Monday, December 20, 2010

Danau Toba Pt. 1: Medan

Apporximately 69-77,000 years ago, the human population was reduced to a mere 1,000 by the eruption of a volcano. The human species almost died out in the 1,000 year cooling that followed. With such a cheery back-story, how could I not want to go to Danau Toba, the crater lake remnant of this volcano. I decided to be optimistic and go by myself. I was getting pretty comfortable with my Bahasa skills, and many people do the back-packer thing with zero language skills, so I figured I would be set. Off I headed, taking a flight from Jakarta to the city of Medan, Sumatra's largest city, which hovers around 100% humidity year round. That moisture turns the place into a decaying mass, where even new buildings seem to be melting, the sides completely streaked with water lines. The place also just feels dirty. The one highlight was the Ramadan night market. It happened to be the holy month when I was there, so of course, breaking the fast is the main priority on people's minds during that time. Just around the corner from my "hotel" (more on that later) was a long street which was the place to be after sundown.  Spread out along the main street and parallel to the city's main mosque, a long line of food stalls offered every kind of Indonesian food.  The waiters (kids hired for the night, not wearing uniforms or anything) would nervously approach me, the 'bule' trying to offer me a menu and a seat.  Finally I did sit down and because I was alone, a number of young Indonesians came and sat down with me to make conversation.  They were very friendly and shocked to learn I was traveling alone.  Solo travel isn't common in Indonesia, where the culture and mentality is deeply communal.  Doing things alone is considered a sign of abandonment or insanity.  After some delicious but very Indonesian tasting Nasi Kebuli (as in Kabul, Afghanistan Rice, supposedly originating from the wartorn Central Asian country), I headed back to the squalor that was my hotel.  


  1. extremely cool!!!
    I thought u were with others to go to Medan,why did u just travel alone? agree with ur words above, so rare for Indonesian to travel alone, indeed.
    for next, I suggest u just invite others to have cooler journey than before :D

  2. Nobody wanted to go with me :( I would've been very happy to go with friends, I asked many people. Btw, the one advantage to travelling alone is that people percieve you as more approachable, so you can meet the local people more.

  3. why didn't they wanna go with u? sounds so fun there. i think u would get the more approachable even u went with many friends, yeah so lucky you always travelling everywhere, keep exploring Indonesia :)