Bumpy Road to Si Piso Piso and Brain-Freezing Shower in Berastagi

On January 8, 2013 by Niza Zainal


Melancholy was the feeling as the ferry departed from Samosir. From the corner of my eyes I saw Lekjon’s red Batak rooftop getting farther and smaller until it finally disappeared behind rolling hills and mountains.  The emerald green water, bluish sky and lush hills waved us farewell in between the roaring engine. And the ferry continued to glide through the serene lake, without much regards to our feelings. C’est la vie. That’s life. Meeting and parting are life’s norm. Deep down I hoped I would set my foot on this beautiful and peaceful island again.


 A slight touch on my shoulder woke me up from my daydream. “We are here” said DH curtly. Faintly I saw the small town of Parapat, which we had just left the day before. We followed the flock down to the jetty as the ferry berthed, and found that our driver (whom taxi we had chartered earlier) already waiting for us. We thought of lunch as we haven’t had anything since morning, yet we felt a bit awkward in asking. But the growl in our stomach was getting louder by the minute and refuted any act of modesty.


We continued with our journey to Brastagi after a quick lunch. It is easy usually to fall asleep when traveling with a full stomach, but that was hardly the case today. The view outside was too much to be wasted dozing off. As we ascended the hilly slope I throw my last gaze at the lake, all sparkling and glittering like a canvas of diamonds as it basked in the afternoon sun. Colorful boats roam its calm waters and church steeples stick out from lush greeneries like mushrooms after the rain. I had my eyes fixed on the wonderful vista as they slowly faded from our sight.

A lonely and gloomy road lay ahead of us as I looked forward, sucking every single drop of happiness that I’d just been bestowed. Pak Deni, our driver had his focus on the road, while DH – with his MP3 player stuck on both ears (like always) was lost in his own world. Nothing interesting outside to keep me occupied and sleeping (when you are not sleepy) is really a feeble idea of fast forwarding the time (what a waste!). And it was still a long way to our next destination. Earlier I witnessed some boats headed to a secluded cliff, and that photographic memory of mine struck my curiosity hard. A good point nonetheless to crack the ice.

“Tadi saya lihat ada bot yang menuju ke tebing terpencil. Ke mana mereka Pak?”  I asked Pak Deni, in my very much noticeably unsuccessful Indonesian tone.

(Just now I saw some boats headed to a secluded cliff. Do you know where are they going?)

 “Oh itu, bot membawa wisatawan ke Batu Gantung” answered Pak Deni short.

(Oh, those are tourist boats going to the Hanging Rock).

 “Batu gantung? Belum pernah lagi saya dengar mengenainya. Tentang apa Batu Gantung itu ya Pak?“

(Hanging Rock? I’ve never heard about it before. What is it all about?)

“Kononnya dulu ada perawan yang membunuh diri disitu kerna gagal percintaan, namun mayatnya tersangkut di tebing lalu bertukar menjadi batu.”

(It says that there used to be a maiden who committed suicide at the cliff due to a failed romance, but her body got stuck and turned to stone.)

It turned out to be an off-putting folklore which I had no interest in pursuing, considering we were in the middle of nowhere. Pak Deni seemed to warm up as we changed the topic about his homeland and we ended up chatting all the way to Berastagi, or rather half the way. Cause I can’t really remember falling asleep out of sheer anxiety and acute nervous breakdown – thanks to his remarkable driving proficiency of dodging head-on collision with other vehicles at mere seconds’ precision!

Hello, Si Piso Piso

We were rudely awaken somewhere around Merek by the constant bumps of the pot holed road and Pak Deni’s oblivion to his own speed. From there he turned left, and continued driving until we arrived at a gate post. After one hell of a breakneck journey from Parapat I was happy that we finally in the presence of the majestic Si Piso-Piso, very much alive and kicking.

But I digressed.

As soon as he parked the car, I jumped out and rushed towards the food stalls. Si Piso Piso is just a few meters away, but that has to wait for more pressing matter. Finding the toilet.

Si Piso Piso

The view of Si Piso Piso at 3pm, and the light was harsh. Plus I was too lazy to go down for a different angle, knowing how much it will take to climb up again. Plunging from a crevice at 120m precipice straight into the gorge down below, Si Piso Piso is the highest waterfall in Indonesia and one of the impressive. The high fall is thrusting every single drops of water into razor sharp dive, thus earned the name (Piso means knife). The thundering roar adds up to the splendor, and I cannot help to think how it feels standing on the verge of the waterfall and look down. A crazy blend of bewilderment and fear, it must be. Then suddenly it hits me. The memory of me sitting casually on the brim of Jelawang Waterfall last time, and it was twice in height. The only salvation was not being able to see how high the fall is. I shuddered to that thought.

Si Piso Piso Lake Toba

 Some view of Si Piso Piso.

Lake Toba

The falls flow directly into Lake Toba, and there she was, in her full gracefulness as I turned my back. The last time I saw her was hours ago and never thought I would see it again. It felt like we never parted, really! It was so huge that we were actually circumnavigating its perimeter and that took us 3 hours driving just to arrive at Si Piso Piso, which rest on the northern tip of the lake.

Berastagi, menjuah-juah!

The word “menjuah-juah” welcomed us as we entered the township of Berastagi. If Horas is the typical greeting by the Batak people of Lake Toba, menjuah-juah is a more preferred word of the Batak Karo, the ethnic people of Berastagi, and it is reflected everywhere – the streets, the landmarks, advertising banners, sign post etc. Since it was almost dark, we asked Pak Deni to drop us straight away at Wisma Sibayak, where we planned to stay for the night.

WIsma Sibayak Guesthouse

Wisma Sibayak was basic, but I really love the ambience. The room was nice and clean but again, lacked the water heater. Hot shower was somehow a luxury both here and Tuktuk, and comes only with the most expensive rooms (which unfortunately way out of my scarce budget and most of the time are fully occupied). The cheapest rooms they got were all taken, so we have to consider an upgrade. The room costs us additional few Rupiahs but compensated with breakfast and a view.

Wisma Sibayak, Berastagi

Sipping hot coffee in the cold afternoon overlooking the well manicured lawn of Wisma Sibayak was simply cozy.

Indonesian Toast Bread, Berastagi

We sampled some street food for dinner that night, and I’d been tempted to try the bread toast. At Rp6000 per piece the portion was hefty; with variety choice of fillings from chocolate to peanut butter and blueberry.

The next day we woke up early, with the intention of visiting the Gundaling Hill before going back to Medan.  As usual I went into the bathroom for a shower, and totally forgotten about the absence of the water heater. As the water touched my skin, my body jolted with pin prick sensation made by every tiny droplet, sending shivers all the way to my brain. It was so freezing cold that I found it really hard to convince myself for a second dipper. Being at 1400m above sea level, it is cold in Berastagi especially in the morning. The last time I had shower was a day ago when we were still in Parapat, so I was totally clueless how icy the water could be. Feeling sticky and musty, I decided to rather have a cold shower than no shower. Although to say it was the quickest I ever had.

 Mount Sinabung, Berastagi

After breakfast we scaled the Gundaling Hill with our rented motorbike, cruising through the winding road leaving the hectic Berastagi and Mount Sinabung behind us. The old Honda underbone took us past some lovely villages and verdant valleys,  while the smoky Mount Sibayak watching us from afar. Horses were seen grazing the grass freely and farmers, in their rubber boots and Batik headwear were already out working in the morning sun. We got our fingers numbed by the cold breeze, but were too fascinated with the fresh landscape to even notice.

Gundaling Hill, Berastagi

Horses grazing the grass by the roadside unattended, spotted on our way to Gundaling.

Village in Berastagi

Like any cold hilly areas, Berastagi is also synonym as the producer of various types of vegetables, fruits and flowers, and the production yields for the needs of people of Medan and other cities in North Sumatra. Stretching over thousand of hectares, the plains are full with squares of seedbeds of various patterns and sizes; they somehow reminded me of those quilts my late grandmother used to make.

Village at Berastagi

 Little house on the prairie valley.


Cheerful farmers, Berastagi

Happy farmers we met along the way.

Gundaling Hill, Berastagi

Arriving fairly early, we found Gundaling relatively quiet. Despite a few stray dogs, some small kiosks and food stalls just about to start operating, there was no one else around and we got to enjoy the view all to ourselves. From the look out point we could see clearly the three mountains of the Karo Land – Mount Sibayak, Mount Sinabung and Mount Baros; standing aloof like some sentinels guarding the town of Berastagi.

View of Berastagi from Gundaling Hill

Morning view, with the Barisan Range on the western side.


Mount Sinabung, Berastagi

DH here is showing the technique of smoking without the need to light up – a new method for those who want to quit smoking.

Gundaling Hill, Berastagi Indonesia

We spent the time enjoying the view and a walk around the park under the pine, fir and colorful flowers (and got chased by the stray dogs!). There were horses for hire too, around Rp60,000 per hour.

Gunung Sibayak, Berastagi

Mount Sibayak. The kind lady that manned the Wisma Sibayak told us that there’s a replica of the famous Shwedagon Paya at the foot of the mountain, about 20 minutes ride from Berastagi town.  You could spot its golden colored dome from Gundaling.

 Fruit Market, Berastagi

Berastagi Fruit Market

Flower Market, Berastagi

The cool climate is very much in favour of these flowers.

After a few poses here and there and several takes at the smoky Sinabung, we left the Gundaling and made a quick stop at the fruits and flower markets in Berastagi.  As the name implies, local agricultural products are an easy catch here, especially the passion fruits and tamarillos, both being Berastagi specialties. These fruits could be bought fresh or in the form of processed juice.

Apart from vegetables and fruits, some of the kiosks were selling souvenirs from mere key chains and fridge magnets, t-shirts, bracelets, bags and sandals with ethnic Batak’s motifs. From our observation the price was much cheaper here than Parapat, albeit a little bit less on the variation. With only a few Rupiah left we didn’t venture into shopping; instead we walked to the post office next to the market for our pathetic customary habit of sending postcards to ourselves.

In the following week after returning home from Medan we found our cheapest souvenir safely delivered to our mailbox; although out of two postcards I sent out only one managed to find home. When we were there I didn’t bought anything for myself as keepsake, but I guessed a single verbatim proof of our memory in Samosir and Berastagi should be more than enough.

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