Sumatra Days 12, 13, 14 – Lake Toba

Day 12

On to our final destination, Lake Toba. We were met by Zulham at 7:30 at Green Hill. He had been there since 6am, as he and the driver, Ochuk, left Medan around 3am!

We had breakfast, trekked to the car and departed. We thought that we were taking a direct route to Lake Toba, but we effectively went back to Medan and then out again.  This would be the longest day of driving of the entire trip.

We stopped a few times for bathroom breaks at the Pertamina gas stations. They seem to be everywhere and were fairly clean as facilities go. We headed for Beristaggi, a centre of the Batak – Karo culture.

We saw some amazing architecture and plenty of churches , as this is mainly a Christian area. We stopped for lunch at a local restaurant, took some pictures of the area, and continued on. We stopped at a waterfall along the route and then headed for Tele, which was to offer a view of the lake. Unfortunately, the weather changed, and it got very wet. We could see some of the countryside, with rice paddies near the volanic side of the crater lake. The lake is so large, that it looks more like a series of fiords than a crater lake and a lot like Okanagan lake, only greener and with rice paddies along the shore.

We arrived at Samosir Island as night fell. I had thought that we were staying near the neck of the island (peninsula), but we were staying near Tuktuk, on the other side of the island. Samosir is about three times the size of Singapore and it took us about an hour to get there. We stayed at the Carolina Cottages, which were designed in the style of a Batak house. This was supposed to be the swankiest hotel in the area, but cost less than $20 per night.

We headed to Bagus Bay for dinner and had tourist Indonesian food.

Zulham and Ochuck stayed in an area for drivers and we retired to our room.

Day 13

Our only full day at Lake Toba involved a lot of sights in one day.

Started with a full breakfast of fruit and banana/chocolate pancakes. This was an old favourite from my first trip to Java 16 years earlier. We headed to the ferry terminal to find out what the schedule was for the ferry to return to the mainland. This would be a much shorter journey back to Medan.

We had only planned to browse the stalls near the ferry and then head to the museum about 15km up the road. However, we found another museum and grave area near the market and spent about an hour checking it out. This turned out to be very informative as the caretaker of the museum was a descendant of one of the kings of the area, and was a wealth of information about the various artifacts that were on display. His family was involved in weaving Ulos cloth, and we bought one from him that his sister had woven. Marg was thrilled as she had lost the Ulos she bought in Medan 30 years ago, and this would be a replacement for that one.

We left that area and drove up to a Batak village museum. The highlight of this was seeing the row of buildings built in the traditional style as well as both of us dressing up in the traditional clothing.

It was now lunch time, and we stopped at an unusual type of place for a meal.

This was a vegan restaurant with lots of Buddhas on the grounds. Turned out it was operated by a couple, the wife originally from Java, and who spends three months of the year there and the rest of the year in Seattle, and her husband who is from Vancouver. The food was the best meal we had eaten on the trip!

The next stop was the stone stairs at another Batak village. This was also very informative as the guide, Anny, was half Batak and half Sundanese, but had trained at a tourism school and spoke excellent English. She told us a lot about the history of the houses, the meanings of the different styles, some of the rituals of the Batak people, including their treatment of criminals as animals, and the cannibalization that resulted, as once deemed an animal, it was fair game to eat you!

That night we went back to Bagus Bay to see some traditional Batak music and dancing by a local group. They sounded a bit like a mariachi band, and was very lively and entertaining.

Day 14

This would be a much shorter trip back to Medan via the ferry to Parapet. The ferry was an interesting adventure and very different from riding BC Ferries. The main difference was that all the cars reverse onto the ferry, as it is not a drive on, drive off ferry. Then there are food vendors hawking their wares to the cars on the deck of the ferry. All the cars are idling with the air conditioners running during the 50 minute crossing. The lake shore is an interesting mix of coniferous, trees, coconut trees and rice paddies.

The drive back was fairly routine for Indonesia, with the exception that Ochuck had a bad attack of rheumatism and could barely walk. We headed straight back to the Medan, without stopping for lunch. We got in by 4pm, and checked into the Grand Swiss Belhotel. This was the best hotel we had stayed in on the entire trip. Hot showers, air-conditioning and free internet, right next to a shopping mall.

We checked out the mall. It had 7 coffee shops on the first floor and two on the second floor. Otherwise it was an Asian western mall that we had seen in other Asian cities.

Marg found a recommended restaurant in Lonely Planet that sounded good. However it was a bit of a walk, and crossing the streets proved rather challenging. The food was a mixture of Chinese and Malay and very cheap. We got a taxi back to the mall, bought some desserts and then headed back to the room.

We packed up in anticipation of the early morning departure the next morning to Singapore.


Some final thoughts looking back at this trip some three months later. We primarily went to Sumatra to visit some Indonesian colleagues from the Canada World Youth program that Marg had been on in 1977. Visiting with them in their home towns gave us a much deeper look at their society than one would normally have on a two week trip. The “tourist” sites were OK, but I am not sure I would ravel all the way to Sumatra from Canada for those particular experiences. That being said, the ordinariness of them and the lack of tourist infrastructure meant that you were not seen as a “target” the way you might be in Bali or Java, and this made it a refreshing place to visit as no one was too bothered that we were there. I have only had this type of experience in Burma and Bhutan. From that point of view, if you are looking for a no-touristy experience, then Sumatra would rank quite high on that list.


About petergsimmons

Global citizenship is conferred on those who have lived in a variety of countries, and who don’t identify with any one culture. I am such a person. Having lived in Jamaica, Canada and Japan, I have been exposed to First World/Third World, East and West, North and South. This has lead to a rich living experience, open-mindedness and curiosity about the world around me. This variety of living conditions in human landscapes is coupled with equally diverse travels in natural landscapes from the jungles of South East Asia and South America to the Arctic tundra; tropical beaches to the Himalayas, resulting in an incredible journey through life itself.
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