Day 3: April 24th, 2015.
Today we are excited to be entering a new country, Indonesia. We are extra excited to be going to the fabled Sumatra. Today our objective is to reach Lake Toba, and it will take six different legs to do so: taxi-ferry-taxi-plane-taxi-ferry. What could possibly go wrong?
When we were planning this trip we had thought to do it the other way around. An anti-clockwise circuit starting from Medan seemed sensible. But after we posted on a few travel forums we got a lot of messages back saying the roads were not as good as we believed, travel times were much longer, bus trips would be hard and commutes in this direction fraught with problems. So a few weeks before departure we changed plans. We changed all our dates, reworked our itinerary, etc. The downfall to our new plan would be two days of many transfers, one on the way there and one on the way back. the advantage is that we would have a little more time to explore. Better one full day of transfers followed by a day of rest than two half days of shorter transfers, was our thinking. So as always the compromise was made. So here we are faced with the first of these days, heeding the advice of locals, as we have never been to Indonesia before and really have little idea what it will be like… Still, so very exciting to arrive by boat…
1 & 2
We catch a taxi from our Singapore digs to the ferry terminal. Here a stones throw from Sentosa island, we purchase open return tickets to Batam Central, complete Singapore departure procedures and are soon on our ferry, cutting through the waters of the Singapore Strait.
We read on the internet that many passports (but not including Australia) will be granted visa free entry to Indonesia by 1st April. So, on arrival in Indonesia, Graham whips out his EU passport to save the 35 USD. Sadly he is advised that although proposed this law has not yet passed and is sent back to the cashier to pay. We take care to take the advise of many travellers, to ensure there is complete silence at immigration, for fear of being turned around. Yet, soon we are through and it’s – Hello to Indonesia!
3 & 4.
We get out three million cash only available in 500,000 Rupiah lots (each lot worth AUD 50) and head upstairs for a quick meal. We notice a man following us, then watching us, then exchanging cash and stamping documents at another table. It reminds us that Indonesia is rife with corruption and bribery.
Setting our watches back an hour, we are soon in another cab which deposits us at the Batam Airport to board our Lion Air, domestic flight to Medan, which turns out to be operating on the languid Indonesian schedule and departs half an hour late…
5 & 6.
Worried about catching the last ferry at 6pm, we are soon bundled into a taxi and hurtling towards Parapat. Plunging onto the Sumatran road network, Prunella takes the first turn in the front seat. She braces herself a little the first time we are on the opposite side of the road facing an oncoming truck but as we swing back to the left, she has resigned herself to Indonesian driving and relaxes into the underlying state of terror that accompanies any journey on the roads in this country. Here you overtake with scooters whizzing in all directions, rickety becaks (motorised passenger sidecar combinations), small children next to the road, the occasional animal whilst negotiating potholes, heavy haulage travelling in both directions, wheezing local delivery vans, tottering cargoes, and seemingly random beggars in the middle of the road.
Anyone accustomed to the ordered passive aggression of Western Australian roads at the wheel would be paralysed with indecision and the fear of death but as a mere supercargo one must trust your driver, fasten any available seat belt and enjoy the view.
Roadside stalls, humble but neat villages, forests of oil palms and a surprising surfeit of monolithic brick and concrete churches greet the eye of the traveller through Northern Sumatra.
After what seems an age, we climb up into the mountains, the villages giving way to pines trees and jungle. With a final corner, the magnificent vista of the Lake Toba caldera opens up before us, far below.
Lake Toba is the largest caldera in the world, a vast, mountain-fringed, water-filled basin created by an entire slab of the earth’s crust collapsing into the space left after a colossal volcanic eruption millions of years ago. This catastrophic explosion was so large as to wipe out entire species, severely threaten others, and fill the atmosphere with enough debris to cool average global temperatures by several degrees for a number of years.
Today the hellish rumble and it’s thousand echoes have gone silent, and Sumatra is blessed with an epic lost world of a landscape, the peaceful waters lapping jungle-clad mountains which stretch into the hazy distance, and surround an upwardly thrusting ‘island’, Samosir, which is the size of Singapore.
Our little travelling party pulls up across the crunching gravel among the sleepy, wooden port of Parapat. A jetty hosts several lake ferries, and after a scant half an hour various travellers emerge to board for the one hour dusk trip to Samosir, and the scattering of resorts jutting out into the lake in the village of Tuk Tuk. The ferry glides across the Lake, and like the silvery waters, we sigh in relief: we’ve made the last ferry of the day, and ahead of us lies a pleasant cruise, and a clean bed.
We’re met at the first of the ferry’s brief stops by a porter from Horas Family Home, who escorts us the short walk to our digs. Soon the boys are feeding the resort’s rabbits, and we are all watching the silent lake and the flash and boom of distant thunderstorms rumbling off the mountains far away…