Gunung Kaba must be physically the easiest or perhaps second easiest volcano summit to reach in the whole of Indonesia. The only challenger in this category would be Gunung Kelimutu onthe island of Flores. However, despite the fact that it takes hardly a sweat to reach this mountaintop, does not mean it misses out on attractiveness. On the contrary just as Kelimutu, Gunung Kaba presents a very attractive, picturesque and still smoldering active volcanic caldera. The volcano is a long way away from anywhere, but when in the area and one wants to enjoy some terrific sights and an even more interesting adventurous ride, then this volcano is actually most charming. Trekking @ Gunung Kaba
Sumatra is where spice traders and Islam first anchored after passage from India, and later, from Europe. The soil is not especially good for farming, although many volcanoes exist here. But there are still some verdant jungles and wondrous gatherings of wildlife that is in most regions seriously endangered. Sumatra is one of the world’s last frontiers – an island of lush tropical rainforests, extraordinary flora and fauna, and active volcanoes. Home of the Sumatran Tiger, elephants, rhinos and orangutans, as well as a host of diverse ethnic groups. It is the third largest island of Indonesia and the fifth largest in the world (roughly the size of Spain) Vastly rich in natural resources, over half of the country’s exports come from the treasure trove of Sumatra’s bounty of oil, natural gas, hardwood, rubber, palm oil, coffee, tea and sugar. Hiking @ Gunung Kaba Sumatra
South Sumatra is made up of the provinces of Lampung, Bengkulu, Jambi and the Riau Archipelago. Nearly all of Jambi and the eastern two thirds of Lampung are made up of broad alluvial lowlands no more then thirty meters above sea level. Numerous meandering rivers, including Sungai Batanghari, navigable for nearly 500 km inland, and the Musi, Sumatra’s longest river, drain the entire area. Western Lampung province is mountainous, rising to volcanic peaks of more then 3000 meters before dropping sharply to the Indian Ocean at the former British colonial outpost of Bengkulu. Trekking @ Gunung Kaba
The British founded the seaport town of Bengkulu formerly known as Bencoolen, in 1685. Benteng Marlborough was constructed in 1762 as a castle with a gatehouse that contains old gravestones with English inscriptions. Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, who later founded Singapore, was lieutenant governor of Bengkulu from 1818 to 1823. He introduced coffee and sugar cultivation, established schools and fought a royal decision to hand control of Sumatra over to the Dutch in 1824. His scientific zeal (as first president of the Zoological Society of London) led to the naming of the giant Raffles flower in his honor. The flower can be found in the Dendam Taksuda Botanical Gardens. Hiking @ Gunung Kaba
The sad reality
So far the introduction to South Sumatra sounded like the text from a guidebook and just the way travelers would like to see the place. Massive rainforests, tigers, elephants, orangutans, rhinos, beaches, turtles…etc. Reality unfortunately is very different. This was my third visit to Sumatra, and each visit brought me into seriously remount areas of this immense island. The only sign that very few tigers still exist in the wild were day old prints up on Gunung Kemiri within the Leuser National park. Forests, well yes, you still see them on mostly steep and difficult accessible hillsides. For example on Gunung Dempo tea plantations reach as high as 1900 meters. Wherever we traveled on this latest trip we witnessed more hacking of rainforest, to make space for more coffee, tea, oil or vegetable plantations. There are simply too many people that search for ways to earn a daily meal. As throughout Indonesia on most volcanoes and mountain ranges we often find it eerie to hear how totally silent these isolated forests are. Often not even a bird can be heard. The only signs of wild life we seem to come across are earth movements and holes dug by wild boars, a creature that was introduced by the early settlers and now thrives well in all forests throughout the country. Trekking @ Gunung Kaba
During our last stop on our return trail from Gunung Patah, in the house of a coffee grower, we meet a hunter who showed us proudly on his hand phone a video that showed the brutal hunt of a deer. His pet strangely enough was not a dog but a beautiful little black bird in a small cage, which he takes on all his forest searches. Feeling sorry for this feathered friend in this tiny cage, I actually wanted to buy the bird and release it back to where he belongs. Consequently I took Rp.50’000 (US$ 6 is roughly the daily income of a worker per day) from my pocket with the hope that the poacher would happily agree to this deal. He then explained that this particular bird is with him for years and if I wish to purchase the same one from the wild, then it would cost me roughly 10 times so much. Hiking @ Gunung Kaba
UFO – Unidentified Foreign Objects
Be prepared to be famous when you travel as a white man. We were under the serious impression that we were the first white visitors to this region since Sir Stamfort Raffles departed in 1823. During our five day visit to the region at least 100 people would have approached us for a big favor. Mister, Mister, Photo. Wherever we stopped, a petrol station, a Warung, the local Padang restaurant or at the chemist where we needed to buy some medicine. The funniest incident took place when we checked in at the Mutiara Hotel in Curup (Super clean, cheap and most recommended) just as night fell. Trekking @ Gunung Kaba
Arriving on a motorbike seemed to be appropriate until the moment we took off our helmets, which then clearly unveiled that an invasion of two aliens was taking place. The moment the receptionist realised that the two UFO’s even mastered the Indonesian language and actually wanted to spend the night in the hotel, he disappeared. A few minutes later he returned with his workmate, who expressed a similar kind astonishment, but was at least able to speak out loudly two letters…… ID, ID. To his total disbelief he acknowledged that I even possessed an Indonesian ID card. After staring at the card for a while he took a hotel registration form, which he then gave to me to sign after a seemingly endless long time. Just as expected the form was thoroughly and properly filled out including all my specific details that read HENS………Next he handed over two keys and simply disappeared. Hiking @ Gunung Kaba
The information on Kaba that we collected prior to our trip was anything but super basic and seriously inaccurate. There is a road almost to the very top, where there is a car park that includes a Warung for early morning coffee. From the car park a set of stairs will lead you all the way to the rim of the caldera, and this will take at least one hour. This was the description given to us by the hotel owner of the Mutiara Hotel in Curup.
With all this detailed and highly precise information in mind we departed Curup at 4.30am heading towards somewhere. The marching order given told us that after a few kilometers you need to turn right. It turned out that the few kilometers were almost 25 where at the village of Tiawang you will eventually find a sign that directs you towards the tourist attraction Kaba. Slowly the road winds out of the town through rice fields and eventually passes hectares and hectares of vegetable and rice plantations. After about 15 minutes you will get to the gate where you have to register your presence on the volcano. As we passed rather early, the gate was open and the gatekeeper probably somewhere having his breakfast. Trekking @ Gunung Kaba
Shortly after the gate the road starts climbing and winding quickly up towards the summit. Vegetable plantations on the left and plantations on the right, the scenery is stunning and we had our fun forcing our little motor bikes up the relatively steep slope. It highly impressed me that the road just recently received a new coat of tar. Well, the moment I had thoughts about how well this “popular” tourist road is maintained, the entire scenery changed dramatically. Virtually within a minute the plantations ended and we entered rather thick forest, and the road became a trail just wide enough to allow a motorbike to tunnel through the bushes. If you enjoy riding on two motorized wheels then you will love the next 10 kilometers towards the summit. Trail riding at its best, not challenging or dangerous at all but simply fun to navigate across the fast eroding “tourist road”. Eventually after less then 30 minutes you will reach a section, which even for a bike is too tricky, unless you bring with you one of the fancy 250cc trial bikes. Hiking @ Gunung Kaba
The mini hike
At last we were able to do what we came here for, we got a chance to hike. Unfortunately only for about 10 minutes before we reached the earlier mentioned car park that has not seen a car for years as well as a structure, which once was a small Warung, that properly has not served a hungry visitor this millennium. Trekking @ Gunung Kaba Sumatra
Finally we reached the endless staircase as described by the Hotel owner in Curup. It would take at least an hour to reach the caldera. This would be correct if you stop at every fifth step for a while and enjoy yet another “kretek” clove cigarette. It took us a little more then five minutes to conquer the 200 steps or so to yet another magnificent volcanic wonderland. The still smoldering center of the crater looks barren and hostile, with a small water filled lagoon in the center. There must be at least 20 vents in various areas where sulfuric fumes escape, which again prevents any vegetation from growing in the closer area. If time permits there is even a track that leads into the center of the caldera. Once again it is worthwhile to sit back and marvel at the scenery close by as well in the surrounding and in the far distance. Hiking @ Gunung Kaba Sumatra
Summery Gunung Kaba
Elevation: 1952 meters
Location: About 100 km south east of Bengkulu
Difficult Grade 1: 20 minutes of easy step climbing
Physical Challenge 1: “A walk in the park”
Hiking time: 20 minutes up and 20 minutes down
Water source: Not available
Guide: Not essential
Permit: Not required
This time we decided to hire motorbikes which for obvious reasons makes traveling independently rather easy. We rented the bikes at Benkulu airport. Do not expect a well-maintained bike, but be happy if the bike is in reasonable good condition. Cost per day between US$6-US$8.
Please note that all time indications are given when riding a 125cc motorbike. Should you travel by car or bus then one needs to add at least 50% more time.
Bengkulu – Kehehagian 65 km 1 ½ hours. The last 20 km of the road across the hills was in rather bad condition (July 21, 2012). Beware of a lot of road works. Due to bad weather we traveled this part in the dark in a torrential tropical down pour, which was an adventure on its own.
Kebehagian – Curup 22 km, 40 minutes.
Curup – Gunung Kaba via Tiawang 49 km. 1 hour 40 minutes. Out of Curup take Jalan Curup – Lubuk Linggau until Tiawang where you turn off towars Gunung Kaba
Accommodation: Plentiful in Kebehagian and Curup (Hotel Mutiarias are cheap and very clean)