We set off from Bukit Lawang for Lake Toba. The drive certainly reminded us how remote Sumatra can be, much less well travelled and with poor roads! The journey took the majority of the day until we arrived in Parapet at 5pm and along the way we saw more crazy driving including a man trying to hold his motorbike together whilst driving!
We caught the ferry to the middle of the lake, Samosir Island where we would spend the next few days. Whilst we were sitting at the restaurant in the evening, tribal music of the Batak people was being played, the band in full tribal gear playing wooden instruments, singing and one guy playing the beer bottle. For a few songs, traditional dancers took to the stage to perform their dance moves which were mesmerising with their simplicity.
Day 182 – 6 months since departure!
Our cottages were situated in a village called Tuk Tuk on Samosir Island with a great view over the lake and back to the mainland. We took up a spot at the bottom of the garden, next to the lake and enjoyed the view taking it in turns to cool off in the lake.
Lake Toba is the largest volcanic lake in the world and it is said to have formed 75,000 years ago. It is said to be 500 metres deep and 100km long.
Mid afternoon Ricky and I took a walk through the town which is remarkably untouched and quiet for a tourist destination. The poor roads weave along the coast line then emerge to some beautiful, green scenery. The locals are very friendly, smiling and waving. On the way back we picked up some banana fritters for 5p!
We rented motorbikes in order to see more of the island which is comparable in size to Singapore. The Tuk Tuk village is a peninsular and as soon as you are off this section the beauty of the island strikes you. The land is fertile green and the towns very simple. The island is occupied by the Batak people who still have a prevailing sense of culture today. We made a stop at a site of stone carvings carved from the lava rock.
We made a second stop at a Batak village. Some of the houses had been turned into museums and you could see the raised living quarters inside, cooking area in the centre of the room. Here was the stone chairs said to be used by the king for ceremony, village meetings as well as for trial and punishment. The people showed us some of the ritualistic instruments used in punishment including a carved magic stick which was ornate with carvings. They also had a man playing some Batak music and several people joined him to perform the simple dance moves.
We continued on through small villages following the coast. There were lots of children, their small size exaggerated by their baggy uniforms and oversized rucksacks. Some tried to high 5 us or stop us to chat which was quite scary on a motorbike! It was a stunning drive and for the morning the water is calm as glass.
We stopped further round the island at the Batak museum which held a large collection of cultural symbols such as the dancing masks and instruments. We were also shown the Batak calendar which greatly differs from one we would recognise. Everything is intricately decorated and colourful.
We headed back towards Tuk Tuk, stopping for lunch and then continuing on past the village to the town, Tomok, to visit the royal graves. To reach the graves we had to pass through a long stretch of markets with ornate ornaments and souvenirs. To enter the grave we had to borrow a scarf which hung over our shoulder, a mark of respect to the royals buried here. Their graves took the same style as the pointy houses they live in and are decorated with mythical creatures.
The Batak people are a tribe who were known for being ‘warlike.’ Communities existed in isolation with no roads or bridges joining and practiced cannibalism until 1816! Today, 98% of islanders are Protestant Christian, converted by European missionaries despite several previous attempts which were met with attack and resistance. Around the island there is a lot of symbolism and worship places showing the Christian beliefs of the people.
Back at the hotel we enjoyed the late afternoon sunshine and the beautiful view of muted greys against the vibrant greens of the land. The water becomes much more choppy in the afternoon.
Onwards now to Lombok and the Gili Islands!