Berastagi – volcanoes & a ‘ghost village’

Berastagi is a town in between Lake Toba and Bukit Lawang so it seemed logical to break the long journey and stay there for a couple of nights, and I’m really glad we did!

The journey from Lake Toba to Berastagi took 4 hours or so in a private car (along very bumpy and twisty roads) and we were lucky to stop off at Sipiso Piso – the highest waterfall in Indonesia – on the way.

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Sipiso Piso.

Beragstagi isn’t a pretty town and it’s far from quiet. There’s a lot of traffic along the main road through the town, but we were lucky to be staying out of the centre at Kalang Ulu Hotel – a Japanese- style hotel that was still in the process of being built. The staff were really friendly and they went to a huge effort to make delicious, vegan food for us each night. We met a guide, that worked with the hotel, who takes tourists up the active volcano – Mount Sibayak. He recommended the sunrise trek for the following morning, so we had an early night ready to leave at 4am.

After dragging a grumpy Emma (quite literally) out of bed, Ste, Emma & I met the guide and ate bananas during the 40 minute drive to the base of the volcano.

The 50 minute or so steep climb up the mountain was hard, but the temperature was nice and cool. Equipped with torches, we started walking through jungle, dodging the low branches and huge holes. About half way up, the vegetation cleared and we were able to see Mount Sinabung spewing red lava in the distance which was absolutely incredible. I never thought I’d see that in my lifetime!

As we neared the top, it started to get lighter. We made it to the top of the volcano just in time for a beautiful sunrise. The view was clear and we could see the rain forest stretching for miles with the clouds hanging over the tops of trees, the surrounding mountains and Mount Singabung erupting again in the daylight. There were only three other people up the volcano which was such a contrast to the five hundred in Bali (note – Sumatra is much less touristy which makes it so much nicer to visit). Our guide pointed out a geothermal plant that had been installed at the base of the volcano, that used the steam to power turbines for energy. The Indonesian government are apparently investing more in sustainable solutions for power, but they are costly. He hoped further plants would be built in the near future.

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Clouds hanging over the rain forest.

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Mount Sinabung erupting.

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On the way back down, our knowledgeable guide showed us the steam and smelly sulphur escaping from the volcano. From his observations over the years, he reckoned that Mount Sibayak’s seismic activity increased just before Mount Sinabung was about to erupt.

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Sulphur crust.
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Talking volcanoes.
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Ste & Emma climbing down the volcano.

Once we’d reached the bottom, we drove to some hot springs so soak our aching legs. The water was heated by the volcano and then pumped into various pools. The hottest pool was 40 degrees Celsius. We were advised to stay in the pools for a maximum of 45 minutes because of the sulphur content. Whilst bathing, we could hear a troop of gibbons in the nearby forest.

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Hot springs with a volcanic view.

After a soak, we drove back to our hotel, picked up Sam and headed to the base of Mount Sinabung to a ‘ghost village’. Sukanalu village was deserted when Mount Sinabung erupted in 2013, killing 16 and forcing 31,000 people to flee their homes without much warning. Two villages were completely wiped out but the eerie Sukanalu village is still standing but deserted, and it is now covered in ash and overgrown with plants.

We passed the ‘red zone’ and drove along the ash-covered road into the village. Our guide told us that if the volcano erupted whilst we were there, we had 20 minutes to run to the car and drive away before the ash hit us. Luckily, there wasn’t a large eruption, but there was a slight dusting of ash on us by the time we left.

We went into various houses and a medical centre, where people had left behind their belongings, including family photos, children’s toys, clothes and crockery. It was pretty spooky!

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How spooky is this?!
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What would you leave behind if you had to flee your home?

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The medical centre.
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I found a children’s backpack hanging on the wall, with school books still inside.
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Once upon a time this was a school…

Our guide then took us through some very ashy bushes to show us the site where two villages once stood before the eruption.

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No trace of the villages was left.

 

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Covered in ash!

After 30 minutes or so of exploring, we headed back to the hotel. The volcano climb, hot springs and the ‘ghost village’ took about 8 hours and cost about £20 each – it’s a trip I certainly won’t forget! Even though there aren’t many blogs/much information about the town, it’s definitely worth a visit.

Next stop: Bukit Lawang.

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