The little town of Berastagi in the Karo Highlands of Western Sumatra was to be our final stop before flying to Thailand. The little town is flanked by two volcanos, Gunung Sinabung to the west and Gunung Sibayak to the north. We were here for one reason and one reason only and that was to hike to the summit of Gunung Sibayak, the volcano to the north of town which is still hissing fumes. Having failed to see the crater at the top of Kerinci volcano a week previously due to ridiculous weather conditions, we were excited at the thoughts of getting to the very top of a volcano in Sumatra, even if this one wasn’t active.
Our accommodation was less than ideal, with rats and mice scurrying through the walls while we tried to sleep but for less than five euro a night what could we expect! It was only somewhere to lay our head before and after our hike and so we made do and did our best to ignore the scratching and the rustling in the flimsy, wooden walls.
Guides are available to take you to the top of the volcano should you want them, but we decided to go independently. We planned a route, walking north from town to the beginning of the trail head. From there, we would hike to the crater at the summit and then go down the other side, finishing at Semangat Gunung, where there was a hot springs to relax in before taking a bus back to Berastagi. It sounded fool-proof but that wasn’t to be the case.
Paying our entrance fee for the national park, we began the hike. It was a road a good portion of the way up and so we chatted and strolled along looking into the jungle either side of us, reminiscing about our time in Sumatra. The day was overcast but still very warm and we were thankful the sun wasn’t blazing. After about two hours we reached a large clearing, where some people opt to camp for a night, to make a weekend of the journey. Here, we got our first smell of sulphur, like rotten eggs in the air, we knew we were getting closer to the top. It was rocky and some of the rocks were discoloured. Climbing further up the trail, through the last section of jungle, the trail opened up and we could see the crater in the distance.
As we approached the crater, the smell of sulphur filled the air. All around there were little openings (vents) in the rock and steam hissed out of them powerfully creating these little cloud pockets and a loud noise like an air hose. Around these holes, the rocks were coloured blue, green and yellow, from reacting with the sulphur. Looking down into the now dormant crater, people had taken stones and spelled out words, well wishes and their names. Hanging around a while, we took pictures and had some lunch at the far side of the crater before beginning our descent down through the jungle at the other side. Making it to the top meant we had stood on the very top of a volcano in Sumatra, mission accomplished; it was too early to celebrate!
We had been told to keep an eye out for steps to go down but with no steps apparent to us we took a chance and just started walking the way we thought looked right. The hot springs were visible in the distance and so we headed that general direction. It wasn’t until an hour later we realised, we were going the right way but the steps were long gone and the path was virtually non-existent. Progress was slow, climbing down the rocks, through the jungle, into the bamboo forest and then it happened, again, the skies opened up and the rain began. ‘Kerinci all over again’ was all we could think and soon the path was a river, we had no rain gear with us and we were losing daylight.
Plodding along the muddy path, freezing cold we finally came out at the other side and found not one but three or four different hot springs. Hot from the volcanic surroundings the simple concrete baths were perfect after a long hike in the rain, even if they did stink of sulphur.
To get back to Berastagi, we thought there would be a bus from the hot springs; we were wrong! The rain, now a relentless downpour, continued. It was fully dark and we were walking towards the main ‘highway’ a few miles from where we were. Soaked to the bone, we were squeezing water out of our clothes as we went, our shoes squelching with each step, we thought we’d never get back. A few cars passed by but none stopped and then thankfully, out of nowhere, an ojek (motorbike taxi) showed up. The two of us jumped on, after negotiating a price, and we held on, shivering in our soaking wet clothes as we were driven through the cool night air and pouring rain. Handing the driver the sopping wet money at the other end, we could only laugh.
Standing on the edge of the highway doing our best to hail down a bus, we finally had some luck. A minivan bus pulled over to pick us up, the other passengers looked at us like we had a screw loose and we squashed in beside them, doing our very best (not good enough!) not to wet everyone else on the bus. Warming up slighty inside the bus, we finally got back to Berastagi in one piece. It had been another mad Sumatran adventure and our last for now. Next stop Bangkok.