Mount Agung Eruption, my story of what’s really happening in Bali.

It’s Sunday, December 3rd, 2017 and I’m sitting at Green Ginger Cafe in Canggu, Bali as I type this article. Over the past month, I’ve been living in Bali. I came originally to be a videographer for an entrepreneur retreat called The Abundant Circle, but since I can work remotely, I stayed for the rest of the month to enjoy this beautiful island.

When I boarded the flight in New York City on November 6th, I knew there was the possibility that the volcano might erupt, but I couldn’t let that deter me from coming to one of my favorite places on earth; and when I first got here, all was well and calm. The volcano was definitely a topic of conversation, but it had yet to erupt.

At the time when I arrived, I had learned that the locals near Mount Agung had been on edge for a couple months; they had even been moved to shelters away from their homes in the event that the eruption happened. But over time, the threat level had been reduced so they returned home. That wasn’t going to be the case for long.

Fast forward about week later, after my first retreat, and I am in Ubud as a photographer for another retreat; this time a yoga retreat with Emily Chen and Tiffany Pek. After morning yoga, we were having breakfast and I learn that the eruption happened 18 hours earlier! But all was quite in Ubud, 30 km away from the mountain.

This definitely quickly became a big topic of conversation and I wanted to head up to the volcano to take pictures, but at this point I was still a bit nervous about the safety of being close to the volcano and what was happening up there. Now that I am seeing pictures from other photographers though such as Emilio Kumza, I realize I missed out a bit from those first couple days for some amazing shots. He wins the volcano picture prize in my opinion, more on him later. Jack Morris from doyoutravel and Lauren Bullen from gypsea_lust also had some incredible shots.

Life continued as normal though in Ubud. People were out and about just as they had been before, restaurants were open; you wouldn’t even know that there was a massive volcano eruption just 30 km away from where I was standing.

A few more days passed and at this point I was staying at a resort in Ubud called Wapa Di Ume for a collaboration with the hotel and Emily Chen. The resort was interested in her yoga following so we made a video and took pictures for the resort, you can see my Instagram version here. During this time, Emily and I became friends with Sena Karilo who runs the resort. Over a meeting on our second day, Sena and I discussed waking up early to drive up and take pictures of the volcano, I wanted to make this happen, truly a once in a lifetime opportunity.

At 5:00 AM on Tuesday November 28th, 2017 Sena and I hoped in the car, drone in hand and camera batteries charged. We drove north from Ubud in the dark for the first hour until around 6 AM when the sun started rising. I take a look out the right window and and see one of the most amazing sites I may ever see. I tell the driver to pull over, we have to capture this silhouette shot of the mountain and ash cloud.

Sunrise silhouette of Mount Agung Eruption

As we continue driving, we reach the road that heads near Mt. Batur. Before I left the US I actually thought it was Mt. Batur that was going to erupt, not Agung. Little did I know, a few days later I would be climbing that volcano at 3 AM.

We take a right at the fork in the road and head closer and closer to Mount Agung. As we pass several villages, life seemed to continue as normal in most places. However, as we entered the the area where the wind was blowing the ash, we started to notice it falling on the windshield and the roads were covered in a what you would think would be thin film of snow if it wasn’t 82 degrees (~28 celcius) outside. The circle interior air button on the AC was definitely pressed at this point!

We passed through the area with all the ash and arrived at a bridge with an unbelievable view of the eruption. Green trees, rice fields and an erupting volcano in the background, it couldn’t be more beautiful, yet destructive at the same time. I threw the drone up in the air and captured a site I will remember forever.

Drone shot of Mount Agung eruption in Bali

As we continue down the road, we finally find a spot near Selat that indicates it’s a no-go red zone. I stop to take a shot with the volcano in the background. We decline to head up the mountain into the red zone but you could still see a few locals heading that way; for the most part though, this area was a ghost town.

The road towards Selat, the red zone

After the quick stop near Selat, we continue on and find a beautiful rice field with a clear view of the mountain. I would say this was probably within the red zone but we were at the edge about 12–15 km away. There were plenty of other drone pilots, photographers, but most importantly locals there to view this beautifully destructive event on their island.

While I was there I captured a pretty exciting time lapse of a new plume of ash rising from the volcano. This was later picked up by Eurovision and apparently even appeared briefly on the Today show in the United States. In addition to the video, I captured some beautiful images; I particularly like this one with the mother and son looking out at Mount Agung.

Mother and Son have a moment with Mount Agung

This trip was definitely an unforgettable experience and I’m very thankful for the opportunity to capture these images and video. Thank you again to Sena from Wapa Di Ume for taking me along for the ride, I’ll never forget it. I’ve edited together a short video so far of our experience, you can find it here.

As I approach my last couple days here in Bali, I’m very appreciative of the opportunity to be here for such a historic event and the warm welcome the Balinese people give to tourists here. A few days later when I climbed Mt. Batur, I was talking to our guide and they want people to know that Bali is safe for tourists.

So much of the economy here is driven by tourism, and without tourists, they don’t have a way of making an income. I want the world to know that while I have been here for the past month, I have never felt unsafe from the volcano. Of course I was cautious when approaching the volcano and didn’t want to stay for too long, but the news media seems to make it seem like the whole island is going to implode, and that is just not the case.

The people that are truly affected by this natural disaster are the ones that have their homes near Mount Agung. They have been evacuated to shelters on different parts of the island and are currently living in a tough situation where they don’t know what will happen to their homes and and are living day by day until this natural disaster is over.

I can’t speak directly for what their experience is as I have not been to a shelter myself, but I did pass several on our morning adventure. Emilio Kumza (Eyes of a Nomad) however, who I mentioned earlier, has been very active in helping to raise money and deliver supplies to the people that are critically in need. I know he is working on a guide for how to help them and while I have to leave Bali tomorrow, I plan to support him in whatever way I can.

In the mean time, life on the rest of the island continues. I feel safe and couldn’t have had a better month here in Bali. The friends I have made, experiences I have had, it is unforgettable. So how can you help Bali right now? I’ll be sharing Emilio’s link shortly, but you can find his Facebook page here. Otherwise, one of the best ways to help is to book a trip to Bali! You won’t regret it.

After I finished the initial version of this post, I started finding links to where you can help Bali. There is a need for supplies for the people in shelters but also a need to help the animals of Bali that are stuck near Mount Agung after all the people have left. I’ll list a few links below for where you can donate.

Bali Animal Welfare Association

Agung Saiga Community GoFundMe Page