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Published: March 13th 2014
A Sleeping BerastagiOctober 11th
from atop Mt Sibayak. The smoke is from the geothermal plant.
Tags: full monty, Sharia Law, betel nuts, Lord of the Rings,
I am awake before the alarm goes off. I had a disturbing dream where I was told that we can’t climb the mountain and we have to take a helicopter instead.
The climb is easy and the view is spectacular. Aside from the steady humming of the sulfur vents, it’s quiet atop the mountain where we wait for dawn. Then, there is an eruption of color: vivid reds, loud greens, and subdued blues. The fog hanging over the valley begins to lift. In the distance, I can see Mt. Sinabung standing alone over the sleeping valley, smoke billowing off to the west.
Though it hasn’t erupted in a century, Sibayak is a source of geothermal energy. We walk along a steam pipeline on the descent, listening to the howls of gibbons. We are accompanied partway by water buffalo that have escaped their moorings. Farmers work the land on the side of the volcano.
Eventually, we reach the hot springs. The hot springs are a series of swimming pools filled with steaming, sulfuric
Top of the Mountain
It smells strongly of sulfur. Standing there too long is not advised.
water. After the early start and a trek, I’m looking forward to this.
The only other people at the hot spring are a mixed group of roughly a dozen from nearby Aceh province. Aceh is located in northwestern Sumatra. It is the most conservative place in Indonesia, and as far as I know, the only place in Indonesia that is trying to implement Sharia law.
In any case, Chris makes a comment about not knowing where to change. I’m watching the Acehnese, who are all pointing in my direction and laughing. The veiled women are giggling behind upturned hands. I turn around to see Chris has gone full monty, his junk dangling in the breeze. I figure it’s best if I change in the bathroom.
Back in Berastagi, we pack our bags. We’ve booked another tour that will get us to Lake Toba that afternoon, giving me a day to relax before my friend arrives the next evening.
The stops on the tour are hit or miss.
We arrive at a traditional Karo village where four or five families live in
a single traditional long house. I’m unsure why this is a tourist site. There is a cat-sized piglet roaming around with the dogs. I have to double-take to make sure it isn't a dog. The path is part mud part toasted trash. An elderly lady in batik clothing tries to usher us into the house. She is severely bent over and her teeth are ground down to the gums from chewing betel nut. She has the telltale red stains around her mouth of a fresh dose. The Germans shy away from her and refuse to look her in the eye. Even they can’t maintain their stoicism in such glaring poverty. But I manage to rally them* and we climb the wooden ladder into the house. There are six separate fire rings, one for each family that eats and sleeps in the structure. The elderly lady proudly points to each family name written across the wood. Each family has a locked metal cabinet, which seems glaringly out of place in the wood structure. As we exit, I hand the lady 10,000 Rupiah, approximately $1 USD. She looks appreciative. In this village, even the elderly must contribute to the family income. This
is perhaps the closest I’ve ever come to encountering absolute poverty.
The people of the village are farmers, and the land shows it. It is nearly barren of trees. Instead, the rolling hills are covered with a tall, yellow grass. Either the landscape leaves me empty of thoughts or my sleep deprivation is getting the better of me. Perhaps both?
*By the way, they are close to ten years older than me.
Haven’t we done enough climbing today? We are standing at the edge of a 100-meter tall cliff staring down at the blue-green jewel of Lake Toba. Behind me is Siposopiso Waterfall, our destination. The yellow-brown Karo Highlands above just seem to end. They give up, and down they fall into the green abyss under the falls. We make our way down the series of steep steps and switchbacks to the base of the falls. The slippery rocks are covered in a mat of clovers. We step up to the caldera at the base of the 360-foot waterfall, but looking directly at it is challenging. The droplets flying off the rocks pulverize my eyes from under my sunglasses.
More long houses. We are at the palace of the former Karo Kings. Next to the houses, there is a graveyard for the former kings. A photo decorates the tomb of the last king. He is dressed in a three-piece suit and circle-rimmed glasses. He looks like a European noble.
The van drops us off at Parapat, a town at the eastern edge of Lake Toba. We’ve spent the better part of two hours driving around ¼ of the perimeter of the lake. We will catch a ferry here to Samosir, an island resting in the middle of the lake. Samosir is the size of Singapore. Despite its massive size, I have trouble taking it seriously. It sounds like a mythical land in the The Lord of the Ring
s’ ilk. As I was soon to discover, Samosir is a mythical land in its own right.
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