Lake Toba Day 2

Day 2 – 12 August

I couldn’t wait to open the door to the balcony to see what the view looks like in the morning. So I wasn’t really complaining after a good night’s sleep to be woken up by roosters crowing at 5am in the back of the room or where the front door is actually.

The view was beautiful and I know it looks pretty much the same every morning but I still take a photo of it every day when I wake.

Breakfast for me was simple. I went for boiled eggs and toast with black coffee. A ‘local’ foreign guy came up and asked if I was planning my day when he saw me looking at one of the worst maps ever. It doesn’t tell me anything at all, much less the routes and the distances.

This was a map provided by Mas Cottages. Tuk Tuk is the little bump at the bottom and apparently Mas Cottages is supposed to be part of the ‘bump’ too. It doesn’t provide a better guide of Tuk Tuk, Ambarita and Tomok which are the nearby towns.

In fact, I found out from experience that the roads don’t show up on maps at all. He introduced himself with an Australian accent that he is ‘Chris’ and has been here a few times, almost living here. He said he trades but that the market isn’t good these days anyway. I tried to have as little conversations as possible with him although he could be quite a nice person without any motives. However, a female travelling alone in a place where the nearest police station is like in the next town and the nearest ATM about 5km away, I’m not taking any chances. This sounds extremely paranoid but I do not want to be sorry.

It was the day I walked a lot. For now, it must have been the longest walk I’ve taken. The Fitbit started vibrating even before I was halfway through signaling the first 10,000 steps. I thought I was on the main road until I saw another road about 5km later or something which was better paved and bigger. So that was what the receptionist meant when she said the road gets better on the main road. Apparently there was a short cut to it about 1.5km after the cottage which I’d missed. I call the first day of walking the ‘discovery walk’ when you are learning the lay of the land, smiling and speaking to people along the way, not knowing better.

I took lots of pictures too which I was wondering about the next day. That sense of wonder of seeing things for the first time. My first task was to search for that sunblock so I went into each provision store and asked for sunblock. Some of the shopkeepers presented moisturisers to me.

Selfie and you'll note how much tanner I've become at this point of my trip.
Selfie and you’ll note how much tanner I’ve become at this point of my trip.

Found a shop which sells sarongs and all which also sells provisions. She was friendly and sold a small tube of Vaseline SPF30 which apparently is the highest protection here and also the only brand I’ve come across so far. I bought it at 50,000 and later discovered at another store that it was about 10,000 lesser. The lady at the shop was telling me about her sons in Singapore and how she liked Singapore, Bugis Village and the Merlion. After which, she asked me to buy her sarongs which I didn’t and she persisted each time I passed (on subsequent days).

I came across a tourist visitor centre 3/4 way through Tuk Tuk town and thought I might be able to get a map there. The visitor centre was apparently never opened. A guy who was there told me. So I asked what the Batak house in the middle was for and if people could go in. He said no and it is for photo opportunities. So that was that.

Everyone I’ve met was either asking where I am from, where I am going and/or I would like to rent a motorbike. Even people pruning plants at a hotel. She called out when I walked by if I wanted to rent a motorbike. After a few days of walking through muddy roads, puddles and not knowing how long more the road goes on for, I was actually prepared to consider that option.

Aside: Speaking of puddles, here’s one for you – ‘Puddle’ boat.

Puddle boats anyone? That'll be useful here with the puddles. Just not in the lake...
Puddle boats anyone? That’ll be useful here with the puddles. Just not in the lake…Also beware of the ‘bicicles’. Those must be frozen bicycles.

On my return journey from Tuk Tuk, after giving up on Tomok, I chanced upon a Citra convenience store. I noted that they sold more sunblocks there at lower prices. So I got another and some snacks.

Another guy came up on a motorbike and asked where I was going and if I was traveling with some others. That border-lined on creepy so I said yes, I had a bunch of people back at the cottage. On hindsight, it was probably nothing except for him advertising for that restaurant. He then said that he has a restaurant down the road called Hot Chilli and we should visit soon. Hot Chilli incidentally is located along the short cut from Tuk Tuk to the section of Mas Cottage. So this must have been the ‘shorter route’ to town which the reception referred to. X_X

The condition of this straight route is also considerably smoother with lesser pot holes.

Not too long hopping over the pot holes and gingerly stepping over puddles, I came across a shop which said Coffee+ Ginger which sounded interesting. I was looking at it when a guy came out with a broom and he was a little too excited to see people. That should have been a signal. But no. I can’t remember how we started talking about cats as he started telling me about the wild cats he has and how he wanted to show me where they were. I went up to a landing behind the shop. It was up some slippery stones. I expected to see some bengal cats or the like. I saw a normal grey cat with five kittens. He went into this long story about how he found them and how he is rearing them half wild. He must be a little lonely or demented. I listened and he was about to show me something else when I said I had to get back down and back to the cottage as there was a tour leaving. He continued talking even when we went back to the shop. I started backing out… and tried various ways to leave. The conversation actually led to how he needs funds to maintain the cats. So that was where it was leading to. Actually, even if it didn’t, I would have wanted to leave too. When he stopped to catch his breath after an animated show of how he tamed the cats, I jumped in and said I really had to go and ran out of them as fast as I could. Every time I walk past now, I have my earphones in and I’ll just wave and nod when he calls out. Pretty much what I do for everyone else.

I remember passing a shop with homemade cakes when I was walking down to town. So I stopped by on the way back. The lady showed me a guestbook after I sat down for ginger lemon tea and a slice of banana cake which was cake of the day. The only cake. It was huge and the ginger tea was fantastic. Best I had. I paid 26,000 for both. She told me stories of her six children and one who died at 2 years old about 25 years ago. She died in her sleep apparently but was healthy otherwise. Then she asked if I wanted to go on a motorbike tour which her husband, Joe, can take me on for 300,000. [It was Joe’s Restaurant.] She said it’ll help them with six children at school and that it is not easy.

The tourism industry at Lake Toba has taken a hit since 1990’s especially after 1998. I read that it was booming where restaurants and pubs were full. They got quieter since 1990’s and they still are. There is hardly anyone in the restaurants which makes me wonder why there are still so many. I’m not complaining as that would give tourists plenty of options. However, there are also many restaurants and homestays which have gone into other businesses like trekking or joining the logging trade which is active on the remote parts of the island. The trekking guides here mostly do not have experience in taking people up so I would advise looking at a few reviews for the better ones. Also, do meet them in person if possible before committing.

I went on to the cottage and dropped off some stuff before continuing up the hill to the other town Ambarita which is where the stone chairs are. The Batak people here used to be cannibals and practiced animism. Due to that nature, they used to get into certain trance with magic mushrooms. They still sell these now at shops and restaurants. I would advise against it. I got into Ambarita hoping to use the ATM there after walking 2km. The ATM was out of service so the bank folks said. I braved the crowd of cheeky school kids for naught. I was told the other nearest ATM is more than 5km away which I’d visited the next day but decided against getting any money where everyone is watching you and with no proper getaway wheels besides my Reeboks with no ‘Air’ and no wheels.

So day 2 ended quite peacefully at the cottage having a plate of indonesian salad, Gado Gado. This Gado Gado was slightly different from what I’m used to in Singapore with a wider variety of vegetables. I asked for the sauce to be on the side and it was great. The tofu was a little stale so note to self and whoever reading to stay away from tofus. I’ve had tofus here and Thailand; tofus in both places tasted odd. I finished the plate of vegetables and was still hungry so I called for bread to eat with the peanut sauce. I urge you to try that someday if you haven’t.

Gado Gado with peanut sauce on the side as I've requested. The cabbage was definitely not good for my stomach but otherwise, the sauce is fantastic. I order bread to have 'peanut butter'.
Gado Gado with peanut sauce on the side as I’ve requested. The cabbage was definitely not good for my stomach but otherwise, the sauce is fantastic. I order bread to have ‘peanut butter’.

Thanks for reading all the way through this point.


I heard from the reception that a Dutch couple went trekking just recently and they are missing for two days now. I’m perfectly happy doing the usual daily walk across town or to another town and relaxing at the cottage for the afternoon. I don’t swim in the lake since the quality of the water isn’t that great now and my wound is still recovering. The fauna in the lake is unbalanced with the introduction of Swiss fish farms. They brought in fishes which are not native to Lake Toba and some of these fishes are more predatory which depletes the native fishes and puts the natural ecosystem in an unbalanced state. There are lots of dead fishes under the lake and in the water. The bacteria is not naturally removed with the current state and the quality of the water is decreasing. I spoke with one of the shops Yolanda, up the road and they told me the same thing of the fish farms. Fishes, mainly tilapia, at the farms are not for domestic consumption, but for export to Jakarta and other cities in cans or frozen.

Also, there isn’t a proper dump and all waste which are collected go to a landfill site on the island and is just left to rot. There is also rubbish everywhere around the streets and especially in town. Dustbins are left in the open and I came across a boxed area next to the road labelled hazardous waste. A couple of roosters or chickens were in there.

That morning I was just thinking that I had hard boiled eggs fresh from the ‘kampong’ from free range chickens. Well, they are free range… pretty organic… except for the part on them eating waste. I’ve seen other chickens walking around trash and sitting in trash.

Houses grow their own vegetables and plants if they can. Almost every house has a few chickens. So most of what I see being sold at makeshift ‘markets’ or one-person stalls are vegetables.


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Alicia C

Travel, cooking, discovery, outdoors, randomness...and experiences!

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