Photos from India

Saturday, March 8, 2008

HIking Gunung Sibayak

While finishing my lunch that consisted of three pieces of chicken, some french fries as well as an order of ice cream, all for under three dollars, I laughed out loud at the wonder of being able to eat so cheaply and then I suddenly felt guilty for having such a wonderful time everyday and wondered how everyone back home was doing sitting at their desks, grueling through another eight hour day at the office. I can't say that the guilt lasted to long but I ran back through the events of my day and thought about just how lucky I am to be here in Indonesia right now.

Without the sound of an alarm clock, I slowly got out of bed on a brisk and cloudy morning in the town of Berstagi which sits in the heart of the mountains of Northern Sumatra. After getting dressed, I made my way down to the small cafe at the guest house I am staying at and as always started my day off with a cup of coffee. Not only is the coffee here in Sumatra some of the best I have ever had but they also pour sweetened condensed milk in it which makes it taste even better! Sitting at a table outside and watching the gray clouds begin to part allowing large patches of blue to fill the sky, I made my way through a couple of chapters of Amistad, the most recent book I have acquired. With the cup of coffee now empty, I spent a few minutes looking over the menu and ordered a cheese omelet, some toast and a couple of peanut butter sandwiches to take on my hike with me.

With my mornings energy needs met, I took my time packing my small back pack for my hike up nearby active volcano Sibayak. Departing from my guest house just after eight, I thought about what life back home was like this time of day. The phone was already ringing and my mind was already going in fifty different directions. Here I was however, strolling slowly uphill along the path to an active volcano with no one around and the only sounds I could hear were from the steam vents that lie just ahead.

The narrow asphalt path that led most of the way up the mountain eventually ended and I emerged from the jungle into the Martian landscape that surrounds the craters of active volcanoes throughout the world. With loose rock in every direction and now high enough to be immersed in the clouds, I could hear the constant roaring and hissing sounds from the steam vents that were all around me. Hearing that there was a large vent just off the trail, I wandered off into the mist to find the source of the angry hissing that the volcano was discharging nearby. It didn't take long before I found two small holes in the rocky surface surrounded by a yellow film that were emitting a stream of steam that looked like the largest tea kettle in the world was ready to be taken off the burner. The sound was incredible. It reminded me of standing near a jet engine on a runway but about three times louder and ten times more exciting!
After inspecting the steam vents, I could still hear others in the distance but decided I should make my way back to the trail to avoid getting lost in the clouds that were engulfing the top of the volcano. Once back on the trail, it wasn't long before I reached the crater and realized that attempting any photos of the cloudy landscape would be useless so I just snapped one of myself with everything white beyond just to have a memory from the top of the volcano. I sat down with the constant hissing sounds all around me as well as the noise from strong winds ringing in my ear and ate my peanut butter sandwiches to provide me with some energy for the long journey down.

It took a while to find the path that lead down the other side of the volcano to a nearby hot spring and after venturing off onto another of the many unmarked paths, I found I was going nowhere. I climbed back up to the crater and tried to figure out what to do. I had been wandering around for a solid hour but I couldn't figure out where to go to make my way down to the hot springs. Just when I was beginning to feel a bit of defeat and was going to follow my path back down, the clouds thinned out for a bit and I saw what looked like it could be a path leading over a nearby ridge. As I climbed the ridge, I still had my doubts as to weather or not this was actually the way to go or not. This is not the kind of place where they mark trails or anything. Most trails just exist and that is why they usually want you to take a guide. For this hike however, I had gotten hold of an extremely rudimentary map which at this point wasn't doing me any good. The one redeeming part of the map was that it did mention there was a point on the way down where there were “well maintained” concrete steps. As I followed the ridge down the other side and began descending the face of the volcano, I stopped to take a look around and see if I could tell where the trail was going to lead me. With not much hope on the horizon, I looked down at my feet and found the rock I was standing on was actually a chunk of concrete! There they were! The concrete stairs! I can't say that I would call them well maintained by any means but I was standing on one and not far from me was a few more that had slid down the mountain. It looked like the volcanic activity had destroyed or at least moved most of the stairs, but this was definitely the right direction!

As the trail down got away from the exposed face of the volcano, the stairs became more consistent and became an easy to follow but long path down the mountain through the jungle. On the way down I was hoping to spot more wildlife in the jungle but was only able to locate a few monkeys in one of the nearby trees. They were a different breed than any other that I have seen before so I was excited to at least find another creature that I had never seen before.
After what felt like an endless downhill journey, I finally emerged on the edge of a small town where I quickly located the hot springs and settled in for a relaxing soak to ease my aching muscles. All alone, I sat in the hot springs and looked back up to where I had just come from. It wasn't until then that I realized that this volcano was actually missing an entire side. It must have been blown off in the most recent eruptions and scattered throughout the rocky debris falling down the side were a series of enormous steam vents shooting the superheated water into the sky to add to the misty effect that the clouds were taking on the top of the volcano. It was a beautiful sight and a relaxing place to spend the early afternoon soaking away in the steamy baths after a hard day of climbing.

Feeling a bit hungry, I decided to end my soak in the springs and make my way back to town so that I could enjoy a late lunch. After withdrawing 1.2 million Rupiah out of the atm, I found a place called Mexican Fried Chicken. The first I have seen of anything like that here but seeing as how I am tired of rice and noodles, it sounded pretty good to me. Sitting there, I began to reflect on what a wonderful day it was. The daily adventures that my travels take me on never seem to grow old. I know they will end one day and I will be back at a desk somewhere wishing I was still visiting new places but for now, that is a distant thought as there are still so many places to see and visit.

No comments: