Day 6 & 7: Friday April 17th / Saturday April 18th, 2015
Our time by the lake is drawing to a close, and our thoughts turned to our departure – which trail out of this watery paradise? Not relishing the recommended route of returning to Parapat and backtracking via Medan, we took up the generous offer of a couchsurfing host in Sidikalang and decided to catch the local bus to get there. We had seen the bus stop and we had a conformation from a local that it was possible to get there across the island and via the caldera road. So we made this decision, despite the fact that so many said it couldn’t be done, lack of information on the internet and against the advice of our guesthouse hosts (who were genuinely worried about our welfare).
To be truthful we knew it would be the harder choice but we were up for a bit of adventure. We couldn’t leave Indonesia without travelling like the locals on their much derided public buses.
With a tinge of sadness, we left our happy home in Tuk Tuk and, with a last hug of the puppy, boarded a gaudy mini-bus. It looped around the northern tip of Samosir Island taking us to Panguruan where we waited for about 30 minutes in a tiny roadside restaurant. This allowed a driver change, refuelling and the loading of more passengers. During this time we had a peek at the local rustic ferry stop, ate a simple meal and befriended the locals – who of course, were won over by our three boys. Despite a lack of common language we were included in a restaurant memento, group photo and cheerfully farewelled back onto the bus.
We enjoyed the rustic scenery but were perplexed by the tiny portion of usable windscreen of these public buses. With all the huge array of vehicles and people on the road surely the driver would be better off with a clearer viewing area?
The route from Pangururan winds up out of the caldera, rising from the lake to the rim in a series of cool, jungly switchbacks, each one offering a more spectacular vista down to the hazy water far below. The road is relatively new and well made, only petering out to a much less well maintained surface once it has reached the tablelands above. Here it reverts to type – bumpy and potholed as it winds through farming villages. On either side the bus roars past children walking out from school in brown and white uniforms, laughing and chatting as they dawdle home for lunch…
After a long, cramped journey, we finally lurched into Sidikalang in an afternoon shower. The driver had to call our CS host before we could locate our desired stop outside the PODA cafe.
PODA = Coffee!
Here we were welcomed by our CS host Samuel with a friendly smile. He urged us to dump our bags near the entrance and warmly welcomed us into his new business venture. We were grateful to be somewhere dry with wifi as the rain came pelting down. We were surprised by this funky cafe. It was unusually modern and cosmopolitan for the location. We loved the minimalist but cool decor, especially the cheese grater lamp shades and felt it wouldn’t have been out-of-place, in any big city.
We ate a lovely lunch, cooked by Samuel’s wife, and got our first taste of their mind-blowing coffee. It was great to meet this warm local family; their shy, efficient staff and we even befriended some giggly local school girls sitting at the next table.
Single-origin Sumatran Arabica coffee – heaven for a coffee connoisseur like Graham.
The conservation of the genetic variation of Coffea arabica relies on conserving healthy populations of wild coffee in the Afromontane rainforests of Ethiopia. Genetic research has shown coffee cultivation is threatening the genetic integrity of wild coffee because it exposes wild genotypes to cultivars. Nearly all of the coffee that has been cultivated over the past few centuries originated with just a handful of wild plants from Ethiopia, and today the coffee growing on plantations around the world contains less than 1 percent of the diversity contained in the wild in Ethiopia alone… Coffea arabica accounts for 75–80 percent of the world’s coffee production. – Wiki
Soon we were ready to depart for our digs and Samuel ushered us into his 4WD and whisked us onto our basic but clean guesthouse on his nearby coffee plantation. This accommodation building is also used for conferences, group training facilities, workshops, etc. For now we were generously given the run of the place and the chance to explore the huge property.
Once settled in, we walked around the property, exploring the co-op warehouse where the coffee is processed and stored. Although this farm mainly produced coffee which is nurtured in the shade of orange trees, we discovered a lot of other produce. On the plantation are pineapples, mango, zucchini, paw paw, ginger, banana and corn. It was peaceful here and quiet, a chance to read and relax. Samuel and his brother both had houses nearby. This silence was newly filled with the laughter and babble of boys. We made up new outdoor games and they enjoyed playing with touch plants on the path.
Graham couldn’t help feel he was in a dream, so thrilled to finally be in a coffee plantation and have the raw “cherries” in his hands.
Our stay with Samuel, didn’t mean just playing with his lovely children and enjoying the great meals prepared by his lovely wife (if you go there, you must try her great deserts), but ensured an education in all things coffee. We were impressed with Samuel’s wide knowledge of the industry and the lengths he had gone to overseas and at home to accumulate coffee knowledge. His close-knit, happy family make a great team and they all do their bit to ensure the financial and community success of this venture.
We were treated to a detailed account about coffee processing including the opportunity to watch and participate in some small batch roasting. This of course was followed by tastings. Yum!
Samuel manages the PODA Co-operative which seeks to ensure a better deal for the 70 or more small coffee farmers that have joined. When we were there he was being assisted by a Dutch intern and holding meetings to explain the benefits of the co-op and the “coffee value chain” to recruit yet more members. Many farmers in the region are held to low returns due to restrictive systems and debt restraints. The PODA Co-op gives them more opportunity to produce enough quantity to collectively market their produce overseas, receive a greater market share plus be part of a more transparent system where they are kept informed and actively educated.
Our stay at Sidikalang, which had been a last-minute decision, was informative and delightful. We are grateful for the warm hospitality we received and wish Samuel every success in this valuable venture.
After a brief but well informed and pleasantly caffeinated overnight stay, we left with a gift of precious coffee beans and plunged onwards towards the volcanic delights of Berastagi…