Over 70,000 years ago a massive eruption on the Sumatran island of Indonesia created a volcanic crater that would eventually fill up with water and become what we now know as Lake Toba, the largest volcanic lake in the world. Sometime after the volcanic eruption, the magma chamber filled up, creating a resurgent dome (I read that on Wikipedia) that is now the island of Samosir in the middle of this large lake and that’s where we decided to relax for the past week.
Lake Toba is one of those places where relaxing comes easily and naturally. Lodging and food are very cheap — our room was less than $9 per day with a balcony overlooking the lake — and even though it’s considered a worthwhile place to visit, there are not that many tourists. It used to be much more popular, but outside of the Chinese New Year holiday in January/February, the island only gets a slow trickle of foreign tourists during the rest of the year. This is our kind of place. The food is also surprisingly good and affordable for an island. (Go to Maruba for the avocado salad. It’s life changing.)
Getting to Lake Toba is relatively easy if you’re coming from Medan. You can take a once-a-day train for Rp 20,000 (less than $2 USD) that drops you off in Siantar, hop on a becak for Rp 10,000 to get to the minibus area, get on a minibus for Rp 20,000 for a 45-minute ride to the ferry, and finally, board a ferry for Rp 10,000 to head over to Samosir Island. Hmmm, it doesn’t sound that easy, but it was. We originally planned to get a private taxi from Siantar straight to the ferry, but we met an Indonesian army fella on the train who decided that two women were incapable of getting to Samosir without his manly assistance. I thought our incomplete knowledge of the area had more to do with the fact that it was our first time in a foreign country where we didn’t speak the language and didn’t have reliable transportation information due to the lack of a well-established tourist infrastructure, but maybe he knows something about the female mind that we don’t know. We’re just girls, ya know. Anyway, we did appreciate his help, but we would’ve appreciated it more without the healthy dose of sexism.
We’re not jungle people, but we hadn’t done much naturing lately so we decided to immerse ourselves in it by going to the jungles of Sumatra in search of orangutans and other wild animals. As mentally prepared for malarial mosquitoes and lunging leeches as we could be, N and I decided to visit Gunung Leuser National Park in northern Sumatra.
We arrived in Medan and spent a few days hanging out in a mall there, recovering from stomach issues we got on our way out of Penang. Medan proved to be a pretty crappy city (to put it nicely), with nothing interesting to see or do. The traffic and pollution are horrible there, making it nearly impossible to go anywhere anyway. So we spent too much time at Centre Point, a new mall near our hotel, and ate at the mediocre restaurants and wandered around it. To say the least, it wasn’t a good first impression of Indonesia.
Because we heard horror stories about minibuses in Indonesia (and driving in general), we took a private car to Bukit Lawang for $45 instead of the minibus fare of about $6 per person. A bit of a splurge, but we’re fancy like that, and we had promised ourselves to spend a little bit more on safer modes of transportations while in Indonesia.
We passed Malaysian palm oil plantations and arrived three and a half hours later in a small town split in half by a river. This would be our home for the next five days, complete with a cold shower and no AC.