Posted Dec 1st
We were happy to get out of Medan & take a local bus to Berastagi — a scenic 3 hour bus journey up through jungle-covered slopes & little villages. The town is situated at an altitude of 1300 metres & is ‘blessed’ to have 2 live volcanoes right on its doorstep!
One of them — Mt Sinabung — became very active a few years ago & has been out of bounds to visitors ever since. It was easy to understand why as on our first day in the area, the volcano put on a ‘welcoming ceremony’ by emitting a lot of ash that then came down like rain. Our clothes became covered with little grey spots & as time went on, everything became covered with a thin layer of grey ash.
Luckily the other volcano, Mt Sibayak, can still be visited. We went to the tourist information office & were quoted some exorbitant fees for a guided visit to the summit. Along with this, the official pointed to a notice behind him, listing various unfortunate foreign tourists who had unwisely attempted to circumvent the guided tour & make the climb on their own. Some were found dazed & dehydrated days later, after getting lost in the jungle. Others had apparently completely disappeared without trace, never to be seen again!
Fortunately, our couch surfing host told us that these were ‘scare tactics’ to generate more business for the guides & that actually the path up & down the mountain was very safe & well-signposted!
We found this to be the case: after a minibus taxi half way up the mountain, it was a moderately steep 2 hour hike up to the summit, (height 2057m), passing first through lush vegetation & then volcanic ash residue. As we got closer to the top, we began to hear a lot of hissing sounds, a bit like many pressure cookers going off at the same time! The noise came from fumaroles — steam vents that could be seen all around the summit. An amazing sight!
Coming down was quite different. After starting off on the same path, we later took the turn off to Hot Springs — a 5km narrow tarmac road to a place where the geothermally heated water had given rise to a string of ramshackle tourist resorts & guest houses with hot pools to soak in. We walked half way, before getting a ride on a cabbage truck the rest of the way — much more exciting, (not to mention cheaper), than the guided tour!
Next post: Lake Toba…..