It’s 6:30pm. The sun is setting behind the grey clouds that have hovered over town all day. I’ve just had a shower – my first hot one since arriving in Sumatra – and am content sitting here on this rooftop listening to the muezzin call the devout to prayer.
I’m in Brastagi, a small city under the shadow of two volcanoes, one still active and both still spewing sulphuric plumes of steam from their craters. Today I climbed the smaller Gunung Sibayak which stands at 2094m. The way up was via a road through the misty morning jungle and, just as the clouds were beginning to give way to a blue sky, right into the jungle where our guide pointed out a variety of plants and their uses to locals. The last part was another steep walk along a wet clay path and with every step the smell of sulphur became stronger.
And there it was. The grey and black rocky slope hidden by a blanket of steam and mist leading up to the crater. Gas hisses deafeningly out of holes in the rocks, leaving the openings yellow with gooey sulphur and giving you an instant, smelly steam clean. The crater itself is filled with a shallow layer of water, and stone formations left by visitors wanting to leave their mark.
That blue sky that followed us up the slope disappeared under deepening mist and cloud and we caught only brief glimpse of the view to the village below and Brastagi beyond a line of hills. But the red ground and grey rocks stood out sharply in the grey, and the low visibility added to our sense of being on an adventure.
The real adventure however, was the way down. Do climb a volcano through the jungle. Don’t do it in sneakers with absolutely no grip. I picked my way over the loose rocks, climbed down the concrete steps with care but could not avoid the increasingly deep mud and slippery corners. By the time we reached the bottom of the trail my red takkies were brown and wet and I had a patch of mud on my pants from where my bum said hi to the ground. Our final rest point was at the hot springs under the volcano. Ah, to wash my shoes and stew my wobbly legs!