Actualizado: 20 feb 2019
My brother and myself were part of the massive evacuation of more than 100,000 international tourists due to a volcano eruption in Indonesia!!
My brother and I went to a Business Congress in Bangkok, Thailand where we travelled for a few days with our aunt and uncle who attended the event as well. We visited incredible cities, islands and beaches and then my aunt and uncle returned to Mexico. My brother and I decided to keep traveling a little bit more taking advantage of the fact that we were already in Asia. It would not be viable for us to make such long trips very often; so, we decided to go to Malaysia and Singapore both of which are incredible places to visit.
When we were in Singapore, I was searching for flights on the Internet when suddenly I saw one very reasonable flight from Singapore to Bali, Indonesia. I started to look at pictures and checked on more information about Bali and was totally intrigued; in addition, I have always wanted to visit Indonesia and as we were near to the island I bought the tickets for both myself and Jorge, my brother, to fly to Bali for a three day stay as we had 3 free days before leaving for Cambodia as we had planned, even before the Congress in Thailand. We did not know what destiny had in store for us. At the end, we could not go to Cambodia as planned and spent a whole week trying to evacuate the Indonesian Island where we were trapped with no flights available, no water craft available, in fact no way of leaving the island at all.... but let's start from the beginning.
LEAVING THE HOTEL IN BALI, INDONESIA
After 3 great days in Bali, we were rushing around packing our stuff to check out of the Hotel. We took an UBER to go to the Airport in order to take our flight to Cambodia, I was excited to visit Cambodia, we had heard wonderful things about this Country, and I wanted to experience its culture, as well as the tragic history that had transpired in recent decades. I was a little bit sad that we were leaving Indonesia. When you travel like us, there's a moment when you really feel that it is your own Country, your own culture, your own lifestyle, one part of you stays there forever, I needed to go and I had to face that and I was expecting the best for our next trip, but something was about to change our plans completely!!
Hotel in Bali
HELD UP AT THE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT OF BALI
We arrived at the Airport of Bali, which was quite far from the Hotel where we had stayed in the touristic zone of Bali. We were walking with our luggage directly to check in, but suddenly, we saw a lot of soldiers and police officers surrounding the area and totally blocking all accesses to the airport. At first, I thought they were there to arrest someone, but we also noticed there were a few tourists frantic because they have already lost their flights, well in fact, there were no flights at all. The officers said to us that all flights were cancelled. I just said to myself "come on, this is unbelievable", I thought it was just a delay and all the flights were going to be restored pretty soon. But again, I was wrong!
After a few minutes, the officers told us what exactly was going on. The airport personnel had already cancelled all the flights because a Volcano has erupted on the other side of the Island and it was very dangerous for airplanes to fly around the area. I was astonished with the news. I accept I have thought that once in my life I was going to experience such a event like this in my travels, but it was a distant thought, an ambiguous and ephemeral thought I must say. There I was with my brother in the middle of an Indonesian Island on the other side of the world and didn't know how it would all end.
The officers decided to open the entrance of the Airport because there were a lot of people that have lost their flights already and now did not have any hotel reservations and I knew some of them did not even have money left to pay one more night, two, or maybe three... actually, we didn't even know how much time we were going to be there and the officers told us it could be one day, or two or even weeks. So, I said to myself "seriously?", What is next, what about Cambodia, how everything had changed.
I am sharing some pictures that I took at the Airport of Bali where there were a lot of tourists waiting for news about their flights or any other information. When you experience this kind of a situation you realize how different people can be and their different reactions. I remember there were some people so desperate and frustrated; others were afraid and literally crying; others were yelling at the airport personnel and airline's crew to get their money back and trying to get new tickets as soon as possible, but it was impossible due to the emergency; others, like us, were pretty relaxed, just looking around and observing people's demeanor.
As you can see in the pictures, we showed our Mexican flag in order to be seen by other Mexicans or by any other Spanish speaking people, so, together we could assess the situation and evaluate our options. What I found interesting was the fact that the Airport personnel had managed to call in a band to play some music for the people, this reminded me of the Titanic's scene where everyone already knew they were going to die, it was both creepy and funny at the same time.
AT THE HOTEL WHERE WE STAYED ONE NIGHT, NEAR BALI AIRPORT
After several hours waiting at the Airport, the personnel confirmed that flights were not going to be rescheduled at least for a few more days. So, we were told to go to a Hotel that night near to the Airport as ashes were already falling in the hotel zone where we had stayed before. Then, I started looking for a hotel to stay for that night but almost all of them were completely full. So, I was searching on the Internet and my father was helping us to search for a hotel room from Mexico.
Finally, we found a reasonable room in a hotel near the airport, so we took an UBER and arrived at the Hotel, once at the hotel we continued to search for a way to leave the island. I had heard of some people who were buying tickets from Surabaya Airport to different destinations but at that moment the prices were incredibly high. I remembered before, when the emergency just started that I saw some flights at around $3,000 Mexican pesos each to Cambodia, Malaysia or even to China and then just a few hours later they were much more expensive, around $30,000 Mexican pesos each. I could hardly believe it. Of course, we could not afford that, so I needed to find another way to leave the island and after a few hours reading the blogs of other tourists I found a way to do it.
Meanwhile in Mexico, the news of the volcano eruption and the subsequent evacuation spread with information and images that seemed very serious and of course, it caused great concern in our relatives and friends. Here, I share some news and comments regarding the event we were facing.
EVACUATION FROM BALI ISLAND TO JAVA ISLAND, BOTH IN INDONESIA
We needed to get to Padang Bay in order to take a boat, so we left the Hotel early in the morning and went to Ubung Bus Station in Denpasar and took the bus to Gilimanuk in Padang Bay. The bus ticket was very cheap, but we had to be careful because there were lots of people trying to sell tickets in the streets to tourists and even though they were selling them apparently cheaply, they were inflating the price to make money, so, I went to the Station's office to get the official tickets and they were even cheaper ($4.50 usd) each. We finally took the small bus you can see in the picture and I was glad that we didn't have lots of luggage with us because it would not be possible for us to travel with it. The bus was very different and small, something I noticed was that sometimes some people were taking the bus so that they could sell food, snacks and drinks, just like in Mexico.
As it can be seen in the video, the bus we took was very small, there was space just for a few people, Indonesians as well as Tourists, everyone was just trying to evacuate as the authorities had suggested.
After approximately 5 hours on the Bus, we finally got to Gilimanuk, we have met a Korean couple on the bus who were trying to leave the Country as well and they knew what boat to take in order to leave the same day. A lot of people were trying to leave the island and the boats were full, so when we got to the harbor we followed them and we were able to take a boat to Ketapang Banyuwangi, in Java Island and then we needed to take a train to go to the City of Surabaya to see if we could get tickets to leave the country, but again, I was wrong!!
The next picture shows what the boat looked like, it was extremely cheap, and no, it was not a special price because of the emergency and evacuation. That was the regular price. It was around $6 Mexican pesos (33 cents usd).
The boats cross every 15-30 min 24 hours a day and takes around 60 minutes. The upper deck of the boat, where the people could be, was fairly small and it was very full as everyone was trying to leave. There was a small snack store on the boat where you could buy snacks, drinks and soups among other stuffs. However, local food sellers came onto the boat to sell the same type of food and their prices were way cheaper.
STRESSFUL JOURNEY FROM BANYUWANGI TO SURABAYA IN JAVA ISLAND
We arrived in Banyuwangi around 8:00 pm and tried to get to the Train Station as we knew there were only 2 trains to Surabaya every day and a lot of people were trying to get train tickets, So we were almost running, but everything was different there, nobody could speak English or Spanish. We did not know how to communicate with locals or even how to say "train" in the Indonesian language, it was very frustrating because we needed to move fast. We walked for a few minutes trying to ask in English to all the people we saw for directions to the train station, but nobody could understand us or help us. We had no idea what to do if we could not leave this town.
We saw a woman selling food in the street and my brother and I remembered that once our aunt told us that when she travelled to the US and needed to get to the train station and without knowing any English she emulated the sound of the train to get help, so we approached the woman and asked her for the train station in English firstly, when we saw she didn't understand us, we did the same thing and imitated the Train Sound and finally she knew we wanted to go to the Train Station, so she made some signs explaining to us how to get there and thanks to her we made it.
We arrived at the Train Station, but it was completely full, a lot of people were buying tickets and I knew this could not be a good sign, I stood in the line and waited for my turn to buy the tickets we needed, but the train was completely full. There were no tickets available to Surabaya for three days, I just said to myself (what?). Now what?!! so, the staff at the station told me there was another way to go to Surabaya. We had to buy train tickets to another city and then, to another city and from that second city, we needed to take a bus to Surabaya, obviously that was going to take us about 8 hours more than the regular trip to Surabaya but we had no option, we had to make these trips, or stay there for more than 3 days. So, we decided to do it, we finally bought our tickets and waited for a couple of hours for the train. Again, please see some pictures in the Train Station and of the Train itself.
The train was better than expected, very comfortable seats and air-conditioned. According to the trip information, it was going to take us around 3 hours to get to the first city, so, I activated my cellphone alarm, to be sure to know when we needed to get off the train, I could not miss the stop; however, it took us around 4 hours instead. The good news is that we got there on time to get on to the next train to go to the second city. That second trip took us around 8 hours and the bus to Surabaya around an additional hour.
ARRIVAL IN SURABAYA IN JAVA ISLAND, INDONESIA
As I told you, we arrived in a town close to Surabaya and took a bus from the Train Station to the Main Bus Station of Surabaya, which took us around 1 hour until we finally got to Surabaya at 5 am in the morning. Now we needed to get to the Airport to see if there were tickets available to leave the Country. So, we took a taxi and I was kind of surprised how many motorcycles I saw in the streets, even more than the streets of Rome. Everybody in Indonesia seems to drive a motorcycle.
After 30 minutes, we got at the International Airport of Surabaya and that was unbelievable, I think I have never seen an Airport that full in my life, we couldn't even walk freely inside the Airport., We thought we were never going to get tickets to leave the country, and we were right. I could not believe after all we did to get there, there were no tickets available to any destination either international or local flights. People were very desperate, even more so than the people I saw in Bali.
The person that was selling tickets told us that the only way to leave the Country at that moment was from Yakarta, the capital of the Country, but it was very far from Surabaya and there were no local tickets from Surabaya, but he was searching different options on the system for us and then, he told us that there's just one way to make it. We needed to buy plane tickets from Yogyakarta to Yakarta but we had to get to Yogyakarta first, another long journey and he recommended to us to go to a local Bus Station widely used by local people, to take a Bus from there to Yogyakarta. We had to buy the flight tickets he offered because it was the last flight of the day, at 9:20 pm and we had enough time to take a bus to Yogyakarta.
FROM SURABAYA TO YOGYAKARTA IN THE CENTRE OF JAVA ISLAND IN INDONESIA
We took an UBER from the Airport of Surabaya to the Bus Station where we got tickets for the bus at 10:00 am so we had almost one and a half hour before the departure, we ate something at the Bus station and waited.
The person who sold us the tickets told us it was going to take us around 7 hours to get to Yogyakarta so we were going to be there around 5 or 6 pm, which was perfect for us because our flight was going to depart at 9:20 pm, so we could wait at the Airport at Yogyakarta. It was a very good bus by the way, very different from the other one we took in Bali and I was truly surprised how cheap it was, around 80 Mexican pesos ($4 usd approximately) and the food and drinks were all included, a very generous dish of meat and rice. Everything was great until I saw the time and it was 7 pm already, and then I knew something was wrong, I never knew exactly what happened as I was unable to ask anybody in their language.
It was getting later and later, and I was so nervous because we were going to miss our flight and we had already booked the flight from Yakarta to Shanghai via Kuala Lumpur. If we missed that flight, we were going to miss our connections and be stuck again without a plan.
LOCAL FLIGHT FROM YOGYAKARTA TO YAKARTA, THE INDONESIAN CAPITAL
After 11 hours on the bus I was very desperate because we were going to miss our flight and didn't know how to ask the driver what was going on as he just spoke his language and nobody else on the bus could speak English or Spanish, but suddenly, the bus stopped and some people got on the bus including two American Mormons who were living in Indonesia. We could speak with them in English and explained to them our situation. Fortunately, they knew how to speak Indonesian, and they told the driver that we needed to get off at the Airport, because we had no time to go on to the Bus station and then go to the Airport, there was no way we could get there on time. So, when the bus was passing by the Airport, the driver stopped, we could get off right in the entrance of the parking lot. It was raining like crazy, a huge storm, but we didn't care, we just wanted to be there on time to take our flight, we had less than 10 minutes to get there.
We ran in the middle of a massive storm to be there on time, but all our belongs got totally soaked including our flight tickets as you can see in the picture. All the people were looking at us because we were running like crazy and completely wet. Finally, we did it, we got there just a couple of minutes before the doors closed. We were very lucky we met those Americans on the bus who helped us a lot.
INTERNATIONAL FLIGHT FROM YAKARTA TO SHANGHAI VIA KUALA LUMPUR
We arrived in Yakarta, now we had to go to the International Terminal at the Airport in order to take our flight to Shanghai via Kuala Lumpur. We got on the plane and waited for the plane to take off, but suddenly the crew told us, we had to get off the plane. I couldn't believe it. We were finally leaving the Country and now what?!
The flight was cancelled, all the people got mad because like us, they needed to take other flights in Kuala Lumpur. That flight was from Yakarta to Kuala Lumpur Malaysia and we already had our flight ticket from Kuala Lumpur to Shanghai China, so we could not miss that flight. The flight crew told us the plane had mechanical problems and they couldn't put us at risk because the probabilities of engine trouble were high. So, they had to cancel the flight and they put us on another flight 4 hours later. The problem with this was that we couldn't get to the Airport of Kuala Lumpur on time to take our last flight to Shanghai, so we missed it too.
Several people were fighting with the crew because a lot of them lost their flights as well and they wanted the airline to replace their tickets, the airline agreed, but the problem with us was that our flight from Kuala Lumpur to Shanghai was with a different Airline and they told us they were not able to give us new tickets because of that. When I heard that I just said (What the F...!) to them, I was so mad with them because we had lost our flight, they didn't check the plane on time, before the flight. They told us they could not do anything but if I wanted to make a complaint I could talk to the airline's crew in Kuala Lumpur. We got on the plane and when we arrived, I made a complaint, in fact, I was very pissed off and after an hour of discussions and talking with the Manager I was able to get free tickets from Kuala Lumpur to Shanghai as well as coupons for restaurants to eat for free.
This was one of the best experiences I have had in my journey’s. I know that it may sound stressful or scary, but we both learnt a lot from it. Now we appreciate the simple things we have. Moreover, it was an interesting and different way for us to get to know a lot of native people and isolated places in Indonesia.
"All travel tips and experiences shared on this blog are based on my personal experience and points of view, besides, all photographies published were taken by me or my travel companions, or, cited in accordance with the Norms of Copyright established by the American Association of Psychology ". MachadoK