Back Into Mysterious Territory

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Hike or Hide? Picture's background: Mount Sinabung (Source: Fb/Liehardo Pai Haloho)

By: Magus Kutabarat

Captain was itching for another bike tour. It had been months since he’d had a ride with Tommy and Billy Bob. The Falcon had arrived at Lake Toba in Batak land and was also keen for a ride. For years Captain had wanted to explore the jungle mountain track to Bukit Lawang.

The only through road is via Medan city, a traffic nightmare, but the reputed jungle track passed the active volcano, Mt. Sinabung. Info was that there was a few kilometers of serious rough track, but some traffic used it.

Their motorbikes were standard Indonesian road bikes, light and easy 200cc Honda Road Ranger and Yamaha Scorpion. Captain and Falcon left Toba one morning and rode around the lake to the ferry, from which they could see Sinabung in the far distance, at least it wasn’t erupting. From the notorious Tiga Ras port they rode up the switchbacks to the caldera rim.

An old colonial guesthouse and restaurant was perched in prime position, but they pushed on through the cool air towards Sinabung, through prime farmland until Berastagi town where the mountain in its glory came into view with its dirty white parched face, caused by the pyroclastic burning ash.

They stopped for another coffee at the nearby village and asked the bemused locals about the track. ‘just 4km broken road’. Perhaps.

The road continued around Sinabung, looking like something out of Middle Earth, then climbed up to mountain jungle country, where the second worst thing that coulda, happened, it started raining.

Then the ‘ashfault’ abruptly finished and it looked like a wet downhill trekking track. Appraisal time!

With no argument they tuned around back to Berastagi for the night. Its a market and weekender hill town. Captain knew his old favorite guesthouse, and the night market served BBQ fish or chicken with rice, veg and soup for $3. Another specialty is the sweet spiced hot chai called ‘bandrek’.

The morning was clear and sunny so the riders got an early enough start. Downhill off-road isnt so easy on a road bike so they went as slow and steady as they could, thru the jungle gorge.

At one point they stopped for a brake. Monkeys jumped across treetops. It seemed like tiger country, not a place to step too far away for a piss.

Then a local on a scooter passed downwards, and amazingly a family on a scooter passed upwards. Papa driving with the boy in front, and mama with the infant tied around her. The Batak surely are resilient people.

Just when Captain wondered how much further, the sealed road began again, through the Telagah valley to the Bukit Lawang junction. This main road is broken, dusty and busy with palm oil trucks, but further on it joins with the lovely Bohorok river, and onto Bukit Lawang and the end of the road.

The village is built along the river, with guesthouses for tourists coming to trek to see orang utans. To access their guesthouse they had to ride over a pedestrian suspension swing bridge.

Before dark they hiked up the river trail. The river has mild rapids so tourists tube raft down.

Further upstream they stopped at a pebble beach where an orang utan appeared across river and they all met eye-to-eye, before the orang took a drink and disappeared and the 2 sapiens gave a hoot and walked back.

To make a round trip (and not go off-road again) they decided to return via Medan. Captain hated the idea of city driving (Medan is as bad as it gets), but he knew of a ring-road thru the suburbs.

They stopped on the river at a local warung restaurant for a mixed veg soup and again at Binjai for a juice to prepare for Medan driving. He’d taken this route by bus a few years ago, but with no road signs he had to guess the turnings. The Falcons sharp eye was no help.

It seemed like the ring-road but the traffic wasnt thick. This time was Ramadan, so much less traffic during the day. At the end of the ring-road there wasnt a sign to Berastagi or anywhere so he had to stop and ask twice more.

This region is about 50% Christian so finding a BBQ pork restaurant, local name is BPK, was no problem.

The road to Berastagi climbed steeply up the mountain again, so its a great ride when theres not too many trucks. This days ride had been much better than expected and they were back for BBQ fish and ‘bandrek’ again.

The last day was back to the lake, this time down into the caldera for a spectacular completion.

North Sumatra remains one of the least known destinations, so don’t go and tell everyone.

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