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Motorbiking Around Lake Toba

semi-overcast

It had long been an ambition of my trip to finally get to grips with a motorbike, I had never ridden one before in my life, and having missed or waived previous opportunities I could see that now was the perfect occasion given Toba's obvious attractions and the Kiwi/South African duos decision to already do so. I tagged along with them then, and found myself part of a veritable biker gang of the Quebecois chicks pillioning with their local love pieces. First tentative attempt, I didnt favour myself with the locals by immediately over-revving the machine and losing control, I barely got 5 yards before it tipped on its side, suffering a bent footrest. As one boy took it away for repair the local dragoness gave me short shrift and patronising advice, little dissuaded by my protests that they had saddled me with a bike with an inoperable front brake. I had serious second thoughts now, it really was the stereotypical way to promptly die on holiday, but I realised that if I didnt do it now then I never would. I ended up on another steed in any case, soon getting the gist of throttling down as you shifted up and down the gears with the left hand foot switch, an automatic clutch certainly helped. If things got a little hairy then it was all right hand application to throttle forward whilst applying hand and footbrake. It was easy enough once you got going and just as well since the local boys didnt hold back for my sake, we later saw that they were too preoccupied getting their balls felt and getting doped up for that. Fortunately, though the roads were very narrow, it was a good surface with very little traffic to contend with, you just had to be careful going round tight bends and on loose gravel, with 3 rickety plank bridges in 1st gear being the hardest challenge. Before long I was whizzing about like a natural, with the full 125 CCs under my arse used to full effect, and our first stop came at the village of Ambarita only 5Ks hence. Here lay another tomb and stone circle formation, complimented by another excellent row of Batak houses, fronted by another circle of stone chairs around a table. This was where local tribal discussion and judicial hearings had been held, with summary justice being implemented here to offendors. Should the elders have seen it fit, you might be bound and then laid prone on the neighbouring stone tablet and subjected to a torture of increasingly severe cuts to the torso, with the voracity of the bleeding being interpreted as a relative sign of guilt. Garlic, lemon juice, onion and chili would then be rubbed into the wounds, and presuming no compassion was forthcoming by this point, it was only left for the unfortunate to be knelt over an adjacent stone block and given the summary chop. Favour didnt find its way to the executioners conditions of service either, if he failed to lop the head off in one fell swoop then he was destined for the same fate. Savage? Well of course, these people were cannibals until 1816, and after pre-fattening the flesh of incumbents was subsequently butchered and shared out by the chief on terms of status, to be eaten raw. The ticket seller here cheekily mutated into an impromptu guide demanding over the odds, but he was outgunned by us 3 dudes so we got off fairly lightly. Sifting through all his offerings of overwrought tourist bullshit, he was at least useful in explaining that the Bataks followed a calendar of 360 days, with a symbolised system dictating particular days to be either favourable "fruit" days, unfavourable "scorpion" days deemed unfit for pursuit of such justice for example, or others which represented the modern equivelant of the weekend. Back on the bikes, we tore past an endless series of fantastic photo opportunities, with persistently fine examples of Batak houses, indeed it seemed the majority of the locals still lived that way, with beautiful lake vistas and rice fields dotted with innumerable Christian tombs, churches, buffalo and high fiving schoolkids. In little over an hour we had managed a loop of the northern half of Samosir, and then at the town of Pangrururan where Samosir "island" briefly touched the mainland, we climbed up a really challenging steep and potholed track to reach a small suspended lake. Unanimously unimpressed, it at least afforded great views of Pangrururan straddling Samosir's isthmus, with a prominent volcano setting a fine backdrop. Back down the helter skelter ride, it became our next port of call as we stopped for lunch at the base of a grey wedge shaped scar on its face, transpiring to be the setting of hot springs which tumbled out of the mountainside in a sulphurous yellow and green waterfall, with more water hot enough for tea bubbling up from within the river bed of pumice. Steam belched out of open fumaroles and others now dormant were congealed with sulphur in what appeared to be yellow dessicated coconut. The stench of the stuff pervaded everywhere. As elsewhere, tourism had died here, and the once dedicated monoblock footpath had been washed away in the main by a flood, never to be repaired, leaving a tricky assault course of deadly danger. A nearby swimming pool had obviously once functioned as a spa, now lying forlornly dry and jungle infested, though the locals could still revel in a constant hot water flushing toilet and warm Mandi shower. Us dudes elected to let the spliff kids hammer on ahead whilst we took more time for photo opportunities on the way back, catching fantastic rows of 10 or more Batak houses by the roadside, similarly villages still slumbering around pigs, goats, geese, chickens and ducks, and a very unusual conical building resembling a Walnut Whip, which devoid of any signage or religious idolatory we could only assume to be an "ordinary" house. Cam the Kiwi had held back so that Keith and I might find the turn off for the beach, another unexpected wonder of doughnut shaped Lake Toba, by another fine Batak settlement. Buffalo paddled in the shallows as the lovebirds cavorted unselfconsciously before us, we hadnt come prepared for swimming though and the returning scudding clouds didnt serve to make it look any warmer in any case. After totting up more scenic snaps and messing about with the local kids endearingly playing hopscotch and drawing figures on the beach, we opted to leave the others to their sexploits and had a lazier trip back, constantly swinging our heads in appreciation of the fantastic setting. A museum denoted in the guidebook was tricky to track down, though eventually we found it thatch roofed and abandoned, before heading for home. With still some daylight to spare I stopped the boys short and ushered another sidetrip back to the village of Tomok, a fine idea justified by excellently thick Sumatran coffee on beautiful bamboo furniture by the lakeside, taking time to point out the nearby 'Elephant Tomb" to them. They were a little ahead of me in getting back to the ranch, and the Dragoness had obviously worked herself up into a lather before my innocuous apearance. Parking and neutralising the bike like an old hand, I had barely got off the thing before a thrusting hand barked "Pay me!" "Respect me!" should have been the reply, but I just casually forked out the 4 quid rental and "repairs" fee, silently vowing never to frequent the hard selling bitches shop ever again. I later related to Roy, the guitar officionado cum unpretty playboy my sentiments, knowing full well that word would get around fast in these parts, everyone knew everyone else and knew that it wasnt good for already poor business. Everyone was bushed after a full on day of fresh air and sunburn, though fortunately my new red hue didnt hurt like the others, and though surprisingly I couldnt sleep that night for indefinable reasons, I couldnt complain when I learned that the other guys had been up all night sick. We had all eaten the same thing.

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Indonesia

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