After weeks of heavy sightseeing, I decided to take it easy somewhere nice and relaxing and do not much of anything over Christmas. I had already decided lake Toba sounded just the thing and when someone told me northern Sumatra was largely Christian that sealed the deal. Not being a Christian myself it shouldn’t really matter to me, but finding yourself in one of the only Christian parts of a huge Muslim country right around Christmas had to be one of those coincidences you don’t pass up.
I’d booked myself a nice easy tourist bus from Bukit Lewang to Toba, only to be told 10 minutes before it was due to leave that it had been cancelled. Well bugger. I never really got a definitive answer on why, either there weren’t enough tourists or the eruption in Berastagi meant that they’d be driving through an evacuation area. Or they were just lazy and giving me any excuse they could think of. Luckily there was a local guy heading to Medan who offered to help me out with the scary non tourist buses, which I am very grateful for as my journey via Medan took 11 hours and 5 changes and would have been completely incomprehensible without help. As it was I still arrived in Parapet too late to catch the ferry over to Samosir island, but at least I did arrive in one piece.
Checking out of my overpriced hotel the next morning (leaving a cockroach trapped under a glass), I hopped on the ferry over to the island to be mobbed by a large group of schoolchildren before I had a chance to take my bag off. Toba seems to be a very popular place for English students to come and learn from the tourists, which I guess makes sense, unless you’re going to follow people into the jungle or underwater with your worksheets and clipboards, there aren’t many other places to find tourists in Sumatra.
Two down sides to this island.
1. Temporary, hopefully. When I arrived almost the entire island was without WiFi as the cables were being replaced (work which had apparently been going on for two months) Only one guesthouse in the town was connected but the connection was extremely poor which made the promised Christmas day Skype calls a little difficult. They did have an extremely cute puppy to make up for it though. I did not steal him. Although I was sorely tempted.
2. Not temporary. The mosquitoes here are vicious bastards. I had so many bites on my face that I looked like I had severe acne. While walking down the street on my second day there three people stopped me to ask ‘what’s wrong with your face?’ Which I suppose would have been very insulting if it actually was acne.
About the only sight to see on the island is the stone chairs at Ambarita, a collection of chairs which were used in days of yore for important decision making and trials. These are not the stone chairs of Ambarita. These are merely some stone chairs near Ambarita, which I would have assumed were there to lure in tourists following the rubbish maps into thinking they’d arrived at the right place, were it not for the fact that there was no one asking for money here. Judging by photos I’ve seen since of the actual stone chairs, I’d say the statues here are more interesting. Also free, so yay.
This was actually day three of six on the island, having wasted most of day one looking for accommodation and most of day two hungover. I met Petri from Finland shortly after arriving and after going for dinner we were walking back through the torrential rain (it rains A LOT here), when we decided to stop for just one drink in the pub. On walking through the door into the nearly empty bar we were met with an enormous cheer by three south African guys. Nothing like making an entrance to make you want to stay in the pub. Apparently one of them had just said ‘If one girl walks into the pub I’ll buy you all long island ice teas’. They then proceeded to get very drunk and sing terrible karaoke and blame me for everything.
Christmas eve I booked myself a cooking class down the road, where I learnt to make various Indonesian things I stand no chance of replicating at home. Unless Sainsbury’s start stocking things like Kaffir limes (I asked the teacher if I could use normal limes and got a very disappointed look). This made up for my awesomely traditional meal the night before. I wanted something local so decided to be brave and order something in Indonesian without knowing what it was. I was expecting something authentic and exotic, maybe I wouldn’t like it but at least I could say I’d tried it. I ended up getting chips. Might be better to ask for a translation first next time.
Joined Petri after my huge dinner and met Lina from Malaysia, Darryl from Canada and Matt from Australia and we agreed to spend Christmas day together. Given previously mentioned coincidence I thought it would be a nice idea to go to church on Christmas day, which I don’t think I’ve done since I was about 14? Anyway, we all met up at the local catholic church for the morning service.
Plastic bottle Christmas tree by the way, which rocks.
Lina was the only Christian out of us so she had a right to be there, while the rest of us sat quietly and tried to hide our heathen tendencies (by the way, I was interested to find out that the census in Finland is organised by the church, so if you decide you’re an atheist you actually have to officially renounce religion rather than just ticking a box on a form and pretending to be a Jedi knight as we apparently do in England).
Sitting quietly was going well until about three quarters of the way through the ceremony when Petri stated getting restless. I could tell he was getting restless because he had a fractured finger with a bandage which wasn’t standing up well to the humidity and he kept asking me to smell it (‘touch it instead then, it’s still moist’). While he was getting distracted trying to gross me out the congregation stated queueing up to reach the front of the church. Not sure what was going on – taking the sacrament maybe? – he decided to join the queue and take a look. Only after he stood up did I notice people holding money. I hoped he had something in his pocket. He did not. On edging closer to the front it became apparent that he had to put something in the collection plate and he started to panic. And then, lo and behold, it turns out there are two collection plates! Thinking on his feet, Petri picks up some money out of one, puts it in the other and runs back to his seat hoping that none of the locals noticed. Lina later explained to him that the box on the left was for the poor and the box on the right was the church fund and why did he feel it was right to steal from the poor on Christmas day? We spent the next two days constantly reminding him of this.
Sorry Petri, but you brought joy to our small world this Christmas.
Boxing day enjoyed with Darryl, Petri and Lina. Not Matt as he’d already left, to be replaced by Urs, from Germany or possibly Austria, an… interesting chap who kept talking about his experiences with prostitutes.
And on that note, Ho Ho Ho.
Hope you all enjoyed your Christmas, and that your bellies were filled, your livers destroyed and your materialistic instincts properly sated.