If jealousy, as the novelist Graham Greene once wrote, really is a sort of production, then there may be few better illustrations on Earth than Lake Toba. As picturesque and tranquil a spot as one could ever hope to stumble upon, this vast body of water in the northern part of the Indonesian island of Sumatra is the result of a colossal supervolcano eruption around 75,000 years ago (an event so explosive that it not only drastically altered the island’s topography). But may also have threatened the very survival of the human race.
The eruption is widely thought to be the biggest of the last 2.5 million decades. Filled with river and rainwater within the centuries, the 100 kilometers from the 30-kilometer caldera left became the planet’s largest crater lake, with a region of 1,130 square kilometers (20 square feet bigger than most of the islands and lands of Hong Kong). However, precisely following volcanic action caused Samosir island, nearly exactly the size of Singapore, to grow into the center of Lake Toba in the magma chamber.
Fast-forward into the current day, and it is difficult to connect these Earth-shaking tumult and fiery devastation with Lake Toba’s subtropical waters, cool climate, and laidback way of life. Set at an elevation of 900 meters and surrounded on either side from the lush plant which rugs the towering slopes, and the lake provides views reminiscent of this epic glacier-carved arenas of Scandinavia or even New Zealand, although the low-lying clouds of mist which roll across the water from time to time give the place an almost mysterious air.
And yet, despite the stunning all-natural beauty, the place has remained mostly under the radar concerning mainstream tourism, particularly during low season as it may often feel as if you have got the place to yourself.
Situated on a tiny, kidney-shaped peninsula on the northwestern shore of Samosir, Tuk-Tuk is the epicenter of all Lake Toba’s tourism business. However, its clutch of small waterfront guesthouses, along with a smattering of low-key restaurants and pubs, make it look like a half-forgotten backwater compared to the usual vacation hotspot.
It is the type of endearingly shabby place which you may envision flourishing with the very first tide of tourism into Lake Toba. Gradually waning since the tide receded — although I am told it is a different story in the peak of the summer when Germans and the Allied trip within their droves; also in Lunar New Year, when Chinese tour groups descend en masse, sending lodging prices. However, it is almost a ghost city for the time being, and for under HK$100 per night, I get my very own traditional Batak-style home using a wooden deck overhanging the lake.
Considering Samosir’s size and the space between its compelling attractions, it is ideal to rent a bicycle to avoid. However, the status of the streets and the quantity of blind corners signifies you need to keep your wits about you.
To acquire an insight into the native Batak civilization, I engine my way closer to Ambarita, an attractive old village using a gruesome history of gruesome tribal justice and ritual cannibalism. Here, I am greeted by a selection of classic Batak houses that have stood for nearly two decades, noteworthy because of their distinctive large, pointed roofs. They give you a glimpse into just how Batak people dwelt until comparatively recently. Employing a manual at Ambarita is vital if you would like to correctly comprehend the many curious characteristics of their homes, by the collections of breast-like domes which were thought to improve fertility into your geckos symbolizing household and gargoyles warding off evil spirits.
However, even more fascinating is that the circle of little stone chairs sits beneath a lone tree in the middle of the village. This is where the tribal council could meet to go over village matters -and sometimes torture and execute offenders. As my manual recounts using a storyteller’s flair, the offenders could be reverted into a rock and tortured for hours to ensure they did not have black magic abilities. The macabre ritual reasoned with the bad man being beheaded so the king can drink blood out of his skull, even before ingesting a grisly dish made from the dead person’s organs diced up using spices and lemon.
Vacation is more than just the scenery, and it’s about making long-lasting memories. Discover more adventures in Lake Toba by visiting Wonderful Indonesia.