Bataks, beheadings, tombs, graves and students.

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Where I stayed
Dahlia Hotel

Flag of Indonesia  , Sumatra,
Monday, April 12, 2010

Well we spent another four nights in Lake Toba after the last entry. We could have easily spent another week swimming, reading playing cards and drinking and listening to music with the locals. We had one particularly big night in Tuk Tuk, we were invited to a gig at a pub. Initially we thought it was a traditional music performance, but it turned out to be a rock band doing mainly covers of cheesy western rock, but they did have a cool jam session, which all the Batak people in the crowd got up and joined in. It's amazing how musical the Batak people are (is that racist?) but they all seem to be able to pick any instrument, play it and sing along and sound amazing. People had said that before we got there, but it was so interesting to see in real life. Just walking down the street we would hear woman sitting in the front of their shops, singing perfect three part harmonies, or while we were eating dinner, hear some amazing percussion bellowing out of a hand-crafted instrument work shop. Anyway back to the gig, it was pretty good fun, and we had by that stage got to know some of the cool Batak guys around town (sure they were trying to sell us dope or magic mushrooms some of the time – but they got to know us). So we had a bit of a night out chatting to those guys and some other westerners who had been roped into the gig. Not being much of a beer drinker, Penny’s only option was to buy small bottles of local vodka (350mL for Rp 35,000 – about $4) and mix drinks her self. The vodka was pretty terrible but with enough tonic water, you could hold a straight face. A couple of small bottles later the gig finished and we wondered back to our guest house and went to bed with big plans of riding around the island the next day and seeing the sights outside of Tuk Tuk.

That night a 7.7 magnitude earthquake hit Sumatra. The epicenter was a fair way from Lake Toba, but the shaking there was still rather substantial. Or so we were told, the cheap vodka (which I may have been having on the rocks by the end of the night) ensured a sound sleep on our behalf come hell or high water (or earthquake). The Vodka may have had some fantastic sedative effect, however the next morning I could feel the 7.7 magnitude earthquake directly behind my left eye. And I swear that the sun was brighter that day than any other it was doing that just to annoy me I’m sure. In fact, everyone was doing everything just to get under my skin. Suffice to say, I was in no shape to ride around the island so another day of relaxing and doing nothing but take Panadol.

The next day we did finally get a moped and checked out Somosir island’s other attractions. Somosir may be an island in the centre of a lake in an old volcano, but it’s big. It’s about the size of Singapore. The initial plan was a circumnavigation, reported to take approximately 9 hours, so we started early. Not far north of Tuk Tuk there is a town called Ambarita we arrived there and headed straight into see the infamous stone chairs. Before the Christians came to spoil the fun a couple of hundred years ago, the Bataks were pretty hardcore people. In this village there are a group of stone chairs where apparently village elders would not only discuss important issues but wrong-doers were tried for their crimes. About 5 meters down the path is another group of stone chairs, and a large stone, well, a stone chopping block, where the wrong-doers were beheaded. I think I read somewhere that they may have also then been eaten, but I also read that Bataks only ate their enemies, and that was a big ceremony. Either way pretty interesting. The stone furnishing in real life weren’t as impressive as we’d imagined, and we wished we’d taken up the offer of having a guide, but it was still pretty cool.

Surrounding the stone chairs were also some traditional Batak houses. They’re on stilts, have intricate carving and painting, buffalo-horn shaped roofs and (originally) used no nails to build (although now they all have corrugated iron instead of thatching and some nails here and there). It’s pretty cool that on the island lots of people still live in these houses. I’m always amused by the juxtaposition of this beautiful old architecture, with a ramshackle grubby big satellite dish on top. Anyway, one of the houses had been turned into a 'museum’.I use that term very loosely as it was just a big dusty room inside, in the middle was a display of where the cooking would have taken place on a fire, there was also a donation box nailed to the wall. And a hand weaving contraption was taking up half the room, which the man in there informed us that no one really knew how to use.

So we jumped back on the bike, continued north towards the town of Simanindo where we’d read there was an old village king’s house had been turned into a museum and we could watch a Batak traditional dance performance. This museum was more substantial than the previous, yet still underwhelming. But the dance was really, really cool. We were given a hand out explaining the meaning of all the dances in broken English. Towards the end, the 5 or 6 people in the crowd were asked to join in the dance. The other four people were a German family, and we all know what Germans think of making fools of themselves for fun, so only Penny and I joined in dancing around a buffalo tied to a tree.

We had used up a few hours at the first two attractions and were still only 17kms North of Tuk Tuk, circumnavigation during daylight hours was seeming unlikely. The only attraction on the far side of the island was some hot springs so we headed back to Tuk Tuk for lunch then south to see the tomb of one of the last pre-Christian Kings. The Tomb of King Sidebutar was pretty impressive, carved from stone and surrounded by stone carved miniature people. There was another grave for some one who died in 1997 right next to it, we couldn’t work out the meaning of that, and it isn’t mentioned in any of the guide books or tourist information.

Speaking of dead people and tombs, riding around the island, we saw the most immaculate intricate family tombs, well maintained and recently painted, right next to the dilapidated family homes. We never did work out the reason for this, other than respect for the dead, and wanting to keep family close by. The following day we jumped on a bus headed south for Bukitinggi.

Now I’m sitting on in the roof top garden of our hotel in Bukitinggi, West Sumatra. The bus from Lake Toba was 15 hours of sleepless pain (having long legs and not much padding on your bum are not qualities which fair well on Indonesian buses). We arrived yesterday morning and after sleeping most of the day and really well last night, I think we have recovered. Bukitinggi is a city of about 100,000 it’s only a couple of hours north of Padang (west Sumatra’s biggest city). It’s a really pretty city with views of three volcanoes surrounding the city. We’ve spent the day today wondering the city, and being harassed by high school students with English home work. They have these bloody forms for us to fill out about our favorite sports and what we like about Indonesia. Bukitinggi, like Lake Toba, apparently used to attract hoards of backpackers, but now you don’t see many long noses (as they call white people). But I think the home work these kids were set must have stemmed from more tourist-rich days, every kid has about 15 forms to get tourists to fill out and speak to them about. That makes being one of the only 10 tourists in the city a big job. It was fun and interesting for the first 15 but the phrase "excuse me sir, may I ask for some of your time" will haunt me to my grave after today.

We stumbled across the city zoo we didn’t even realise we were paying for entrance, as we were meaning to pay for entrance to see Fort Kock an old Dutch colonial fort. Turns out Fort Kock is within the zoo. The zoo was horrible. I have never seen such disgusting conditions for innocent animals. Initially we only saw small birds in small cages but we crossed the foot bridge and saw the two elephants, chained on 4 meter chains wallowing in mud and their own excrement, the only water in sight was bright green with algae. They were chained in such a way that they couldn’t even physically interact with one another.  Next we saw a Tapier in a small concrete box filled with mud, no food or water in sight. It was obviously limping on its rear legs. After that we decided to leave as quickly as possible, which took us past Wallabies being fed Bananas and a camel in a small box with no food or water. We both felt sick after that and have come back to the hotel to write this and read.

We are going to tour some of the surrounding villages tomorrow, then climb to the summit of Mt Merapi, a tall, active volcano tomorrow night, to watch the sun rise from the summit. Then we’ve still got a few days to kill before we fly out of Padang on the 20th headed for K.L. to organize our Indian Visas.
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Comments

codge on

cannot believe you guys slept through an earthquake! - it was big news here in oz.

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