Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Lake Toba: A Walk Around Tuk-Tuk

 In the lands of the Batak people in North Sumatra, tucked between forested ridges and ancient calderas, is awe-inspiring Danau Toba.  This crater lake was created 75,000 years ago when a supervolcano violently erupted, spewing such an enormous amount of hot ash into the atmosphere that sunlight was blocked for years and the entire Earth underwent a volcanic winter and subsequent global cooling. 

This eruption, the largest in the past two million years, is credited by some scientists (the Toba Catastrophe Theory) as having changed the course of early human history by reducing the human population to such a degree that a bottleneck effect was created, allowing for greater innovation and progress in the remaining numbers of early hominids (estimated around 10,000) that survived the catastrophic event.

Samosir Island, the stronghold of the Toba Batak people, is about the size of Singapore and is connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus.  The island itself is deceptively large, but most of the tourist action is relegated to a small, picturesque peninsula at the base of the sheer, verdant cliffs that protect the interior of the island.  This peninsula is called Tuk-Tuk and one can spend days here just wandering around, taking dips in the chilly lake, and learning about the rich history of the region.

The excessively welcoming Batak people retain a very distinctive cultural identity to this day.  Musical and fun-loving people that now spend their days strumming guitars, farming, and attending church services, they are endowed with a mysterious history rife with tales of cannibalism and warring tribes. 

Between the striking, rust-and-metal gunship rooftops, the deep azure of the lake itself, and the lush surrounding landscape, Danau Toba is a mesmerizing place.

When we finally took the chance to remove our weary bottoms from our lakeside deckchair, we went on a walk around town.

Laundry services and psilocybin mushrooms are provided at most of the local shops.  Surprisingly enough, I was informed that the Chinese tourists are the most voracious consumers of these magic fungi.

We entered a shop with intricately carved wood-work focusing on local Batak designs: elephants, fish, their ancient written codex, etc.

White-beans, husked by hand and later crushed into a powder, which in turn will be made into milk.

The proprietor and master carpenter had an uncanny resemblance to a certain head of state.  Another four years of office and unabashed drone warfare and the stress of the job may leave him advanced in age, too.

A woman needed help carrying some wood scraps down the road.

Her sister turned out to be a skilled weaver of rugs and tapestries done with a traditional loom.

The Batak are a pious people.  Ever since the arrival of German missionaries in the 19th century, Christianity has spread like wildfire throughout the lands around Danau Toba.  Especially interesting is the traditions involving the veneration of the dead.  A few years after the initial burial, relatives are dug from the ground and in a secondary burial celebration known as mangongkal holi,, their bones are cleaned, a grand fete is held, and they are reburied in a specialized tomb, the tambak. 

There are a multitude of these ornately designed tambaks throughout the countryside. 

A typical Batak family residence.

1 comment:

Isis said...

Beautiful Nellie !!!!

I loved Lake Toba too, got a bad yeast infection from the humidity (or, I suspect more correctly, from my uncircumcised British boyfriend) ... A lady in Lake Toba where we were staying, after my bf explained my situation in Indonesian (he was fluent, had lived there 7 years) .... She gave him some little branch of leaves - the "7 Magical Leaves" and told me to "splash them around" in the Mandi.

Okay- that DID NOT WORK.

Tho it makes a Good Story

What worked was antibiotics back in Singapore. Lol.

I'm so happy you had such a beautiful trip, I loved Sumatra. Nice picture of Obama !!