How To Escape Bali
As you’ve probably heard of by now, Mount Agung in Bali has been erupting on and off for the past two weeks. Although an initial warning was issued over a month ago, most people, including ourselves, weren’t overly concerned with the potential hazard until the eruptions started escalating this week. At this point, the National Agency for Disaster Management has raised the volcanic alert to level 4 and has ordered a mandatory evacuation of the surrounding areas.
Fortunately, most people on the island will not be directly affected by a large scale eruption. However, the spewing volcanic ash being blown towards cities like Ubud and Denpasar has become a major concern for locals and tourists alike. So if you’re like me and you’re one of the people experiencing this natural phenomenon first hand, what do you need to do to avoid the potential hazards and how can you get off the island despite the hundreds of flights being canceled each day?
For starters, go ahead and buy a mask if you haven’t already. The super thin paper ones don’t count! Make the $2.38 investment and buy a surgical grade mask that can actually filter out the harmful volcanic ash. How do you distinguish between the two? The ones you’re looking for will have an N95 rating on them. If it’s not directly on the mask itself, it can also be marked on the packaging. Personally, I went with 4 disposable N95 masks (2 for me and 2 for Shelby) and 2 thick, padded face masks for motor bikes. We’re wearing the scooter masks day to day and saving the N95 ones for if heavy ash clouds reach where we’re staying.
If you feel the need, you can spend $14 and get a thick, reusable, organic, “fashionable” version with the same rating. In my eyes, these are a bit overkill since the idea should be to use the masks to buy you enough time to get out of a dangerous ash cloud and drive to a different part of the island, not to find a mask that will allow you to sit in a cloud of ash for the next 2 weeks. You can find the disposable ones at various pharmacies for 31,000 Rupia and having multiple will allow you to keep them in different bags and give you some measures of redundant backup in case the first mask you buy gets damaged or lost.
Many people are also buying swimming goggles and other makeshift protective eyewear. I’ve found that sunglasses and my helmet visor have done the trick so far, but I’ll probably be making a trip to the nearest Delta to snag some goggles before the day is done. It’s probably also worth taking the time to pull out a little extra cash, stock up on some nonperishable snacks and top off the gas tank in your scooter. You can also quickly map out one or two cities you can head towards in the event a massive ash cloud starts moving your way.
I’d also recommend avoiding basing your actions on reports from the major US news sources. Based on the articles we’ve read and the messages we’ve received from friends and family back home, it’s safe to say that the headlines are being slightly exaggerated to boost the ratings. Find a few credible sources and focus on the updates that actual contain useful information about the current state of the volcano. Last but not least, stay outside the potential blast radius. This should go without saying, but I thought I’d include it just in case.
Now that we’ve talked about how to cope with the volcano if you’re staying, let’s talk about how to get off the island or leave Indonesia all together.
If you had a flight out of Denpasar that got canceled, the best place to start is by calling your airline. Although the status of Denpasar’s airport is day to day, most airlines are willing to book you a new flight out of Denpasar a few days out now or during the following weeks. If you need to get out sooner, many airlines like Qantas and Emirates are going to extensive lengths to help people reroute their flight plans from airports in Surabaya (SUB), Lombok (LOP) and Jakarta (CGK). One of our friends was supposed to fly to Madrid and then to Barcelona the next day and her airline got her a flight directly to Barcelona so that she wouldn’t miss her scheduled plans in Barcelona. If you can’t get through to them on the phone, reach out to the airlines online or through social media. You can also have someone else from back home try calling on your behalf.
Depending on your credit card, contacting your bank is also another great option. Cards like Chase Sapphire Preferred and American Express come with different degrees of travel insurance that can help you cover whatever extra travel expenses you may be incurring because of the volcano. Getting ahold of these companies will also probably be easier than the airlines since they won’t be receiving as many calls, and they have the added benefit of being able to use multiple airlines and other resources to help you get off the island.
If you are able to get a new flight plan, be aware that there really is no telling when Denpasar’s airport will reopen and that there are also talks of Java experiencing a cyclone that could cause a number of problems for the Surabaya airport as well. Now that Lombok’s airport has reopened, I’d recommend trying to fly out of there or making the journey to Jakarta.
Obviously you’ll need to take a boat to get to any of the surrounding islands’ airports. If you’re comfortable with this, you may also be comfortable using boats, buses and cars to island hop a few more times until you get to Singapore or Malaysia. This is a much longer and likely more exhausting option, but it’s still an option nonetheless, and may be one that excites you depending on how you like to travel.
Given the circumstances, there really isn’t a right or wrong way to go about getting out of Bali if you need to; however, it seems like the safest bet is trying to get your flight rerouted out of Jakarta. Although it might take a little longer than heading to Lombok or Surabaya, heading this way will get you further from the volcano and closer to major hubs like Singapore. Jakarta is also the capital of Indonesia and being on Java gives you access to multiple airports (including Surabaya) in case you have to get creative with your flight plans. Lombok’s airport has also already been closed down once and it’s hard to predict exactly what will or won’t happen in the coming days.
The bottomline is you need to be flexible and you need to prepare yourself for the event that you may not be able to leave immediately. Volcanos don’t erupt very often, so there isn’t exactly a protocol on how to handle this situation. The good news is that the airlines and the Indonesian government seem to be doing a good job of accommodating people’s needs during the situation. Be patient and be smart about which options are doable versus which ones probably don’t make sense for you and the people you’re with. Lastly, good luck and try to enjoy the fact that you’re one of the few people that get to experience such an impressive event, no matter how inconvenient it may be for your original plans.