Tuesday, August 2, 2011

An Escape to an Island in the Middle of Lake Toba

Set in the middle of Lake Toba in North Sumatra, Samosir Island appears to be an untouched paradise.

Its rolling green landscape is dotted with traditional houses, called jabus, with a scattering of contemporary structures around the eastern coast.

Lake Toba is believed to have been formed about 75,000 years ago, in the eruption of a supervolcano that is thought to have affected the earth’s climate.

When Annette Horschmann, a German tourist, traveled to Lake Toba after completing her studies, she did not expect to stay for more than a couple of days. Twenty-seven years later, she is still living here with her husband and three children.

“The first time I visited this island, it was like love at first sight,” Horschmann said. “I told myself this is where I should be. About one month later, I met my husband.”

She started a vegetarian restaurant with her husband on the island before turning it into the popular Tabo Cottages in the small town of Tuk Tuk, where most of the island’s accommodations can be found.

“[On Samosir,] you’re surrounded by spectacular scenery. And the weather is cool here all year long,” Horschmann said.

It’s not hard to see why she decided to stay. With the island’s cool, clean air and uncluttered planning, it is easy to travel around on foot or by bike.

Hotel prices in Tuk Tuk range from about Rp 300,000 to Rp 500,000 ($35 to $60). For that price you can get friendly service and a clean room.

If you are coming from Jakarta, getting to Samosir from the capital is probably going to be the most expensive part of the trip. It involves a flight to Medan, followed by a drive to nearby Parapat and a ferry ride across the lake to the island. Good preparation and planning a schedule ahead of time are essential to cut down costs and travel time.

Samosir is a popular, though not overcrowded, tourist destination, with plenty of things to see and do. Activities range from trekking to waterskiing to bathing in hot springs and waterfalls.

The best way to discover what there is to do on the island is to ask one of the locals, who tend to be friendly.

“The people are very welcoming here,” said Gindo Rumahorbo, a Samosir resident. He added that many of the residents were eager to show visitors around and share their knowledge of the island and its history.

Samosir is a center of Batak culture. A recently opened museum, TB Silalahi, located in Balige, south of Lake Toba on the mainland, explores the history and culture of this ethnic group, which is native to North Sumatra, through its collection of artifacts and relics.

The Bataks are famous for their ulos, a traditional cloth. Residents on Samosir make the cloth using traditional hand-weaving methods. There are also traditional villages, known as suku, where visitors can get a glimpse of life on the island hundreds of years ago.

Pasir Putih beach at Parbaba at sunset, lunch on Tao Island and Pusuk Buhit mountain, where legend says the Bataks came from, are all essential destinations on Samosir.

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