death by paper cut











{December 8, 2011}   Lake Toba

my lake toba trip was like none other because sight seeing this time was done mostly on kayak. thanks to the invitation to join my friend, pl, i did not miss on this opportunity to paddle off the beaten track. it is not at all as tough as it may sound. the itinerary was all planned by kayakasia led by huey and assisted by his sumatran side kick halim – our local guide who is in fact german and a resident in medan for 18 years. the all inclusive itinerary includes the different nightly accommodation, most meals and the pace & destination of each leg of the trip. i.e. it was a no-brainer for the participants.

the full seven day trip takes into account travel and transfer, so excluding all that and meal and rest times, we kayaked three and half days and in addition, spent one morning trekking up the sibayak volcano. that being said, every moment of the trip was very fun and enriching, on water or on land. a full day of kayaking typically covers 20km.

the group was made up of a very comfortable number of seven participants. huey said that his previous group had twenty people and he wouldn’t accommodate much more than that. i was very happy with the cozy number of seven for mobility and dynamics.

the first day was spent getting ourselves from changi airport to the the township of silalahi of lake toba. this includes the pre-flight two hours at terminal two, an hour on the plane, six hours on in a mini-bus and two hours for meal and break times. one of the break times was spent at the look out point of sipiso-piso waterfall. from this vantage point, we could see the the township of tongging – the northern most point of lake toba. on our second night, we would be staying at the base of this waterfall, but more about that later.

34 Sipiso-Piso Waterfall (Day 1 Singapore to Silalahi, Lake Toba)

38 Sipiso-Piso Lookout Point (Day 1 Singapore to Silalahi, Lake Toba)

44 Sipiso-Piso Lookout Point (Day 1 Singapore to Silalahi, Lake Toba)

before nightfall, we arrived at our first accommodation – sopo morina in the township of silalahi. it is a spacious and well maintained lake side accommodation that is a near a fishing village and a little on the rustic side. it is also closely surrounded by tall hill top ridges of lake toba’s crater rim.

49 Sopo Morina (Day 1 Singapore to Silalahi, Lake Toba)

the next morning, we geared up and prepared our kayaks for the water on the grounds of sopo morina. the kayaks were a mix of the inflatable gumotex and assembled feather crafts. pl and i used a gumotex. my last experience with kayaking at east coast park was with the heavy and clunky hardshell kayaks. the gumotex in comparison is a quantum leap in comfort and lightness. the inflatable seats and backrest provided me with sufficient back support too.

71 Gearing Up at Morina (Day 2 Silalahi to Tongging, Lake Toba) 72 Gearing Up at Morina (Day 2 Silalahi to Tongging, Lake Toba)

after the first round trip to a nearby waterfall to get acquainted with the equipment, we returned to sopo morina for lunch by the lake. huey avoids kayaking in the hottest hours of noon to two in the afternoon, so each day we broke up our time on the lake accordingly. that gave us a lot of time to rest.

99 Onward to Tongging (Day 2 Silalahi to Tongging, Lake Toba) 100 Onward to Tongging (Day 2 Silalahi to Tongging, Lake Toba)
108 Onward to Tongging (Day 2 Silalahi to Tongging, Lake Toba) 137 Onward to Haraggaol (Day 3 Tongging to Haraggaol, Lake Toba)
141 Lunch Stop (Day 3 Tongging to Haraggaol, Lake Toba) 89 First Launch (Day 2 Silalahi to Tongging, Lake Toba)
158 Onward to Haraggaol (Day 3 Tongging to Haraggaol, Lake Toba) 173 Onward to Ambarita (Day 4 Haraggaol to Ambarita, Samosir Island)
205 Onward to Ambarita (Day 4 Haraggaol to Ambarita, Samosir Island) 178 Onward to Ambarita (Day 4 Haraggaol to Ambarita, Samosir Island) 148 Onward to Haraggaol (Day 3 Tongging to Haraggaol, Lake Toba)

although it might seem from the pictures that we had fair weather and calm waters all the time, it was not so. we had our share of choppy waters, some rain and even strong waves at a point of time. those were periods of time to paddle harder and not whip out the camera.

one such point in time was towards the end of the first day of paddling. we were nearing our destination for the night but since it was past sunset, we couldn’t really make it out from a distance much less in the rain. in fact we still would not be able to in full day light because sibayak guest house was nestled by a brook up a river. this river was the base of the sipiso-piso waterfall we saw the previous day. so in the darkness, we parked our kayaks by the stoney brook and groped around very slippery rocks to climb up the river bank. within a few metres however, we were in the midst of a resort chalet!

it was only the next morning that we could really see it for what it was; tranquil, serene, and breathtakingly beautiful.

115 Sibayak Guest House (Day 3 Tongging to Haraggaol, Lake Toba) 117 Sibayak Guest House (Day 3 Tongging to Haraggaol, Lake Toba)
119 Sibayak Guest House (Day 3 Tongging to Haraggaol, Lake Toba)
120 Sibayak Guest House (Day 3 Tongging to Haraggaol, Lake Toba)

with a full day of paddling ahead of us, we traversed from the township of tongging to haraggaol. our accommodation at sigumba gumba cottage at haraggaol isn’t as luxurious as sibayak guest house, but it was charming in its own way. sigumba gumba cottage is a lot more spartan but it does have a beautiful unobstructed view of the hilly ridges in a bay that we were in.

164 Sigumba Gumba Cottage (Day 4 Haraggaol to Ambarita, Samosir Island) 166 Sigumba Gumba Cottage (Day 4 Haraggaol to Ambarita, Samosir Island)
165 Sigumba Gumba Cottage (Day 4 Haraggaol to Ambarita, Samosir Island)

from spartan to indulgent, we cut across from the outer edges of lake toba to the island inside the lake – samosir island and spent the next night at thieza in the district of ambarita. thieza’s compound is pretty large and it houses guest rooms on two-story buildings. it also has ample lake side lounge areas.

212 Thieza (Day 5 Ambarita to Tuk Tuk, Samosir Island)
216 Thieza (Day 5 Ambarita to Tuk Tuk, Samosir Island)
211 Thieza (Day 5 Ambarita to Tuk Tuk, Samosir Island) 208 Thieza (Day 5 Ambarita to Tuk Tuk, Samosir Island)

it was in ambarita that we spent the pre-lunch hours at the local batak museum called, ‘the stone chair of king siallaganin full. it was serendipitous that what our english speaking local guide was any siallagan. her surname should be a give away to her kinship with the place. in fact, the current king of the siallagan kingdom is her cousin. with the advent of the modern indonesian body politic, the traditional kingdoms of the batak people relinquish its political agency. however, to honour tradition, the 600 households of the siallagan kingdom in ambarita still recognises the royal family. around indonesia, there are 10 million people of batak origin.

229 Batak Museum (Day 5 Ambarita to Tuk Tuk, Samosir Island) 228 Batak Museum (Day 5 Ambarita to Tuk Tuk, Samosir Island) 230 Batak Museum (Day 5 Ambarita to Tuk Tuk, Samosir Island)

above is the batak house that the king will reside when he visits or returns to ambarita. where is the king now? he is working in a bank in jakarta. he is now in his thirties. besides recognition from the batak people in ambarita, the royal family does not receive royal treatment. the king does not receive any tributaries or even a special welcome with fanfare. everyone has to earn their keep. the kingship is passed on from father to son and if there is no son, then from king to his next brother.

the batak people typically have big families. the number ‘3’ is an auspicious numeral. an interesting nugget of information that any siallagan told us is that upon marriage, the newly weds will receive blessings from the community to specifically have 17 sons and 16 daughters to make up the total number of ’33’ offspring. as large as they can get however, families do not realistically beget 33 children.

it has to be clarified that this batak museum is in fact a real residence for some batak families. only one of the batak houses has been converted into a viewing gallery. any siallagan herself lives here, albeit in a more modern dwelling with concrete painted walls just behind the row of traditional batak houses. any siallagan has only returned to ambarita about two years ago and will leave ambarita again in time to come.

226 Batak Museum (Day 5 Ambarita to Tuk Tuk, Samosir Island)

222 Batak Museum (Day 5 Ambarita to Tuk Tuk, Samosir Island) 235 Batak Museum (Day 5 Ambarita to Tuk Tuk, Samosir Island)

you are not wrong to think that convex bowls in the above picture on the left resemble breasts. they are in fact meant to symbolise breasts to signify that this batak house houses girls. a few families live together in a batak house until the adolescent boys and girls reach the age of 14. after which, they move to a girls’ house and a boys’ house respectively. the moving away from the family unit also indicates that they are ready to start families of their own.

we were also told of the traditions of the batak people and in particular, the rule of law of the siallagan kindgom. the batak people were known to practice cannibalism, but any siallagan explains that they do not hunt to eat human flesh. the eating of another person only takes place as part of the death sentencing of a criminal. because upon conviction, the status of the criminal is lowered to that of an animal, the consumption of the criminal’s heart by the king is symbolic of the lowering of the status of the criminal from human to animal. the corpse of the criminal is left to the disposal of the rest of the community – according to their wishes, they can either eat it or discard it. the decapitated head of the criminal would then be hung outside the kingdom walls as a warning to enemies. however, with the christianisation of the batak people, such practices have been abandoned.

after the very educational visit to the batak museum, we returned to thieza for lunch and packed up to complete our final leg of the kayaking. the journey from ambarita to tuk tuk – another township at samosir island was short, however, it was also the journey in which we met with the heaviest rainfall and strongest current. fortunately for us, the currents moved in our favour.

along the way, we passed numerous chalets and lake side resorts. huey didn’t exactly tell us which was our next accommodation and kept us guessing. just as the sky cleared and the waters calmed, huey docked his kayak at a very lavish lake side resort and said that this was it! it was the samosir villa resort – in relative terms, the most opulent accommodation of our trip. the place even has wifi! it was indeed a deserving end to our journey kayak-wise. by the lake, we deflated our kayaks and packed up the rest of our gear.

288 Samosir Villa Resort (Day 6 Tuk Tuk to Berastagi)

250 Samosir Villa Resort (Day 5 Ambarita to Tuk Tuk, Samosir Island)

264 Samosir Villa Resort (Day 5 Ambarita to Tuk Tuk, Samosir Island)

258 Samosir Villa Resort (Day 5 Ambarita to Tuk Tuk, Samosir Island) 267 Samosir Villa Resort (Day 5 Ambarita to Tuk Tuk, Samosir Island) 265 Samosir Villa Resort (Day 5 Ambarita to Tuk Tuk, Samosir Island)

yes, that is a merlion you see before you. i’m not sure if such a commercial construct is worth appropriating, water sprouting and all. although arriving at samosir villa resort marks the end of our travel by kayak, we were not done with the trip just yet. the next day, we left samosir island by the hourly ferry and transferred to a mini bus back to berastagi where we were to rest that night at hotel internasional and prepare for a morning climb up sibayak volcano. this would be our final day in indonesia.

from the point where the mini bus dropped us off, the ascent to sibayak volcano took about 1 hour 30 minutes. it was relatively well trodden, although not consistently well paved. to add to the challenge, we faced the aftermath of a landside obstructing our way which we readily bashed through.

317 Sibayak Volcano (Day 7 Berastagi to Singapore)

296 Sibayak Volcano (Day 7 Berastagi to Singapore)

295 Sibayak Volcano (Day 7 Berastagi to Singapore) 298 Sibayak Volcano (Day 7 Berastagi to Singapore) 314 Sibayak Volcano (Day 7 Berastagi to Singapore)

nearing the peak of the volcano, we heard a windy sound that increased in volume as we approached. it sounded like a plane taking off and flying directly above but doesn’t move away. what was actually causing the sound were the fumaroles of the volcano indicating some volcanic activity. this was my first encounter with such a geological phenomenon. the smell of sulfur was tangible but was not too unbearable because the strong winds blew them away.

304 Sibayak Volcano (Day 7 Berastagi to Singapore)

309 Sibayak Volcano (Day 7 Berastagi to Singapore)

307 Sibayak Volcano (Day 7 Berastagi to Singapore) 306 Sibayak Volcano (Day 7 Berastagi to Singapore)

a bigger concern for me was the state of my track shoes. the shoes were already pretty worn out and during the climb i noticed that the soles were beginning to fall apart. fortunately, the guys helped to look out for random pieces of string or raffia along the walk for me to secure the soles to the shoes. miraculously, with the help of the additional tying, the shoes survived the ascent and descent and finally gave up its ghost when we returned.

it was my intention to use the shoes on this trip for a final time and discard them. however, i didn’t take into account that they might outlive their usefulness before i was ready to throw them away. back home, i have a new pair of northface gortex sitting pretty in my shoe cabinet. lesson learnt – although bulky, it maybe useful to lug along appropriate gear because it can make or break your day.

319 Sibayak Volcano (Day 7 Berastagi to Singapore) 321 Sibayak Volcano (Day 7 Berastagi to Singapore)

view the rest of the photos here.

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