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    Tropical Storm Tour: Sumatra Part 5

    Saturday, August 8, 2015
    Danau Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia

    A Sejahtera bus from Medan to Danau Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia.
    A Sejahtera bus from Medan to Danau Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia.

    I woke up with the early bird at 7:30 am to hop in a taxi cab down to the Amplas bus station on the south side of Medan. Even though it was just a few miles, it took forever to get there, because of the constant crush of stop-and-go traffic in Medan. The clerk at the Gandhi Inn estimated the trip would cost 30,000 to 40,00 rupiah, but it ended up costing 55,000 because the driver went out of his way west over to Jalon SM Raja, one of the busiest streets in town, just to jack up the fare instead of taking smaller back streets just south of the hotel.

    Arriving at Amplas was the usual exercise in chaos, as I had to pay the driver his artificially inflated fare and simultaneously fend off the porters who tried to grab my backpack.Then at 11:00 am, I climbed aboard a totally dirty, weathered, rusted out, rattle trap Sejahtera bus, sat down in the rear seat, and threw my backpack in the luggage area behind my head. It was then that I noticed the lack of air con, the old, filthy pillowcases covering all of the seat backs, and the rear door that was barely hanging on, complete with a makeshift bolt lock that consisted of metal rods crudely welded into place. Every time a passenger got on or off, the teenage fare collector struggled to pull it closed and lock it.

    A Sejahtera bus drops us off in Parapat, Danau Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia.
    A Sejahtera bus drops us off in Parapat, Danau Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia.

    Even though it was a long haul bus, taking five hours to travel less than 100 miles from Medan to Danau Toba, it acted like a local bus, picking up and dropping off people frequently. One guy got on with a huge palm leaf wrapped around little pieces of meat skewered on sticks. I thought he was just going to try to sell some and then get off the bus, but he stayed on for a good hour. Another guy got on with some other food, but I couldn’t tell what it was, so I just bought some peanuts from him that were hand-sealed inside tiny, narrow, plastic packs. A third guy clambered up onto the bus bearing a load of five huge, heavy framed pieces of art all bound together. I had to block the sharp corners with my hand, lest they gouge a whole new hole in my body somewhere.

    A slightly distressed shack in Parapat, Danau Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia.
    A slightly distressed shack in Parapat, Danau Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia.

    Rest assured many more people boarded. Every time someone got on or off–and plenty of times in between–the driver slammed on the brakes super hard, tailgated slower vehicles very closely and swerved around back and forth to pass them constantly. He also always used the non-existent center lane and came precariously close to colliding head on with other huge buses and trucks at least once or twice per minute. At one point, we hit a bump going too fast and I went airborne six inches to a foot up off my seat then got slammed back down on my tailbone. Luckily, the seat was cushioned, so I could still walk to tell about it.

    Also airborne was a piece of heavy luggage that slammed into my shoulder on the way down and landed right next to me. Luckily, no one was sitting there, or the luggage would have landed on their head. I was so annoyed with the driver, I wanted to smack him. Then I remembered that most people drive that way in developing countries. That’s just the way it’s done. Needless to say, this bus ride was a harrowing experience. Even after we made it out of the greater Medan area, the road continued to be lined by buildings at least half way to Danau Toba. And the traffic never let up, proceeding along at a turtle’s pace, bumper-to-bumper the whole way until a couple of hours into the trip, when we finally entered the jungle.

    The ferry port in Parapat, Danau Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia.
    The ferry port in Parapat, Danau Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia.

    Climbing up into the mountains and descending back down them toward Danau Toba, it was scary careening around the endless hairpin curves at speeds way too fast for a big ol’ bus. Entering the town of Parapat, the bus dropped us–myself and four other foreigners–off a quarter mile from the ferry port. It was an easy trundle down a winding hill through a neighborhood, where I captured a couple of good shots of dilapidated shacks. One local even laughed that I would shoot a photo of such a thing. Right when I walked up to the ferries and started to snap another photo, one of them hollered for me to jump on because they were leaving right then.

    My room at Romlan Guesthouse in Tuk Tuk, Danau Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia.
    My room at Romlan Guesthouse in Tuk Tuk, Danau Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia.

    The passengers were about evenly split between Indonesians and foreign tourists. The 45-minute ride over to the town of Tuk Tuk on Pulau Samosir was very pleasant with a nice breeze to cool me down after the awful, sweltering bus ride from Hell. I didn’t realize the ferry would work its way around the peninsula, making multiple stops closer to everyone’s hotels. I had a short list of four possible guesthouses, so I wasn’t sure where to disembark. I jumped off at the second stop, where some teenage boys were lathering up right on the pier, getting ready to rinse off by diving into the lake. I wonder if they felt awkward with tourists walking toward them while they were all covered with soap?

    The view from my balcony at Romlan Guesthouse in Tuk Tuk, Danau Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia.
    The view from my balcony at Romlan Guesthouse in Tuk Tuk, Danau Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia.

    Up on the rough, hilly road that circles the perimeter of Tuk Tuk, I set off in search of Liberta Homestay, which got the best reviews on Trip Advisor, but unfortunately, they were all booked up. It looked like an awesome, atmospheric place. Next on my list was Tabo Cottages nearby, who had one room left, but at 300,000 rupiah ($22.00), it was too expensive when cheaper clean options were around. Continuing to hike at least a mile around the edge of Tuk Tuk, I started to worry that all of the nice places might be all booked up until I finally found Romlan Guesthouse, which boasts some really nice bungalows with traditional pointy Batak roofs.

    A pleasant young lady named Tina at the front desk quoted me a price of 110,000 rupiah ($8.00) per night if I stayed three nights, which was a steal, because the room was nice, clean and big with a great view out over the lake. The only thing missing was a fan, but the temperatures around Danau Toba are considerably milder than Medan, so I could squeak by without one. Since it was Saturday night, plenty of domestic tourists were in town being loud and boisterous down by the water, which was just a few dozen yards away. Most of the noise finally died down sometime after midnight, so I could finally get some much needed shut eye.

    Words and photos ©2015 Arcane Candy.

    One response to “Tropical Storm Tour: Sumatra Part 5”

    1. Jerry says:

      Nice …trip
      This is my village ☺ Parapat

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