Friday, 12 November 2010

Clambering up a volcano

Winding up out of the jungle, we headed slightly south to the volcano district of Berastagi. Situated at over 1000m above sea level, the temperature was still warm but lacking the intense humidity we had just left – a refreshing change. The main reason to stop at the town (except of course to see its giant cabbage statue…I’m not kidding!) is to climb one of the active volcanoes, which we set out to achieve the very next morning.

We had decided on Sibayak, which at 2094m was an accessible option even with the changeable weather conditions, and wouldn’t require us hiring a guide. We set off early, hoping the heavy mist of the morning would clear as we ascended, walking 45 minutes through the town and the outlying areas to the starting point of the hike. In retrospect, and if I were ever to do it again, I probably would have hopped on a local bus to the starting point – although a pleasant walk, it was 45 minutes of uphill, and had us puffing before even beginning the walk proper!

After paying a nominal fee for our permits we started off, and the path quickly and steeply twisted up the side of the volcano – it was quite hard going at times, particularly with the combination of heat and rain as constant companions. There was a moment of panic when we lost the next section of path – although the map our hostel had provided and my guidebook assured us that it would be easy to follow, the path had deteriorated terribly, and was broken and slippery in many places – so broken in fact that we hadn’t recognised it as a path at all! Later, on the summit, we spoke to someone who had been walking the route for years, and he confirmed that it was worst he had ever seen it.

We eventually made it to the top, and in brief moments of clarity between the thick mist we saw the bright yellow sulphurous fumaroles dotted around the crater, and the lush green valleys and fields below. A bit of a slog to arrive, but definitely worth the effort. Everything about the volcano suggested activity, with pillars of thick smoke drifting up from small holes, and ashy sulphur deposits mingling with the loose rocks.

The descent was just as tricky in places and took longer than we had expected; a nice cool drink back at the hostel was definitely appreciated. We spent one further night in Berastagi to rest our aching muscles, and then it was time to get back on the road again.

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