Monday, 18 October 2010

Sumatra: Lake Toba

Thursday 14 October: Ringed by high volcanic mountains Lake Toba, the largest lake in southeast Asia, remained inaccessible until late into the 19th century. So, unlike the coastal areas, avoided conversion to Islam from the sea-going Arab traders. But missionaries from the expansionist Christian religions found it - the early ones met their end in a cooking pot or on a spit-roast - at least they were of some use. I'm staying at Liberta Homestay in Tuk-tuk and have a split-level three-bed Batak-style house all to myself, it's nice.
Tuk-tuk is a small peninsula town, almost an island itself, on the eastern shore of Samosir Island and I spend the whole day strolling the three-mile coast road circuit around town. I just love the traditional Batak houses with their little short doors and splendidly elegant tin-roofs, all corrugated iron rather than the original palm-thatch.
Unlike the coastal Muslim folk, the Bataks like a drink so there's beer-a-plenty, 'arak' distilled from palm sap, 'jungle juice' palm wine and also 'magic' psilocybin mushrooms, which are legal here, sold fresh, frozen, dried or simply scattered across your pizza. I stick to Bintang beer, served cold and slightly sweet.
Friday 15: Hiring a mountain bike from the craft shop I set off to see the 300-year old stone chairs at Ambarita were the Batik community once held court before punishing the guilty by inserting garlic and chili into their sliced-flesh prior to decapitation and perhaps the pot - shame to waste all those cloves and peppers. Behind the chairs, Protestant Batak-house style tombs shelter the dead.
It's a hilly ride south to Tomok's pretty church and King Sidabutar's stone tomb, the Batak ruler who first adopted Christianity, duped by a successful seasons harvest.
Batak's love guitar music and a dinner of lemon-steamed carp from the lake covered in a tasty peanut sauce is served at Jenny's restaurant (somewhat bizarrely) accompanied by Ralph McTell's greatest hits, a beer and a conversation with Jenny - a good day.

Saturday 16: To see a bit more of Samosir Island I hire a motor-scooter (73rd mode of transport), it's automatic with no insurance. I take all day to drive slowly round the northern tip of the island and back by rough boulder tracks over the hilly inland plateau. Full-size Batak houses, little multi-level tomb-houses and small lakes litter the landscape - lakes on an island in the middle of a lake on an island in the Indian Ocean. Coming down off the escarpment there are great views over Lake Toba and back home towards the Tuk-tuk peninsula.
Photos of Tuk-tuk and Samosir Island.
Sunday 17: Boat back to Parapat and minibus to Medan (5 hours), for a two-night stay, to reserve first-class passage on the weekly, Tuesday morning, Pelni ferry to Jakarta and Java.

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