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Written on: Monday May 5th, 2008

A journal entry from: Around The World Without A Plane

I?d finally reached the ?Ring of Fire?, as Indonesia is sometimes known down to its plethora of volcanoes. Since climbing the Petit Piton in St Lucia and Soufriere on St Vincent I?ve taken quite a liking to volcanoes and so Berestagi, nestled pleasantly between two of them was a great place to really start my Indonesian adventure. I was originally planning on visiting Bukit Lawang where they have an Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre, but on discussions with Ben, Denis, Wesley, Bert and Rachel we all agreed to travel to the small town of Berestagi and together ascend Gunung Sibayak, the smaller of the two volcanoes standing at a respectful 2094 metres. The journey by public bus, although cramped wasn?t too arduous and we reached Wisma Sibayak, our chosen choice of accommodation at the respectable time of 4pm. Gunung Sibayak, although reasonably high doesn?t require that you have a guide and so as we were numerous in number the following day we decided to tackle it and its well worn path on our own. As it was we didn?t even have to leave that early, the walk wasn?t particularly tough and the views from the sulphur-steaming summit were spectacular surveying the town beneath us and the other volcano, Gunung Sinabung in the distance. We stocked up on the energy with a pre-made lunch at the top, met an Indonesian school group (whose teacher, Miss Libra invited me to come visit their school, but I declined because her name sounded like she was a Calendar girl porn star) and made our way back down the steeper, less well trodden route, through the forest that had grown up on one of Sibayak?s sides. At the bottom of the mountain some clued-up business man, (no doubt probably Chinese) has tapped in to the mountain and siphoned the hot springs that flow from the volcano?s base in to three big bath-tubs that were well appreciated after our days hike. The first tub we slowly lowered ourselves in to was hot but bearable, the second one was just insanely hot, as if we had climbed in to the volcano?s molten lava itself. You were able to extremely gradually descend a centimetre at a time in to the steaming bath, but then with any undue movement would leap back up screaming at the melting of the skin. Ben and I at one point managed to submerge completely, but coupled with the sun exposure our skin had taken that day the scold was too much and we soon leapt out to regroup at the slightly less skin-dissolving bathtub. We were still quite a hike from the town of Berestagi, and after the muscles had tightened up thanks to the springs treatment it wasn?t a walk we were looking forward to. As such I approached an Indonesian man who had been bathing in the hot springs with us and looked to have his own transport if he would mind us jumping in with him. He had a reasonably large pick-up, but already had several members of his family in the back but all the same he happily invited us to join them all on the trip back to Berestagi.  There were maybe six people already in the back, but then as we approached the man?s vehicle, adults and children alike came from every direction swarming the truck. We all just about squeezed in to the back to the delight and smiles of the local Indonesians, twenty five of us in total for the scenic drive back to Berestagi. The locals? infatuation with the six of us continued when we got back to town. Like a famous pop-band we were mobbed in the high street by a group of school girls screaming wildly in adoration at having their pictures taken with us and us signing our names in their jotters. On to the local market we again turned heads and were greeted by beaming smiles, a similar reception to that of the Burmese, which was something none of us had expected. Indonesia is the most populous Islamic nation in the world and as such I for one had assumed that they would not be as accepting of our dress, ways and habits, but this Northern part of Sumatra houses the main population of Christian Indonesians who were extremely happy to have us visit. Ben and I were separated from the rest of the group and found ourselves in the fruit and vegetable section of the market, where two particular sellers, a man and a woman bantered to one another over the tops of our heads and took great pleasure in offering us strange and exotic things to eat. I think I got off lightly as Ben got the chilli to eat for which he suffered the after effects of for the next 20 minutes or so. I meanwhile took to wearing as many of the fruits and veg as I could, with a string bean for a moutache and some colourful fruit decorating my head and at one point got behind the counter to sell passers-by their weekly shopping. I managed to sell quite a bit of garlic to one very nice lady, keen to do her trade with me. We wandered upon the wholesale market after this where once again being such an unfamiliar sight, the whole market turned their attention to us and people flocked to us demanding that we have our photos taken with them, with high-pitched cries of laughter at the two of us cuddling up to them. Berestagi is an extremely friendly town, one that we were all glad to have travelled to and around together, but with time very precious because for one thing, Indonesia is such a huge country and secondly if I am still to get to East Timor in time to catch a boat to Australia and in turn make it to Thredbo in the Snowy Mountains for a job interview on the 18th June then I was going to have to get my game on. Denis and Ben headed back north to Gunung Leuser National Park, Bert and Rachel also headed north to catch sight of the Orang-utans at Bukit Lawang, while Wesley and I took a bus south to Lake Toba.