Lake Toba and beach paradise
Lake Toba was my next stop - to quote from the guidebook:
"Damau Toba is, like, this big huge lake yeah, in the middle of a ginormous collapsed volcano thing".
(I really must get a better guidebook).
The road into the ancient crater from the west is dramatic, snaking down the wooded slopes of the crater wall, and leads you onto the Western shore of the island of Pulau Samosir - not really an island as it can be reached by a narrow isthmus of land.
The island is around 100 km in length, and the lake in which it floats is maybe two to three times as long. This thing is BIG.
Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia
The view from the guesthouse was weirdly reminiscent of a Scottish loch, with wispy mists hanging over forests on the far side of the lake. Only the thirty-degree temperatures and the banana trees gave the game away.
It was here that I met Anton, a Dutch man who was a veteran of many travels, currently working for a volunteer organisation in Medan. He had rented a beautiful house in the village of Ambarita on the lakeshore, for 40 US dollars a month. He spent his days placidly translating books and looking out over the calm clear waters. He introduced me to the most palatable of the local rotgut, known as Anggur and made by fermenting an unspecified variety of fruit to produce something along the lines of a fruity whisky. Really, it's OK once the initial shock has passed and the nerve endings die off. We also sampled what he assured me was authentic Indonesian cuisine in the somewhat tourist-oriented village of Tuk Tuk. The restaurateur had a large number of cats wandering proprietorially about the place, and Anton decided that his house was in need of a cat to make it a complete dwelling place. So off we went into the night, one bike, one Irishman, one Dutchman, one cat and a bottle of Anggur.
Lake Toba, Sumatra (background)
I left the following day while Anton was settling in his new arrival, and contemplating another peaceful day among his books. My destination was Sibolga on the West coast of Sumatra, where I planned to load the bike on a ferry bound for the island of Nias, tropical paradise and popular hangout for surf bums. The road to Sibolga was gloriously twisty and smooth, passing through mile after mile of apparently undisturbed rainforest. So far in my journey through Sumatra, I have seen very little evidence of the armageddon-style clear-felling which I was worriedly anticipating.
The tortuous road slowed me down somewhat, and I arrived just as they were completing the loading of the ferry. The slyly grinning guardian of the gate wanted an astronomical sum to get me on board, which I declined politely. I didn't really want to spend an extra day hanging about in Sibolga, but on principle I refused to give this guy the satisfaction of putting one over on me.
On the beach at Sibolga
The town had a bit of a dodgy feel to it, so I found a hotel where they would consent to putting my bike inside for the night. Ten minutes of pushing and wheezing later, and we had squeezed the bike through the door, with the following casualties: one layer of paint removed from doorframe, one nasty scratch down whitewashed wall, one nice black tyre imprint on clean floor, and one little trail of dirt and grit, culminating (by morning) in a small sad puddle of oil. They accepted this with good grace, and showed me to an economy room in the section of the hotel also devoted to the working girls. One day I will get to stay in a hotel that does not also double as a brothel, and I will probably die of the shock....
Sunset in Sibolga, Sumatra
The following day's sea crossing departed at 8pm, and the sea was flat calm. The ferry was a bit of an elderly rustbucket and from the slightly crumpled bows I determined that the captain's distance perception must be somewhat faulty. In recognition of this, I positioned my bike at the rear of the craft, and made ready to lend him my spectacles during critical maneuvers.
I tried to get some sleep in my tiny hot cabin, which I shared with a legion of cockroaches, and passed time by trying to get the fan to work by fiddling with the bare wires which had been jammed carelessly into the wall socket.
Nias was indeed a beach paradise. All the ingredients were present in profusion - Palm trees swaying in the balmy breezes, wide deserted golden sands, bamboo beach huts, blah blah - you get the idea. Also there were the surfers in Lagundri bay, who had come for the apparently legendary surf break which thunders in from the Indian Ocean. I was constantly delighted by the surfers, sleek and tanned, strutting round with boards under arm, their blond dreadlocks swaying and wraparound mirror shades glinting, saying things like "Yo dude" and describing particular surfing events, which in their view were especially "gnarly". Priceless stuff.
Posted by Connor Carson at August 10, 2001 12:00 AM GMT