Cape Town - Travellers are trying to make the most of an uncertain situation on the Indonesian island of Bali as an erupting volcano with a deadly history closed the island's international airport for a third day.
Authorities have told 100 000 people to leave an area extending 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Mount Agung as it belches grey and white ash plumes, the low clouds hanging over the volcano at times hued red from the lava welling in the crater.
The volcano's last major eruption in 1963 killed about 1 100 people, but it's unclear how bad the current eruption might get or how long it could last.
SEE: Think your Bali festive season plans are dashed? Here's what you need to know
On Wednesday officials extended the closure of Bali's international airport for another 24 hours due to concerns the thick volcanic ash could harm aircraft.
Airport spokesperson Ari Ahsanurrohim said more than 440 flights were canceled Tuesday, affecting nearly 60 000 passengers, about the same as Monday.
UPDATE: Ahsanurrohim told AFP the airport will re-open Wednesday afternoon at 15:00pm local time (07:00 GMT). "We are going to constantly monitor the situation on the ground," he added.
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Without the delays caused by the two and a half day closure - travellers have opted to travel by land and take a boat to another island, enduring choppy seas in Bali's rainy season.
'Bali not the magical place it usually is'
One of those travellers making alternative arrangements is Stuart McMaster.
McMaster who did not disclose his nationality emailed Traveller24 saying, "It was only yesterday (Monday) morning we climbed neighbouring Mount Batur to witness the incredible sunrise over erupting Mt Agung - we had few worries as most rumours said the eruption would subside."
McMaster has been backpacking around Bali and was meant to spend four more nights on the popular tourist destination, before flying from Denpasar on 2nd of December.
He describes how they hopped onto their ash covered bikes in Ubud, 50km south of Agung, on Tuesday morning wearing advisable face masks, "We were West-bound to the island of Nusa Penida through the port of Pedangbai (20km South-West Mt Agung). It was no more than 5km from the port and an hour into our journey, that we realised Bali wasn’t the magical place it usually is. Dark skies, the smell of smoke and an eerie atmosphere.
McMaster has not opted to wait and see what happens as some travellers have.
"We decided that sticking it out on Bali and hoping our flight wasn’t cancelled probably wasn’t the best idea." He says they have since rebook flights through Semerang - a town on neighbouring Java - braving a 20-hour journey from Megwi bus terminal, just north of Depensar.
"It is with a sad heart we leave Bali. It is a beautiful tranquil place that unfortunately has been hit by Mother Nature. Those to suffer most aren’t tourists, as we can always make alternate arrangements, but the locals who solely survive on us, the tourists and the land around Mt Agung," says McMaster.
He says, "If the volcano stops erupting it will still take a few days to clear up but I’m sure once it does Bali will be back to its beautiful self."
SEE: SA writer trapped in 'paradise', fears the worst for locals in Bali volcano danger zone
'Determined to get to Bali'
Another reader Lynette Dubber wrote to Traveller24 saying, "My Son, Deane Dubber left for Bali on Saturday afternoon from OR Tambo, Johannesburg."
"A few hiccups along the way but on Monday morning left Hong Kong determined to get to Bali.
Dubber says her son sent her a message via Facebook on Tuesday, saying "Everything is calm in Kuta and that he would choose a direction to head in two days time but he is very excited to be there.
"Cathay Pacific was extremely good to the stranded passengers, communicating constantly and offering alternative flight to other destinations. #superimpressed," writes Dubber.
When will Agung erupt?
It has been on a slow rumble for months, since September. According to AFP, experts suggest a larger, explosive eruption is possible or Agung could stay at its current level of activity for weeks.
"If it got much worse, it would be really hard to think of. You've got a huge population center, nearly a million people in Denpasar and surroundings, and it's very difficult to envision moving those people further away," said Richard Arculus, a volcano expert at Australian National University, adding that an eruption in 1843 was even more explosive than the one in 1963.
"There are many examples in history where you have this kind of seismic buildup — steam ejections of a little bit of ash, growing eruptions of ash to a full-scale stratosphere-reaching column of ash, which can presage a major volcanic event," he said.
A NASA satellite detected a thermal anomaly at the crater, said senior Indonesian volcanologist Gede Swantika. That means a pathway from the storage chamber in the volcano's crust has opened, giving magma easier access to the surface.
Indonesian officials first raised the highest alert two months ago when seismic activity increased. More than 100,000 people living near the volcano fled their homes, many abandoning their livestock or selling them for a fraction of the normal price. The activity decreased by late October, and the alert was lowered before being raised to the highest level again Monday.
Nearly 40 000 people are now staying in 225 shelters, according to the Disaster Mitigation Agency in Karangasem. But tens of thousands of villagers have remained in their homes because they feel safe or don't want to abandon their farms and livestock.
"Ash has covered my house on the floor, walls, banana trees outside, everywhere" said Wayan Lanus, who fled his village in Buana Giri with his wife and daughter.
Flows of volcanic mud have been spotted on Agung's slopes, and Arculus warned more are possible since it's the rainy season.
"They're not making a lot of noise. It's just suddenly coming like a flash flood out of nowhere," he said. "You do not want to be near them. Stay out of the valleys."
Indonesia sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" and has more than 120 active volcanoes.
* Mason reported from Jakarta. Associated Press writer Ali Kotarumalos in Jakarta contributed to this report.
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- Think your Bali festive season plans are dashed? Here's what you need to know
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- UPDATE: Bali on maximum volcano alert as SA travellers advised to check on flight status