Travel hell vol 1 - Escape from the Volcano

After the hectic (and sometimes boozy) pace of Asia landing in Bali felt as close to home as I have come for quite some months. Despite the scammy taxi drivers and hectic traffic, I found the place calming.

Volcanos make for great sunsets There had been news stories about the impending Mount Agung eruption for weeks now, even as I arrived there were reports of increased activity. I didn’t really think anything of it. It wasn’t until a few days before our intended departure that I started to get the feeling it might impact our plans.

Reports of ash and mud slides were sporadic and a tad sensational, headlines read like ‘Thousands flee as Bali sets to blow’. An exclusion zone was established around the crater but in the tourist town of Seminyak there was nothing to indicate any impending disaster. That is until the airport was suddenly closed for fear of ash fallout. Now, whilst there was still no visual cue that something was amiss you could see it on the tourists faces and in their conversations. People we looking for the exit.

One by one we checked our flights and one by one they were coming up cancelled. In true Kaizen style we decided to throw a Volcano party, we congregate on the designated villa but our hearts are not in it, the party never really kicks off as I think everyones minds were thinking about how they were going to get out.

The first group to make a run for it had onward flights to the US and Europe that, if disrupted would incur significant expense. They had heard word that the neighboring island Lombok was still operating flights so they secured passage by boat and bus, a journey of at least four hours to attempt to get a seat on a flight for which they still hadn’t managed to get tickets. Their evacuation was eventually successful but not before staging a sit-in physically blocking access to the booking office in order to secure their boarding passes (nice one Tiff).

Progress and updates were constantly being fed back to the wider group through our shared ‘EscapeTheVolcano’ chat group. We kept in close contact but decided such drastic measures were not required and that we would wait it out at the villa.

Volcanos make for great sunsetsSoon after the first group escaped, the ash cloud moved over Lombok closing off that escape vector. The second group to make a run for it had onward flights to South Africa and didn’t have the luxury of waiting things out. With Lombok out of the question, the only remaining open airport nearby was Surabaya, but this was an arduous 12 hour bus ride - or in the case of our group an Uber driver who has been looking for an excuse to visit family in Surabaya. From their they needed to secure airfares to Jakarta and from there on to Kuala Lumpur. The entire journey taking more than 24hrs. Again we stayed in communication and felt this course of action to be far more difficult than cocktails by the pool waiting for the storm to pass.

Then finally the Volcanic activity reduces and the ash cloud moves in the right direction - sufficiently enough for the Bali airport to reopen. The last of our group (aside from us) takes this opportunity to head straight to the airport determined to not take no for an answer - in fact refusing to leave the checkin desk without a boarding pass, which surprisingly she successfully secures.

Now we are the last ones left, with the airport open and ash cloud behaving we manage to secure bookings for an outgoing flight in two days time. With booking made we can relax and enjoy the last few days in paradise, all the while constantly monitoring YouTube feeds, Twitter and a projected path of the ash cloud.

Volcanos make for great sunsetsThe day of travel arrived and we pack in preparation for travel, one last check on the airline website yields the worst possible news, the ash cloud has shifted direction and they have started to cancel flights again - but our flight appeared to still be scheduled. We hastily finish packing and haul ass to the airport.

Upon arrival at the airport our flight is still running but is ominously delayed a few hours. Eventually we manage to check in and offload our luggage - a comforting step. We head to the lounge and calm our nerves with a few more Bintang’s (as if I hadn’t had enough). Even as we have boarded we still wait nervously for the plane to be pushed back, it’s not until we are finally in the air that everyone on the plane breathes a collective sigh of relief.

Just when I think all the dramas are over. On arrival into Melbourne we are faced with ‘storm of the decade’ torrential rain, a malfunctioning chip in my passport and everyones luggage getting stuck on the plane for an additional 40 minutes. But we escaped the Volcano (and eventually Melbourne airport).

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out Volume 2 and Volume 3 of the travel hell series.