OPINION: Should you still travel to Bali while Mount Agung volcano threatens to erupt?

An elderly woman waits inside an evacuation center in Klungkung regency, Bali on September 25, 2017. Photo: Sonny Tumbelaka/AFP
An elderly woman waits inside an evacuation center in Klungkung regency, Bali on September 25, 2017. Photo: Sonny Tumbelaka/AFP

With Bali’s Mount Agung volcano at a level IV, red status, the big question everyone seems to be asking right now is “Should I still travel to Bali?”. While travelers are of  course worried about the dangers to flying posed by ash fall, if Agung were to erupt, and the annoyance of having flight delays, there’s a lot more to consider about making a Bali trip at the moment, according to our guest writer. 

These are my personal feelings on the topic that keep stemming from this.

People keep asking on various sites about their holidays, (their flights etc.). I know to you it may be the holiday of a lifetime, or you are worried you won’t make it back etc. for important plans if she blows because the airport is closed.

Okay, got your insurance organized and think you will just enjoy your holiday and anyway and accept you might be delayed.

Please, think about this, if the airport is closed, with this type of volcano it will mean something has happened… this is not a smoking Mt. Rinjani on Lombok.

IF, I am saying IF she blows then I cannot for the life of me see how you can continue on enjoying your holiday or even care about your work back home, or your wedding etc.!

If you know anything about the Balinese then you know full well that many elders WILL not evacuate… I can’t get an old grandma to a hospital 20 minutes away when extremely ill, how the hell will you get them to leave their ancestral homes behind?

Death toll last time was 1,400 plus… you can’t have actual real figures as people didn’t even have birth certificates until recently, many people just lived in little pockets in the mountains. God, my village office doesn’t even have a computer. I found a child (well she found me) after the landslides and no one could work out who she was in 2017).

Most elders I spoke to say around 10,000 people died. The population of Bali then was so much smaller in 1963.

At least 170,000 people live in the area today and I can only calculate about 11,600 are in camps so far as of 10:30am on Friday morning, many left to Denpasar, how do they tally these numbers? Have you got a Balinese friend that evacuated to his friend’s place in Kuta? Did he tell anyone? Is there a record of him being safe? This is a mammoth task just to record where everyone is, so your flight doesn’t matter right this moment.

Remember the worst case scenario is (this is if the lava flows even reach 1/4 of the distance predicted) the majority of the vegetables for the island are grown up there, the ash will fallout and destroy them without any need for lava.

Ash will land on the majority of the rice fields, the water channels leading to the rice fields all the way to the coastline near Sanur. Food will need to be brought in from Java, and should it go to you first?

My husband’s family’s business will be destroyed; 120 Balinese will be out of work. This just one business, just one. How many businesses will be destroyed, directly or indirectly by this event, this will be an economic nightmare. And don’t do the “Well they will want my tourist dollar then or I will slap you!”. You can say that when you come later and buy me a beer.

Schools will be destroyed, whole villages will have nothing and cannot return for a long time, so, will these tents become their homes, their schools, their medical clinics, their village offices for years? What about their temples? Until the level goes down, these could be their temporary homes for a long time even if she does not erupt.

Most of Karangasem is a low-income area and most are farmers. Where will they farm?

So, if you are thinking, oh well I will just sit it out until the ash settles after the eruption, my insurance will cover it, then please think again:

How the hell do you have a cocktail or watch the sunset with a Bintang knowing that on the same island people have just lost their homes or worse, died?

How do you even have a shower, or jump the hotel pool knowing that people have no water and the water supply from all the rivers in that area will be polluted, maybe for years? 300 rivers in Bali have already dried up for water usage.

How do you enjoy that nasi goreng knowing you are using up supplies of food, that are no longer available to so many?

How do you have that person serving you with that big Balinese smile, knowing that it could be their families have suffered so much?

So, if your flight is not tonight, or tomorrow then you should not be even asking the question of “what about me?”. Just zip it for the moment. Work out what you want to do from the information being provided. Right now, you are not important to anyone but you.

Please follow the Balinese way, the importance of an individual should never outweigh the importance of a community.

IF she does blow, you should be more worried about finding a way off the island via land or sea so that you are not a burden on Bali. Or if you do stay, then stay to volunteer your time to help those in need. Your money will still be spent on your accommodation and food etc. to help businesses in the South. Spend your days helping rather than holidaying.

IF she does NOT blow, then all will be good and you can come and enjoy the Bali you love, but right now just stop asking, we are in the 24-hour window, if she goes back to stage orange then don’t worry, but don’t bloody ask if you should come here when she’s at stage red. Just zip it for this moment, we have lives to think about just at this moment.

These people will be living away for their homes, their temples, some, their grandparents, their pets. They will/have been living in tents, with earthquakes every 10-30 minutes, having to eat and drink from supplies until the “all clear” is given. And you are worried about your holiday?

Supplies also need to go into the safe zones villages and shopkeepers are running out of stock already today… so the villages that are hosting will be impacted for their food and water supplies.

There, sorry, said it, it’s been boiling, shoot me down as much as you want. Hopefully she won’t blow and you can come and meet me and say it to my face (and buy me a beer).

Rachel Bergsma is an Australian expat who has lived in Bali, full time, for the past ten years with her husband. Together, they run a company that conducts cultural tours, connecting travelers with locals at a traditional Balinese village in Kintamani, called Kedisan. The tours are geared towards appreciating Balinese culture and raising funds for the local school and community.

Bergsma originally posted a version of this piece on Facebook before Coconuts Bali contacted her for an op-ed.

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