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Berestagi to Danau Toba

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The plan had been to hit the mountain with Gweryn that morning but I rose to find the cloud base totally engulfing the topography, throwing in another shower for good measure to scupper any final hopes. Though that was far from unusual here allegedly, I really hadnt expected Scottish weather in Sumatra of all places, and it was a bitter blow to have come this way without due recompense. Volcanoes were such a symbol of Indonesia and I couldnt leave the country without tackling at least one of them. I also decided that I couldnt afford to hang round inexorably however and so bit the bullet and hit the road again that morning. It was a well worn path to the next obvious travellers drawcard then, Lake Toba was a place I had long been fascinated by even just looking at it on the map, it would require 2 connections but at least wasnt so far. A Bemo took me the short hop over to the nearby hub town of Kabanjahe, infuriatingly passing an incredible old abandoned traditional Karo house, all tiered triangular gables covered in moss, with ferns erupting out of the windows. It would have been worth the stop just to bag a photo but my mind was already set on making tracks. Local touts directed me to a larger, more robust minibus, refreshingly without expectation of favour, and soon I was off down unusualy flat straight roads, passing on the way more Karo style houses, looming volcanoes, countless churches and prominent Christian tombs scattered in fields, besides what I took to be a wedding party. Though bride and groom were not evident, it was a rare opportunity to see local people in their traditional dress, with memorably the men sporting very smart long silk jackets, a sash draped over their right shoulder and the very distinctive local headdress resembling a sailors pork pie hat but with an erect pointy cloth spire peaking to one side. Great photo opportunities and I missed them all. Siantar materialised after 3 hours, another grungy market town which would have left me little memory had I not chanced upon 2 things. First was the plethora of local Becak motorbike and sidecar taxis which in this nick of the woods were all ancient battered BSA bikes of British 1950s vintage. Then I was approached by Paul, a local indiginous guy of the Batak people who had good English. I didnt learn anything palpable from the guy but it was just nice to converse with one of such obvious sincerity and warmth. The people of this country were blowing me away. As though to add to the frustration, the weather had turned hot and semi-clear now that the volcanoes had rescinded, yet by the time I had motored the final hour onto Parapat there was a full blown downpour to scupper my intitial impressions of Lake Toba. That was until I encountered local boys who would have been hitting on me as touts anywhere else but preferred joking instead, and 2 delicious Quebecois chicks who were headed my way. The small ramshackle bareboard ferry wasnt long in leaving and chugged its way through the damp uniform grey to present itself at a series of very enticing Batak stylised resorts. It was a no brainer to follow the Canadian duo to their nearby restspot, and I was blown away all over again by what fantastic character and ambience could be bought for 2 quid a night. If this place had been anywhere else it would have commanded honeymoon couples at once in a lifetime prices. With only a handful of fellow indulgees, the staff asked my name and remembered it, they didnt treat you like a number either. I prayed the rain would give up the ghost so that an exotic paradise could be realised, it held all that promise. It was only tempered by the immediate observation that though my plush room, actually the ground floor of a 2 story Batak house, boasted an ensuite larger than most bedrooms I had slumbered in, with walk in shower and great rarity, a sink and mirror, it only made space for half the world's population of mosquitos to shack up with me. My friendly in-house gecko had his work cut out trying to nab all this lot, hopefully the bats flitting about the restaurant would give him a hand! That night we were entertained by a traditional Batak performance of music and dance. The music though enjoyable revealed shades of naive 1950s pop or even calypso and Hawaiian style, but the cheese factor was endurable enough. There were themes to each song such as a welcoming song, a prayer song and most notably the drinking song. Shall we say the dancing, performed by 6 young local chicks, was minimalistic. It started by them just tapping their right foot, then proferring a Buddhist style "Wai", hands clasped together to the chest, which was then rhythmically dipped up and down. That was the greeting song, almost enough to make you greet, right enough. The prayer song was simply the same ritual but with the head being bowed half way through, I secretly prayed for no more. They then tried to rope me into joining them which somewhat offensively I was the sole incumbent to decline, whereby some domestic tourists and a very out of place German couple sported shoulder sashes and were trailed round in a snake. You proferred your sash onto the opposing lineups shoulders in turn whilst shouting "Horas!" the local Batak greeting, always said with gusto. The varyingly happy, embarrased or bored young things were then quick to disappear, replaced by guys who sang like a Welsh valley harmony quintet, accompanied by guitars and traditional flute, mandolin, drums and a xylophone. Their party piece was the drinking song, whereby sporting mugs of the potent local rice wine Tuak, they made a show of staggering about and going doowally with the slurred vocals. It was pretty funny and you could allow yourself the indulgence since it was all very relaxed and only requesting a donation. Certainly the Bataks are very musical though, you saw and heard guitars everywhere and the night was topped off excellently with local talent Roy strumming away as we sang our heads off till 3.

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Indonesia

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