Warren
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I have for some time wondered what the area around Lake Toba in North Sumatra would be like to ride. I was not able to find any bike rental previously but by chance met someone from the area via Instagram who told me I can easy rent a scooter on Samosir island.

To get there I flew to Jakarta from Labuan Bajo after my ride in Flores. I was alas recovering from food poisoning that hit me last night in Flores. Exhausted I slept across a few chairs in airport waiting for yet another delayed Indonesian flight.

Nice views in route although I mostly slept again. Arriving the Jakarta hotel I lay down and fell asleep again immediately. This stuff gets harder as you get older especially when unwell. Don’t leave it until retirement to travel, your options will be much more limited.

Next day I felt better, ready to face more Indonesian domestic air travel. Arriving at the terminal it’s chaos inside, a sea of people. Eventually I find I have been put on another airline at another terminal. Racing there I am told the new flight is delayed. Departure time comes and the plane disappears from screen no announcements. I am told it’s further delayed wait at gate. An hour later I check and told my flight has already has boarded (no announcements or anything on screen) and told to hurry to a different gate. Nobody checking tickets I walk straight down to tarmac where a few other people are unsupervised. Eventually someone takes us to a third terminal to board a plane which was stifling hot inside no air-conditioning on. One woman has passed out. Don’t fly Lion – no matter how tempted, pay a little more.

At Medan airport I am fortunate to meet someone going my way and we split the cost of car to Parapat, about $35 each. You can take shared mini van or share taxi also but it is a minimum 4 1/2 hour trip on bumpy surface so weigh up a private hotel transfer.

I stay overnight at Parapat. I had booked a hotel thinking if anything is delayed then I would miss the last ferry and that proved to be true.

I notice Indonesia is a tobacco company paradise. No ban on advertising anywhere including tv. When I was young cigarettes were cheap and advertising was designed to make boys think it was masculine and cool to smoke. Half the high school I went to smoked, myself included, a deceptively addictive drug that took years for my friends and I to quit. This brand boasts a pro never quits!

My stomach was not quite ready for any street food so I skipped breakfast and took a ride in a becak to the port. These are public mini buses built from old delivery vans which ply certain routes like jeeneys in Philippines. Cost just 40 cents.

Next I take the pubic ferry across Lake Toba to the village of Tuk Tuk. There recently was a terrible tragedy on this lake with a overloaded vehicle ferry sinking taking 200 people to their deaths. The captain seeing my hesitation assures me that was no where near here and his boat is fully equipped with brand new life jackets.

45 minute ride and he drops me right at the jetty of hotel I am staying. Two 1/2 days, two planes, a car, van and a boat. Welcome to Samosir island land of the Batak people.

First order of business is find a bike. I need not have worried, the village of Tuk Tuk is focused on tourists, every second shop offers a scooter for rent for about $10 for 8 hours day use, pick up in morning return before evening. I want to ride further than the average person and I want a decent helmet so when I see a Yamaha N-Max 150 I know it has to be that despite it being the shop owners personal bike.

I negotiate to have near new helmet and keep the bike overnight and am happy at $20Aud per 24 hours rental despite this being well above the average. The bike and helmet are both higher quality and bike is washed and fueled as well as tyre pressure checked.

Next day I ride south around Samosir island and the scenery is superb.

Looking down at where my hotel is from the upper part of Tuk Tuk village.

The scenery here is jaw dropping, far beyond what I had imagined.

When the Toba volcano erupted about 75,000 years ago it was an explosion of unimaginable force. You may have read of the mighty Krakatoa volcano explosion of 1883 and how big that was. For some sense of scale that ejected 18-25 cubic kilometres of rock into the sky and the explosion was heard 3600km away. Toba ejected 2700 cubic kilometres of rock into the sky! The explosion and it’s affect would have been felt around the entire globe. Silt was deposited over much of south Asia. Pakistan and India received 1 to 5 metres of ash. The larger affect of climate change and widespread destruction of life are still being debated.

What is left is the worlds largest caldera. Lake Toba is at an altitude of 1000 metres and the island formed in the middle, Samosir, is the size of Singapore.

It is really a beautiful place which my phone lacks the dynamic range to capture. I have no set gps route here just paper map and rough idea to try see the lake from many viewpoints.

Stopping in a small village to get some drinks I meet some lovely people who invite me to have coffee with them. One lady is based in Myanmar working for the church and is returning home to visit family and tells me about the area and it’s customs. A wonderful interlude. I ride on up the west side and it too is beautiful then cross a bridge and climb up to see from a higher view point.

The N-Max came into it’s own already having the acceleration to pass the mini vans up to a vantage point (above) on outer rim of the caldera. The handling is sporty and fun too. From there returned to the island to the area opposite hopeful of a view and am not disappointed.

Magnificent scenery here. For a sense of scale those walls of the lake are 600m high. Panorama shots on the phone push the landscape away and makes everything appear smaller, below is slightly better scale.

The next day I felt confident to try ride to the northern outer edge of the caldera where there is the most published viewpoint of the lake.

I first rode around the northern inner edge. There are many people living in traditional Batak houses on Samosir island.

These peaked roof houses can be seen in every village. I came across a wedding procession in one of the villages. The bridesmaids all posed for me Smile

There is a relaxed atmosphere here. It’s ‘island time’ but services seem to operate as expected unlike Philippines. The ride north after leaving the island was long and tiring on the N-Max. I find the feet forward ride position of scooters transfers every bump to the lower back.

This part of the lake the road is mostly enclosed in mountains with no view. I detoured a few times on side roads and found a gap like above. I am sure there would be other spots I missed.

I never found the main viewpoint but was pleased with the above road then had to turn south as already 2.00pm. It would be too long to return same way so I decide to gamble the ferry from Tigaras is running. Alas the ferry is not running and now I am a long way from where I started and it is already mid afternoon.

Nothing I can do except ride to Parapat. Try take my scooter on the small boat or leave it at the port and come back tomorrow. Once upon a time I would have worried but I am getting better at things like this and know it will work out one way or another. Even if I miss the last ferry can get a room in Parapat and buy cheap change of clothes and toothbrush.

I take a break on the ride south at a viewpoint with interesting Instagram photo gimmick.

I wanted to get a photo riding on this but looking at the clock I really had no time if I was to make the Parapat ferry before it finished.

Hang on so what am I doing now fooling around. Well the clock and my heart stops when asked for a selfie by two pretty girls…

Everywhere I went people were very friendly. I don’t think you would be a single guy here very long.

Great riding from here south to Parapat. Tuk Tuk village can just be made out on other side of water above so I did not stop to take more photos which is shame as this section was beautiful as the sun got lower. Made it to Parapat 2nd last ferry and no problems to take bike and myself across. $1.50 for me and $1.00 for the N-Max.

You probably could live a comfortable life here for a fraction of many other places.

The loading was easy, the unloading however was one person to very narrow jetty which I then had to ride along but again I made it. What a huge day. Nearly 10 hours by time I am back to hotel.

I was still tired the next day and the weather was overcast. I waited but the sun was staying away. Well that makes it easy to decide not to try ride to the southern outer edge.

Did a little exploring of Tuk Tuk village. Quite a few German owned lodges here serving European food and every tourist seems to be speaking German. But there was not many people, this area seems well off the tourist trail and still unspoiled.

The people here speak their own language and have a unique culture that pays high respect to elders and how many generations your family has been in the area. The family grave is an elaborate structure that stands very tall with a small Batak style house positioned up high with a view often to the lake. Family are entombed in the grave and after about 25 years the bones are transferred to the small house up high as the final resting place.

Just random riding today, but I enjoyed that nicely. I could have easy stayed another week and explored south to the next big lake but this was a scouting trip and now I know how much the area offers will plan a longer ride in future.

Very good bike the N-Max. Some riders on forums dismiss scooters and make dumbass sexist comments. Operating a clutch is not something essential for me to enjoy riding. All bikes to me are fun, not found one yet I didn’t like. Guys focused on machismo and image instead of the actual joy of motorcycling miss out on a lot.

Here is a map of the area to give some ideas if you travel here.

I enjoyed to see this area and satisfied I made my way back to Medan, the ferry and car trip taking about 6 1/2 hours into gridlock Medan central. I had hoped to enjoy a nice wine tonight but alas despite being a big city there is no alcohol thanks to the influence of the Islamic religion, so I settle for KFC coffee and donuts.

I went looking for the spicy food Medan is said to offer but I really have not had one meal that I would deem spicy in the whole time I have been in Indonesia, very mild compared to Malaysia and Thailand. I was a little surprised that everyone eats with their hands, even in restaurants in the mall. Seems out of place in SE Asia. Food is very cheap, sit down family restaurants $2.00-3.00.

Those Oppo and Vivo smartphones are cheaper here too but I decide I prefer to put the money towards changing my camera. My Lumix GX85 has decent dynamic range which would have been big help on this ride but it is incredibly heavy for a compact camera, 700g with a small pancake lens, it literally feels like a brick in my jacket and so sits at home meaning it is useless and I should sell it.

I’m heading towards home today from Medan to KL then to Tokyo next day. Flying Malaysia airlines, it was cheaper than Air Asia once I added all their hidden fees which nearly doubled the base fare ha-ha. A350, very nice plane.

Selamat Jalan from Indonesia. I have enjoyed my visit to this country and will certainly return to see more in future.

2021 note. Images updated and moved to new blog. Alas I am yet to return here and regret not spending more time when I had the chance but hopefully will visit again when the world reopens.

6 Comments

  1. Another great trip report Warren. I will have to try and get over there one day.

  2. I have enjoyed your Indonesian adventures – Flores and now Lake Toba. I have not really had Indonesia on my bucket list but reading your reports has made me re-think this… went to Lake Toba on the way back from a surf trip to Nias in about 1986. I have very fond memories of the few days I was there.

    • Hi Richard,

      Flores is a very good ride, the road built across the island is not dissimilar to twisty roads say in Northern NSW and Gold Coast and it is still reasonably priced.

      I saw quite a few European guys retired in Samosir. Besides wine everything is very affordable and many benefits.

  3. Interested in your camera comments Warren. I always use a good quality compact simply because of size considerations. My Sony DSC RX 100 took great photos but reliability was an issue. I'm not going to spend any more money and must research what are currently good compacts before our China trip next year.

    • Hi Geoff, in Japan I often shoot the same scene with multiple cameras, iPhone6S, Sony cybershot and for few years Micro four thirds sensor cameras from Panasonic.

      It is easy to see the improvement in quality as the sensor size increases when shooting landscapes. The smaller sensor with less dynamic range makes a mess of the detail where light contrasts.

      I had lens problems with both my Lumix cameras, quality control issues which is shame as the LX100 in particular took an exceptionally good photo when working. I now have a Canon G1XMIII with DSLR size sensor in semi compact body. I talk about it elsewhere in the blog a bit. Build quality is superb. Too early to say more but seems very good.

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