Lake Toba

Trip Start Jan 12, 2007
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Trip End Jul 11, 2007


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Monday, June 18, 2007

Oh goodness, where to start with the lake toba adventures.  Well, first of all, the lake itself.

Lake Toba is a giant crater lake, at an elevation of about 4500 feet in the mountains south of medan.  Like crater lake in oregon, the water is amazingly pure, and it's insanely deep - they guess about 1500 feet, but nobody really knows.  It has a huge island rising from the middle of the lake from a secondary volcanic eruption - the island cliffs rise almost 2500 feet above the lake itself.  So you've got a beautiful, crystal clear blue mountain lake, surrounded by the cliffs of the crater rim and well as the cliffs of the island, which are all covered in brilliant green brush (it is still the tropics after all - just because you're at 6 or 7 thousand feet doesn't mean it's cold).  There are waterfalls shooting off the edge of the cliffs all over the place and the ridges are covered in groves of pine trees... it's almost like being in a scene from "Heidi".  Except with banana trees.

I stayed on a a little peninsula of the island, in a village called 'Tuk-Tuk'.  I had a huge room right on the waterfront with a big picture window, a balcony, and hot water.  It was great.  Which brings me to the characters I ran into, and the adventures I had:

Crazy Bald New Zealand Guy

One of the other people staying at my guesthouse (one of the few - for some reason tourism in lake toba is suffering right now) was a crazy guy from new zealand who'd spent the last ten years searching for enlightenment in india.  He had a few issues with social skills... when he talked to me, he was quite friendly and seemed like a nice guy.  When he interacted with the guesthouse staff, who were quite nice, he was amazingly rude and demeaning.  At some point he made a comment about taking a fifteen year old local girl home for a 'cuddle', at which point my creepy-meter pegged out and I tried to avoid him as much as I could....

Disturbing American Guy

No, not me.  Come on now.  On the ferry ride out to the island, an expatriate from LA sat down next to me and started chatting.  He'd been living in lake toba for about six years... he spent most of the ferry ride complaining - about the local people using the lake in front of his house for doing dishes, about not being able to fit in to indonesian culture, about his relationships falling apart, etc. etc. etc.  Quite a drag.  After he got off Jewel (the guy from my guesthouse) explained to me that he was actually quite a creep, and that the local population really couldn't stand him, and that he hoped that as another american I wouldn't have the same character... fortunately I think I convinced him that I was ok (perhaps losing many many games of pool to him over the next few nights made him feel good about me).

The Silly Western Family

I'm not quite sure if they were american or canadian... One day when I was out walking around I came across a family of four, with their four rented motorbikes, walking out into a field to see some water buffalo.  The father had the video camera running, the two boys were slowly approaching the buffalo, and the mother was standing back by the bikes.  First of all, about water buffalo: they really aren't exciting.  For all intents and purposes, they're cows.  Big cows, that like to roll in the mud, but really, just cows.  So the two boys carefully approached, as the buffalo stood there and ate grass.  The dad yelled "Hey!  Go pull on it's privates!  We could be on Jackass 37!"  The mom yelled "Be careful!  It's got a calf!  That's when they get mean!"  The boys got scared and ran back to their motorcycles.  The buffalo stood there and ate some more grass.  I kept walking.

The Traffic Cop

One day I wandered into Parapat, the town on the shore, to find an ATM and pick up some shampoo for one of the sisters who ran the guesthouse (after a few days they had pretty much adopted me, and I was running errands for them).  While I was walking around town I wandered past a police booth, and the cop inside waved me over and we started chatting.  After a few minutes he went and gathered two of his brothers, who worked nearby, and pulled them in to talk to me too.  I don't really know why.  Apparently I was fascinating.  Then he took me out to lunch at a local barbecued pork place.  The waitress brought me a fork, but everybody else in the joint was just digging in with their hands, so I followed along.  It was really great stuff - like little baby back ribs, in gravy.  I was busy wolfing it down, and the old grizzled guy across from me started laughing hysterically and jabbering something in batak (the local language).  The cop told me "He's very impressed with you.  He's never seen a tourist eat like everyone else.  He thinks maybe you aren't really from america, you're from lake toba and just don't know it".  After lunch he took me up on the rim over the lake to meet his mom (who wasn't home), and to see the view.  Then he buzzed me by the ATM and the market (for the shampoo), and back to the ferry.

Rescued from the Rain

Unfortunately, he dropped me at the wrong ferry terminal.  I didn't realize this until we were already underway, when one of the local boys asked me where I was going.  "Tuk-Tuk".  "You know this ferry only goes to Tomok?" (Tomok was about 4 kilometers down the road from Tuk-Tuk).  "Huh.  Well, I guess I'll walk."  Then the thunderstorm opened up and it started pouring madly.  Several of the local boys immediately huddled together, and then one came over to me.  "If you want, we can rent a motorbike from the ferry I can give you a lift back to your guesthouse.  It'll cost 10,000 rupiah to rent the bike (about $1.10), but you won't get quite as wet."  I told them that was fabulous.  The laughed and smiled and insisted that I share some of the palm wine that they were drinking.  They were quite proud of it, as it was only made in that area... I tried it, and it was really quite vile stuff, but I tried to act like it was great.  We got to land and I got a ride back to Tuk-Tuk.

There were some other minor adventures in there as well, which I may add later, but as I've been in the internet cafe for ages and I haven't had lunch, it will have to wait....
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