20.05.2008 - 23.05.2008
Two vulcanoes, two days of hiking followed by more than two days of pain to remind us that cycle muscles are not quite the same as hiking muscles............
First we had a tough day of cycling from lake Toba to Berastagi. Never NEVER believe non-cyclist who tell that a road is "easy" or "not so steep" or "easily done in a day". Because these ignorant car-potatoes just do not know, in fact they don't have a fr##king clue. "In my car I only had to switch to low gear occasionaly so it cannot have been very steep" is the nicest description I have heard so far. This particulairy nice piece of info was about a 34km non-stop climb that had us standing up on the pedalls with tomato-red heads, swimming in sweat and growling our way up in the lowest of low gears........At least we had someone to swear at and imaginary murder while we were at it. Always helps to work yourself up into a rage during a climb. Agression pushes you higher apparently.
Anyway, The road to Berastagi which was described as "easy going" had it's fare share of hairpins and 10%++ inclines. Always nice. It also turned out to be a good 130kms as well. Spoiled and lazy cyclists as we have become now, we took the bus for the last 40km. It has to be said that the ride was fabulously beautiful, along lake Toba, big volcanoes in the background, rice terasses, coffee plantations, the works.
With a good map we would have been prepared and sensible and we would have split it onto two etappes and just enjoyed. Our Sumatra map is a bit of a challenge. We know it is far from precise; towns and villages are plotted more or less at random and the colors indicating height are more of an artist impression than anything else. Always nice when you decide whether to go left or right...." the map, that we know is sketchy at best, says left but I think probably right.....let's ask someone" The first person you ask is very convinced you have to go left, the next person has no doubt it is right.......so we do another of our surveys, ask a number of people and go with the majority of the votes. Long live democracy.
Once in Berastagi, there were two big fat volcanoes to climb! The Sibayak and the Sinabung. Impressive monsters these are. Both still very alive with steam hissing from the crater and nice rotten egg smells to acompany the vista. Sibayak was relatively easy with a long, steep descend over thousends of steps that got the muscle ache started. Then the next day the Sinabung which is higher and steeper and generally more dangerous. As an interesting sales argument to hire a guide there is a sign with who got lost, when and what happened in the end at the entrance of the climb. "Mr and mrs bladiebla from Italy, june 1995, lost, found after 3 days, dead" etc. etc. We decided to take a guide. The climb was interesting........just straight up. No time to waste on hairpins or paths with a sensible incline, no just straight up the side, the fastest route must be the shortest, no?! Two murderous hours lay the foundation for a muscle ache that we won't easily forget.
It was all worth it as the pics below testify:
Then without a day to rest (we are slightly in a hurry now that the end of our trip looms over us) straight to Bukit Lawang. A bit of a squeeze time wise, but this place is famous for its orang utans and cannot be missed.
You'd say we would have learned by now to not trust the road descriptions of none cyclists. But unfortunaletly we also have developped a great taste for slightly obscure roads that are thin lines on the map and therefore quiet. This one was quiet allright.......a direct shortcut from Berastagi via the base of the Sinabung volcano direct to Bukit Lawang instead of going via Medan. The road described as "new but bad" was indeed the worst road ever. It has a lovely 40km downhill section that unfortunately looked like a riverbed.......what started as a decent road with some potholes changed quickly into one big pothole with here and there a slab of asphalt to remind you that once, a long long time ago this indeed was a pretty good road. We were happy to reach 8km/ hour averages and had to walk more than a few kilometers. Add 3 tropical rainstorms, spaced far enough apart to dry up in between and then soak all over again and you'll understand that after 80km we were toast...... Luckily Sumatra must have the worlds most dense bus population and we found a driver who was kind enough to lash our bikes on the roof and take us for the last 50km.