Monday, April 18, 2011

Danau Toba Pt. 3: Getting There

To get to Danau Toba, you need to go to Medan first, and then take a bus or car.  On the way there I took a mini-bus.  I took a becak (motorcycle taxi with a side car for the passangers) to the terminal.  The driver ripped me off, but on the upside, he told me the real price for the bus to Danau Toba.  I think I broke even in the end.  When I got to the bus and asked the driver for a ticket, he held up his hands indicating 6, meaning Rp. 60,000.  I explained to him in Indonesian that I had been told by friends that the normal price was only 30,000. He smiled and dropped three of his fingers, not ashamed in the least that I had just caught him totally red-handed.  That's typical of Medan though, they'll try to take you for everything you've got and have no shame when you catch them in the act.  
The journey to Danau Toba from Medan involved a mini-bus.  This bus was packed but I had the honour of riding up front between the driver and the conductor.  In Indonesia, there are two jobs on the mini-bus.  One guy is the driver, in my case a chain smoking youth who was a chariot racer in another life.  The other guy takes the ticket money, leans out the window to yell the destination to all passers by, and acts as a radar for the driver, peering ahead to let the driver know when its safe to attempt to pass the vehicle ahead.  Oddly, the driver doesn't have a uniform while the conductor does.  Painfully, I was forced to carry my giant knapsack on my lap the whole way due to space, but getting to sit up front was worth it.  The open windows provided a nice breeze and ventilation from the constant smoke being puffed out of the frail lungs of the driver and conductor.  We stopped for a couple of breaks and I was invited to eat with the driver and conductor, they were pretty decent guys and as the restaurant we stopped at was clearly a family operation, the food was on them!  I'm pretty sure I ate goldfish by the way.  I got to sit beside an old man for awhile once the bus filled up and he remembered some English from his youth.  He started rhyming off grammar tables for me which was cute.  His next question was whether I liked to drink and if I had any firewater on me.  Guess he was looking for a buzz to kill the boredom on the road.  
By the time we got to our destination, Parapat, on the shores of Lake Toba, dark had fallen and it was a little off putting getting off in what initially seemed like the middle of nowhere.  I popped into a Padang restaurant and asked them where Parapat was and they explained it was just down the road.  Turned out I was just a stone's throw away from the town itself.  I met a guy named Jojo and he spoke decent English.  He invited me to hang out so I went to... Sukarno's former house!  While Sukarno was under house arrest, the Dutch shuffled him all over Indonesia so he wouldn't be able to maintain his organization.  Parapat is home to one of those places.  The compound is beautiful, the house is basically a mansion with a great view of the lake and Samosir Island.  Sukarno, well known to have been a womanizer, must have really enjoyed and likely taken advantage of the romantic views.  After that, I met up with some of Jojo's family, who were the custodians of the historic house.  They were all Javanese transmigrants.  Transmigrasi was a policy undertaken during Suharto's reign in an attempt to populate some of the under utilized agricultural areas and de-populate overcrowded Java.  An additional motive was likely political, the objectives being a dilation of local ethnic identity and a loyal cadre of Javanese to keep an eye on possible secessionist aspirations.  It was interesting that while they didn't hide or deny being Javanese, their admiration for and interest in Batak culture was surprising to me.  Part of this love affair probably had to do with the Tuak or palm wine they were liberally partaking in.  I had a sip out of politeness and believe me, its pretty horrible stuff.
After that interesting encounter, I headed back to my hotel room, finally able to stretch my body out after the long, cramped bus ride.  The next morning, I had a plan to meet up with a family member of a co-worker in Ajibata, the next town over.  My co-worker in Jkt said that her relative would be happy to show me around the area, as he was from Samosir.  His happiness would be difficult to detect as I was to find out, but it was nice to be out of the wretched pit of Medan, and into a fairly clean room with a comfy bed!


  1. who is sukarno? great stories!!

  2. Sukarno was the public face of Indonesian Nationalism and later Independence. I have a feeling there were some other brains behind the operation, such as Mohammad Hatta, but Sukarno had charisma, so he was cast in the starring role. He was also a notorious lecher! Is this a Sarah that I know? If so, which one?