Bandung: "A Date with a Volcano"

Bandung 

West Java

May 17, 2005

Salamat Malam,

At 7:00pm, the North Sea Bar was dead.

Except for Evert, a smiling Dutchman, 54, enjoying his tall green Heineken.

Evert has a business in Holland and lives with his twenty-seven year old girlfriend in Bandung. Soon to be married. (Where have I heard that one before?)

We chatted for an hour; I ordered some chicken fried rice. He asked me if I would like to meet his girlfriend's girlfriend.

Era arrived quickly. And quickly we decided that we were compatible.

We decided that the next day we would hire a taxi for a drive to Tangkuban Prahu - The "Overturned Volcano" crater 30km north of Bandung.

"Years ago the center of Tangkuban Prahu collapsed under the weight of built-up ash and, instead of the usual conical shape, it has a flat elongated summit with a huge caldera more than 7km across.

"There is, of course, a legend to explain this phenomenon:

'An estranged young prince returned home and unwittingly fell in love with his own mother. When the queen discovered the terrible truth of her lover's identity, she challenged him to build a dam and a huge boat during a single night before she would agree to marry him.

"Seeing that the young man was about to complete this impossible task, she called on the gods to bring the sun up early and, as the cocks began to crow, the boat builder turned his nearly completed boat over in a fit of anger."

So, in a happy fit of anticipation, Era and I drove out of town towards the volcano.

The long drive itself was lovely. Through several small yet busy towns and villages, a massive, conical volcano ever present in the distance.

Finally we arrived at the information center and hired a young boy to lead us on a two hour climb.

We trekked up the steep, rocky trail, the boy in the lead. Era a close second. Jan, a gasping, distant third. At 2076 meters, 6808 ft, 1.3 miles high, the air is not exactly thick with oxygen.

The air is thick with steam.

In the distance, one white stream of smoke. Higher up, I realized that there were many vents, releasing hot vapor from deep inside the earth.

We are surrounded by massive, sheer, red-brown cliffs -- the walls of the collapsed volcano.

Yes, I was in the volcano. Or was I on the volcano? And after an hour's climb, I was at the volcano. Amazing!

With steam all around, we three carefully approached a small pond of hot, bubbling yellow sulfur. The odor is what you would expect. To be honest, after days of breathing automotive exhaust, to me, the "rotten eggs" smelled more like the sweet grass of Bogor Gardens.

A few meters to the right of the sulfur pond, again with great caution, - oh, I'm so excited! - we edged close to a broad pit of boiling brown-gray lava! Unbelievable.

The boy suggested I place my palm on the ground nearby. Warm, baby, warm!

I was sad to leave the cliffs, the occasional eagle coasting high above, the boiling lava, the bubbling sulfur, the steam heat.

But, I did have my hot date in town. Actually a double date, with Evert and friend, at a hillside restaurant overlooking the city lights.

Tomorrow, a little mid-Twentieth Century history

Keep warm,

Jan

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