Tourists return despite eruptions in Indonesia

The last two weeks' continued eruptions of Mount Sinabung in Karo regency, North Sumatra, have not scared off foreign tourists, who have begun to return to a number of destinations in the regency.

This was in evidence at the renowned Berastagi resort, to which groups of foreign tourists were seen flocking on Sunday.

Of one the tourists, Zhang HW from Shanghai, said that initially he was afraid to visit Karo because of Mt. Sinabung's eruptions. Yet, he said, his fear disappeared as he and his group arrived at Berastagi.

"I think it's safe here. I imagined that Berastagi was still covered with layers of volcanic ash, but it seems to have gone," Zhang told The Jakarta Post in Berastagi on Sunday.

Zhang, who was on his second visit to Karo, said he enjoyed visiting the regency for its cool air and beautiful scenery.

"I may well come back again," he said, adding that he had spent a night at the Simalem Park Resort in Merek district before heading to Berastagi.

Hakim Halim of Malaysia expressed a similar sentiment, saying that he was impressed by the beautiful scenery of Karo.

The desire for others to enjoy the scenery had induced him to bring along 206 students and teachers of the Fairview International School, where he works as a teacher, to Karo. They spent three days at Simalem Park Resort.

"This is part of an educational tour. It's really fun," said Halim, adding that the group had not felt the impact of Mt. Sinabung's eruptions while they were in Karo.

The head of Karo Regency Tourism Agency, Dinasty Sitepu, said that the number of foreign and domestic tourists visiting Karo had been returning to normal as the intensity of eruptions decreased.

"We hope the condition of Sinabung will continue to improve and that tourists will continue to return to Karo," said Dinasty.

Dinasty earlier admitted that the eruptions had affected tourism in the regency, with the number of tourists dropping by 60 per cent.

Two weeks ago, tourism in Berastagi was reported to have been paralysed as thick layers of volcanic ash from Mt. Sinabung blanketed the resort. Stores closed and the number of hotel guests dwindled.

However, as the wind changed its direction to the west of the slope of the volcano, the volcanic ash covering Berastagi became ever thinner until business returned to normal.

As of Sunday, Mt. Sinabung was continuing to erupt, spewing searing lava, pyroclastic flows and volcanic ash into the air, but the eruptions were not as severe as before.

The head of the Mt. Sinabung observation post, Armen Putra, said that on Monday the volcano released searing lava at least 50 times alongside a pyroclastic flow, while volcanic ash was ejected onto the eastern part of the volcano's slope.

"So far, no volcanic ash has reached Berastagi as the speed of the wind is normal," Armen said.

The volcano first erupted in September last year, killing at least 14 people and forcing thousands of others to seek shelter.

Besides affecting tourism, the eruptions have also disrupted agriculture in the regency, with hectares of farmland blanketed by volcanic ash.