Get­ting to Berastagi

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - OUTDOORS -

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.

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