Gina Petrovich

Beat the Mondays: Trapped in Bali? Lessons learned from an erupting volcano

Gina Petrovich is a travel writer for the Kelowna Capital News

When that piece of paper slipped under your hotel door isn’t merely a receipt for your stay, but rather an emergency preparedness checklist for an impending natural disaster, and your inbox is flooded with mail from the Canadian embassy and multiple news station reach outs, I think it’s safe to assume you are experiencing a travel mishap.

From being first on a crime scene in New York, to political unrest in Bangkok and becoming blind and hospitalised in Peru, I am no stranger to interesting travel luck. Notice I didn’t say bad travel luck? If it were bad, then nothing good would have come from any of it.

It’s been one year since a last-minute trip to Indonesia landed me on several news stations as “Kelowna woman stranded in Bali.” The unthinkable happened, Mount Agung, a volcano on Bali decided to erupt within two hours of my arrival.

READ MORE: Okanagan woman trapped in Bali preparing for the worst

You can never say for sure how you’ll respond in a situation like this until you’re living it. Initially, the mood was calm, and it was business as usual. A small evacuation zone was formed at the base of Agung which was rumbling steadily to life.

The humidity was high, the warm Indian ocean came as relief to the heat. I spent my first day swimming in the clear water, feeling the rush of large waves crash against my back as the smooth sand caressed my feet. I was never alone, the local children always wanted to play. It was as if Mount Agung was asleep as it was hours before, unnoticed and quiet.

The next morning the mood was different. Everyone at breakfast was tense, and the topic of conversation was grim. Mount Agung had intensified overnight. The previous small stream of ash was now a massive plume of billowing smoke and fire. Seismic activity had been recorded as the eruption continued to intensify.

It was now deemed unsafe for any air travel. Flights in and out of Denpasar were cancelled. The international airport was closed indefinitely. Thousands of travellers were stranded, and while the news of my flight cancellation wouldn’t come until days later, I began to feel a sense of doom.

Trapped in Bali, doesn’t sound so bad right? Right. I continued my search for adventure and natural beauty despite the disaster unfolding nearby. I screamed in delight as the wind blew my hair wildly as I swung over a rice terrace on a swing I can best describe as something not for the faint of heart. I stepped on to a black sand beach to photograph Tanah Lot, an ancient Hindu temple perched on a rock in the ocean. I drank Bintang on the beach with new friends which can best be described as the charming cast from the Wentworth series on Netflix.

Let’s talk about the coffee in Bali. OK, we don’t need to talk about it, but you should know that it was likely the best coffee I’ve had in my coffee loving travels.

Between monkeys, vegetarian Nasi Goering and multiple news interviews, I still managed to experience the beauty of Bali. Before the evacuation zone expanded, I was lucky enough to jump in a van to ride to the base of Mount Batur, a neighbouring volcano to Agung. Two a.m. pick-up? Never fun. Sunrise volcano hike? Always worth the 2 a.m. pick-up. The view of an erupting volcano from above the clouds on another volcano? Indescribable.

With my new job starting in Kelowna in just a few days, and the airport still closed, I began to feel uneasy and started making connections with other stranded travellers to find alternate routes out of Bali. All involved long cues, multiple modes of transportation and large amounts of money.

This became stressful and the situation was volatile. I had been told to prepare for earthquakes, and potential tsunamis paired with diminished air quality if the wind changed direction. My hotel advised of their emergency procedures on a piece of paper slipped under my door. I wouldn’t be trapped in paradise if this got any worse, I’d be confined to my hotel which would be covered in a protective barrier with only the basics until the situation improved.

As luck would have it, the wind did change direction, and in favour of air travel. Luckily, I was flying with Cathay Pacific who had a strong presence in the sky and were able to get me up and on my way home in a very efficient manner despite the absolute chaos that was the airport.

I made it home the day before my job started and have incredible photos and stories to share. I have made some great connections, including this one with Kelowna Capital News as a result of the events that took place during my less than ordinary adventure in Bali.

Mount Agung erupted five times during my stay and continues to be moody, but still has not explosively erupted causing the great disaster I was so fearful of during my visit.

Always check the Canadian government website for travel advisories before you travel anywhere, and if possible, register your trip with them at www.travel.gc.ca. Please note, natural disasters aren’t scheduled, and you probably won’t find exact dates and times listed no matter where you search.

Gina Petrovich is a Kelowna-based wanderer with a knack for adventure. She’s now sharing her adventures with the Capital News in a bi-monthly column.


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