Getting to Berastagi
HAVING two girls backpacking to Indonesia do get some eyeballs rolling. One older colleague of mine exclaimed: “This is a generation gap! No girl my age would ever do what both of you did!”
My mother was fine but my friend’s parents were worried and constantly WhatsApp-ed her. When we visited her relatives in the last few days of our Indonesia trip in Medan, they too were aghast that we traveled via public transport to Berastagi.
But what’s traveling if you keep it all to tourist vans and boutique hotels? I love the uncertainty that lies ahead and that’s exactly why I only did some light research beforehand. We booked a homestay with a family two weeks before departure and I left the getting there and moving around a mystery. After all, we could speak the language. What’s to be afraid of?
At the airport, I used the WiFi and screen captured the instructions to get to the meeting point at Berastagi. On the train to Medan city from the airport, we just asked the man sitting next to us on the most economical way of getting to Berastagi. After some phone calls, he told us we needed to take the Sutera bus that was 15km out of town.
By chance, our friend found three locals who wanted to take the Sutera bus as well when we alighted from the train. Following my gut feeling, I felt they could be trusted and we took a cab with four of us squeezing behind. I wasn’t too worried because our cab driver could speak English.
Traffic in Medan is bad, though Jakarta is worse. Despite the second-hand smoke from our car-mates who were puffing in the car, I still found the ride amusing in many ways. For instance, in the rain, a tree branch fell close to a car beside us as we were caught in a traffic jam. The driver, a Datin-looking lady with those huge sunglasses, walked out, pulled the tree branch away and got back inside without much hassle.
Our bus driver wasn’t that reckless, as my friend’s relatives had feared. In fact, the locals are friendly and helpful though you have to get used to the occasional stares. They helped us to notify the bus driver to drop us at the Tugu (national monument) in Berastagi and asked if we knew where we were headed to. Of course, I was still wary and kept the details of our homestay to ourselves.
The guide up the mountains was arranged by our hosts, a very hospitable BatakChinese couple, and the husband could speak French. They explained the local culture, even showing us the wife’s wedding kebaya.
Travelers who wish to go to Berastagi may go by local public bus (like what the writer did) or hire a tourist van. The writer is grateful for the various encounters she had by trying to be a local as possible and would encourage travelers to do so as well.