Sunday, January 3, 2010

Lake Toba, Indonesia

After Marc and I sadly parted ways, I got a ride to the bus station by motorbike from one of the locals, Al, who worked at Café Bedual. At the bus station, Al was very kind as he gave me helpful tips as to how to keep my valuables, as well as myself, safe. It was going to be a long, arduous overnight bus ride to Lake Toba . Fortunately, the bus ended up being quite nice. Any bus where I can comfortably fit both of my legs in front of me is a nice one, I have to say. After a pit stop, I noticed a westerner getting out of our bus who was wearing a Hands On Disaster Response t-shirt. I quickly got off the bus and approached him to introduce myself. His name was Ian, from Bath , England . He had recently volunteered with HODR for 3 weeks and left, apparently, right when Marc and I arrived. Ian owns a small business in England which allows him to travel for 3-4 months every year. Nice.

The bus ride to Lake Toba took nearly 17 hours. The Trans-Sumatran Highway didn’t quite live up to its name. It definitely wasn’t a “highway” by American standards or by any other industrialized nation, for that matter. The first half of the trip was nothing but sharp turns through the mountains over crater-sized pot holes. There was a lot of swaying back and forth and bumps that would send my bum airborne. Not very pleasant. That said, the ride was extremely scenic. This island of Sumatra is very beautiful. This was a reason why I wanted to travel it overland. One really gets to see a country when traveling overland rather than by air.

Just before we made it to Parapat, where we would take a ferry to the island of Samosir, our bus decided to take another pit stop. Not good timing, especially since I had been traveling for the past 17 hours. I just wanted to get there! Once the bus was finally ready to leave, however, the engine wouldn’t start.

"You got be kidding me," I thought, as we were only a few miles from the ferry.

"I reckon I’ll ride my bicycle down," Ian said, with his English accent. "It doesn’t appear as if the bus is going to start anytime soon."

Ian enjoys bicycling when he travels. He’s been bicycling since he was 24 years old. Now 40, he has bicycled through many countries such as Indonesia, Nepal, Oman, a few European countries, and all over Central America. In fact, he has even written a guide book on Central America for bicyclists.

Just after he assembled his bicycle together the bus started. I told him I would wait for him at the bottom of the hill in town. Once Ian arrived I caught a ride with a local taxi to take me to the ferry; Ian would follow me on his bike. Once I made it to the ferry terminal, I noticed that Ian wasn’t anywhere to be found. I waited for about 20 minutes before boarding the boat. When the ferry dropped me off on Samosir Island, Ian was there awaiting me. Somehow he managed to get there before me. We began looking for rooms and were quickly persuaded by the owner of Tabo Cottages to get a room there. She gave us a discount and told us that there would be a free buffet breakfast for 2 hours every morning. A free buffet breakfast for 2 hours sounded great to me. Sold! So Ian and I shared a room together there.

There really isn’t too much to do on Lake Toba except to swim, relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery. Lake Toba is Southeast Asia’s largest lake. A giant volcano used to inhabit this area before collapsing in on itself after an eruption 100,000 years ago. Lake Toba surrounds the huge volcanic island of Samosir, which is nearly the size of Singapore . Here, the Toba Bataks are predominately Christians who were converted by European missionaries. It was strange to see so many churches and crosses instead of Mosques. I must say, I did enjoy not being awakened every morning by the Mosques calling people to prayer; that can be quite annoying. Even though the Bataks are Christian, they still practice or hold on to their traditional, animist beliefs. This can be found in their architecture, as well. The Batak houses are built on stilts and have real sharp, pointy roofs which I read are to resemble buffalo horns. Also, the houses have a few levels, one of which, is supposed to be dedicated to their ancestors. I couldn’t figure out if the Batak people actually believe that their ancestor’s souls reside there, or, if it is mainly just a shrine, sort of speak. In any case, the architecture is really neat.

The next morning, Ian and I made sure to arrive early for our buffet breakfast. Mmmm…mmm! And was it good. We were downing plate after plate. No shame. Ian, actually, was eating almost as much as I was which is pretty hard to do. Just ask my brother, Marc. After about an hour, when we both were beginning to feel a bit full, we thought we would have a little intermission with a few games of ping pong. Oh, yes, they had a ping pong table. I loved this place. We played just long enough to get our appetite back, then back for seconds we went. We literally ate every morning for the full two hours it was served.

From my hotel I could see a huge, pretty waterfall in the distance. Determined to trek my way to it, I asked a hotel employee for a map; however, the map I was given was not too detailed, as it was a copy of a handwritten sketch of the local area. It probably took me 45 minutes to walk a half mile outside the town of Tuk Tuk due to the local people stopping me to chat or because of the school children wanting to take my picture and practice their English. I took the longer, scenic route to get to the main road, which led me through some hilly farmland. On top of the hill were gorgeous views of the lake and the eastern coast of the island. Once I made it to the main road, I was directed to walk down a rocky path off the road that would lead me to the waterfall. This path led me to the bottom of the mountains through some farmland where I came across another small road which connected the adjacent villages. My map wasn’t too helpful at this point, so I was forced to ask some children to direct me to the trail to the waterfall.

As I was looking for the trail two dogs came running out from underneath a car, nearly biting me, and chased me up the road. After thanking the Lord for my life, and for not soiling my pants, I continued searching. I soon crossed paths with a woman who was balancing some container on top of her head, and asked her where I could find the trail to the waterfall. She pointed back to the direction I just had come from, where I was nearly mauled by the two dogs.

"The waterfall is that way?" I said, pointing to the direction where my life nearly ended.

"Are you sure?"

She nodded her head and quickly walked off. I’m sure she didn’t feel like standing around for too long with a huge, heavy container on top of her head.

"Great!" I yelled, losing my cool for a second. After which, I saw a couple heads pop up in the distant rice fields starring at me with bewildered looks on their faces. Going back where I had just came from was out of the question, so I decided to look for the main road. After walking through some beautiful rural farmland and small neighborhoods, I found my back to the main road. Still determined to see the waterfall, I looped around and tried again—to no avail. This time it wasn’t two dogs that prevented me from finding the trail. Nope. That would have been too easy, right? This time it was a water buffalo, which stood between me and the road I wanted to continue walking. As I approached the beast, I noticed it was looking directly at me while it was eating some food, "Chomp, chomp, chomp…..chomp……….chomp…………..chomp……………..Gulp!"

The beast and I stood motionless while starring into each others eyes. The main theme from Clint Eastwood’s movie The Good, The Bad & The Ugly came to mind: ( Thankfully I noticed that it was tied to a large post, and as I began to walk around the buffalo, it bellowed a small grunt and took a step towards me. I stopped and took another look at the post that it was tied to, and I noticed that it had about 25 feet of slack left.

"Oh, crap," I thought, and began to slowly walk backwards, never taking my eyes off of it.

"Eh. Maybe it’s not such a good idea to see the waterfall," I said to myself, as I continued to slowly walk backwards until I knew there wasn’t enough slack for the buffalo to reach me. I guess it wasn’t meant to be.

Back in town Ian and I found this lovely restaurant with a hidden patio with an amazing view of the lake. Plus, it had a continuous steady breeze which kept away the mosquitoes. Ian, who enjoys playing chess, managed to get a couple games in with the owner of the restaurant. Ian never did win a game against the owner, or any other local Indonesia for that matter, while in Lake Toba . He explained to me how Indonesians are really good at chess and play it all the time. Apparently, they were taught by the Dutch when they were here.

One night Ian and I walked around the entire town of Tuk Tuk and found it to be quite eerie, as there weren’t any tourists. It was strange to walk around and see every hotel, restaurant, and shop open for business but completely absent of tourists. Seriously, I mean no one. It appeared that Tuk Tuk may have used to attract many, many tourists but due to whatever reason—earthquakes, intra-country violence, visa hassles, a Muslim country, etc, etc—it’s a ghost town now. This of course was great for me, but terrible for the local economy. I did happen to meet a lovely English couple, James and Claire, back at our hotel. Due to the economy in England , they decided to travel around the world. They both shared many stories with me. And as I’ve said before, I love listening to other peoples travels. They also gave me some advice about Bukit Lawang, where I hopefully will travel to soon.

Ian and I debated what direction we would travel next. He eventually decided he would bicycle his way around Samosir to Sidikalang, then straight up to Ketambe. I was debating to either take that route or to travel to Berastagi, then make my way over to Ketambe and meet him. Decisions, decisions. I decided I would make my decision at the bus station the following day. I love this aspect of traveling—to have that time and freedom to move freely in any direction I want.


Next stop: ???

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