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Leaving the jungle behind, we took to the hills to the mountain village of Berastagi in the Karo Highlands.

There are two volcanoes nearby, Sibayak and Sinabung, the latter erupting quite regularly and rudely killing people who refuse to stay outside the exclusion zone. Not being quite so foolish, after a respectable stint in the car to arrive, we chose to climb Sibayak instead.

The very minute the car stopped and the blokes got out, the heavens opened and we thought for a while we were going to do a repeat of the soggy Bukit Lawang hike.
Fortunately mountain rain doesn’t hang around for as long as jungle rain, and after a little patience (and an attempted shake down of our guide by some passing 'rangers' ) we were off.
The first part was a piece of cake, but when the time came to go off-road we quickly discovered that time, rain and, oh yeah, earthquakes had taken their toll on the path, and it was anything but easy. But if that volcano thought that would stop us, hah, was it in for a surprise, for it only made us more heroic!
Plenty of visitors from Medan make the effort to visit and camp out and in classic Indonesian style leave behind all sorts of crap (seriously, how do you lose a bra climbing a volcano? Wait, I don't want to know), so hopefully the next earthquake will rumble some of the rubbish into a lava pit.

Currently there are no lava pits available, but close to the summit there are farty sulphur-ringed vents that Moose has been having dreams about for five years – this is why it was worth the climb!

We didn’t go to the very top on account of not wanting to be blown away/tumble down the slope. We were more than happy to hang around near the crater pretending we were in Lord of the Rings (and, in the case of the children, shivering behind a rock because it was actually rather cold up there at 2000+ metres!). Andru wandered off, but didn't disappear into the mist forever (I mean, probably, he might have been abducted by Volcano Goblins and replaced by a flimsy copy, we don't really know, perhaps time will tell).

As we made our decent, we met a European couple who were definitely going to find it chilly at the top – we’re not sure you can tell from the photo, but he’s just wearing pants and a backpack, and she’s just wearing cotton pants and a bra.

We thought it was just them, but as we waited at the bottom for our car to come back for us, a half-naked Canadian popped out of a van with a couple of mates (they also seemed to think that an two hour round trip could be achieved in the hour before sunset, we will keep an eye on the news to see how that works out).

Sinabung Hills Berastagi is a grand-looking edifice that’s actually just a bit crumbly when you look closer. The most important part, from the Powder Monkey and Cabin Girl’s point of view, was the pool. Sure, it’s about 19 degrees and getting dark, but they’d been hanging out for a swim all this time and nothing was going to stop them. Also, nothing was going to stop us playing on all the strange play equipment down the back, under the watchful gaze of two volcanoes. Camel survived a swing-by from his father and put his new elephant cleaning knowledge into action, and the Cabin Girl hasn’t been seen since she was eaten by some strange bug thing. So you can see that it’s all action at Sinabung Hills Berastagi!

A huge dinner later and we were ready to turn in. But for the life of us, none of us in our respective rooms could figure out how to turn off the light just inside the door. Having hunted high and low for a switch and coming up empty, Stinky swallowed her pride and went to ask at the front desk. They looked slightly frightened and called maintenance. She asked the maintenance dude how to turn the lights out and he looked even more frightened and ran away. He came back with a round foyer bin, grinned and said ‘This is the
light switch.’ Stinky followed him to the room where he climbed up and removed the light bulb and then repeated it for all the rest of our rooms. We can’t quite understand what everyone else does – do they
just sleep with the light on? Is this something we should have known to do ourselves? We will never know!

Having slept soundly in the dark (if not quietly with the call to prayer to let you know that it’s near dawn), we were almost disappointed to wake up to discover no earthquakes had rumbled during the night. But at least Sinabung had been all farty and had squirted out a bunch of ash to gently cover everything from tiles to spiderwebs with some powdery dust
Berastagi is pretty keen to pretend that it’s not just a convenient stop between Bukit Lawang and Lake Toba, and it’s pretty proud of its market, so before we left we had to go and check it out.

It did have some pretty aesthetically pleasing umbrellas going on, but hey, guess what, it wasn’t open yet! Still, being the intrepid explorers that we are, we dutifully wandered through the covered stalls and prodded at exotic beasts and wares.
Erwin was next obliged to take us to see a traditional Karo highlands house, whereupon an eager local guide seized the opportunity to tell us everything he
knew about this ancient way of life.

He was very obliging and spoke in English, but we wished he’d have done it in Indonesian, because then at least two of us might have had the slightest idea what he was blathering on about.
We were learning a lot about how lucky we were to not be born here and our guide wasn't giving a direct answer to any question in any language. Pye could represent Australia at the Olympics for Attentive Listening and Stinky was employing the ‘just get through the next ten seconds, then focus on the next ten seconds’ method of endurance, when Erwin walked in. Now, we didn’t get every word
of what he said, but the gist of it was, “WHAT THE FUCK, ARE YOU STILL CRAPPING ON ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS, LOOK AT THE CHILDREN THEY’RE ABOUT TO SLIP INTO A FUCKING COMA, TICK TOCK MONKEY FLUFFER IT’S TIME TO GO I MEAN FOR FUCKSSAKE.” Later we learned that Erwin was a Batak man, who, unlike the Javanese, will always tell you what they’re thinking. Bless, bless, bless the Batak and their straightforward ways, it was just what we needed to get out of there.

We said hello to the captive bird and the birthing-steps (don’t ask) on the way out of the house…

admired traditional decorations and pretended to know what Boring Guide was pointing at when he was avoiding answering the question ‘How old is this house?’…
and delighted in the sight of a small boy who came out of his house, put a bucket on his head, clamped one hand on his doodle and eyeballed us until we left.
Successfullyextracted, we continued on our route through the Karo highlands via pineapple, clove and ginger plantations, stopping next at the Sipiso-piso falls.
Here Moose took charge (having behaved himself admirably up until this point) and showed the children how to properly appreciate a giant waterfall.
Blesstheir little cotton socks, they didn’t need us to point out the outrage of an unnecessary apostrophe.
The falls also herald the intrepid traveller’s first view of the famed Lake Toba – and very picturesque it is, too.
In an effort to further break up the driving, the circuit always includes a stop at the tribal kings’ house of the Simalungun Batak in Pematang Purba.
For a change, this time there appeared to be some work going on to stop it falling into complete decline, colour us surprised! Mind you, they were working on a concrete path, not these pillars, but you know…

Since there was work afoot anyway, we tried briefly to help out by pounding some rice

but honestly, our attention span wasn’t up for it, and we were better off running around poking into all the corners and stuff.
Erwin probably would have hurried us along a bit more if he had’ve realised it would take this super hot-spot two hours to serve us lunch
Okay, so yeah, they had Indonesian special edition Guinness, and the kids loved the toilet that they could sit down on, but it wasn’t out fault! Maybe they only had one burner in the kitchen, or maybe they were distracted by the view, we don’t know!

Usually it doesn’t matter, but we had a ferry to Samosir to make. Once the food was finally served, we shoveled it in toot-sweet and burned off down the road, pausing only to admire the view…

Next stop: Samosir Island on Lake Toba!
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