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Island inside the island and volcanoes

Hiking Sibayak volcano, Sumatra

We are about to take a sixteen hour ride on a “new bus“. It is worth adding a several extra thousands of rupees (equivalent of a few dollars) because the “old bus” is said to be breaking down more often. The route is bumpy, wild and unforgettable, most of which we cover at nighttime with freezing air conditioning. Because of the darkness it is difficult to describe details from the journey, except for the fact that it goes from west coast to the northern interior of Sumatra. Fortunately, we have two hours of delay, so we arrive just in time to hear the calls of the muezzins from the invisible minarets in the dark.

We have a breakfast at crack of the dawn and board a ship that will take us from Parapat to Tuk Tuk village. This is how we get to the island of Samosir, which is located on Lake Toba inside Sumatra.

The low season set us in a good bargaining position in search of a bit of “luxury”. I am talking about the cheapest available room at Samosir Cottage, one with neither air conditioning nor hot water. It is worth to mention that we have an access to the swimming pool and bedding included.


In the end we got to the place where one can for for a run. Our several-kilometer run along the Partungkoan massif takes us through small local villages and along cocoa farms.

In Ambarita, we take a look at historic 300-year-old stone stools on which in the past the village elders held debates and discussed the future of local community. Here also the wrongdoers were treated as needed. One of the penalties was to be tightened to a special construction by the leg with eyes blindfolded. The next step was to cut the body parts and treat the wounds with garlic and chilli. The next step for the delinquent was to have his head cut off cut. Once these things were dealt with more ease.


We explore the other parts of the Samosir island with a scooter. Touring the island we visit places inhabited by Batak people. They are traditionally occupied with production of textiles and cattle breeding, as well as, not as good as it sounds, the Batak dance.

A winding road with the vast rice fields and small villages scattered in the valley takes us to the Tele viewpoint .

In the evening, it’s time to swim in Lake Toba. The water is refreshing and cleaner than one would suppose. After a bit of exercise it’s nice to sit in a bar overlooking the other lakeside and listening to the violin improvisation by one of the owners, who proudly tells us how he recently learned how to play the violin himself.

After the morning run we pack our luggage and head towards Berastagi. It is a popular starting point for hiking active volcanoes. Upon arrival by the boat we are late for the only direct bus to go there, but helpful residents of Parapat help to find an alternative transport with four transfers by Siantar and Kabanjahe. We travel through a dense forest inhabited by several monkey species. Moments later, as the forest ends an empty deforested field appears with just recently planted oil palms. This is unfortunately an uncommon view in this part of the globe.

Drivers of subsequent minibuses take care of the logistics and baggage transfer at least as good as the airlines do. We’re here.

Sibayak volcano

Sumatra has 120 volcanoes, 35 of which are still considered active. One of them is Gunung Sibayak. The last eruption on a 2212 meters high Sibayak was recorded in 1881.

We pay a small entrance fee upon reaching the gates of the national park. We are in the middle of rainy season, it is a dense fog today and just a few degrees Celsius above zero. The morale is relatively low. As Kukuczka (a famous Polish climber) used to say, ‘the mountain is paid, the mountain has to be conquered’. Let’s do it!

The caretaker treats us with a strong black coffee and begins to draw a hiking map on a piece of paper. Following the map we should be able to reach the top of the volcano.

Everything is clear by now and theoretically there is no chance of getting lost. The first stage of the trail is a paved road. Having covering approximately three kilometers we turn left and start a rocky and muddy trail upwards.

It is not too easy. We are hiking in the fog and by some sheer coincidence we manage to approach the summit. On the way we pass fumaroles emitting hydrogen chloride and sulfur dioxide. It’s the lungs of the volcano, some kind of air geysers loudly bursting with sulfuric air.

As we reach the top, you can only feel sulfur and gusty wind. It fully compensates for the views that would certainly be beautiful, but unfortunately you can not see anything. Beside the fog, of course. As part of the experiment, we decide to make a traverse and find an alternative way back on the other side of the volcano leading through hot springs.

The narrow and barely visible path is easy to overlook, so you have to be vigilant. The secret lies in turning right on the way towards the top of the crater or to the left during the descent. The trail gets even more slippery, narrow and muddy.

A couple of falls into mud later we pass tipped over trees and bamboo forest. After a longer while we finally reach civilization. There is still a long walk to Berastagi left, along which we admire vegetation and the company of monkeys inhabiting the area.

Our special interest is aroused by a very long caterpillar. Having counted its legs, I must say it has well over a hundred of them! (precisely 276 legs, or 138 pieces for each of the sides)

Caterpillar size XXL
Bye bye Berastagi
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