We all have heard about the devastation caused by eruption of Mt. Merapi about a month ago. It was all over the media and even caught international attention. Many of us had donated money, clothing, food, even volunteered ourselves to help the victims.
Last week I was in Yogya for work, which gave me the opportunity to see fist hand the aftermath of Merapi. It was such a hassle to get there, with the airport has just opened and Garuda messed up its system. I had to fly to Semarang and took another 3 hours ride just to get to Yogya. But then I could see the situation of places on the way to Yogya. It is undeniable that eruption of Mt. Merapi had caused enormous loss and damage to the affected areas: Kabupaten Sleman, Magelang, Boyolali and Klaten. I visited the villages within 4 km radius of the crater, and I saw with my own eyes the destruction caused by such a powerful eruption. When I went to Magelang, I can still see traces of volcanic ash everywhere; on the road, buildings, and trees. All around Muntilan you’ll see trees droop under the weight of heavy ash emitted after the eruption.
Thankfully, Yogya is still up and running. There were a brief interruption of activities during the days of eruption, but the heavy rain had wiped away traces of ash. Physically, Yogya was fine. That’s why when a TV presenter called Yogya as “city of devastation”, many protested of such a lebay statement. However, the economy, business and tourism were heavily affected. What I could easily observe during my stay was how Yogya’s tourism took a hard hit. I interviewed some key players in tourism industry, talked to taxi drivers, hotel workers, tour guides, art dealers, and everybody voiced the same concern of how business dropped significantly after the eruption.
The easiest way to gauge the volume of tourists coming to Yogya is by coming to Malioboro. I went there on Friday night, and I didn’t see that many people walking on what normally packed street. I went to Mirota Batik, and even there were enough people in the store, there were no line at the checkout counters.
I visited Keraton on Saturday morning, and there were only a couple of people coming. If weekend business were that slow, imagine what happened during weekdays! Luckily, the people of Yogya are optimistic bunch. “Hopefully things will start picking up, Mbak. The airport is now open, people see that Yogya is OK. God willing, people will come again to Yogya,” said a taxi driver who drove me around on my last day in Yogya.
I know we all have done our part to support the victims of Mt. Merapi. How about we do one more thing to boost the economy? Next holiday, come visit Yogya and surrounding cities again. The airport is now open and flights (almost) resume to their usual frequency. The Keraton is still there as a proud symbol of Javanese culture, always open from 8AM-2PM. Short drive from Yogya will get you to Candi Prambanan and Ratu Boko, both were not affected by Merapi. One hour drive will get you to Candi Borobudur which still partially open (only to the base of the temple), but you can still admire the mighty structure from up close. Just think that you’ve donated Rp. 20,000 (admission price) to the cause of cleaning one of Indonesia’s cultural heritage. I got it from good authority that the cleaning process will take about a year, because cleaning doesn’t stop at removing the volcanic ashes but also to chemically clean and strengthen the statues.
Yogya is still the place to buy batik and artworks, and prices have been slashed down to encourage business. I myself took advantage of this, where I bought a beautiful silk batik painting at half price. The creative people of Yogya are still producing goods we love. Bags, shoes, witty t-shirts, pretty batik dresses, silver jewelery are still available. Moreover, who can resist all the good food available at affordable price all over the city? Come, and experience Yogya again!
PS: I just realized that this is my 2nd article on Yogya. Of other cities I visited, I think Yogya inspired me the most.