In order to travel from Bukit Lawang to Lake Toba, we had to return by mini-van to Sumatra's dusty, chaotic capital, Medan and find transport south. Still jumpy from our first driver's laissez-faire approach to road manners, we climbed aboard an even dodgier vehicle for the journey's second leg into the interior highlands. It was a top-heavy schoolbus-like affair with rusted floorboards and a yowling diesel engine. Fortunately, the operator practiced a sedate and incremental philosophy where twisty mountain roads were concerned - thus the relatively short drive required the rest of the day, but our knuckles weren't so white when it was over. He even stopped along the way to let us stretch our legs and drink in the spectacular vista below (note active volcano in the far distance).
Lake Toba (English for Danau Toba) "is the largest volcanic lake in the world. In addition, it is the site of a supervolcanic eruption that occurred 74,000 years ago, a massive climate-changing event." (Wikipedia).
It was a calmer place when we got there. In fact, the recent Bali bombing, the burgeoning SARS crisis and the build-up to the Iraq invasion conspired to rob Indonesia of its tourist trade in early 2003. The result was an almost deserted feel in the resort zone on Samosir Island's Tuktuk peninsula.
We chose The Carolina for lodging. The general situation was making all hotels very affordable, so we didn't have to shell out much for a cottage at this semi-luxurious lakeside property. We enjoyed a balcony on the water, animist iconography, a lovingly tended floral landscape and a jetty on a little bay for swimming in the lake's deep waters.
The weather was cool during our few days here, which seemed odd being so close to the equator, but is rather common, we were told, at this elevation on the eastern slope of Sumatra's central ridge. After the climbing, swimming and rafting of Bukit Lawang, we were happy to just chill out and catch up on some reading.
Not forgetting Nasi Goreng and Mi Goreng, traditional rice and noodle dishes, a most popular menu item in Indonesia is a plate of French Fries with ketchup, made with fresh-cut potatoes. This is no doubt a culinary holdover from Dutch colonial times. We shared this plate one morning before renting a scooter and hitting the paved trails of Samosir Island.
In Indonesia, as in other east Asian countries, you drive on the left. This can be disconcerting for westerners, especially the first time you make a right turn at a busy intersection, but it soon becomes second nature. The narrow road we travelled here was lonely - mostly other motorbikes and a few Toyota jeeps.
These gnarly long-horned cattle are ubiquitous on the island, seemingly at large, but actually tethered to a stake in the ground.
The traditional societies around Danau Toba are of the Batak ethnic group. At left is one of their distinctively styled dwellings. These were to be seen all along the Samosir road. Also prevalent were Christian shrines, as a large number of Bataks were converted years ago to a version of Dutch Calvinism.
The Batak still perform pre-European rituals as a tourist draw with dancing and a beast of burden. The band played from the balcony with dancers and a trussed-up cow in the compound below. (Sorry, no good pictures of the dancing.)
Finally, a few more pictures to round out the article. As you can see, this is a rough, impoverished part of the world.