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Published: April 22nd 2009
(Day 384 on the road)
Indonesia is not only big - it is absolutely huge! Stretching over some 5.000 kilometres, it comprises of more than 17.500 islands. I completely underestimated the size of it and the time it would take to do this beautiful country any justice. I have been here a few weeks now and have seen only a tiny bit of northern Sumatra.
In the face of the huge distances that I need to cover to get from A to B, I have decided to scrap my no-flying rule for a while. Flying is really cheap here as well, which is great for my budget: For instance on the last longer stretch I covered the one hour flight was only seven Euros more expensive (20 Euros in total as opposed to 13 Euros for the boat) than the cockroach-infested 24 hour passage on board the PELNI ship I took and where my wallet was stolen. Well, I learn.
So, true to my new plan, I took a flight from Banda Aceh in the very north of Sumatra to Medan, about an hour flight south. Waiting to board the aircraft and witnessing a complete power failure in the airport
got me thinking a bit about the safety of flying in Indonesia. I remember reading that ALL Indonesian airlines (yes, every single one of them, including the state-carrier Garuda) are on the black list of the European Union
because of dubious or non-existent safety standards - but I have the feeling I shouldn't think too much about this for the time being. Interestingly, the result of this is that there are no direct flights between Europe and Indonesia at all - Indonesia has retaliated by blocking all European airlines from flying to Indonesia.
From Medan, I caught a local minibus to Berastagi. Berastagi is at the base of two active volcanoes, and is actually a very relaxed place with very friendly and open people, with a lot less hassle than other places in Indonesia. Nice! I enjoyed walking its streets and talking to the locals, and I especially enjoyed its diverse and colourful market, which made for some great pictures. I also tasted some strange tropical fruits which I had never seen before in my life - after nearly a year in Asia I thought I had seen most of them, but far from it!
Berastagi is locate in the Karo Highlands, and
is noted for the Karo people
living here, the indigenous people of the area. They are mostly Christians, which makes for quite a change of appearance (read: no head cover required for women) compared to conservative Muslim Aceh. Many of the older women still wear their traditional clothes and strangely looking hats.
But my main reason for coming here was to climb one of the two volcanoes that are located close to the city, namely Gunung Sibayak
, at 2212 metres and within walking distance from the town one of Indonesia's most accessible volcanoes. In town, everybody told me that I will need a guide to climb the mountain, but that was not true at all. In fact, the climb turned out to be extremely easy, and I reached the summit after about two and a half hours just after ten o'clock in the morning. Having said that, there are no signposts at all, so finding the right path proved to be a little tricky in the beginning. I talked to the informative guy at the tourist information about this, and he told me that they had put up signposts many times in the past, but that they are always being removed
by the self-appointed guides who are looking to secure their trade. Great.
Gunung Sibayak is still considered an active volcano and is constantly monitored for seismic activity. The last eruption occurred in 1881, but even today geothermal activity remains high. Near the crater of the volcano hot steam (I burned my hand as I got too close) is coming out of several vents with a loud hissing sound. The presence of sulfur makes for strong smells and has coloured the crater of the volcano yellow.
On my way down I stopped at one of the various hot springs in the area, which was a great way to end this pleasant climb. I then caught an overcrowded minibus back to town, first riding on top and later hanging on to the outside of the bus as the inside was full of farming produce. It was fun for the first five minutes, but after a while it became quite tiring holding on to the railings whilst standing on one foot. After a near head-on collision with an ambulance (which was overtaking another car in a tight corner - where else?) I was happy to reach town again.
Next stop: Lake Toba (Sumatra, Indonesia).
To view my photos, have a look at pictures.beiske.com
. And to read the full account of my journey, have a look at the complete book about my trip at Amazon
(and most other online book shops).
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