In jurul lumii: Sumatra

Calatoria prietenilor nostri continua in Sumatra, la lacul Toba. “Este cel mai frumos loc pe care l-am vizitat din Asia de SE”

Lake Toba is a massive lake, about 100km long by about 30km wide and dropping to a depth of over 500m, making it one of the deepest lakes in the world. To the western side of the lake is the large island of Pulau Samosir which is attached to the mainland by a narrow isthmus. The caldera in which the lake lies was formed over the millennia by a series of volcanic eruptions, the largest of which occurred about 70 thousand years ago. This was a massive eruption, claimed to be the largest in human history releasing 2,800 km3 of material, including 6,000 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide, into the atmosphere and creating a mini ice age which lasted for several years during which time global temperatures dropped by 3.0 to 3.5 °C . This event coincided with a genetic bottleneck when the human population is believed to have fallen to only a few thousand and resulted in the near extinction of mankind. What was left after the eruptions had died down was the world’s largest caldera, even larger than its little sister, the enormous national park of Yellow Stone, in the USA. Below the crust, magma continued to be pushed upwards forcing the newly formed crust to rise, gradually forming the island which is now Pulau Samosir, our destination for the following few days.

On our arrival at Parapat we were met by a Canadian visitor who excitedly told us a bout the events off Banda Aceh. Whilst we had been cooped up in our cramped transport, there had been a massive earthquake measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale. Though this was subsequently downgraded, it was a big one. We had felt nothing but you can imagine our alarm and concern for the people of Banda Aceh who had suffered so badly from the Boxing Day events in 2004. Automatically we thought, “TSUNAMI” and feared the possible consequences that might result. Obviously, there was nothing we could do but await news of events as they unfolded, so we headed for a small restaurant where we could watch the local news and get something to eat. As they say, ‘No news is good news.’, and as we watched the headlines flash up

there were no mentions of a tsunami and little indication of any significant damage. We were relieved but still uncertain as to the actual situation. However, we all felt for the people up there.
After sitting around for about 90 minutes our boat arrived to take us across the lake to the small harbour town of Tuk Tuk on the ‘island’ of Pulau Samosir. It was getting late by that time so we didn’t waste too much time searching about for accommodation. Once we had booked in, we quickly set up the net-book, got online and tried to make contact with home. We knew that the earthquake would have been headline news and that family and friends would have been concerned for our safety. Fortunately, Barclay was on his computer at work so we managed to Skype him and reassure him that all was well with us. There was great relief all round; that we were safe and that the anticipated tsunami did not materialise.
Our four days on the island were very relaxed. They had to be because of the weather. The early mornings were lovely; cool, sunny and not too humid. As the sun rose, so did the temperature and the humidity. By late morning it was really too hot to do much, though we still did venture out on bikes or on foot to explore the nearer parts of the island. By mid afternoon the clouds had gathered around the rims of the caldera and thunder could be heard echoing around this caldron of heat. Inevitably, the rain would follow and how glad we were that we had bought our umbrellas in Bangkok!!
As we had approached Lake Toba, we had all noticed the decline in the number of mosques and the increase in the number of churches. Even on the island, there were numerous Christian churches scattered along the roadsides. The German missionaries had obviously done their job well – despite the initial crusaders having fallen victim to the islands tribe of cannibals! Pulau Samosir is inhabited by the ‘Batak’ people of which there are 4 different tribes scattered around the Indonesian islands. Here on the island, they were known for their cannibalism – but they only ate their enemies, and some say that the practise continued into the beginning of the 20th Century! Thankfully, we managed to keep on the right side of the locals although there were a few odd looking ones around with unnaturally large heads and small pointed teeth!!
The traditional Batak houses are beautiful wooden affairs with the roofs built to resemble the hull of a boat. The family live upstairs in a large dark room accessed by steps which can be

lifted inside at night for security and the livestock live underneath. Many have ornate carving around the doorways and it is no wonder that much of the tourist accommodation is now built to resemble these houses.
Lake Toba was once the ‘Honeymoon’ capital of Sumatra but it has really suffered from lack of tourism in recent years. However, it remains a beautiful, almost unspoiled area with lush green vegetation covering the hillside, waterfalls cascading down and rice paddy fields bridging the gap from the mountains to the lake. Despite being a Christian community, the locals still hold onto their tradition ‘Animist’ beliefs and scattered around the countryside are wonderful, ornate gravesites where the deceased’s remains are re-interred in an elaborate ceremony, the scale of which reflects their position in society when alive.

As mentioned, we spent most of our days walking and cycling interspersed with swimming and venturing out onto the lake in the VERY unstable ‘canoe’ provided by the guesthouse. One trip took us to the ‘Stone Chairs’ in the compound of the cannibal King and Queen. Outside the Batak houses was a circle of stone chairs where the King and village Elders would sit to discuss affairs and pass judgement on offenders. If found guilty, the offender was then taken to another place close by where a second set of stone chairs was arranged around the ‘execution stone’. And the rest, as they say, is History!!

Lake Toba was really lovely and such a tranquil place to relax. We enjoyed it so much that, like so many others before us, we decided to change our plans and extend our stay there for an extra couple of days before heading north to hopefully encounter the ‘people of the forest’!


Text&Foto: Blathnaid si Richard Crilly

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  1. Trackback: In jurul lumii: Gradina Urangutanilor « TabereCuSuflet

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