In August 2018, I hitchhiked through all of Sumatra and covered a distance of more than 1500
kilometres by road. During this adventure I climbed South East Asia’s highest volcano, Gunung Kerinci (3805m) or Gunung Plastic Trash, how I would call it.
The reason why I gave the Gunung Kerinci its unusual nickname “GUNUNG PLASTIC TRASH” and why I recommend, facing the challenge and climbing South East Asia’s highest volcano, will be presented to you in this article!
How to get there
It took me about 6 days non-stop hitchhiking from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m to get from Bandar Lampung, which was my first stop in Sumatra, to Sungai Penuh. If you do not have time for hitchhiking, you can also take buses which go through all of Sumatra or hire a car and a driver.
Sungai Penuh is a village close to the entrance point of the Gunung Kerinci trek.
If you are coming from southern Sumatra, there are small mini busses, which I saw a lot on the road towards the Gunung Kerinci Nationalpark, which can bring you for just 50 000 Rupiahs from Tapan to any city inside the national park.
Tapan is a small town next to the famous south western coastal road, which runs beside the ocean from south to north Sumatra. You can reach Tapan by bus from any larger city such as Bengkulu or Ipuh.
If you are coming from the north, you can take buses from Lake Toba (12-14 hours!) or from Air Haji, Painan or Padang.
Sumatra’s infrastructure is pretty good and I am sure that one won’t have many difficulties, reaching the Kerinci Nationalpark.
Where to stay
There is one hotel in Sungai Penuh which charges 10$/night and which can be found at booking.com. The name of the hotel is Penginapan Cantika and it’s a 10 min. stroll away from the main road.
When I was in Sungai Penuh, I decided to find a place to pitch up my tent and as I started to ask some friendly Indonesians, I met Yan, an Indonesian English teacher who offered to host me for two nights if I visit his school with him and talk to his students to improve their English.
I decided to stay with Yan and he even helped me to organize a guide for the trek and here comes the next point…
Do I need a guide?
According to the ranger of the national park, 9 people already went missing while climbing Gunung Kerinci. I remember that I saw a little monument at the top of the volcano which reminded of three people who got lost while climbing the volcano.
So yes, I definitely recommend hiring a guide.
The trek takes two days, one day to get to the shelter where you pitch up your tent and another day to get down to civilization again. Remember that you have to carry and cook all your food by yourself, except you have a guide. My guide Al was amazing, as he cooked delicious food and coffee for us and knew the environment very well so that we didn’t get lost.
While looking for a guide, I quickly realized the big price differences of organizations offering the hike.
One guy tried to charge me 1,5 million Rupiahs for the hike and additional 300 000 Rupiahs for the 45-60 minutes’ drive from Sungai Penuh to the point where you start hiking.
After some negotiating and comparison of different organizers, I paid 900 000 Rupiahs for transportation, the hike and anything that I needed during the hike (e.g. tent, food,…).
What to bring
!BRING WARM CLOTHES!
That’s my number one advice for doing this hike. When I did the hike, I just had some summer clothes and a soft shell jacket was the warmest garment I brought to the hike. Luckily Yan lent me his gloves, otherwise the cold would have been unbearable.
Seriously, ask the organizer of your tour to lent you a proper jacket, good gloves, warm socks, a scarf and a long pair of pants (if you don’t have them).
Steripen – Portable UV lamp with which you can clean water and make it drinkable. Perfect to safe money and plastic while traveling
Headlamp – You will have to climb the summit in the dark to see the sunrise from the top of Gunung Kerinci
The adventure starts
All the other things you would bring for a 2 days trek like food, toiletries, etc.
Together with my guide Al, I start at the bottom of G. Kerinci at 8 a.m. “This is South East Asia’s highest volcano?!”, are my first thoughts, breathing in the mild morning air and looking at a volcano which doesn’t really look like 3,805 m (12.484 ft). From down here, the volcano looks like an easy 5 hours hike and I feel optimistic about our adventure. Due to the high elevation, the climate in the Kerinci Nationalpark is much cooler than it is in the rest of Sumatra.
“Selamat Jalan” (similar to: “Safe travels!”), are the last words of Yan, a good friend who drove us here. Yan is an amazing guy and I met him while I was looking for a place to stay in Sungai Penuh.
The first couple of meters are an easy trek through a (tea?) plantation which turns into dense rainforest pretty fast. The path is well developed and the first two hours of the hike are easy. I feel great, practicing my basic bahasa Indonesia skills with my guide Al, who doesn’t speak any English. The deeper we go in the forest, the more difficult it gets. The steepness increases and we stop multiple times to drink some water and enjoy the sound of the jungle.
The jungle on the feet of Gunung Kerinci is home to thousands of species like Gibbons (which you will hear a lot), Tigers or the Sumatran rhinoceros. Due to the fertile soil produced by the active volcano, the bio diversity is huge.
After 4 hours of hiking, Al and I reach a place called “Shelter Two”, a wood shelter, where we have our lunch. Nasi Ayam, chicken rice.
Next to the shelter lay about 20 empty plastic bottles, some used raincoats and other plastic pieces that other trekkers left here. The plastic pollution here is insane. Everywhere are small hills of plastic trash, swept together in the hope that it will rotten one day.
I already realized during the hike that the area next to the path is polluted by plastic and I wonder what the 15 US-$ entry fee each foreign tourist has to spend, is being spent on. The rangers of the nationalpark are corrupt and keep the money for themselves, instead of keeping the nationalpark clean by investing in sustainable waste reduction programs or cleaners who collect the plastic trash.
I get angry because this is not the first time in Indonesia that I see and feel that mother nature is not being respected. “Do the people who leave their trash behind don’t care about the beautiful nature surrounding them? Or do they think their trash will just rotten away? Why do people do such things?”, are the thoughts which occupy my mind for the next couple of minutes.
Al and I continue our walk and reach “Shelter 3”, which actually isn’t a shelter. It’s a flat ground, which is about 3 hours away from the top of Gunung Kerinci. Here we set up our tent and start preparing some food. My stomach doesn’t feel well and I have to leave the tent.
When I return, I don’t feel like eating and my stomach makes weird sounds. I have diarrhea and feel very week. After two hours of sleep I finally eat something, clean the dishes with Al and fall asleep.
I am having a restless night, as I wake up multiple times and have a mild headache. When Al wakes me up the next morning at 3.30 am, I feel exhausted but motivated at the same time to finally reach the summit.
Together we are having a light breakfast of fresh coffee, two hard boiled eggs and some instant noodles which leave my stomach just minutes after we leave. The hike is exhausting but the view down to the surrounding villages motivates me to continue the hike. It’s cold, around zero degrees Celsius and Al is about 20 meters behind me. My breath is deep and slow, as I set one step in front of the other.
Two hours later, Al and
I highly regret that I didn’t bring a warm winter jacket as the wind blows strong up here but then it’s suddenly getting light and warm again, as the sun starts to rise. We don’t see a typical sunrise as the weather is cloudy today, but the warmth of the upcoming sun feels amazing.
The volcano is very active today and loads of sulfuric smoke are blowing out of Gunung Kerinci, as Al and me are enjoying the view on the top of Sumatra.
Here as well, we see tons of plastic trash laying around and I the questions I had on our hike up are coming up again in my head. Emotions of anger and deep sadness are pulling down my mood.
We are not alone anymore, as other hiking groups made their way up here and enjoy the view.
As Al and me start our hike down I feel how my stomach cramps. We reach our tent and I directly fall in a dreamless, deep sleep. Two hours later we start hiking down and what follows is the most exhausting hike I ever did. I am still having diarrhea and my knees are shaking. I feel so weak that I could just lay on the side of the path, next to the plastic, and just fall asleep again.
But I fight and continue. For about 7 hours we are going further down until we finally reach the rainforest which surrounds Gunung Kerinci.
One hour later we reach the entrance of the national park and walk to the old lady’s house where I stored some of my luggage at the beginning of the trek. My feet hurt, my stomach hurts and I feel like throwing up.
“Bolekah saya tidur satu malam disini?” (Eng.:“May I sleep here for one night please?”), is the question that I ask the friendly old lady and she replies with a worried expression in her face: “Boleh!” (Eng.:“Yes, you can!”)
I pay Al, thank him for his amazing service and walk into the hut of the old lady. Completely exhausted I lay down on a mat, close my eyes and try to sleep. A smile crosses my face, as I realize that I just climbed South East Asia’s highest volcano, followed by deep, restful sleep.