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Photo: Photographer Martin Westlake
Photographer Martin Westlake

When British photographer Martin Westlake arrived in Indonesia for what was intended to be a one-year, off-shore geological surveying assignment for an oil company, he knew his first order of business: Visit the site of the most cataclysmic volcanic eruption in human history—Krakatoa. Fifteen years later and still living in Jakarta, Westlake revisited the remains of the mighty mount with writer Jamie James for "The Second Act of Krakatoa" featured in the October 2003 issue. Read excerpt >>

"For me, there is a great feeling of awe about a volcano and the destructive power lurking beneath—particularly Krakatoa with its notoriety and explosive history," says Westlake, who has a master's degree in maritime geography.

Located between Java and Sumatra in the Sunda Strait, Krakatoa's 1883 eruption wreaked havoc for great distances when nearly 11 cubic miles (17.7 cubic kilometers) of ash and rock launched into the air, 120-foot (37-meter) tsunamis raced 6 miles (9.6 kilometers) inland, and entire villages were destroyed. Thirty-six thousand people were killed. The megablast was so powerful it blew the mountain to bits, leaving behind craggy islets and a new cone, Anak Krakatau, or "Krakatoa's baby," in what is now Indonesia's premier national park, Ujung Kulon.

Today, Ujung Kulon National Park is a must-see among backpackers and a refuge for dwindling populations of the Javan rhino and tiger. And while a lack of funding preserves the park's wilderness, the tangled jungles, climactic electrical storms and a lurking fear of the volcano's wrath keep many locals away from the exquisite scenery.

"We'd get up at sunrise at our campsite in Ujung Kulon to see storm breakers coming up the beach, surrounded by remarkable volcanic rock formations—like Scotland or the coast of Normandy," says the Sussex-born photographer.

How did the volcano differ, fifteen years later?

For one thing, due to ongoing volcanic activity, what was once the cone's summit is now just a ridge about an hour's hike from the top, notes Westlake.

"This time there was more a sense of achievement in reaching the summit, perhaps because I was with other people, or maybe due to the increased size of the beast," says Westlake.

Portrait by Rob Pearce

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Map of the Krakatoa Islands
Map: Krakatoa Islands

October 2003

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