12 Apr - 28 Apr 2012 Tuk-Tuk

Republic of Indonesia
Samosir Island
Merlyn Guest House +6281361169130 merlynguesthouse@mail.com
Clean lake-view, twin-bed garden bungalow (no. 2), right on the lake shore, with private terrace and bathroom, for IDR 60,000.- or US$ 6.50 per night. 
Beer: 620-ml bottles of ice-cold Bintang Beer (c. 4.7 % alc./vol.) for IDR 27,000.- or US$ 2.95 per bottle from the guest house’s comfy restaurant.

Click below for an interactive road map of the Merlyn Guest House in Tuk-Tuk, which we would recommend, and for directions:

Exploring the friendly Batak village of Tuk-Tuk, where a long row of guesthouses, restaurants and handicraft shops stretches right around the shore of the Tuk-Tuk Peninsula aka Tanjung Tuk Tuk, and learning about the dramatic formation of Lake Toba, the largest volcanic lake on the planet, which was formed only 100,000 years ago after a cataclysmic volcanic eruption resulting in the formation of a caldera which filled with water afterwards (present-day Lake Toba), and where the pressure from the dormant magma, which had not yet erupted, caused Samosir Island to emerge, right in the middle of this 1,700-sqm large crater lake, only 30,000 years ago.

Hiking along the scenic lake shore to Tomok and Ambarita, the two nearest Batak villages on Samosir Island (an island within the island of Sumatra), discovering traditional Batak houses and fine old graves and tombs, chatting with friendly locals, young and old, and, after our exhausting hikes, finally, taking a dip in the lukewarm water of Lake Toba (…without being able to find out whether the pleasant water temperature was caused by the earth’s fire under the lake floor or by the sun’s fire from the equatorial sky).

Enjoying original Batak singing and listening (i) to traditional and drinking songs in the village’s watering holes where Batak men relax after their hard day’s work (free entrance, but it’s OK to buy a round of tuak), (ii) to SusanBoyle-like voices of a vociferous male choir which gives regular performances at the Bagus Bay Resort on Wednesdays and Saturdays (free entrance, but it’s OK to wine and dine at the resort’s restaurant) and (iii) to the congregation’s religious hymns and chants in Tuk-Tuk’s new Catholic church during the emotive Sunday services (free entrance, but it’s OK to donate some money).

Learning about the unique Toba Batak arts and architecture which have their cultural roots in a 1783 CE “discovered” cannibalistic kingdom with highly developed customs and a system of writing in the interior of Sumatra: (i) peculiar wooden houses which are built on stilts with a saddleback roof ending in sharp rising points said to resemble buffalo horns, (ii) traditional “cloth of the soul” (ulos ni tondi) for ritual and ceremonial purposes which is hand-made on a body tension (back strap) loom using hand-dyed thread and (iii) excellent wood carvings which incorporate magic signs and fertility symbols.

Hiring a brand-new 110cc Honda NSC110 scooter from Viona’s Coffee Shop +6281264363926 (IDR 75,000.- or US$ 8.20 per day, bensin included) and cruising the northern part of Samosir Island (without being stopped and nailed by one of the many corrupt traffic cops) thus visiting on our way the traditional Toba Batak villages of Ambarita, Simanindo and Lumban Suhisuhi with their beautiful old stilt houses and common home industry of hand-weaving as well as spectating at, almost simultaneously, two different weddings at Simanindo: (i) the touristy imitation of a Batak wedding as part of a lovely dance performance at the village's meticulously restored open-air museum (admission: IDR 50,000.- or US$ 5.50 per foreigner), formerly the home of the Batak king Rajah Simalungun and his 14 wives, and, over the way, the real McCoy, (ii) the genuine Batak wedding at a Batak Christian Protestant Church aka Huria Kristen Batak Protestan (admission free).

Relaxing/tanning on the manicured lawn of our guest house’s tropical garden (where little brown-throated sunbirds feed on nectar from red canna lilies), right on the lake shore, and succumbing to Samosir’s anaesthetising atmosphere with the help of undisclosed quantities of (i) home-made lapo tuak, the potent Batak palm wine, which looks like bonny clabber (IDR 10,000.- or US$ 1.10 per 1.5-litre bottle from any of the village shebeens), (ii) local arak which tastes as if it has been bottled in a barbershop (Arak Beras with 20 % alc./vol. for IDR 55,000.- or US$ 6.- per 620-ml bottle from any of the local shops) and (iii) psychoactive omelettes (IDR 75,000.- or US$ 8.20 per helping) made from mind-altering psilocybin shrooms aka magic mushrooms which trigger awesome and interesting perceptual disturbances and mild hallucinations.

Teaming up with fellow traveller Ömür from Turkey, taking a local minibus from Tuk-Tuk Junction to Samosir’s "capital", Pangururan (40 km, 1 hour, IDR 12,000.- or US$ 1.30 per person), a dusty old backwater without any militant tourism, passing en route many colourful multi-storey Batak graves/tombs and traditional Batak houses and exploring the lively Wednesday market at Pangururan where betel-nut chewing Bataks haggle over squeaking piglings, silent ikan mas, croaking bootleg CDs plus a plethora of other stuff.

Putting up with a powerful traditional Batak massage (IDR 70,000.- or US$ 7.60 for one hour, from therapist Frida +6281375707462) and feasting on excellent Batak cuisine (i) at Ita’s stylish Maruba Restaurant +6281397844254 (delicious ikan naneura, raw tilapia fish from Lake Toba, marinated in Batak spices, nuts and lemon juice, served with rice, urab [mixed steamed veggies with grated coconut, jaggery and lime juice] and daun ubi [tapioca leaves cooked in coconut milk]), (ii) at Ellie’s lively Vernando’s +6281370656424 (excellent ikan panggang, grilled tilapia fish from Lake Toba, also served with rice, the Batak version of chap choy and tombur, the fierce local sambal), and at (iii) Ivan’s table in our guest house +6281361169130 (perfect ikan arsik, steamed tilapia fish, stuffed with snake beans, asam cikala [torch ginger fruit], andaliman [Szechuan pepper], onions and fresh turmeric root, also served with his interpretation of urab and daun ubi.

Eating our last breakfast of traditional Batak lontong (compressed rice wrapped inside a banana leaf, then cooked and cut into small cakes, served in a spicy veggie-curry gravy together with rice noodles and/or yellow noodles, a hard-boiled egg and the leftovers of the day before - yummy, yummy), bidding farewell to our wonderful German/Batak hosts Kati & Ivan as well as to our Australian/British friends Sally & Richard (“Slow Train Coming”), crossing Lake Toba on one of the regular ferries to Parapat (IDR 7,000.- or US$ 0.75 per person), where the weekly country market was in full swing, and taking hereafter the Bagus Wisata air-con overnight bus (510 km, 15½ bone-breaking hours, IDR 200,000.- or US$ 22.- per person) to Bukittinggi, thus crossing the equator on the Trans-Sumatra Highway near Bonjol and entering West Sumatra and Minangkabau country: “Haoo! Salamaik datang!”

Click below for a summary of this year's travels 

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11 Apr - 12 Apr 2012 Sidikalang

Republic of Indonesia
North Sumatra
Jalan Sisingamangaraja 84
Dairi Hotel +6262721315
Adequate twin room (no. 24) with shared bathroom (mandi) and wifi for IDR 92,000.- or US$ 10.- per night, including a very light local breakfast for two people.

Click below for an interactive road map of the Dairi Hotel in Sidikalang and for directions:

Exploring the sleepy Batak town of Sidikalang, knocking back our first beers at Ah Chen & Jony’s friendly Mie Simpang Empat restaurant (ice-cold Bintang Pilsener with c. 4.7 % alc./vol. for IDR 25,000.- or US$ 2.70 per large 620-ml bottle), after one month of enforced abstinence in Aceh, being totally flabbergasted, all of a sudden, when we felt the sobering tremors of a massive 8.6-magnitude earthquake (centered about 30 km beneath the ocean floor, approximately 400 km off Sumatra), jumping up and running out of the building and wondering whether another tsunami was about to thrash the fateful west coast of North Sumatra which lies on a significant segment of the Pacific Ring of Fire where two large crustal plates, the Indian Ocean and western Pacific plates, are forced under the massive Eurasian plate.
“The earthquake, however, must be to every one a most impressive event: the earth, considered from our earliest childhood as the type of solidity, has oscillated like a thin crust beneath our feet; and in seeing the laboured works of man in a moment overthrown, we feel the insignificance of his boasted power.”

Having our first close encounter with tamed Batak ogresses and ogres in the form of enchanting and outgoing high school students and listening to their career aspirations and dreams of the future: first and foremost in government, tourism and human resources, but under no circumstances to train as a custom seamstress or as a skilled plumber (…crafts and trades which we old people would perceive as pillars of the civilised world).

Taking the jam-packed Cv. Sinar Sepadan +6262721197 minibus wreck from Sidikalang through an agricultural landscape with intensive cultivation of vegetable (cabbage, tomatoes, turnips, carrots, corn) on fertile volcanic land to (Pematang-)siantar (85 km, 3¼ bone-breaking hours, IDR 25,000.- or US$ 2.70 per person) and thereafter a big bus for the smooth ride from (Pematang-)siantar to the resort town of Parapat (40 km, 1 hour, IDR 15,000.- or US$ 1.65 per person), flagging down one of the blue angkot station wagons which shuttle from the town centre of Parapat to the ferry jetty (for a flat rate of IDR 2,000.- or US$ 0.22 per person) and eventually embarking on the ferry (IDR 7,000.- or US$ 0.75 per person) to Samosir Island, only to find ourselves, bang-on, back on this not-so-lonely planet’s heavily trodden Banana Pancake Trail at Tuk-Tuk; "Horas!"

Click below for more blog posts about livable places on the Banana Pancake Trail
Click below for a summary of this year's travels
2012 Map Konni & Matt

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10 Apr - 11 Apr 2012 Tapaktuan

Republic of Indonesia
Jalan T. Ben Mahmud 17A
Hotel Metro +62656322567
Clean but overpriced twin room with good wifi reception, private bathroom, mandi and a great sea-view terrace for IDR 180,000.- or US$ 19.70 per night, including an in-depth interview by the cute, twenty something receptionist about our marital status and a sumptuous Acehnese breakfast.
Very friendly and helpful staff.
Unfortunately, still a beer-free landscape due to the strict enforcement of Sharia law.

Click below for an interactive road map of the Hotel Metro in Tapaktuan, which we would recommend, and for directions:


Exploring the sleepy and rather nondescript Islamic coastal town of Tapaktuan, digging into all kinds of juicy and exotic fruits (malty sweet chikus aka sawo, succulent sweet mangos aka mangga, fresh sweet watermelons aka semangka, lemonish sweet soursop aka sirsak, nutty fresh snakefruit aka sirsak) and enjoying a most spectacular sunset over the vastness of the Indian Ocean.

Leaving Sumatra’s rugged west coast with its bazillion kilometres of deserted white sand beaches, taking the Mentari Tours +6265129263 minibus from Tapaktuan to Subulussalam (160 km, 3 ½ hours, IDR 45,000.- or US$ 4.90 per person) and thereafter the STS Simpang Tiga +6281397783431 minibus from Subulussalam to Sidikalang (70 km, 2 ¼ hours, IDR 20,000.- or US$ 2.20 per person), thus crossing the border between the Islamic, semi-autonomous but still separatist province of Aceh, Indonesia’s most northern province, and the more liberal-minded province of North Sumatra (where the boring Acehnese election posters were eventually replaced by much more cheerful Batakese billboards with mouth-watering beer ads, thank goodness).

Click below for more blog posts about delicious tropical fruits
05 Sep - 15 Sep 2011 Tanjung Karang
22 Jul - 23 Jul 2011 Kuala Rompin
03 Oct - 10 Oct 2009 Kota Kinabalu
24 Oct - 04 Dec 2008 Khao Pilai
17 Feb - 05 Mar 2008 Goa

Click below for a summary of this year's travels

Visit the Konni & Matt Online Albums and order high-res travel photos

Facing Sumatra
© Konni & Matt

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