After the lava

When Indonesia’s Mount Merapi erupted in 2010, lava come pouring down the slopes at 110km/h. The villages in its path didn’t stand a chance!

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


Mount Merapi, Indonesia

In October 2010, the most active volcano in Indonesia launched one of its fiercest attacks in modern history.

For days it spewed out molten lava and ash. The ground shook from hundreds of seismic quakes.

When the dust finally settled, 353 people had been killed.

Mount Merapi should be feared. But for many Javanese people, it is also revered.

he volcano, near the city of Yogyakarta, has been mythologised for centuries by the local people. It has been part of their creationism stories… but, in reality, it has also brought finalities.

Mount Merapi jeep tour, Indonesia

The local people had plenty of warnings about the series of eruptions that began in October 2010. Thankfully – otherwise the death toll would have been much worse.

The surrounding area was evacuated of 350,000 people. The hundreds who died either didn’t leave or went back too early.

It’s hard to imagine what an erupting volcano would be like up close. But when you hear some of the statistics, you realise you wouldn’t have a chance.

In 2010, the lava flows from Mount Merapi reached speeds of up to 110 kilometres an hour and went as far as 13 kilometres. Ash was falling more than 30 kilometres away.

At one point, a huge fire ball was blown 2 kilometres high into the sky, raining sand up to 10 kilometres away.

At one of the most dangerous stages, ash and gas were spewing 5 kilometres into the sky for more than an hour.

Mount Merapi jeep tour, Indonesia

The Mount Merapi eruptions have left scars – for humans and the landscapes. Let’s look first at what it did to the communities in the path of the lava.

Museum Sisa Hartaku

I’m on my way up towards the top of Mount Merapi. On the lower slopes of the mountain are lots of small towns and villages.

There are farms and restaurants. As I go higher up and the vegetation gets thicker, the communities become more sparse.

At one of the towns, I stop. The houses here are no longer lived in – they’re just shells of what they once were.

Concrete ruins left over after lava rushed through and destroyed anything that could be burned or melted.

Mount Merapi jeep tour, Indonesia

There’s a small museum set up in the walls of one of the former houses. It’s called Museum Sisa Hartaku and was put together by a former resident.

She has collected items from the area that were damaged by the lava flows and it’s terrifying to see examples of the power of an eruption.

Mount Merapi jeep tour, Indonesia
Mount Merapi jeep tour, Indonesia

Twisted metal; melted plastic, half a motorbike; a clock that’s stopped at the exact moment of the destruction.

This is how a town ends up looking when it’s in the shadow of one of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes.

Mount Merapi jeep tour, Indonesia
Mount Merapi jeep tour, Indonesia

Mount Merapi jeep tour

The most common way for visitors to explore Mount Merapi is with a jeep tour. There are a few companies that offer the tour and, when you see the roads further up the mountain, you understand why you can’t do this in a normal car.

Mount Merapi jeep tour, Indonesia

Bouncing about as we speed over humps and swing around holes, I hold on to a bar tightly and try not to get thrown out. Surely it’s possible to drive smoother and slower, I think.

When the driver suddenly veers off the road and up a hillock just so he can do circles in the mud, I realise that this is part of the experience. Come for the volcano, get the death-defying drive as well!

Mount Merapi jeep tour, Indonesia

It’s been raining recently so there are plenty of puddles to make the drive even more thrilling, crashing through them and spraying water everywhere as we speed along the track.

But what I’m not expecting is that we would drive right into a dam. As we drive through the water at high speed, veering at sharp angles, I get soaked by the splash of the other jeeps that have joined us in there.

Gosh, it’s good fun, though, and we do a few laps. Check out this short video from the experience:

Kaliadem Bunker

Back to Mount Merapi, though, and we make it up the volcano to the highest point that the jeep can go, a village called Kaliadem. It’s just 4 kilometres from the top and was destroyed by lava.

A bunker dug into the ground, designed to protect anyone left behind, has survived.

Mount Merapi jeep tour, Indonesia

From here you can see the top of Mount Merapi. But what’s more noticeable is the enormous gorge that has been cut into the ground. This is the path some of the lava took, ploughing its way down the mountain, burning a permanent scar into the earth as it went.

Mount Merapi jeep tour, Indonesia

Such heat, such speed, such force. Even years later, seeing the physical trauma, you can start to get a sense of the power of this volcano.

Some of Kaliadem village has been rebuilt, though. Shops and restaurants have appeared where the jeeps stop – simple ones but full of life as visitors cram in for a coffee and to compare the craziness of their drivers.

Mount Merapi jeep tour, Indonesia

I have seen enough evidence today of why we should fear Mount Merapi, the menacing giant standing over us, fury rumbling inside waiting to burst out again. But I can also see why it has been revered for so many centuries.

As I sit with my coffee, surrounded by people from around the world who have made the journey here, I look out towards the summit and realise it will always be that way.


There are some really cool places in Yogyakarta, which is just would you would expect from one of Indonesia’s most creative cities.


If you’re looking for a backpacker option, I would recommend the cool Cubic Jogja.


A good cheap and comfortable hotel is Aloha Hotel.


For some ecofriendly accommodation, there’s the affordable Greenhost Boutique Hotel in a good location.


And when it comes to luxury, I would recommend the Sofia Boutique Residence.

Time Travel Turtle was supported by the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.

7 thoughts on “After the lava”

  1. Good post. I always have a habit of seeing only beauty of the nature. But it has an opposite side too. U made me think about the darker side of the nature and the suffering of people over there.

    Worth reading.
    keep posting.

  2. Merapi is very special for me. I have climbed it 6 times. The last time I climbed this mountain was July 2010, just several months before the 2010 eruption. If you want to know how the crater view is, climb it. It’s very worthy. It needs about 5-6 hours to climb til the summit. If you start at midnight, then you reach the summit at dawn, and you can watch the sunrise from there. If you start at early evening, then you can build tent just near the top at the midnight. Wake up an hour before sunrise and hike to the summit. Then you get the sunrise. It’s an amazing view.
    Anyway, your post is great.

  3. Amazing post. I love explore a new place. If Merapi did not effect by volcano, it will be a beautiful travel site. Great photos and good experience. Thanks for share.

  4. Great post! I found the atmosphere at the museum rather chilling, all these everyday objects melted and reduced to ash and rubble. Quite a sight. When you look at ancient eruption sites like Pompeii you are somewhat removed from it due to the thousand of years that separate you from the people that used to live there. But Mount Marapi is so recent it feels very real. As others said before, fantastic photos considering the poor weather we had!


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