Talking about the creation of the world. A big bang, meteors hitting planets, ice age and tectonic breakdancing. The world is an incredible start up and the landscapes, that were created through the elements and time. Sometimes your eyes can still see this amazing process in a timelapse. Such a mystical place is Lake Toba in North Sumatra. Or as the locals call it: Danau Toba.
77.000 years ago a super volcano erupted in what later became North Sumatra. What remained was a giant caldera. That means a massive piece of territory collapsed into the ground, due to the cracks in the tectonic plate, caused by sudden eruptions. Bam Bam – the second floor took the elevator straight to the basement. The basement quickly filled up with water, which is now the 100 km long and 30 km wide Lake Toba. It is nothing short of being the biggest volcanic lake on the planet. But that wasn’t the end of it. The eruption was the biggest explosion of the past 25 million years and caused a volcanic winter with a drop of 5 degrees °C. There are theories, that this killed almost all human populations living at the time. ooops. That created a population bottleneck in central east Africa and India, which made the genetic make up of the human world-wide population to the present.
Despite the whole drama of the place me and my good friends from Jakarta Shasti, Jelly and Nitya decided to go to Sumatra and to Toba. Shastis relatives live in Sumatra and organized us a driver to get around. He kind of was supposed to be a watchman, too. You gotta know, that Sumatra is rather conservative.
Lake Toba is quite a household name among Indonesian travellers, especially for the curious ones, who prefer history over a pretty beach tan. It’s not overrun, there are quite a few guesthouses and camping grounds around the lake.
Within of the lake is another miracle, the island Samosir, which is a 647 km² drop of lava. It’s as big as Singapore and has even two lakes of its own. To reach the island you got to take the ferry. Most visitors arrive at night at the lake and try to conquer the island the next day. So did we and boy, how early we got up for this. And was needed, as it takes time to find the ferry and other touts try to scam with horrendous prices for a little lift with their private motorboat.
The ferry port basically is a dump behind another dump. The streets were provisionally and the wooden sheds seemed to be temporary. It looked like Klondike after the goldrush – exciting. And to make this picture complete I was particularly impressed by a mobile carpenter, who worked on the back of his pick up truck.
I sneaked up to him and communicated with film instead of words. It seemed he wasn’t bothered. I just love seeing people in their natural habitat, working.
And he was just doing what he was doing best at eight in the morning.
You buy your tickets pretty convenient on the boat and the ride is about 45 minutes to an hours. It all depends on your purpose on Pulau Samosir (Indonesian), what time you will take the boat. I had the feeling in the morning we were very much joined by real islanders, returning home. Ah by the way. The dominating ethnicity around Lake Toba are the batak, who have their origin on Samosir. It’s a big group of people, there are almost 6 million batak in Sumatra, almost 5 million of them around the toba highland.
Once we entered the power of love (catchy name for a ferry – isn’t?), the sky opened up and the morning sun flared. Great light for photography, especially as I found so many great characters on the ferry. This rocker dude, who brought his motoscycle on board and couldn’t smile. He watched me take my shots and didn’t change his facial expression. The kids, who were dreaming on the railing. And the Jakarta fashionisto – who was a real treat.
The perfect coverboy for this article. Sometimes it is the very first roll on a journey, that indicates if it will be grand or a fail, that clears the path for everything else that follows. This very first black and white roll of an expired ilford FP4 got me rolling.
As the ferry only goes to Samosir and back a few times a day, the people on the island know, when fresh bait ought to arrive. Consequently the market is just a stone throw away from the ferry terminal and a scene of hustle and bustle breaks out, when you put your foot onto land. Vendresses in their traditional batak costumes and scarfs around their heads welcome you with a chicken in one hand and a display of colourful clothes in another.
As I figured, there are only a few cars allowed on the island. Visitors can not bring there own drives. There a few destinations to walk to. but the best way to get around is definitely to rent motrocycles. Touts hook you up with the guys renting them out. It’s an easy deal and not costly.
So we got ourselves two scooters and of we went to the peaks and lows of Samosir.
And there are quite some, as the island has a steep mountain at it’s very heart, so you better are motorized if you want to get around and not be exhausted.
There is a certain originality and toughness to the batak people. That also shows in their craft and architecture. Over centuries they have developed their very own patterns of clothes. Scarf and skirts, that you can only buy here. They have worshiped to totems, which are a mix to native American and African idols. And their roofs are incredible sharply edged. Back in the days, everything was made by wood. But even now, they continues to build steep roofs, but now with modern materials. Most interestingly is a museum with artefacts from the centuries and you could even buy grave masks. Most of the Batak have been christianized, but they keep some of their original customs.
We went to an ancient ritual site at a settlement called Tomok. The local guide explained us, how court was run in front of the elders and the king. there was little bit of voodoo involved and when somebody was punished to death he was right away hammered with the wooden ritual stick. The wife of our guide sold these little sticks as souvenir in the adjacent improvised gift shop – to bring home to hubby or wifey. Oh did I mention that ritual canibalism was also in fashion for some time on the island? And ceremonies with magic mushrooms. I dind´t promise too much – many-faceted place!
That wraps it up, folks! Lake Toba and Samosir is a very great original experience, which still leaves much to your imagination – in many ways. Only few individual tourists from abroad will make it here and they are missing out. The eruption of the Toba supervolcano almost ended mankind 25 million years ago. So If you come visit, it’s definitely a sign, that you are alive.