I started the day a little bit tired and hungry due to the early morning Muslim prayer call and the skimpy breakfast. But climbing Mt. Sibayak was amazing, and so my grumpy mood quickly disappeared! Mt. Sibayak is a small stratovolcano near the town of Berastagi in northern Sumatra.
Mt. Sibayak has been attracting adventurous travelers since Dutch traders first settled the area in the early 1900s. The Dutch built a road part way up the mountain. For the looks of it, little maintenance has been done on it in the last century! In fact, you can no longer drive all the way up to the end of the road. Our driver took us up as far as he could in the van, and then we got out and walked the rest of the way up the road.
Sibayak means a founding community in the local Batak Karo language.
Once we left the road, the trail got a lot steeper.
.It was much less hazy today, as Sinabung volcano had stopped erupting and emitting so much steam. Still, we could not see the top of Mt. Sinabung when we looked in that direction from the path.
Although the last eruption of Mt. Sibayak was in 1881, geothermal activity in the form of steam vents and hot springs remains high on and around the volcano.
The summit of Mt. Sibayak rises to 6,870 feet, providing excellent views the surrounding mountains.
Although Sibayak has been quiet for the last century, new steam vents and seismic activity indicate that the volcano is merely taking a break between eruptions. Fortunately, it was still on a break when we were there, so we could climb it!
The vents produce crystalline sulfur, which is mined on a small scale to make matches by the local Batak people.
This volcanic caldera near the peak of Mt. Sibayak normally has a shallow lake in it during the rainy season. Because it was not raining while we were there, it was just dried mud and rocks.
People had been arranging the stones in the caldera to write out their names.So Jeff rearranged some stones inside of a heart to spell Lu.
Jeff also arranged rocks into the Chinese character for Lu
Our guide Erwin rearranged the rocks inside this square to write out my name.
Above the square, I rearranged rocks to spell out Pele, the name of the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes, because seeing these volcanoes reminded me of my trip to the big island of Hawaii. That was the last time that I was climbing around inside of a volcano caldera!
I also rearranged the rocks to write Aloha. So it says “Pele Aloha! or hello in the Hawaiian language. Rearranging all of these rocks was hard work-they were large and heavy!
Harmony thought that we were all being silly spending so much time rearranging rocks in the caldera. So she amused herself by “planking” on some rocks near the edge of the caldera.
It was very beautiful at the summit of Mt. Sibayak, but we had a lot more to see and do, so we climbed back down after just a short stay at the top.
Our driver took a different road down Mt. Sibayak. This road took us past the steam pipes from the collection area that go down to the hot spring. The section of pipe in the photo below has a leak with steam escaping from it.
The hot springs were lovely, with many pools filled with hot mineral water.
Harmony did not want to get in the water and soak because she thought that the water was too hot. But Jeff and I both appreciated our hot springs soak, as we had sore muscles from all of the hiking that we had been doing!
We were the only ones at the hot spring at the time.
We went back to Berastagi after we left the hot springs, and ate lunch in a Muslim restaurant there.
After lunch, our guide Erwin left us. He was going to stay behind in Berastagi so that he could attend the memorial service for his friend. Hans, our new guide, took his place. This turned out to be very fortuitous, as Hans knew a lot about Batak history and culture. We learned a lot from him over the next two days.
Our first stop after lunch was a famous church in Berastagi, the Gereja Katolik St. Fransiskus Assisi. This was a beautiful church built in the Batak Karo traditional style. The Batak people are mostly Christian, converted by the Spanish (Catholics) or the Germans and Dutch (Protestants.) This is a Batak Catholic church.
According to Hans, there are six different Batak tribes in northern Sumatra. The people living in the mountains were Batak Karo. Later, we would get to see BatakTtabo when we went to Lake Tabo. Hans said that the Batak Tabo were the original tribe that settled in northern Sumatra, and then the other tribes split off from them.
Bataks speak a variety of closely related languages. There are two major branches, a northern branch of the Pak-Pak, Alas-Kluet and Karo languages, which are similar to each other.The southern branch has the Toba, Mandailing, and Simalungun dialects. Some Simalungun dialects can be understood by speakers of Batak Karo, whereas other dialects of Simalungun can be understood by speakers of Toba. So, even though they all live in northern Sumatra, and descended from the same ancestors, they can’t always understand each other!
The Batak people have their own writing known as Surat Batak. The writing was important in traditional religious ceremonies.. Surat Batak is the writing on the top of the sign above the doors.
The interior of the Gereja Katolik St. Fransiskus Assisi church in Berastagi.
A gong inside the Gereja Katolik St. Fransiskus Assisi church in Berastagi
Stained glass windows the Gereja Katolik St. Fransiskus Assisi church in Berastagi.
The pulpit inside the Gereja Katolik St. Fransiskus Assisi church in Berastagi
The architecture and village layouts of the six Batak groups show significant variety. Batak Toba houses, for example, are boat-shaped with intricately carved gables and upsweeping roof ridges, and Batak Karo houses rise up in tiers. The top tier of Batak Karo houses have peaked sections facing in two or four directions. There was a replica of a Batak Karo house next to the church.
Both types of Batak houses are built on piles to keep them safer during earthquakes, and dry during floods. And animals were often sheltered beneath the houses.
There was also a replica of a Batak Karo watch tower building next to the house.
The Batak rumah (house) has traditionally been a large house in which a group of families live together. This Batak Karo rumah was being used as something other than a replica/museum when we were there. Four families that had been evacuated from the volcano were living in it. So we had to tap three times on the wall next to the door, say “horas” (hello), loudly, and wait for permission to go inside.
During the day, the interior is shared living space, and at night, cloth or matting drapes provide families with privacy. This rumah was housing four families, one in each section of the house.
The shared cooking fire pit in the center of the Batak Karo rumah house.
Some of the tallest waterfalls in South East Asia can be found in Sumatra. Sipiso-piso waterfall, (like a knife), is 120 meters high. It is located at the northern end of Lake Toba. The water fall is formed by a small underground river on the Karo Plateau and flows out into Lake Toba.
We stopped at one more Batak Catholic church. This one is built in the traditional Batak Toba style.Notice that the roof arches upwards in the front and the back. We would see many houses with roofs like this around Samosir Island in Lake Toba.
We stopped at a coffeehouse and restaurant on our way to Lake Toba. The dining room had great views of Lake Toba and the surrounding farm fields. We were served a very interesting spice tea here. It is called Bandrek.. Bandrek is a traditional hot, sweet and spicy beverage native to West Java, Indonesia. The people who live in the highland cool climate there consume bandrek to warm themselves at night and during cold weather. This drink is usually made of ginger, cinnamon, star anise, lemon grass, and black pepper, ground up and mixed together. . Milk can be added or not, depending on one’s taste. It is believed that bandrek has a healing effect on minor health problems, such as a sore throat.
I loved this drink! We bought some and brought it home with us. I had a cold and a sore throat when I returned home from Sumatra, so I drank a lot of bandrek spice tea over the next few days. it really helped my sore throat, but alas, most of my bandrek tea is gone!
After our spicy tea and fried bananas at the coffeehouse, we drove on to Lake Toba. Lake Toba was really beautiful! We drove down a winding, twisty road to get to the lake shore, where we were going to take a ferry to Samosir Island. Although it was very twisty, the road down to the shore of Lake Toba was one of the only nicely paved roads that we traveled on in northern Sumatra!
Near the ferry dock, there was this buffalo tied up. His horns were growing downward instead of upward, like they normally do.
I have ridden on many car ferries, but this was the first time that I took a ferry with a truck load of pigs on board! They were very loud; we could hear them squealing for most of the thirty minute trip to the dock on Samosir Island!
Our guest house at the resort at Samosir Island in Lake Toba very nice! We were in the room on the upper, right hand side. So, yes, I was back to climbing stairs to get to my room!
There was a playground and a swimming pool on the nicely landscaped grounds. It also had electricity, hot and cold water in the nice bathrooms, and a fan in the room. But no internet, because the wifi connection was down at the resort.
There was a beautiful view of the mountains in the center of the island from our balcony.
And there was a very nice restaurant at the resort. We ate in it on our first night there, but it was expensive (western pricing!) by Indonesian standards. So we ate in a local restaurant our second night there.
Even though we were in a western style resort, it still had a few Indonesian touches. Like the water buffalo grazing outside of the restaurant!