February 2 Drive to Berigasti and Sinabung Volcano

The morning began on a somber note when we heard the news  about volcano Sinabung’s latest eruption on Saturday (February 1.) Our guide Erwin’s good friend and his friend’s son were on the volcano when it erupted, and his friend was injured and in the hospital, and his friend’s son had been killed by the eruption. They had gone back to their village near the volcano to check on and clean up the grandfather’s grave, and had been caught in the latest eruption.

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Jeff’s photo of Volcano Sinabung erupting, taken from a road near Berastagi, Sumatra

Berastagi,  Erwin’s hometown, and the next place on our tour, was a safe distance away from the volcano, so we set off. We drove for hours, over bad, bumpy roads, and through lots more palm oil tree plantations.

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Ann and Harmony, with the banana crepe in front of her, eating breakfast at Tankahan

We broke up this tiring journey with a couple of interesting stops along the way. First, we stopped at a street market in a small town. This market might have been novel to westerners who had not spent time in Taiwan and China. To us, it looked similar to many of the markets we see in Taiwan.

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Local street market in a town between Tankahan and Berastagi

One difference that I noticed was the amount of dried fish for sale. There was lots and lots of dried fish, of all different sizes. So people in this town must eat a lot of dried fish!

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Ann is standing next to a street market stall selling dried fish

Jeff was fascinated by a vendor selling toys. More specifically, he was interested in a certain toy that the vendor had for sale. It was a little boat that propelled itself around in a bucket of water.

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Jeff and a group of boys look at water boat toys in a toy vendor’s stall in the marketplace

What fascinated Jeff about the boat was its power source. Its propellor engine was powered with palm oil, not batteries. Jeff appreciated that, and so he bought one to take home.

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Vendor selling toy boats powered by palm oil

The oldest church building in the area, the Gereja Kristen Batak Protestant Church, built in 1912, was across the street from the market.

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Gereja Kristen Batak Protestant Church

We also some kids playing soccer in this town, in a scene that looked similar to something you would see back home on a weekend afternoon.

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Soccer game on a field in a small town in northern Sumatra

There were also  several nice looking mosques in this small town.

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Mosque in a small town in northern Sumatra

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Mosque in a small town in northern Sumatra

We also stopped at a catholic temple, built in Indian-Indonesian style, in 2005. It is dedicated to Graha Maria Annai Velangkanni, Our Lady of Good Health. This particular saint was first seen as an apparition in the 17th century in India. The temple is an impressive building, with three stories and a small tower of seven additional stories in Indonesian style.

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Graha Maria Annai Velangkanni in Sumatra

It was interesting.

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Graha Maria Annai Velangkanni in Sumatra

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Inside of Graha Maria Annai Velangkanni

We saw these signs, made with flowers on a dark background, alongside the road. These signs were announcing a wedding, where the celebration was taking place in a nearby restaurant. We saw similar signs a few more times in our journeys around Sumatra. This type of flower signs are also used for business opening celebrations, and memorial services.

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Wedding signs made of flowers alongside a road in northern Sumatra

Our first stop in Berastagi was the hospital where Erwin’s friend had been taken. We waited around outside for awhile, as he tried to get any news about his friend. His friend was still in critical condition, and Erwin could not get in to see him, so we left to go see Sinabung Volcano.

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Ann and Jeff sitting in front of the entrance to the hospital in Berastagi

We noticed a lot of small roadside places where people were cleaning and bagging carrots for sale as we drove along the roads outside of Berastagi.

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People cleaning and bagging carrots for sale outside of Berastagi

The Batak people who live in northern Sumatra, bury family members in gravesites on land in their fields. So there are no cemeteries next to Batak churches. It was a grave site similar to this one that Erwin’s friend had gone to check on the volcano. I will talk more about the Batak people of Indonesia in my Lake Toba blog entry.

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Batak graves in a field outside of Berastagi

This store is the Sumatran version of 7 Eleven. I saw Indomaret stores in many places around northern Sumatra in the larger towns and cities. We stopped at this one so that our guide Erwin could buy masks for us to wear when we went to view the volcano.

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An Indomaret store in northern Sumatra

Mount Sinabung is a stratovolcano in north Sumatra about 25 miles from Lake Toba. Sinabung is one of nearly 130 active volcanoes in Indonesia, which straddles the “Pacific Ring of Fire.”

The volcano had been inactive for over four centuries, with the most recent eruption occurring in 1600. This had allowed five villages, with about 30,000 people living in them, to establish themselves on the sides and at the bottom of Mount Sinabung. On August 29, 2010, the volcano experienced a minor eruption after several days of rumbling. Ash spewed into the atmosphere up to 1.5 kilometers high and lava was seen overflowing the crater.

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The evacuation center in Berastagi

On August 31, 2010, 6,000 of the 30,000 villagers who had been evacuated returned to their homes. The remainder returned later in the year, as the volcano had stopped erupting.

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A cabbage monument in the center of a street in Berastagi. Notice how it is covered in ash.

On September 15,  2013, the volcano erupted again. More than 3,700 people were evacuated from areas within a 3 kilometer (2 mile) radius of the volcano, and five halls normally used for traditional cultural ceremonies were converted into shelters with at least 1,500 being temporarily housed in these shelters. Once again, the volcano stopped erupting, and most of the people who live near the volcano returned home.

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A close up view of Mt. Sinabung erupting, taken with the zoom lens on Jeff’s camera

The volcano erupted again on November 5, 2013, forcing thousands of villagers to evacuate again.This time, the volcano spewed a 7 kilometer (4.3 mile) column of ash into the air, prompting authorities to impose a 3 kilometer evacuation radius. About 14,000 people were forced the evacuate this time. On November 11, 2013, it erupted again. Then it stopped.

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Tomato plants covered in ash from the latest eruption of Mt. Sinabung

On January 4, 2014, the volcano erupted again. Mount Sinabung spewed out a 4,000 meter ,(13,000 feet) high column of ash damaging property and crops and poisoning animals over a wide radius. No casualties were reported. And the volcano stopped erupting again.

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Our footprints in the ash covering the ground

On Friday, 14,000 people living more than five kilometers from the mountain had been allowed to return home again.Others living close to the peak have been returning home over the past four months despite the dangers.

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Real cabbage covered in ash from the latest eruption of Mt. Sinabung

On February 1, 2014 another eruption occurred that sent clouds of hot ash 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) into the air and engulfed nearby villages. A series of huge blasts and eruptions from the 8,530-foot-high volcano sent lava and rock flows up to nearly three miles away.

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Harmony is standing in the field of ash covered plants, pointing to Sinabung volcano behind her

At least 14 people died as a result of the eruption. The 14 victims were found in the village of Suka Meriah, which lies within a three-mile exclusion zone around the volcano’s crater. After Saturday’s eruptions, all those who had been allowed to return were evacuated again. Erwin’;s friend died in the hospital later that evening, becoming the 15th victim of the eruption on Saturday.

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Ann is standing in front of coffee bushes covered in ash from the latest eruption of Mt. Sinabung

Our night ended on another somber note. We left after dinner with our guide to drive back out to see if we could see the lava flows on Mt. Sinabung’s sides after dark. On the road back to the field where we had viewed the volcano in the afternoon, we came upon a serious motorbike accident. So our driver Tian turned around, and we drove back into town. He and Erwin reported it to some locals at the closest store, so that they could go and help out, and then we drove to a police station in Berastagi to also report it. We saw three motorbike accidents during our time in Sumatra. This was the only one where people were lying on the road, not moving, possibly seriously injured.

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A nighttime photo of the police station in Berastagi

Our guest house in Berastagi was the place that we liked least of all the places that we stayed in Sumatra. We did not have to hike along any trails or go up stairs to get to our room. It had electricity, and internet in the lobby There was hot water in shower, but Jeff had to fix shower head before I could take a shower. It was very loud at night; all noise from road below and from  people outside our guest house could be clearly heard our room. It was also very loud in morning from all the roosters crowing nearby, and Muslim call to prayer at 5:15 am. There were two competing mosques with loud speakers that we could hear inside of our room! And breakfast was very skimpy.

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Harmony and Ann standing outside of a guest house in Berastagi

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