Sunda – Strait at the Fire Mountain

When magma, which is usually entirely covered by the Earth’s mantle, rises up to the surface and gets in direct contact with water, then experts are only speaking soberly about phreatomagmatic eruptions but the rest of the world gets confronted with an all too often catastrophic explosive power being that immense like a couple of Hiroshima nukes. Back in 1883 such an epic volcanic eruption happened in Indonesia, between Java and Sumatra Islands. More than 20km3 of rocks and ash got tossed into the air followed by an up to 40m high Tsunami that erased all villages framing the Sunda Strait. The old volcano got almost vaporised but its offspring is already waiting in the wings, the Anak Krakatoa; a place that gets reconquered by life under as well as over the waterline.

Sea conditions are rough this morning but by way of exception wind can’t be blamed for that. The Indonesian archipelago is located right between Pacific and Indian Ocean, it is an interface were elementally strong currents can become a danger for life of divers, swimmers and hobby coxswains as they can tear you easily deep deep down that you’ll never be seen again. The waves make the cute nutshell transporting us from Carita village to the small archipelago swing like a pendulum. The skipper, whose name is solely “Captain” for the rest of the trip, steers the boat head-on into the wave fronts. Now we are at the mercy of the ocean. Our vessel jumps up and down and in the evening the crew isn’t able anymore to count its black and blue marks.

The Indonesian word Anak means something like offspring, child or even successor. Anak Krakatoa proves that even a volcanic apple doesn’t fall far from its tree as it is rising inside the caldera that once got left behind by the old volcano. Normally Anak Krakatoa has a constant eruption pattern; however for the time being the fire mountain allowed itself quite a timeout and exhaled nothing but massive clouds of stinky exhalations. Actually such a low level of activity is a very good condition to make a climb to the summit and visit the crater. The only imminent danger was a glowing lava plug blocking the volcano’s vent; something that could have been blasted away terribly at any time.

The climb up to the crater got out of hands though. Several meters above me some French hadn’t faintest idea of how to behave and thought they’re in the movie Cliffhanger. The rocks they set off rumbled down of course and right on me. Within minutes sharp lava stone edges were shredding my clothing into pieces and wearing a helmet became a life insurance. However, much worse were surprisingly appearing holes in the rocks where hot gas was shooting out. Those holes were so new that no sulphur colour but only heat haze was helpful to identify them. Not all heat haze was visible though hence after two hours in the rocks I went back down again, also because the French still ignored all things called proper climbing and set off small lava rock avalances.

If volcanic activity is the reason why a long and exhausting travel was made then having small or no activity is quite a pity. On the other hand after having cancelled summiting the Krakatoa I had enough time to explore the islands’ biodiversity over and under the waterline and in particular snorkelling became quite interesting.

The strong currents transport nutriment to the water surface making the waters surrounding the Anak Krakatoa being excellent sites for diving and fishing. In a minute cycle companion Digimon and I were wresting all thinkable kinds of fish from the sea and funnily even a pretty much self-defending blowfish could not resist biting into our fishing lines. Except the blowfish all fish ended on our grill standing on the black beach of Seratung Island. What a feast…! Unbelievable but true, some 4 kilogram of seafood met my stomach that evening.

Seeming to be inspired by the smoke of our campfire the volcano began to eject some gas clouds. That gas is stinky, yes, and even clearly noticeable 1-2 kilometres far away, but when the evening or morning sunlight hits such a plume the whole sky turns into a maze of wonderfully painted romantic colours. Then even fantasy grumps indulge themselves in hues in heaven ranging from blue to red. Being well-fed and delighted with such a visual spectacle it was no problem to fall asleep on the beach under the star sky and not far away from one of the world’s most magnetic volcanoes. Camping is possible on the islands Rakata, Seratung and at the northern beach of the volcano island itself. The archipelago’s position, configuration and diameter is by the way an indicator how the dimension of the former Krakatoa looked like.

The fishing results already gave an impression how the life under the waterline could look like. When doing a dive along the actual volcano island then the first thing catching your attention will surely be the strangely looking crystalline sulphur structures that solidified underwater. Surprisingly soft corals and sponges don’t hesitate to settle down on those poison-yellow adamant combs when searching for a new apartment. Something creepy are the countless soft corals settling on the black sea floor. They are looking like an army of wafting human brains.

Most impressive are the underwater gardens at Rakata Island, the biggest fragment of the former Krakatoa volcano. There biodiversity and fish varieties are mind-blowing, making a Sushi cook surely having wet dreams. Some 20-30 metres from the shore lucky snorkellers can find fields of anemones with of course lovely anemone fish, such as sebae clownfish or false percula clownfish. It’s really fantastic to watch those little guys fighting against different currents while they are trying to keep the diving human in sight.

If you’re lucky again then closer to the shore and in more shallow water you can find the most famous fish in the world, that is Nemo. Unfortunately Disney’s animated cartoon provoked that the shown clownfish Nemo & Marlin get considered as clownfish but not as biologically correct false percula clownfish. Real clownfish have at least a differently shaped fin style. However, it is quite a highlight to watch those blokes surfing on and trough the tentacles of their anemone like Kelly Slater. Here you can see more of clown anemone fish.

Companion Digimon is making fun of old used sandals, disposable plastic plates and a battered Nemo balloon he found at the beach. The islands, in particular their beaches, are all too often appearing like as if an army of tourists was marauding through the archipelago. Sadly some coastlines are even looking like dump sites. However, surprisingly this time things are not tourism caused, the actually only thing being controllable by the national park ranger crew after all. The world’s oceans are polluted with natural as well as artificial flotsam and due to Indonesia’s canalising currents it gets all too often washed up the insular states’ shores and stays there. Hence it’s quite a stunning but also very sad moment when the up to 1,5 meters long primevally appearing monitor lizards are snarlingly disputing your breakfast but have to walk through all kinds of floatable junk therefor.

Another of Anak Krakatoa’s characteristics is its phreatomagmatism. Beside terrible eruptions and very fine volcanic ash that is resulting in pumice, a type of porous white and black stone that can be found actually everywhere all over the archipelago. It originates from small lava chunks that got in direct contact with water or water vapour as then the stone gets kind of frothed up since the gas being always included in lava is set free abruptly. Hence chemically seen there is no difference between pumice and lava, but its density varies of course making pumice being even that light that it is able to float, also from island to island. Something unlike are sharp edged lava bombs which are through and through solid. If you get hit by such a chunk then often no doctor is needed anymore.

The Krakatoa archipelago is a national park. At the more quiet northern side of the volcano island you can find the camp and boat of the rangers. Having put their machine pistol in a crotch they are amusing themselves with endlessly seeming card games. I would have loved to have a skat gamble with them, but how to explain an Indonesian the mathematics of that game? Teaching them Mau-Mau was much easier and I am pretty sure that even today they are still gambling at the bottom of the volcano on the other side of the world and Captain is growling through his tooth gap when the opponent sides chucks in a 7 or ace again.


Music: 1.) Danny Howells & Stef Vrolijk – Phono Corono (Break Free), 2.) The Black Dog – D.O.G. Style
After having spent four adventurous days at the bottom of the volcano and having survived countless card games plus seen and eaten tons of (grilled) fish, Captain steers the boat head-on again through the waves towards Carita, the starting and ending point of journeys to Anak Krakatoa. Hence a volcano and its nature can be explored in a different way indeed.