Published: March 22nd 2011March 22nd 2011
I spent my first day on Lake Toba wandering around, doing washing, enjoying fresh air and flopping about. The ferry takes you to Tuk tuk, the ‘tourist village’ where all the accommodation is. It feels like it might be the deserted version of Kuta only in lake Toba. The next day I caught a public bus to Pangururan on the other side of the island and walked to the hot springs. As I was walking there I started to wonder what the hell I was doing. I’m in the tropics, sweating away as I walk towards lakes of boiling water. It turns out there is no visible hot spring (at least I couldn’t find one) – but you can swim in one of the pools the restaurants in the area have set up full of hot spring water. Not quite the same thing. I had no desire to go in but since it had been an epic getting there it felt stupid not too. I convinced myself that the ‘magic healing powers’ of hot springs would mend my knee. It did not. I was also told to go to lake Sidihoni – a lake on an island on a lake. Sounds
cool but it was just a farm dam surrounded by grazing cattle. This was in the middle of the island, about 800m above the lake so I walked back down to the city which gave some amazing views. I then caught the bus back to Ambarita, the village next to Tuk-tuk to see more traditional Batak houses and some old ruins before walking back to tuk-tuk along the more scenic walking trail skirting the cliff down to the lake. The day had disappeared very quickly so I finally went for a swim in the lake. It was the best part of my lake Toba stay – so still and fresh and huge. The lake is about 450m deep in most parts but I didn’t have my goggles on so that didn’t creep me out. In the evening I went to one of the guesthouses that had traditional Batak music and dance and had dinner there. Their folk music is really cool and these little Indonesian men can yodel! Later I hung out with one of the Indonesian guys running the place I was staying and 2 German girls who made me even more excited about going to Bukit Lawang –
they stayed there one month!
The next day I caught the ferry back to Tuk-tuk and a bus to Bukit Lawang, getting there in the evening. Throughout the bus ride my knee got worse and worse until I was close to tears of pain just sitting still. I have no idea what brought this on. When I arrived in Bukit Lawang there was abit of a welcoming crew and a guy carried my bag over the bridge to my guesthouse (Bukit Lawang Indah - recommended by the German girls) while I hobbled after. This has got to be the dodgiest bridge I’ve ever crossed. The same guy set me up with a hiking group to leave for a 2 day hike the next morning. I originally wanted to go for a 3 day hike and suss out the guide situation myself but I was not in any state to do either of those at this point. I also found out that the Medan – Penang ferry hasn’t been operating for 6 months as cheap Air Asia flights sent it bankrupt so I would have to travel back down south. When will I learn to stop trusting the lonely planet??
mmm burning plastic
on the walk back from lake Sidihoni to the lake
The next morning I could more or less wallk without limping but it didn’t look promising until one of the many friendly Indonesian guys that hang around the guesthouse massaged it for about 5 minutes with ‘special oil’ (although it was in an olive oil container and smelt like olive oil to me) and when I got up I could walk perfectly – no pain at all! We left for hiking in Gunung Leuser national park at 9am. I was in a group with 2 American guys and a Dutch/English couple. The jungle is mountainous and we here either climbing up or down ridiculously steep slopes but my knee held up quite well. It’s actually lucky it wasn’t 100% or the slow pace and constant breaks would have frustrated me. Seeing the amount the others sweated and puffed also made me feel a little less unfit than I thought I’d become. We saw a lot of Thomas-leaf monkeys and about 10 orangutans in total. One came up so close it was about half a meter from me at one point – obviously one of the semi-wild rehabilitated ones. We even saw Mena – an aggressive orangutan who has
learnt that people will give her food to prevent her from biting them. Our cook had scars all over his hands from her bites. There is also a really affectionate one called Jackie but unfortunately we didn’t get to see her. We got to our camp by the river in the afternoon and got to swim and chill out for the rest of the day.
It started to rain in the afternoon and poured for hours. The river rose scarily close to our camp but the guides said it was fine. Normally I wouldn’t really trust this as Indonesians seem to shrug off danger a little bit but he lost a lot of his family to the 03 flash flood so I think he was cautious about this. The next morning the river was still quite high and flowing considerably faster than the previous day and it wasn’t very safe to cross and continue over the mountains to the start of the rafting so we walked along the river trail carrying all the equipment a little way upstream. The ‘raft’ was made of truck inner-tubes tied together with rope and all our stuff along with all the cooking gear
A shower head
they do the weirdest things with old plastic bottles - like turn them into lamp shades and shower heads
and tent in plastic bags. There were no life jackets, no helmets, and no paddles – just 2 bamboo poles to use when we were about to crash into boulders – 1 of which broke doing this. Despite this we made it back safely, no-one fell out, and we only got stuck once. It didn’t take very long so its not exactly like we were camping deep in the jungle.
In the afternoon, Robert (the guy who fixed my knee and gave me special treatment because he was good friends with the German girls I met in Lake Toba who told him about me) took me out on his motorbike to a bunch of peoples backyards out of town and showed me how they make palm sugar (which is by the way a different palm to the one used for palm oil and not grown in plantations), and showed me a bunch of other fruit. He also took me to some kind of community garden/ organic farming learning center which was pretty cool and I got to taste lots of different fruit and veg. Being Saturday night and a lot of people coming back from trekking, there was a big
party vibe. The guesthouse is a very social, party style place every night but not in a trashy way. Everyone sits around drinking and all the Indonesian boys play guitar and sing.
The next day my hiking group went round to our guide, Muhadir’s house and drank coconut juice from coconuts he picked from his tree and ate more cacao. We also went to the fish farm and the others went fishing. This really didn’t interest me (or Muhadir) so he drove me back to the village and I went for a walk up the river following the trail then tried eating somewhere other than my guesthouse to spread my tourist money. Unfortunately it was more expensive and not as nice. I really love Bukit Lawang – the river, the jungle, the monkeys, the village, and the people and it was hard to leave. I even had an offer to stay and volunteer in the jungle for a few months. Ugg. It was a great way to finish my Indonesian trip and one day I will go back!
I left the next day since no-one could give me any information about buses and ferries and I was worried
about my visa. I caught a bus into Medan to the bus station and luckily was able to hop straight onto another bus going to Dumai on the east coast. I got there at 5am the next morning and was dropped off at a booking agent. This was a less-pleasant last impression of Indonesia since the east coast is not touristy and very religious. I got my share of creepy old Muslim men making their stupid assumptions of western girls (even though I was dressed more conservatively than some of the Muslim women on the bus) and asking creepy questions and trying to touch me. All of a sudden I had been married for 2 years but that did not help the situation much. The young guys in the booking office weren’t much better. None of these people spoke any English – it was all through the bit of Indonesian I know and pointing to words in my dictionary. These are the situations where I learn a lot of new words but other than here and in Flores this never happened so my Indonesian didn’t improve much in the month I was here. I’ve had enough of being ripped off
my agents who sometimes double the price of tickets so I made them take me straight to the terminal booking office and from there I caught the very flashy ferry to Malaka in Malaysia, 2 days before my visa ran out.
There are more photos below