Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia

Following an incredibly relaxing five days in Jogjakarta, the prospect of heading into the busy capital Jakarta and then onto the island of Sumatra, which would have meant up to fourty hours on a bus, didn't sound all that appealing so a four hour flight to Medan in the north of Sumatra seemed much better. From there, five hours away by bus, lies Lake Toba, one of the many places high on my list to visit.

Map of Lake Toba
Arriving late at night in the sleepy village of Parapat, we were unable to get the ferry over to the island so had to stay in a pretty dismal excuse of a guesthouse before boarding the ferry early the next morning.The crossing takes around 30 minutes to complete the 8km to the other side, but as well as being super cheap, the ferry drops you off at the accommodation of your choice. With so many beautiful looking options to choose from, it could be very hard to narrow down your choice so we just went with the one advertised the most at the pier, although the little village, Tuk Tuk, has a stupid number of guesthouses available.

One of many Batak style buildings along the lake front

Drifting along to our accommodation

Coming into Samosir Cottages
Samosir Cottages

Considering the day before was a travel day and I'm so used to a laidback lifestyle now, it seemed appropriate to have a rest day at our new lodgings and peruse the local area. The food in Indonesia has so far been delicious so expectations were high, thankfully, this little island didn't disappoint. After having rendang curry back in Jogjakarta, I felt it was only appropriate to compare it to some local renadang on the island.

Fair to say it was the best food I tasted in my whole month in Indonesia so obviously the only thing to do now was ask the chef if I could watch her make the meal again and write down the recipe. She was only too happy to show me so I went back the next day to watch the cook prepare the meal again, taking notes and tasting along the way.

Cooking lesson
As much as I would actually like to do nothing for a week besides eat, there was an island to be explored. Samosir isn't a big island, about 100 km by 30 km but the roads on the west coast are pretty shocking so you need to take your time if you want to circumnavigate the island which can take a whole day, depending on how many stops you make or whether you get lost (which is pretty hard to do).

I was expecting it to be a pain to hire a moped because I didn't have my International Drivers Permit which you generally need in Indonesia, but the guy renting out bikes didn't even ask for my name or anything, just asked for the bike to be back before six, no worries then.

Decided to head to the east side to check out some hot springs we had heard we cool so mounted up, got our helmets on and started out that way. Driving around here is significantly easier than a busy city and with the roads being pretty good this way it was an enjoyable ride on a sunny day offering sumptuous views.

On our way to the hot spring
Along the road you pass through small villages with their own unique attractions such as Ambarita with it's old stone chairs where local council meetings were held and executions decide,d and Simanindo where a Batak museum, with traditional Batak performances,  lies next to the water.

About 40 km from Tuk Tuk is the islands main town, Pangururan, and it is around here where you find the hot springs. Locals have access to them but only the custom built simming pool will you give you full body access, be careful of the naked men though who have no idea what a changing room is.

Hot Spring
Having driven around the west side of the island, it wasn't long before the moped was calling again for a day trip around the island. Starting off clockwise, 2km out of Tuk Tuk is the village Tomok, where the tomb of the ancient Catholic King Sidubatar lies. Unfortunately, the tour is not in English so once you have seen it, there isn't a whole lot else for you to do there.

Tomb of  King Sidubatar
Once out of Tomok, the road quality deteriorates at a serious rate and you have to take it very slowly for the next 40 km or so, in no rush to get a puncture, although we did get one on the decent road later on, go figure.

As the roads get steeper, the views becomemore amazing, and with the weather being so clear, we had great panoramic views of the lake and the mainland. Sadly, I haven't figured out the panoramic feature on my camera yet, so just imagine the final three photos in a row.

View from the road

Panoramic view 1...


...and 3

Breaking up the time having day trips on the moped was definately a good idea, as it was too easy to just stay in the luxury of the hotel and the surrounding area. Ample room to relax, far too much good food and perfect lounging weather for those close at hand Bintangs. Leaving was difficult as Lake Toba has always been a travel highlight for me, only now I've been I still don't know why. All I know is I will be back to enjoy the peace and tranquility of this beautiful place again.

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