After another overnight stop in Medan we had yet another long taxi ride to the bus rerminal (this one 6.5 kms out of town) from where we took the public bus on the four hour, and sometimes hair raising, journey to Parapat on the shore of Danau (Lake) Toba. Yet again our bus was a rattley old tub which was 80% polyfilla and the remainder held together with string and sellotape!! But it did only cost us 36,000 Rupiah (less than £2) - for the two of us. We were soon joined by loads of smoking, chattering Sumatrans heading for the cool of the hills.Shortly after leaving the bus terminal we turned left, through a toll barrier to a motorway and on to the grandly named Trans Sumatran Highway.This, we thought, would make the journey much more bearable and swift. How wrong we were, because within 2 kms the motorway fizzled out into a single carriageway road, although there was evidence of some upgrading being done along part of the route.Seems a right swizz charging the poor Sumatrans for such an 'extensive motorway network'.The road through the city and the towns along the route were very, very busy and chaotic.But this didn't stop the bus driver from overtaking at every, and even at no, opportunity - smaller road users just had to move pretty quickly out of his way.Just like in India there is a hierarchal system on the road - everyone yields to the larger vehicle. When we did feel able to open our eyes we saw the landscape change to reveal rice paddies, huge pineapple plantations (you only get one pineapple per plant) and heavier jungle as we climbed into the Karo Highlands. After a few kms of windy road through the jungle, suddenly we turned a corner to see the most fabulous view of the lake. As we hurtled at breakneck speed down the still windy road along the edge of the mountainside we were thrown first one way then the other as the bus driver seemed to be intent on getting us all killed.We thought our last had come when, crossing a bridge, he overtook a couple of slower moving cars by driving up the oncoming lane.
Once at Parapat we were dropped at the ferry and were lucky to have to wait only a few minutes before it set off on the 45 minute journey to Tuk Tuk. Danau Toba, the largest lake in SE Asia, was created by a volcanic eruption 35,000 years ago, which also left the 'island' of Samosir in the middle on which Tuk Tuk is situated.Samosir isn't really an island because it's linked to the Sumatran mainland by a narrow isthmus on its western side.We were fortunate that we had booked what is probably the best place in Tuk Tuk: Carolina Cottages/Hotel ([email protected]; 0625 41520) which sits right on the water's edge is built in traditional Sumatran style.It does look better in photos and from a distance than it does close up, but we did it really comfortable, relaxing, laid back, veryfriendly and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.This area doesn't get the tourism that it deserves but it was still good to see a good many Western, as well as some Asian, visitors.This isn't the first time that we've found a predominance of Dutch, although it's probably explained in this case by their 'colonial' history with Indonesia. One Dutch couple we met were staying in Tuk Tuk for three months having deserted Thailand as their destination of choice for their winter break.
We didn't really do very much except swim in the lake.However we did manage a tour of some of Samosir's historical sights.The area is populated by the Batak people who were cannibals until they were converted to Christianity in 1816.Although Indonesia is the world's largest Muslin country,this area of Sumatra is predominantly Christian with Protestant and Catholic churches much in evidence. This is quite surprising given that the adjoining province at the north of Sumatra (Aceh - which was devastated by the 2004 Tsunami) is the most devout Muslim part of Indonesia. The guy in the room next to us was working in Banda Aceh for a company involved in the aid effort. He believes that, despite the FCO advice that this area should be avoided, it is very much worth visiting although he did add that the Sharia Police can be a little intimidating.Anyway, back to the historical sights.The three hundred year old Stone Chairs in Ambarita were where village matters were discussed, and wrongdoers tried and executed.Much as we British used to condemn witches who survived the ducking stool only to be burned as witches, the Bataks seemed to employ the same logic. There probably weren't many Batak wrongdoers who survived!The interesting point here is that after they were executed they were eaten - the warm heart being the king's treat.We also had a look into a nearby three hundred year old traditional Batak house - those adjoining are still being lived in to this day.It was then off to the museum at Simanindo which had a few interesting Batak relics and artefacts, the most impressive being the Royal Longboat.However, the museum is perhaps better known for its Batak dance performances.As we were visiting on a Sunday we had to wait until the Protestant/RC church services finished around midday - while we were waiting the locals singing their hearts out. The dancing was colourful and interesting and we took the opportunity to join in.
Earlier on we had popped into Juwita's Cafe for a coffee and got talking to the owner, Heddy who runs Indonesian cooking classes.As visitor numbers are low and as we were planning a laid back time, M persuaded to E to take a class.After a bit of negotiation a deal was struck, and on the Monday E headed up the hill with his apron on.While M lounged by the cool of the lake E sweated over chopping boards, coconut graters, food pounders and several hot woks preparing what was to be one of the nicest meals we'd had.He cooked four different Indonesian dishes [ add names] - see Sumatra photo album - which M helped him to scoff.If anybody is in the area drop into Juwita's Cafe and give Heddy some business to help her put her daughters through school and college. Afterwards in a cafe across the road we sampled some homemade Toddy, made from fermented coconut.
All too soon it was time to leave the peace and tranquility of Danau Toba for the mad chaos of Medan once more - but at least we knew that in the Hotel Soechi International we had comfort, air conditioning and good food. We also haven't mentioned that by this time we were well known in the hotel and E couldn't cross the lobby without calls of 'Hello Mr Scott, how are you and how was Bukit Lawang/Lake Toba' - it was a very friendly and welcoming 'business style' hotel.After the journey tp Danau Toba on the public bus we decided to go back by tourist bus, organised by the hotel, in the hope that it would be quicker and more comfortable - we were looking forward to travelling in the cool of air conditioning. But our usual 'luck' with the standard of transport stayed with us. We were to pick up the bus where we got off the ferry in Parapat and it was supposed to leave at 11.30, which meant we had to hang around for about an hour.Eventually it turned up and to our dismay it was a clapped out 8 seater minibus with no aircon.It actually ended up taking longer than the public bus but it did see us back right to our hotel safely.
It was great that night to get the fantastic news of the arrival of Isabella Sofia Chorley who was born right on her due date - many congratulations Julie, Rob and Hannah, and of course Jim and Pam and Gillian and Stuart!! Wish we'd had some champagne to celebrate but we had to make to with Bir Bintang!
Up early the next morning to get to the airport in time for the 08.40 flight to Jakarta, from where we were catching an afternoon flight to Bali.As our plane backed away from the gate we caught sight of some of the damage to the domestic terminal as a result of a recent fire, and the seemingly useless efforts of about a dozen workers hacking at the damaged roof with sledgehammers.We were conscious that this wasn't the only disaster to strike Medan Polonia Airport. There have been two major plane crashes at Medan in recent years where many hundreds of people, including the Sultan of Deli, were killed. Let's just say we were glad to be up, up and away!!
E M xxxxxx