From Lake Toba we headed north to the Karo Highlands and the town of Berastagi. In Berastagi, our goal was to climb a volcano (Gunung Sibayak) and then move on north to Bukit Lawang, where there is a park with orangutans. The highlands around Berastagi have many active volcanoes and the rich volcanic soil provides for some great growing conditions for fruits and vegetables. Berastagi is famous for the passion fruit they grow here, plus the many other excellent fruits and veggies. The people here are very nice and there are not many tourists.
There were many signs at the hostel about how many people died hiking to the volcano and getting lost in the jungle, specifically noting when they only found their “bones”. It was no surprise that they also offered guiding services and the posters stated how you had to have a guide, unless you wanted to get lost and die. It seemed like bunch of nonsense designed to scare tourists into hiring a guide. We did a quick check on the internet and it seems people who recently climbed the volcano either did it easily without a guide or had a guide who wasn’t that great and could barely communicate with them. We didn’t hire a guide and it turns out there is a paved road almost all the way to the summit.
We left town early and hiked up the road through the thick jungle to the crater at the volcano. Along the way we heard some kind of monkey or gibbons in the distance howling and making racket to claim their territory. We also saw men on motorbikes with hunting rifles, so the monkeys may want to keep it down a little. The road ended near the top, but we couldn’t find the trail to the volcanic carter in the thick jungle. Some locals (Andi, Roundney and Dandy) who were camping with their club Rempalain Indonesia at the top were nice and showed us the trail to the crater. It is easy to reach since it is a visible shelf above the road, but we missed it on the way up.
The crater has many holes venting sulfurous steam and other areas with concentrations of sulfur. The smell of sulfur was noticeable, but not overpowering. We climbed to a ridge to eat our lunch despite the smell of the sulfur. We had great views of Berastagi below and the larger volcano called Gunung Sinabung. Below the rim of the crater in the valley below, we could see what looked like a geothermal power plant. We had great weather before our lunch, then some storm clouds rolled in and we headed back down into town. There is also a hot-springs near the bottom, but we wanted to head back to town. On the way back, a group of hornbill birds flew overhead, with their pre-historic strange sounds, distinct heads and wide wingspans.
There are two different outdoor fruit markets in the town. One has the fruit nicely stacked for tourists, and the other is in a huge cement building with the usual assortment of freshly butchered meat, seafood and other households goods. In addition to passion fruit and papaya, we also really enjoyed the mangosteens here. They have a purple outside and thick skin, but the white inner flesh is rich, sweet and juicy.
***click to enlarge***