Bukit Lawang - Berastagi
Trip Start Jan 2003
200Trip End Dec 2003
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I imagined Berastagi to be more on the backpacker trail than it appears to be. We were the only tourists on the bus and a novelty to the other passengers. Many fingers were pointed in our direction accompanied either by nervous laughter or whispering into ears. Taking this in the right spirit with odd comments and plenty of smiles enables you to be both the most interesting and the funniest person on earth.
We came to Berastagi to climb Gunung Sibayak, an active volcano, and while the number of tourists is low, the quantity of Indonesians is not due to it being Buddha's birthday and therefore a bank holiday. This means the options for accomoodation decrease and the price moves in the opposite direction. Given such woeful choice (the places we saw rivalled the slummiest we saw in India), we decided to eliminate the need for a room. We did this by hiking up the volcano at night, camping near the top and therefore being around at the summit for the sunrise.
Making that decision gave us around six hours to kill before we started our ascent. Fortunately four seventeen year old girls who had been studying english for just two months wanted to practice their new language and therefore operated inadvertently as tour guides for us for a few hours. Somehow i can't imagine english kids approaching french tourists and asking if they can spend a few hours with them to practice but it is a reasonably common practice in Asia. Being able to speak english as an adult seems to put you in a completely different echelon in terms of earnning potential so good luck to them. After seeing the sights (there weren't many) we were forced into a photography store so they could get a picture of the six of us together. Our only regret was not being able to take up their offer of dinner with their families because of our climbing commitments.
The hike to where we pitched our tents was a hellish hour and a half long. Uphill all the way, i was relieved our guide was both honest and correct about the time it would take. That however, doesn't affect my cynicism that it's a mere fifteen minutes walk to the summit in the morning. After Kirsty and I were next to useless in starting a fire, Ismael (our guide and Bob Marley clone in every way) got it going (just after he did everything else) and we sat around it chatting. One story that had me in stitches, although I doubt its authenticity, concerned the people of Aceh. Surrounded by water on three sides and jungle on the last, the Dutch always tried to attack and infiltrate from the sea. The inhabitants allegedly used to paint black circles on their arse cheeks and moon from the beach when the Dutch ships came into view. Apparently the Dutch always thought these were cannons, panicked at the sheer quantity of them and retreated. Like I say I don't know if this is true but I pray that an army can be defeated by a bunch of people baring their backsides!