Chalkmarks Gili Air

I WRITE to you watching a volcano erupting on Bali. I’m on Gili Trawangan, which is the next island along, sitting on a sandy beach looking across at the smoking gun of Mount Agung. 

The weather is gorgeous. It’s early December and the sun is beating down. The Indian Ocean dazzles pale blue and the water’s so shallow you can walk far out and it still doesn’t reach your knees.

Behind me, wild palm trees blow in the breeze and the bars and restaurants are playing music. Beyond that there’s the sound of hoofs and bells from the horse-drawn carriages – the only transport on the island.

This is bliss. 

At 6pm, the sun sets and the sky streaks orange bathing the volcano in soft red light. 

I look at Agung. It looks at me. It could go bang any second now. 

But I don’t want to be hasty and just leave. I’m a Brit: I’ve never had a hot winter my whole life. So Plan A is to stay. I can’t just call the whole thing off – a volcano won’t spoil my holiday.

I’d asked my dad what I should do. He said to remember what happened in Pompeii. That doesn’t help me or make me feel better. 

I’d told him that if Agung blows I’ll hole up in my room, close the curtains, wear a breathing mask and eat dried pasta for a few weeks. That’s what the Airbnb lady in Bali said she’d do. She said that the eruption wouldn’t kill us but that the ash cloud was deadly; filled with tiny shards of glass than could destroy our lungs. So, next day we left!

We hopped over to Gili T via the Express boat. That was five days ago. 

I’m with my sidekick uni friend Mike, who’s not at all worried. In fact he wants to be stranded for as long as possible so he doesn’t have to go back to work next week. 

We’d arrived on the last AirAsia flight to land in Bali before the international airport in Denpasar was shut.

Agung last erupted in 1963 killing more than 1,000 people. To appease it the locals still lay flowers as offerings out on the street. 

The fear is that another big explosion is imminent.

Arriving on Gili T

Newspapers are reporting that due to the ash cloud more than 400 flights have been cancelled leaving 60,000 holidaymakers stranded.

I can’t see me joining that chaos at the airport, wailing to be flown home. That’s not a good look. Instead I’m going to style this out…with cocktails!

I read the local Kuta Weekly, where the headline says: Keep Calm, it’s Only a Volcano.

Also the Indonesian authorities haven’t ordered an evacuation of the island – only around the immediate area of the volcano. 

Chalkmarks Postcard from Bali: How to survive a volcano

From Gili T (about 50miles away), there’s only small white puffs blowing out from the crater. It’s harmless, I’m sure.

It does feel like everyone else has left – except for us. The bars are quiet, restaurants are empty. We can play on the beach swings all day and when I take a yoga class, I’m the only student. 

We have the whole island to ourselves. It’s wonderful.

Empty island
Chalkmarks Postcard from Bali: How to survive a volcano

Next morning at breakfast we hear that Agung had violently erupted in the early hours of the morning. The ash is two miles up in the atmosphere and if the wind blows east it’ll be above us. Everyone is talking about it.

Oh god. I just don’t have a clue. I can’t figure this out! The waitress says it’ll be ok. 

When I order coffee, I ask her if it really will be ok? She says she doesn’t know.

Mike and I have no idea how to survive a volcano. We decide to stick to the beaches and will make a swim for it, just in case. This is the exit plan. Plan B.

He goes off snorkelling and I try scuba diving – there’s only two of us in the class. 

Tonight there’s a volcano party for anyone still staying on the island. Yes. This is a good reminder that the most important thing is that when the sun’s out, the beer’s out. We’re staying put. This is my Christmas bucket list wish.

With that thought in mind we order the garlic bread and two Bintangs. It’s gonna be a blast. Wish you were here

I’m a Brit: I’ve never had a hot winter my whole life. So Plan A is to stay!

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