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Lake Toba to Pulau Nias


Toba had warranted the 5 nights afforded it in the end. Despite the frustrating climes and almost too sparse a clientelle, it had impressed me as much as anywhere else on my whole trip and I knew I'd be back some day. My pressing timescale had still been shadowing me however and so I was glad to be breaking free today. Pulau Nias was a sidetrip for which I could little afford time for then, but having seen enticing documentaries on its unique offerings and put in the mood for it by Toba and the exhibition at Medan Museum, I knew that I couldnt let this place go by such was its reputation. It really was the stereotypical lost world one always dreamed of in wonder whilst stuck back home in mediocrity. Getting there was a 6 hour trip from Toba to the port town of Sibolga, from whence an overnight boat crossing what was now the Indian Ocean would take me to another world full of exotic character, and pleasingly enough, a beach. With the one bus supposedly leaving Parapat at noon, I had to jump on an earlier ferry across Toba than the surfies in order to hit an ATM, fortunately just managing to wave it down from the pier as it turned away and silenced its beckoning klaxon. It was a fair old trek out to the one international ATM in town, only to find it irritatingly hogged by a local family for maybe 20 minutes, and then it wouldnt accept my cashcard despite the promise of compatible logos. Desperate for money, I'd even needed help from the surfies to settle my Toba tab, I had to resort to a pricey Mastercard withdrawal for the first time of my whole trip, compounded by the fact that I actually had to make 2 transactions and therefore incur 2 charges to feel sufficiently solvent again. Baulking at the trek back to the ferry pier meet up with the other guys, and out of time anyway, the sceptical assurances of "no big bus" across the road had me eventually in a Colt for the rolling scenic ride across to the East coast. Besides the aforementioned wonders, the people appeared to be living an especially traditional rustic lifestyle around here, with hand harvesting of wheat, the droving of buffallo and country people washing in roadside reservoirs whilst wearing short minimalistic shoulderless cream togas. A funeral procession was another interesting encounter, with a large wooden cross preceding a black enshrouded coffin and a trail of traditionally dressed robed and sashed women in brown and burgundy. Remarkably, the followers, even the pall bearers, appeared ecstatically happy with beaming smiles and excited chit chat. Just the way it should be. Up over mountains which presented views now much more resembling rainforest than what the highlands had offered, Sibolga eventually appeared as a white triangle on the coast at the foot of a long deep chasm plunging down to the sea, with a couple of unrefined rock hewn tunnels to negotiate on the steep descent down, and tantalising offshore islands. I was popular as ever in jumping down from the ride, the touts in notoriously hassley Sibolga were quick with the usual "Where you go"?" routine, even though this time it was patently obvious. If you werent going to Nias there wasnt much point in hitting this hovel. With port towns being a special nuisance, the boundaries between unsolicited advice and daylight robbery became blurred to the point that though delay and run away as much as you might try, you always ended up having to take a chance in the end. Assured of there being no Bemos to the port, I was surprised to find myself in a bicycle rickshaw to the ferry, and besides the negotiated 3000 Rupiah being acceptable, the guy and another sidekick were obviously honest in at least some of their useful advice. A case in point was that unbeknown to me, Cam and Keith had somehow managed to arrive there an hour ahead of me, only to be hit by the dismaying and ultimately truthfull blow that the boat to Teluk Dalam wasnt running. I resisted the ensuing push onto the ferry agents hands in search of them then, establishing only that they had gone to the tourist office, perhaps enquiring as to what now to do with their useless and supremely overpriced ferry tickets. I had resisted the seeming ease of advance booking since I knew from experience that the closer you got to the boat the cheaper it would be, and to get anything approaching the real price you had to endure an assault course of deliberate misinformation and bully boy tactics to get damn close indeed. With no sign of the boys around, I had a bit of humming and hawing to do then in deciding a plan B, but in the end there was no better alternative than to take the remaining ferry to Gunung Sitoli, Nias's main town the other end of the island, hoping to meet up with the boys on board. Opting to just go deck class upon the not unsmart advice from a tout of just bribing my way into a cabin once on board, it turned out that in fact there were at least 3 boats headed for Nias that night, at least one appearing much more desirable, and so unsurprisingly I didnt hook up with the surfies as hoped. What I did encounter was a right dodgy looking tub more befitting a sedentary river cruise than the Indian Ocean, with racks akin to a slaving ship serving as sleeping platforms. Deck class really did mean trying to sleep on the bare boards of the deck, and for reasons saner people will fail to understand, I opted just to stay with the masochistic bare bones crashpoint in the end. With losing the altitude and the return of the sun, Siolga had been asd hot and sticky as Medan the other side of Sumatra, and little respite was forthcoming even at sea, compounded by the sway of the boat and the pummelling of diesels not so far below. I found a quiet corner, took off my shirt and stuck to the deck like a tout to a freshly arrived tourist.

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Indonesia

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