Volcano Sinabung Erupts

Sinabung Eruption

We awoke this morning to news that the Indonesian volcano Gunung Sinabung has again erupted. As you may recall, it was just a few months ago that we were in Berastagi, Sumatra, Indonesia climbing Gunung Sibayak. Each morning and evening while we were in Berastagi would would climb to the roof of the home we were staying in and watch the smoke coming from Sinabung.

Climbing to the roof to look at Sinabung

Climbing to the roof to look at Sinabung

Sinabung smoking on the horizon

Sinabung smoking on the horizon

Talking about the last eruption...and the present danger.

Talking about the last eruption…and the present danger.

The husband of the family we were staying with had an extensive album of photos he had taken in 2010, the last major eruption of Sinabung. The photos were a strong reminder of nature’s power – flowing lava, billowing smoke, dozens of charred bodies, horribly burned survivors with skin baked and peeling, everything covered in snow-like ash… A nightmarish scene.

And yet people choose to live and work all around the volcano. The land is fertile, the climate friendly. The area is Sumatra’s “bread basket.” The family we stayed with was convinced that it was totally safe.

Lush fields in our "back yard"

Lush fields in our “backyard”

A house in Berastagi

A house in Berastagi

To put the locations in perspective, here is a map that shows Sinabung, Sibayak and the house where we stayed:

The red circle is Sinabung (just erupted), the green circle is Sibayak (the one we climbed), and the blue circle is the house where we stayed.

The red circle is Sinabung (just erupted), the green circle is Sibayak (the one we climbed), and the blue circle is the house where we stayed. The map scale is about 1 inch = 5 miles.

Sinabung smoulders at sunset

Sinabung smoulders at sunset

A sulphurous lump on the side of the volcano

A sulphurous lump on the side of the volcano

Not hot lava

Not hot lava

Local kids at work

Local kids at work

We hope our friends there are safe, and continue to be so…

Jungles, Volcanoes, Monkeys and Orangutans

The past month has been a whirlwind trip through Malaysia and Sumatra. We’ve visited the disappearing rainforests of both, trekked through the jungle, climbed an active volcano, met orangutans in the wild, and stayed on a beautiful island in a giant lake, in the crater of yet another volcano.

In Bukit Lawang

In Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia.

Rainforest ants are BIG

Rainforest ants are BIG!

We promise we to blog about it soon, but not tonight.

Tonight we are back in Kuala Lumpur. It’s getting close to midnight and we have to be up before the sun tomorrow for a flight to SRI LANKA!

We promise more updates soon, but in the meantime here is a short video of our climb of Gunung Sibayak in Sumatra. I wish you could smell the sulphur and feel the heat. It was awesome!

Hello from Volcano Sibayak

Yesterday we climbed to the top of Gunung Sibayak, a volcano near Berastagi, Sumatra, Indonesia. We got up at 4 am and made it to the top rim of the volcano just as the sun was rising. It was awesome!

The video above is just a quick “Hello” but we are working hard to get a full post up with all the details on the volcano experience as well as our recent adventures in the rain forests and urban jungles of Sumatra.

Earthquake & Tsunami

We’re currently in Galle, a city on the southern coast of Sri Lanka. Last night I got an email from our friend Anita in Dallas. She’s an educator and a science nerd of the highest caliber.

Here’s what she said, “7.9 earthquake Sumatra. I think you are a fair distance but keep watch for tsunami if you are near coast.”

I immediately went to Google News and searched for “earthquake sumatra”.

earthquake news

Yikes! Of course Anita was right, and her warning was timed with the earliest of news stories about the quake. It sure is nice to have and early warning network of smart friends. Thanks Anita. This is the kind of email that could have potentially saved our lives.

As you may know, in 2004 there was a similar but larger earthquake in the same area off the coast of Sumatra. Here’s how Wikipedia describes it:

The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake occurred at 00:58:53 UTC on 26 December with the epicentre off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. The shock had a moment magnitude of 9.1–9.3 and a maximum Mercalli intensity of IX (Violent). The undersea megathrust earthquake was caused when the Indian Plate was subducted by the Burma Plate and triggered a series of devastating tsunamis along the coasts of most landmasses bordering the Indian Ocean, killing 230,000 people in 14 countries, and inundating coastal communities with waves up to 30 metres (100 ft) high. It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history. Indonesia was the hardest-hit country, followed by Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand.

It is the third-largest earthquake ever recorded on a seismograph and had the longest duration of faulting ever observed, between 8.3 and 10 minutes.[8] It caused the entire planet to vibrate as much as 1 centimetre (0.4 inches)[9] and triggered other earthquakes as far away as Alaska.[10] Its epicentre was between Simeulue and mainland Indonesia.

We’re staying a family-run guesthouse in one of the highest areas of Galle, away from the sea, so I think we would be safe from all but the very largest tsunamis. In the 2004 tsunami, the water did not reach this area, and in fact in the lower area of the fort, the walls of the Galle Fort protected it from the waves. Nonetheless, I found our host and told her about the earthquake and suggested that she call and alert any family or friends that lived on the water or in areas that might be at risk. We were on high alert.

This earthquake really hit home for us as we have spent the past month or so in Sumatra and Sri Lanka, in areas that were massively affected by the 2004 tsunami. Just day-before-yesterday we were at the Tsunami Photo Museum in the beach town of Hikkaduwa/Telwatta. It is a small museum put together by one of the survivors. It sits across the road from the ocean, in the location where her home used to be, before the tsunami washed it away.

Tsunami Photo Musuem

Tsunami Photo Musuem

The owner of the musuem telling us about the tsunami.

The owner of the musuem telling us about the tsunami.

She told us harrowing tales of how the day unfolded. She said that there was no warning and that most people had no idea what was happening. There was quite suddenly a large wave that hit the town, washing over the beach and well onto land in many areas. It was a big wave, but not too devastating.

First wave

First wave

The first wave

The first wave

After the wave hit, the waters retreated to well beyond the normal shore line, exposing ground that was normally underwater. What used to be water was now land and the sea was calm in the distance. People had never seen such a thing, and many came down to the water to look, to check the damage, and to assist others. Some people fled inland, looking for higher ground. There was a train stopped on the tracks and many villagers sought refuge on the train, or put their children on the train, thinking it to be a safe place.

For the next 20 or 30 minutes, the waters of the sea were eerily calm in the distance, and then suddenly, a giant, much larger wave came roaring in. This brought massive devastation and death. More than 30,000 people were killed in Sri Lanka. Thousands are still “missing.”

The second wave hits

The second wave hits people who had walked out to to the beach to investigate


The train was not a safe refuge. As many as 2,000 people were killed when the second wave hit the train.

The train was not a safe refuge. As many as 1,500 people were killed when the second wave hit the train.


Here are more photos of the museum:


This is what the owners home looked like after the second wave. Everything was destroyed. The museum was built on the site where the home used to be.


This is the tent the owner lived in for 6 months after the tsunami.

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Thankfully, the earthquake last night did not result in a tsunami, but it was still a powerful experience for us and a reminder as to how quickly life can change. In our recent travels, we’ve climbed a volcano where we smelled the sulfurous steam, seen hot lava flows, and felt the burning heat of the active Earth. We visited villages that sit at the base of volcanoes and that one day, will likely be destroyed in an eruption. We’ve seen first hand the devastating power of earthquakes and tsunamis. We’ve seen tragic human impact and loss as well as human strength and resilience in the face of adversity.

Have fun, but be careful out there.

POP QUIZ: How do scientists measure the strength of earthquakes?

Seismologists use equipment called seismographs to measure movements in the earth. These movements or forces are expressed in numbers using the Moment of Magnitude Scale. In the past they used the Richter Scale. For more info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moment_magnitude_scale

Maps of Our Recent Travel (from Thailand to Malaysia, then Indonesia)

A mapped summary of our most recent travels since the beginning of 2016.

We’re nearly six weeks behind real time posts, and delays in our posts will likely continue. We simply haven’t been able to upload photos and videos in Malaysia and Indonesia. Internet connections are usually very slow and sometimes, just barely functional. We haven’t found anywhere (for weeks!) where we have enough upload speed for our growing collection of photos and videos. We experienced slow connections in Thailand, too, but managed to find one or two dependable locations with enough bandwidth (in hindsight, what a luxury!).

Here are a few maps that show our recent travel. We left Bangkok at the start of the New Year, January 2016. We flew to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Then, we took a minivan with a few other passengers to the Jetty in Kuala Tembeling where we boarded a small wood longboat-style river boat to Taman Negara, a 130 million year old rainforest and national park about 240km northeast of Kuala Lumpur. From there, we drove about 250km west, to Cameron Highlands, one of Malaysia’s most extensive hill stations, with blissfully cool temperatures and altitudes that ranged from 3,600ft to 5,200ft above sea level.

After Cameron Highlands, we had a minivan to ourselves for the entire 260km drive to Pulau Pinang, an island that sits on the west coast of Malaysia in the Straits of Malacca within the Malaysian state of Penang. We spent most of our time in Georgetown, a UNESCO World Heritage site, one of the most commercially and economically developed cities in Malaysia, and a charming historic city all rolled into one.

Bangkok, Thailand ke Pulau Pinang, Malaysia - Google Maps

From Penang, we flew to Medan, Indonesia, the third largest city in the country.

Penang, Malaysia to Medan, Medan City, North Sumatra - Google Maps

From Medan, we had a private car drive us the short 70km to Bukit Lawang, a small village adjacent to Gunung Leuser National Park. The park is part of the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra which is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. We are writing from Bukit Lawang now, and have departure plans tomorrow morning for Berastagi, known for cooler temperatures (yay!), a couple of volcanoes and some hot springs.

Medan, Medan City, North Sumatra to Bukit Lawang, North Sumatra - Google Maps

For scale, consider that “little” volcanic island (Samosir) you see sitting southeast of Bukit Lawang in the middle of a natural lake (Danau Toba/Lake Toba). Samosir island is the size of Singapore.