Spectacular Lake Toba is a volcanic lake in Sumatra’s northern central region, offering tranquillity and a little peace, in crowded Indonesia.
Back in 1998, a flight from Australia to Indonesia was the start of some long-term travel through the Indonesian Archipelago.
No plans. No time constraints.
Landing in Indonesia one month after the racial riots that left 1,000 people dead, decide to travel through the island of Sumatra for a while, before moving slowly south to Java.
A little on Lake Toba
Twice the size of Singapore Lake Toba (Danau Toba in Indonesian), rises 900-metres above sea level. Stretching 100-kilometres in length, 30-kilometres’ wide, with a depth of up to 505-metres, Lake Toba is the largest volcanic lake on the planet.
Estimated to have erupted from 69,000 to 77,000 years’ ago, it’s believed that this was due to a climate change and “the largest-known explosive eruption on Earth in the last 25 million years”. A supervolcano eruption.
Decide to catch the tourist bus this time, for the 9-hour journey. Lush green vistas furnish and fill our windows with gorgeous ever-changing canvases.
Driving along hectares of Palm Oil plantations – although picturesque – sadly, denotes the replacement and loss of the natural-surrounding jungle.
Public buses stop along the dusty road to pick up and drop off passengers, which precariously ride the roof of buses when there isn’t room inside. A sight to behold!
Our tourist bus is filled with mostly British tourists, some of which apparently are walking encyclopaedias on Indonesia. Just like the tourist that loves to hear the sound of her own droning, loud voice. Together with her partner, they’re very rude to the bus driver – no wonder some locals don’t appreciate tourists.
Stopping at the cross-roads’ town of Berastagi, which means “rice store” and also links the coastal city of Medan to the Karo highlands, it’s time for a spot of lunch.
Of course, the bus stops at a tourist restaurant, which is the problem with taking this type of bus. This savvy restaurant even serves New Zealand lamb chops on its menu. Why would I travel from Australia to Indonesia to eat food from New Zealand?
Back on the road, descending along the dirt track feels as though gravity is diving us deeper into stunning Lake Toba. The majestic volcanic lake and beautiful waterfalls unfold before our eyes.
The bus stops long enough for us to take a few photos, of the striking narrow Sipiso-piso (meaning “like a knife”) Waterfall.
The falls cascade from a cave 120 metres down to Lake Toba’s base, and is one of Indonesia’s highest waterfalls.
The view of Lake Toba from this height is majestic! Descend the 700 steps to the base of the falls if you have around 45-minutes to spare, for the round trip.
Dokan Batak Village
Another stop at the intriguing Dokan Batak Village in Kabanjahe near Berastagi – this is just a quick stop in this northern-central region.
The Karo highlands have been home to six different ethnic groups for thousands of years. Malay settlers named these groups “Batak” – a term to distinguish non-Muslims. Rather than religious alliances today, Batak is associated with an indigenous ethnic background.
Of the six Batak tribes, only the Karo highlanders resisted change from decades of colonisation, occupation, traders, and hard-government policies.
Finally arriving in Parapat at around 6pm, a plethora of hustlers shove pictures of their guest houses in our faces. Everyone competes for our business.
Discover later that staying at the lake’s edge in Parapat overnight is more expensive than across the lake, in neighbouring Tuktuk Siadong on Samosir Island. Parapat is the narrowest eastern link to the island resulting in the main transit point.
The dining experience
There seems to be a lot of Chinese locals in this town, so of course, stop to eat at a Chinese (Hong Kong) restaurant.
A massive TV blares out a soapie from the restaurant’s wall, while three families watch, faces transfixed in awe. Our meal is hastily prepared during commercials so as not to miss any part of the soppy TV-saga.
An overpriced, paltry meal is quickly served before we leave for our noisy hotel. Why is it that people always talk loudly all night long under your window when you’re trying to sleep?
Wandered around Parapat for a short stint this morning, before the ferry crossing to Samosir Island…
…and bump into a rustic local market, with a flurry of activity and vivacious bartering on local produce.
Slabs of fresh meat are strewn across a grubby timber table, which also serves as a dog feeding haunt; they are definitely well-trained and familiar with this spot. Large black plastic buckets filled with live fish are sold by anxious ten-year-olds, trying to make a day’s living. Fresh produce lines the market’s dusty, sandy road.
Would love to linger longer to absorb more of what Parapat has to offer, but it’s time now to catch the ferry for the brief half-hour trip.
Crossing over to the other side to really explore Lake Toba’s Samosir Island for a few days. Volcanic Samosir – world’s largest island within an island – is within a lake, on an island, within a sea. Confused? Intrigued?
Check out next week’s chapter to experience this phenomenon with me…