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An island within an island

Tuk Tuk, Samosir Island, Sumatra, Indonesia

View Map of our Journey on SMWiley's travel map.

A last minute decision to fly to the sixth largest island in the world proved to be a good one. Sumatra is well known for its earthquakes and volcanic activity, in the two weeks prior to our arrival there were three earthquakes, one being felt where we were going. In 2004 the an earthquake with a magnitude of 9.0 shook the north tip of the island, sending tsunamis across the region and eventually killing over 300,000 people. We weren't going to let a shaky ground deter us from yet another island getaway.

We landed in Medan, the biggest city on Sumatra around 8 am. We jumped on a bus headed inland to the worlds biggest volcanic lake, Lake Toba. After two minutes on the bus my body was tensed up and I was clutching to the seat in front of me with white knuckles. The bus driver apparently thought we were in the Indy 500. We spent 40% of the ride in the opposite lane passing cars and motor bikes, forcing oncoming traffic off the road and narrowly missing other buses. Another 40% of the ride was spent in the middle of the road jerking back and forth looking for a small gap in the traffic so we could speed up and pass again. The other 20% was pent in our lane honking at the cars in front of us trying to get them to move. We eventually made our way up into the mountains where we stopped and picked up kids getting out of school! We were now packed shoulder to shoulder sweating with our knees jammed into the exposed springs of the seat in front of us. I was too terrified to realize that my shirt was soaked in sweat, an air-con private mini-bus would have been a better idea. We eventually made it to the lake and ran off the bus in joy. The ATM would only allow us to pull out 2,000,000 Indonesian rupiah, the equivalent of $200. We heard there weren't any ATMs on the island in the middle of the lake so we were hoping that we could make it last. After all we were only going to be there for 4 days.

The ferry ride to Samosir island (island on lake Toba) was a short and beautiful cruise. We quickly realized that the weather was crisp and a little bit cool. At least it felt cool after being in the heat of Thailand and Malaysia. The scenery was stunning and the water was clean, clear, and a beautiful deep blue. The guesthouses were lined with diving boards and beach chairs with people lounging and enjoying to sun. We hopped off and walked the area of Tuk Tuk looking for our humble abode. We found our spot, the Samosir Cottages. The room had a good view of the lake and was $15 a night. The food was decent at the guesthouse and the staff was exceptionally friendly and helpful. On Wednesday and Saturday nights they performed a traditional dance of the Batik people. It was a mellow dance with a slight bend of the knee and funky hand gestures. Megan and I were called upon to share a dance with the girls up front. We were lucky the dance was easy to mimic, we had a blast and laughed the entire way back to our seats. The stay at Samosir Cottages was pleasant except for the second night there Megan was up all night to the sound of something scurrying back and forth along the wall behind our heads. It was a loud sound and we assumed that it had to be a large rat. The next day we switched rooms and slept in peace until our last night. We packed peanut butter and Nutella sandwiches for our early departure and woke up to a critter inside of the bag rustling around. Megan, a little timidly peered into the bag and a lizard jumped out and landed on the wall and ran was quickly out of sight. We were happy it wasn't a rodent looking for dinner.

Kayaking was the first thing we did on the lake, a little fishing and paddling was just what the doctor ordered. I wasn't even able to get a bite. The water was littered with wooden fish traps making me think that there might be a shortage of fish in the lake outside of the traps. I doubt that is true though, it was very hard to fish since it reached depths of 1,500 feet. Later that day after about 1,000 casts I was able to catch a fish the size of my finger off the dock from the hotel. We spent a couple days touring the island on a motorbike, we noticed ere was an ATM that we would be ale to use if we needed to. There were hundreds of over ground mausoleum's that were layered out in the style of the Batik house. Other days were spent laying in the sun, reading our books, and jumping in the refreshingly cool water. We were having so much fun that we decided to spend our entire stay in Indonesia at this one spot.

There was one restaurant that we kept going back to every morning and almost every night for dinner. It was called Popy's. The food was extremely good, but we kept going back because of the owner. We caught a little sense of family when we were with him. He took us in with open arms and called us his family. His name was Possman and his whole family loved and worked with him. All the food he cooked was from his garden, coffee beans, fresh fruits and vegetables. He made his own bread and even had a small rock inclosure on the lake where he kept his fish alive and fresh until they were ready to prepare. Every day we would go there and he would sit with us and talk and tell us stories. His children would come and play with us, batting balloons and messing with the family cats. It was an enriching feeling and experience for both of us. He asked in the morning if we would want to use his personal motorbike for the day and if we wanted fish for dinner. It took 2 hours to grill the fish to the way he liked it so he needed a fair notice. We had fish for 4 nights straight, it was the best fresh water fish I have ever had! It came grilled and cooked in a curry sauce that was to die for. The other sauce was heavy on garlic and vegetables and made us salivate at the sight of it. We bought a tapestry from our new friend. It is a beautiful print of a traditional Batik lifestyle. We were sad to leave Possman and his wonderful family. We made him understand that we won't forget him and his hospitality and every time we look at our art we will think of him. I hope one day we meet again.

I knew we would need more money when we decided to extend our stay. I wasn't worried because we had found an ATM 5 kilometers away, the guesthouse was also adamant that we could pay with a credit card. It was two days before we were set to leave and we heard a guest in an argument with the staff. Apparently the credit card reader was not working and they were out of money. We decided that we should play it safe and go pull out a little cash. We borrowed Possmans motorbike (for a charge of petrol) and went to the cash machine. We got denied several times with several different cards before we understood that the machine did not accept Visa. We drove to the next closest ATM and discovered that we had the same problem. The staff insisted that we could still use our card, but after another customers failed attempt I knew I had to ferry back to the main land. The 30 minute ferry ride took an hour and a half, luckily I had enough money to get there. Once I got to the main land I power stomped to the bank where I was informed that the nearest ATM that accepted Visa was another 3 kilometers away. I found another bank but had the same problem. At this point I was drenched in sweat and hadn't had any water for several hours. I finally found the cash machine that I needed. It was a little glass box hidden behind a shop. I pulled out enough cash to pay up and stomped back just in time to ferry back. Oh The little hassles of travel!

We took the air conditioned mini bus crammed with 7 people and 7 backpacks back to the airport. We barely made it in time, but we were told that we needed to pay an exit fee. I had to go out of security back to the ATM and back in to pay the fee.

We absolutely loved Indonesia!

Posted by SMWiley 01:46 Archived in Indonesia

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