Monday, September 22


Petrol fumes and time emanated from the wreck of a minibus, almost everything was missing including the inner door linings and floor. I paid for two seats to avoid being squashed in the front seat. A much better idea. He took it slow crossing the potholes that were now mostly dry. A perpetual cigarette glowed from the driver - as Lonely Planet's guide book (LP) had said. Past the palm plantations and we were on the more solid road only an hour or so from Medan. Houses lined the way here, changing from the small rundown cottages that were like rough shacks to the lopsided concrete shops two storeys high. It was already getting dark as storm clouds rode in like irate mad Ozzie surfies tumbling through the spray on a major break. I had to face a hell journey across Medan to the bus terminal on the other side, where I was hoping for a luxury ac coach to Lake Toba, the super-volcano. The locals were packed in the back like sardines and not very happy ones as they stared at me typing on the front seat.

In Bukit Luwang the orangutans and a wife had alluded me, I had been offered an Indonesian Islamic wife and turned it down. The two day trek to see the wild orangs I had also turned down due to not being happy with the people. 'I will wait for the right people.' I stated.
'I don't like it when you say that it makes me not want to help you.' The guide was right, and so was I, I should have turned down his help and waited, going by myself with him was also not the right person as I discovered in the three hour trek. But the ever pulling urge of the travel photographer and writer pulls one on to the next destination, the next sense experience to encapsulate for the waiting audience who is too timid to delve into the depths of the 'Heart of Darkness' of not quite Conrad's jungle of Africa, but maybe Lord Jim's tribes of South East Asia.

My driver was smiling, he had a good deal, and more room for himself, then the tyre went flat. I went for food as the rain began. A wayung not catering to vegetarians was at a loss, only one plate of spinach was available. Tim Tams Indo style with about a quarter the chocolate, a bag of crisps that contained about the equivalent of three chips and some tomato spice sauce, and a choco bread roll. Lightening forked and jagged went straight down. The gods were angry. The window did not wind up and he had to stop and hook it up. The heat from the engine I was above came up like a Saab heated seat. We were almost in Medan.

He arrived in Medan at Pinang Baris, but did not want to go to the bus terminal so tried to drop me off in the pouring rain in a puddle to a taxi charging 50,000 rupiah (50k - US$5.50) to get to the bus terminal in the south, Amplas. I refused so he dropped me off at a bus, and was as keen to get my ticket money as I was to get in the van and out of the monsoon downpour. He thought I was trying to escape and rushed to the bus door to block me. Paying double did not ensure good service. The minibus with benches had a Batak Christian in it who spoke English. It started off empty, the roads were clogged with monsoon drenched traffic and it took an hour to get across the town. He gave me his life history - poverty as a minibus driver, pregnant girlfriend he could not afford to marry, and only Jesus saved him. I told him to marry his girl, but he said she was 'Catholic not Protestant.'
'It does not matter, all one, all love,' I preached to him.
'Are you Christian?'
'Born it, but I am everything, I am love, we are all sons of God that was Jesus true message.'
'You confuse me.'
The theology continued for most of the trip with the passengers listening to the heated debate. They were mostly Batak Christian as well.

'I am a Bartok,' he was very proud of the fact and did not consider himself Indonesian. He pronounced Batak as "buttock" extremely loudly and often. And it was a bit like a make benefit glorious nation Kazakhstan cultural learnings of Indonesia that I was on – they were Bartoks not Bataks to me. And I suppose I was a sort of Borat to them. Apparently they had been ferocious headhunting cannibals until 1806 when Protestant, mostly Dutch missionaries sacrificed themselves for God. After a few had been eaten, the body of Christ no doubt had to be consumed before the message sunk in that persecuting was worse than forgiving and the only way to the loving god was via JC. Of course they loved my guitar.
They had their own written language and civilised culture of ancestor worship that partly remained in a form of animism that was incorporated into their Protestant faith. I gave my friend my UOCA flyer and told him it was the religion to end all religions. He wanted to come to Australia and I told him to email, God willing JC would let him in. He grabbed my bag and directed me to the bus stop in Amplas that had another god awful beaten up minibus to Lake Toba. It was 7 pm. I demanded where the luxury buses were. Tomorrow they said. Probably a lie and I should have headed to a decent hotel, but I wanted to get the hell out of that polluted city. So I took the bus paying the usual surcharge for an empty front seat at 75k. It was not worth it. We left at 8 after they fiddled with my guitar, then I hugged goodbye Mr Bartok. The vehicle was marginally better than the rust bucket from Bukit. The driving was not. The old guy was obviously a frustrated Formula One race driver and with the inevitable fag hanging from his mouth took to the highway like a maniac. I distracted him for a while with my cheapo Indonesian local phrase book which turned into an Indo-English lesson for the bus whose English was as good as my Indonesian.
This proved quite amusing as daring phrases like ‘prawn head’ were translated and ‘this bus is small but that one is big’. I had the book hanging out the window to get light from jammed up traffic, then a big new 4 WD ran alongside us and stopped, the owner started talking to me in English. This somehow broke the energy in the bus as they felt separated and we never regained it. The bench seat proved impossible to lie down on, and this time in the cool of night the heat of the engine was not so bad. Somewhere along the route my expensive legion style cap disappeared. We had a stop at a cafe that sold the usual packets of crisped dry chips that covered every product that could be chipped under the sun. Again the warung food was all mixed with fish. So I stuffed myself with choc bread and nuts, but when I got to the el spicy hotto crisps that fried my mouth, I handed the packet to a savy sexy 16 year old girl in the back who gladly took them. I was starting to feel ill from pushing too much in, on poor transport during a very long day, all combined with inadequate nutrition.


We started going up the Trans Sumatran Highway and eventually around 1 AM got to Parapat, I was dazed and the first hotel I was directed to was an overpriced rat hole that I declined and marched a few steps to the cleaner, but grossly overpriced Mars. 90k got me a clean room, tiny with no view and no shower and a bed that sunk. In this respect the first hotel would have been better. I blocked off the light from the room next door and tried to sleep. At about 5 I woke feeling like vomiting, tried to throw up in the toilet to no avail, then had the last of my water as the Indos opposite inspired by my gagging switched on music and had the longest bucket bath in history, finally I told them, 'music no!' Went back to bed as cold toast was brought to the door, the usual tiny white slabs sodden in grease butter - no thanks! I lay in bed till almost 11. Feeling a bit better I packed up and headed to the ferry. Welcome cries wore thin, I was not in a good mood. Traffic was jammed up in the usual refusal to budge Indo style. Then the ferry left just as I arrived. I started a cacophony of swearing. I was stuck in a stinking fish market, the fish flapping about amongst the vegetables, Charlies pub was the only refuge, he had a Spanish classical guitar and I played and sung for some of the kids. Had a coke to quell the stomach and tipped. I gave Charlie all my spare old strings. Was off in a rush to get the boat, the Palm had not charged and I bashed through the market as the boat began to move off, they waited and I was on to cries of "friend, you are home at last, come to my friend's guesthouse, g'day mate". Two touts hassled me the entire way as one of them caressed an ageing European woman. We were the only people on the upper deck. It was another welcome to hell that I tried to be thankful of. Slight fever was gripping me as I took photos and they took my guitar. Many Bataks could play being evangelist Christians though lacking some of the moral restraint and personal space etiquette.
'I am in a bad mood,' kept them away.

A second stop dropped me at the Coralina, a three star hotel at economy prices. 'Ribbed traditional losmans to rest in. I was shown several rooms and took the luxury 110k with a bath. The hotel receptionist Jonah came into my room and grabbed my guitar and started playing Batak songs and Elton John's 'Candle in the Wind'. He was actually very good, but as I wanted to collapse in a hot bath he left finally. Though not before he had got me to offer my guitar to him if I ended my travels now and returned to Australia. In a way it was an excuse for me to work things out back there and I was trying to use him as a Christian catalyst to end this trip. I began to fill the bath up and recharge the Palm, but only a trickle emanated that never got more than luke warm, so it was a quick shower then I went to bed in mid morning.

Some Italians began a shouting contest next door and I got up. Pulled out my stuff and that was when I saw my beloved cap had gone walkabout. All those free Batak guitar use and my illness had seemed to manifest in the inevitable possession going missing to give me the lesson. Not electronic as in Java, this lesson was capped. At least I had an excuse to avoid wasting money on food to make up for the loss. My daily expenses yesterday had hit $63 not including the cap loss. Unpleasant from beginning to end that day, only saved by April the Orangutan and maybe Mr Bartok - in some respects difficult to distinguish. A vegetarian who only ate insects and lizards yet, carnivores like Mr Bartok were more frightened of it than it of us.

The room was large but the lighting subdued to the ridiculous. I plugged in the fridge and side light. Took a look at my Indo phrase book and tried to write a song from the phrases -
'Jalan jalan salamat jalan Sumatra
Teri mar kasi Indonesia,
Jalan jalan saja,
Ma'af sekali, Mungkin lain waktu.'
Good walking journey Sumatra
Thankyou Indonesia
Just taking a walk
Sorry perhaps another time

I sung it out to the chords of Jesus, Lover of my Soul. I went outside and enjoyed the view.

Thick mist and rain shrouded the great super-volcanic lake that had put the world in darkness and brought on a mini iceage 75,000 years ago, dropped ocean temperatures 5 C and caused the extinction of every humanoid accept Neanderthal and Homo Sapiens. Toba in a way had created modern man as the dumber more violent breeds were wiped out in the cold, not knowing how to put on underpants. The massive Toba lake was 500 meters deep in parts, deeper than many areas of the oceans, the tectonic plates of Indian Ocean and Asia met badly here, causing massive magma chambers to build up and then very gradually over millions of years, suddenly led to a super eruption a mere flick of geological time ago. Producing the biggest lake in South East Asia, and a crater 1700 square kilometres. Dumping ash in India and further. One could compare it to a full scale nuclear war leading to a nuclear winter. Toba was geological and anthropological turning point for the planet. The lake itself was created by two massive eruptions, one creating the lake 75,000 years ago - the super volcano and another 30,000 years ago forming the island. The huge Island in the middle rose up 700 meters above the lake with a long plateau, no volcano to be seen. It was dormant now. Why the Bataks had ended up here was an evolutionary mystery. The Batak's had colonised this area well before the other Indonesians and were not Siamese origin like the rest of the Indos, instead proto tribal Burmese. Rounder faces. Stockier, closer to tribal Indians than Chinese.

Tourists had deserted this resort since 9/11 which was already bad after the conflicts in Archeh. In fact Sumatra had died as a hippie route, unlike Bali that had kept out of politics and modernised. The separatist conflicts flaring up in 1989 and peaking in 1997 when Suharto's dictatorship had collapsed had driven them away. The Dutch of course had started the resorts here to escape the heat in their colony.

The poisoning was not wearing off. I lay in bed with a slight fever being unable to move. Visions of someone wearing my cap haunting me, one of the irritating Batak's who had been hassling me. Revenge. I did not like losing my possessions. I went through a meditation process of letting go of attachment to objects, releasing them and allowing the deep rooted reasons behind the loss to manifest, through unconditional love. I saw visions of Mr Bartok in Medan. And Jesus. Wearing my bloody cap!

The Italian hippies next door, who always seemed to be loud and full of important chatter and exuberance about the spectacle of their journey, went away then came back. Their energy was palpable if not effable like a Roman orgy, how they had managed to make it to Toba was another anthropological enigma. Finally I got myself up as I was thirsty, took two Milenta pills and headed to get water. It was 10.30 PM. The lights of Parapat shone across the lake in the night sky, sparkling reflections on the deep waters and high hills. Only 1700 m high. Wet but the stars were out. Tropical but pleasantly cool. Ideal. And I sensed the Dutch colonials and romance many years back.

They were watching soccer on TV in the restaurant and I went out on the veranda and got lemon ginger tea with honey, cold water and boiled rice with vegetable curry. I avoided the curry sauce. I tried to get them to contact Mars and it was about as likely as reaching the planet, they could not get the phone number and in my heart I knew the cap was not there. Attachments. I watched aggression rise in me. My pack was too heavy, I had too much stuff, I chucked my shirt in the corner to throw it out. I had heaps of trekking gear and due to stubbornness had taken the shortest trek in the jungle to see the orangs. I was in a word misplaced. I ended up leaving my key in the restaurant. And I get to the veranda of my room and it is locked. I return.
'You leave something?' He smiles knowingly looking at the key.
No thought from the waiter to remind me as I left or come after me to open it up when he saw I had walked off without it. This was Indonesian thinking or lack of it. A kind of opportunistic stupidity.

I went between feeling better to deteriorating into fever again. Got the guitar out and played but the grungy young Italians next door invaded my enjoyment of singing with foul language in my mind, finally I read LP about all the parts of Sumatra I would never go to block them out. The oil rich south east, the islands of industry near Singapore, the National Parks south of Pedang, the surfie Islands, the province of Aceh and its Tsunami devastation. No doubt the whirlwind trip round Sumatra had stunned their stoned Latino brains.

A mosquito kept hassling me when I tried to sleep, buzzing about and biting my hand.


I woke to the sound of the brushing noises of the sweepers. Had a lukewarm shower and shaved for the first time in a while. My nose trimmer had frozen up. I went down and told the sweeper to be more quiet to no effect. A ferry rolled by. It was partially cloudy and moderately warm.

I strolled into breakfast trying to manifest a colonial air of dignity, ordering fruit juice, muesli and tea. Sent off postcards - they had a post box. I did not have my wild environmentalist lover from Bukit Lawang. Maybe I should have stayed longer to find her there. This place was far too accessible and tame. I looked over the vast placid view of the Lake Toba from the dining balcony veranda with flowers draping across it. A ferry came with the locals singing gospel songs like a South Sea island movie from the 1950s. Ginger Rogers or Fred Astaire just had to roll up with Bing Crosby, with a few American wise cracks to the British colonialist with stiff upper lip. The Mars Hotel was contacted without success for the foreign legion cap. The Tweezerman nose trimmer was lubricated with local Batak cooking oil without success. The US Seal Navy waterproof zip bags that needed gluing due to their poor quality design - the zip section had come loose and the top above the zips had simply ripped off - the hotel manager when I queried it pointed to his paper glue. The tea was too strong, the muesli had warm powder milk and coconut shavings was the cereal. They tried. But the view was enlightening and the steep old crater walls covered in grass and some pine trees, evaporated all hostility in a serenity that moulded into the lake's ephemeral beauty. It was calm not jagged edges and green not hostile rock. There was not even a distorting haze in the distance. I asked for a pot of hot water and a glass of hot water arrived, to get them to follow instructions was a challenge the Dutch had lost a generation ago in the mystical Warung of Indonesian inscrutability, where in the end in fact a glass was required. Mangroves swept below the restaurant onto the lake. I went to get the pot and the manager brought a massive container of boiling water. I knew I was behaving like a grumpy old man, hanging out trying to look young in my tank top and bathers - all black cool - yet I was 44.
The locals were swimming below, giggling and uttering squawks in their Batak language which sounded strangely Polynesian. The tab on the keyboard has fallen off, in another sign like Central America where the keyboard gradually disintegrated like that trip. I got the waiters to search for it knowing it was pointless. But in Central America I managed to get them to find the missing part on the plane and have it sent to Copan in a miracle of organisation using  a very obsolete telefono system in Hispanic Spanish. Luckily this time it was a part of the keyboard I never used, but definitely it was a sign - the TAB bar for Tabo without the o which we all know represents nothing, or the tab I had not paid to the Australian government for this trip sponsored by Centrelink Disability that I was on due to a nervous breakdown in London KPMG. I had just finished writing a covertly racist postcard about Dutch rule to my father, it was of a 1910 postcard of Surabaya, Java with a proud wog on a bicycle in white spiffing attire, I alluded to better times, when Kipling's White Man's Burden poetically held the planet together with dignity and shining polished shoes. When a spade was a spade and one knew one's place.

More logistics. I had to move rooms, the luxury was full and the downstairs standard room was booked out so I would only have it for 2 days. They were fed up with me, so I returned to the deck to admire the view, but a scintillating Toba mystic mist had arisen from the lake.

Far in the distance the incongruous Swiss looking steeple of a church rose above a town next to Batak style thatched roofs rising up.

I could hire a motorbike and go round the island - joined in one corner with the mainland so not actually an island. Or go trekking up to the high plateau in the centre, or stroll about Tuk Tuk visiting cafes, my illness seemed to be over. Though I was irritated. Things were going missing a bit too rapidly and no beautiful woman was here, in fact only a few couples, some lone wolf male backpackers who seemed just as peeved as me at the lack of female companionship.

The drifting smoke of the perpetual Indonesian herbal cigarettes drifted to my table. Beijing Chinese businessmen had arrived. The corrosive qualities of black tea on a Palm writing pad surface were marked. Etched on like the disintegrating into chaos or entropy of my trip, of Indonesia, of time itself. The American with the Beijing businessmen had arrived and Toba's time as a backwater was up. The Coralina charging $11 for a room that would go for at least a $100 in the West was going to be purchased, renovated and package tours would be arriving and I was the last of the backpackers that would visit the Hotel at the end of the world. Built on a crater that catapulted the globe into an iceage and gave rise to modern man - so obvious now and conquered by Jesus of the protesting variety. Guitar lovers to boot.

 I headed out for a walk and was chased by groups of kids wanting to practice English on their Sunday school outing to greet the tourists. The Batak greeting is 'horas' which they shout at you and can be mistaken for horrors. After several celebrity photo shoots with them and inane conversations, I told them like a worn B grade Hollywood actor that enough was enough. I passed a beaten up convertible and tried to negotiate renting it tomorrow - I offered 150k but he was not going to budge from 250k. Maybe. I thought about trying to chase up some people and renting with them the beaten up convertible with terrorist written on it, but it was too late now.

I guess if I had known what god was and in particular the Palm god of this computer who was beginning to behave as in Central America, I would have changed myself long ago. I backed up my diary twice and started a new one and put a lot of effort into writing it so that it correlated with my photos and the Palm just decided to have a default and destroy the last 4 days of writing. It appears now I will have to make manual backup copies after each day. Tedious but due to this faulty system required. I am in Malaysia now and it is the West once again. As ugly as the West is and as rich and corrupt almost. The gentleness of Indonesia has been replaced and I am in a crap hotel guesthouse at a crap beach resort out of Penang. I am so furious at the destruction I can barely write. I got my guitar out at midnight and with 5 ringgits left played softly to the sounds of the waves about God being evil. Pure evil.

But let me return to better times and Lake Toba. Well not better times because in truth everything here is hell and my time on this planet is an endurance of hell which I wait with such joy to end and see my compatriots rot in eternal hell. Just joking. However, one can distract oneself from this truth or just face it as it is. The distractions have worn very thin lately. And I am glad because I have had enough, enough of being a slave writing for you, to even amuse you, whoever you are reading this, I am contemptuous of you, because you are most likely more evil than myself and trapped in hell like me, so do us all favour and release me and let me be who I am meant to be. And this time get it right rather than just deleting a section of diary that is most likely just going to perpetuate misery by having me sitting longer at this keyboard rewriting the pain of life. If you are cruel or cynical enough you will read on.

So here goes - back to the 14th.
No I will start in reverse from today.
No I won't.

Jesus the prophet Jonah after coming to my room to play my guitar returned, I tried to be friendly to him, but like the curse of the Jews who threw him into the sea for preaching so tediously and then was swallowed and regurgitated by a whale he was so disgusting, he actually could play better than me and sing not quite as well due to his poor English. Like a beggar ingrained into a broken record he began his list of demands, tips for carrying my bag, money to buy his guitar, my guitar, take him to lunch. Till after he had offered me the more expensive room which now I did not want and so moved to the standard room which had a hot shower, I finally told him that in Australia I made my own lunch from what I bought from the supermarket and perhaps he could do the same before begging his meal off me at the local restaurant. Jonah soon became my curse of Toba, and he was a Christian protestant curse as well, though I loved him.

I had gone to the vegetarian cafe in the rain called Tabo Cottages (for some reason they didn't use Toba) and had met a German woman earlier at lunch who exuded sex. She was the owner who was married to a Batak. She was now aged and getting hefty, there was a photo of him and her 15 years back and she had been stunningly beautiful. And he had been a dreadlocked local druggo hippie trying to find himself with the Western alternative scene in 1993. It was a shame I hadn't met her when I returned from India then as I had almost headed to Indonesia. She with sort of Angela Jolie looks. Her brother had recently died young of a brain haemorrhage and she was now sad. Maybe as a result of his sister's marriage, being German and still subliminally subject to their old racial theories that they had embraced so eagerly under Hitler a mere 65 years ago, a brother in law Batak may have been too much for his body to take. And from her state, maybe the same.
That evening I headed to the outside cafes to get a decent meal after dropping off my laundry at the Carolina. The pizza place only had a couple in it so I returned to the hotel as it started raining. I inquired about airfares to Malaysia without success.
I returned with my guitar that night to Tabo Cottages to play with the German as she knew guitar and she was not there. It infuriated me and I was cursing as I ate a poor meal of risotto rice or some vegetable bake. I tried playing to some locals but just felt fury. The cafe was decked out with nice areas to sit cross legged at. The only lone woman on the island was not there. And it was not the German, but an Australian I had seen walking about. I felt distinctly cheated. I returned and watched Uniting Flight 93 at Carolina as Yanks fought back at terrorist Muslim hijackers. And here I was in an Islamic country half sympathetic at the inequalities of the world that had led these impoverished people to lash back. It was too black and white to support any particular side. All I could say was any form of violence was wrong. No matter how painful the result of refraining from it.

The mattress was too soft and I had another bad night. A bad sleep after that movie, with dreams of homosexuals and Melbourne Grammar beating me up for campaigning against their homophobic bullying. I rented a scooter from the hotel for 75k including petrol. Took it for breakfast to Tabo Cottages and had a large Swiss German muesli, toast and pancake meal scoffed down for 35k as I was late and it closed at 10. The buffet at least. The German wife appeared, seemed disinterested and left. I found out her name was Annette.
Checked out of Carolina. Leaving my guitar to be looked after by Jonah for the day to play. I returned to Tabo Cottages but was in a rush to get off and got caught with Annette trying to organise my airfare out of Medan to Penang. She seemed to offer a cheap flight, but after endless commissions it came to about 600k, if I had known about the 75k departure tax on top of that  I would have dropped it, but she did tell me that they fined $25 per day for overstaying my Indo visa and counted the first day you arrive so she did get me out of a fine. It gave me another day in Indonesia by flying out, as she got me on the first minibus leaving Parapat to catch the plane at 2 pm. It was a tight schedule I did not like. The ferry turned out to be only 422k. So it cost me extra, about the same as the fine I would have had to have paid if I had overstayed. No real loss in the end.
She pushed me to take the deal, her fleshy thighs alluring me to agree. I could have probably bought it cheaper on the Internet if Lion Air's website worked properly - the flight from Medan to Penang simply was not listed. I agreed to it because she was trying to help and still had sex appeal. She offered a deluxe room with hot water for 150k. The hotel grounds were ugly and incomplete and lacked the view of the Carolina, but it had good mattresses and was clean and modern. No decent garden and the swimming area was full of weeds. I suggested she take over the Carolina and it crossed my mind as a business investment.
I did not begin my scooter trip until almost 12 as a result so was in a bit of rush. The first thing I noticed was the incongruity of a satellite dish next to shed and a water buffalo - on leaving Tuk Tuk. Kids coming from school chased after me yelling 'mister mister.' And on the way out on the twisting narrow road with the sun beating down,
I came upon a sculptor working on an ancient forgery of the Batak Gods. He was not in a rush there were plenty of tourists yet to arrive.

Further on were the real Batak houses. The old one's on stilts with the gables and sagging saddle back but not thatched but corrugated iron. No buffalo horn decoration.

Soon I was at Ambarita looking at the stone circle where the king gave his judgement on criminals who were flayed then peppered and screaming beheaded. And probably eaten as well. LP said a German, Nommenson, converted the Batak king Sidabutar in Tomak, his tomb is still there. Nommenson may have survived the cooking pot, who knows.

The kings grave, Raja Laga Siallagan, had several levels in which he progressed as he went up in importance in heaven, the bones were literally shifted in a quasi Christian animist ancestor worship tradition.

Some of the stone carvings had an evil almost Walt Disney appeal. Batak language looking like ancient cuneiform script and even an astrological calendar all written on reed paper were for sale as were magic sticks for the witch doctor. I had refused to pay more than 3k to get in, but another guide pointed out to me that the sticks were a form of voodoo so I wondered if I would be cursed. He sold me a black Lake Toba short sleeve shirt with collar for 53k to bring good luck. Tourists arrived and were given a run down by a Dutch speaking Indo tour guide. Beautiful carved wood ornately painted in Cyrillic curls that seemed almost Celtic adorned the triangular sharp roofs of that gave a temple altar appearance to the houses. Batak housing was hipped or saddle back tapering to a point at its ends with gables of wild beasts and demons to protect the occupants. Some had corrugated iron roofs in a modern ugly innovation. Traditionally on stilts, few were now like this.

The main road south widened and twisted near the sea and the towering cliff mountain was rising rapidly, 700m above. But this soon descended into rolling hills near the coast, as I headed further to the tip of the island. Big arching cross memorials to the dead and Jesus lined the road. The road sometimes deteriorated into a quagmire of debris, at one stage a bridge disappeared into a side track of dirt and a wooden rickety old plank became the crossing. Churches cropped up like a Lutheran preacher in search of a Sunday. The old museum was another 19 kms on and had the usual flea bitten collection of artifacts. Masks, weights, metal work and so forth sat inside glass cases. And I met the cafe owner and self appointed guardian of the heritage, as I puttered my scooter too far down the broken up rock and rubble stone path. Even grass was growing on the roof of the old hut. A canoe of the king rested inside another hut, looking Polynesian and wildly decorated, called Solu Bolon, or royal boat. Hota Bolon Simanindo museum had a replica of the king dressed up in slightly tatty regalia outside his house, and I had missed the daily dance to him performed at 10.30 AM every day. Totem poles and even carvings of perhaps flying bats on the high roofs seemed to protect the inhabitants. A bat like creature seemed to protect the houses, ornately decorated and painted from the arch of the roof. The king had his own mini Batak grave house. The curator turned up as I was leaving wanting 5k, so I took a shot of him by the sign advertising "Prior Dance, Dance Addressed to God, Mutually Cheering Dance, Dance of True Quality and Cooperative Dance", like a Kazakhstan Soviet peasants folk festival only with the Batak's God there.

A quick sojourn to the Royal loo completed my visit. A squat and shoot job.

The land seemed to disappear at the end of the tip of the island, and the world for the Batak here, and indeed it did seem to dip into the lake as if Avalon and the Lady should appear with Arthur's sword, only a Batak wooden one. Rice paddies started to appear as the coastal road flattened and broadened. A shower squall approached, briefly drenched me then disappeared. Mist like a Scot's loch over a glen drifted past before the beating tropical sun returned. Fields of corn gleaming from the rain smiled at me as I moseyed by and hit the accelerator, king of the road weaving past traffic at 60 kmh. A weird stone cone shaped traditional house sat like an old factory chimney with a Batak entrance. A kid was playing soccer by the road, but when I tried to photo him he hid the ball and looked away as did his family. Some of the house designs of the richer peasants became more ornate. And even the graves by the road had developed an unique mix of Christianity and model Batak saddle housing on top for the dead. Double story, red, corroding corrugated iron roofs represented the middle class Batak's graves. And as Suhi Suhi, marked on the treasure map as the place of Batak blanket making came and went, without me managing to locate it and feeling no great loss, a horse suddenly appeared on the horizon. Raja Ihutan Buhit had his own statue, where shirtless with just a scarf down his side and the traditional rimless hat, he sat astride a horse which all appeared just slightly too small to impress.

Naked kids played chasy by the bridge down on the sandy peaceful banks of a river, oblivious to a passerby like me taking a photo. A woman in an emerald field of rice with netting over the crop to stop pests, wore a traditional Batak headgear and behind her the volcanic sulphurous rocks of the hot springs loomed on the mainland with Gunung...? behind. I was now 40 kms from Tuk Tuk and the map said Pangururan. It was Somosir's main city but barely a town. Old becak motorbike sidecars potted about, where 4WD buses and trucks to the quarry clogged the road to the turn off to the mainland and springs. A mechanic's shack with a startling poster of a terrified woman and a woman by the cafe there did give an aghast look as I took a photo. School girls giggled by derelict vans.

After the turn off to the springs, a little further down, the road became rutted and narrow and full of trucks. A few kms on and the resort appeared by the lake. Air panas had a 5k entrance fee to a clean hot system of pools, one was circular and I was soon dipping in it. A young German couple, the girl in a skimpy bikini had just left and there was now no-one else there. I cursed my luck. I had rented a towel for 1k though they tried to sell me one. Peasants tried to stare over the wall as I bathed. The water in some pools was very hot. I had to take my bathers off to try and dry them, as the black Lake Toba shirt and black bathers were all I was wearing. Naked I ringed the bathers out and in one of those kind of Castaneda experiences where the spirits of the land takes control, the wind suddenly blew up the curtain to the street, but unusually there were no people there. So I tried an experiment, whenever I removed the towel round me, the wind suddenly came and blew up the curtain. It was almost like the land spirit here was immoral. The spirit of the hot springs lusting to expose me. Yet there were no people, even outside, the peasants had evaporated into the ether of the sulphuric fumes after the couple left.

The springs themselves, in amongst the sulphurous rock were smelly and in a ruin with small kids using it as a toilet. But LP was wrong about the springs - they did not mention the good pools built nearby. I went into the cafe to get instructions for crossing over the top of the island. They did not know, so I returned after looking at a confused map of the island on a poster outside. The map in LP and the map given me by the scooter man all differed. Carolina had told me not to cross the mountains in the middle and come back to Tuk Tuk down the other side. I debated in my mind whether I should. Back at Samosir, near Pangururan at the turn off, I asked at the cafe and a guide told me it was impossible to cross by bike and even to get up to the lake at Sidihana was a badly rutted road. He told me I would have to come back here if I did it. I looked at my watch it was 4 PM - pushing it. With adventure in my blood I followed his instructions past the gas station and took the left fork to a road that soon lapsed into holes and bits of washed out bitumen that welcomed me to the rest of that ride. I took a shot just above the town of the volcano.

The road became a balancing act and like a trapeze artist I found the narrow sections of paving and tried to navigate along them. The rest of it was bucking like a wild bronco up and down the potholes, the rental bike was given a fair shaking. Buffalo lined the way, and of course the Protestant churches next to rice paddies. Up and up the road went, not too steeply and way-fearing locals coming the other way had to be dodged. 'Horas' they shouted at someone who had been initiated into their style of driving. Horrors it was. Mad enough to become one of them. Pine forest and the lake below coupled in a myriad dance as the light faded. Eventually after the jarring ride I got to a lake, Sidihana perhaps, and a small village where a convoy of tough biker locals headed past to home. The road disintegrated further, and a group played pool and drank beers like in a Western hill billy bar. One came up and tried to give me instructions on. He stunk of cheap booze. A few lunar vehicle bus vans had made it up here over the craters. I continued on until 4.50 pm when it was too risky to continue with fading light and looming rain clouds. The paving briefly improved then disappeared. I turned off the drag to a path to a view, where calf buffalo grazed and potatoes were growing. An old Batak house by Christian grave was the end of the road. Then with my hands starting to go numb from gripping the bike and the cold, I began the journey down. I was in a hurry to get back and it was a bouncing skid all the way down. I put the bike in 4th and coasted to save fuel. This proved near fatal when I got to a washed out section of road falling away like a sullen cliff face to trap daredevils speeding - sending them crashing down into a mess of tangled forest and rocks. Sudden braking on gravel and the bike almost went over.

I was never sure whether I got to Rongguin or not due to the confusing maps, but I passed a larger village on the way out through a puddle of muddy water. Vehicles were coming up at the end of the day and it began to rain, just spitting at first. By the time I was back in Pangururan the rain decided to pour. At the one ATM there my card was rejected. I got on the bike, still cold, though down from the mountain at 5.40. My legs were bowed like a Cowboy and my knees were in agony so I could barely walk. The left arm started to freeze up from the cold and my manic grip, as I pelted on the road back. Due to the increasing rain my speed dropped to 50 kmh. The road began to feel like an oil slick and I had that accident feel as if the whole bike is going to skid out from under. Soaked from the rain, the wind and the dusk light soon made me extremely cold and I began to shake. This made controlling the bike even more difficult. I felt I was reaping karma for taking the bike up the mountain. The journey began to become an agonising hell endurance test. The Bataks had all cleared the road being more sensible, but I had to return the bike by 7 PM at the latest. To stop the pain of the rain in my eyes, I put my Maui Jims on, this improved the pain there but made seeing in the growing darkness more and more difficult, until eventually they had to be abandoned. Added to this as I got round the tip of the island and was heading north, the road narrowed and deteriorated; where sudden potholes almost caused another skid. I was forced to slow down to 30. Twisting bends with mirrors to see traffic, because they were hairpin, were useless in the torrent. Jonah's voice entered my head wanting the guitar, I tried to negotiate with him telepathically telling him he could have it if I returned to Australia in 5 days, but not by killing or injuring me on the scooter, or by having my mother or brother die. I was almost forced into a pile of roadwork rocks by a truck. My left arm seemed useless and my hands were yellow from cold and rigid.

'Tuk Tuk?' I pathetically yelped to passersby and at a store came the positive answer to turn at the next crossing. A narrow road took me along the coast to the isthmus where the hotels were. The only part of me not drenched were my buttocks due to sitting on the seat. The Bataks had had their last laugh. At Tabo Cottages I stumbled off the bike, could barely get my helmet off due to my frozen fingers and nonchalantly strolled into the cafe and said to Annette, 'I need a hot shower, where is my room and a towel?'
'A truck hit the water pipe, we have had to move you.'
'That's fine, but I am freezing.'

She took me to another room and I got under the shower which only produced a trickle of hot water then died after 30 seconds. Still defrosting I dried myself and got into the bed. Slowly warming up I got up to the cafe and ordered hot ginger lemon, then got Annette to get a boy to fix the hot water and had another longer shower. When I had recovered enough and the rain had stopped just after 8, I headed to the Carolina to return the bike and get my luggage. The rental man was not happy and said the owner wanted more money. Jonah was nowhere to be seen nor my luggage, just a bag containing my clean laundry an like an omen of things to come. The owner turned out to be one of the hotel managers and he began to inspect the bike looking for damage, not knowing that I had revved it up the mountain. He wanted the keys, but I made him promise to get someone to drop me off on the bike at the Tabo Cottages. He finally agreed, deciding not to try and charge me extra after finding no damage. A boy took me back with my One Planet 20 kg backpack, 'the Mongrel' on my shoulders and guitar in hand. I told him to go slow and gave him 5k when we got there.

Motor bike journey in blue pen

The Swiss doctors appeared from their mountain climb. They had got lost at the top after the steep climb up. Walking for hours in the forest seeing no one and no habitation, they had come to a junction of the good track they had found at about 4 pm and had chosen the wide good path going down. Like a Protestant Christian Batak parable, the wide easy road had led to a cliff for paragliding and a few empty ruined old houses. Running out of time like me, they had to turn back and take the other path, the less obvious more difficult one (of the cross of JC), it began to rain and they thought they may have to sleep in the forest, unsure if they were being led to nowhere. By 6.30 and when I had got back, it was dark - they had no torch, they were soaked, freezing in the cold mountain air, and very worried. A hut loomed up through the forest with some lights on and a villager welcomed them in. They were taken to another house where a warm fire was and they managed to dry themselves. They rang Tabo Cottages on their mobile phone who worked out from the villagers where they were. Motorbikes got them part way down to a village where Annette's husband picked them up in his 4 WD. 700k later they were back at Toba Cottages. I told one of them that there was a synchronicity at work between them and me. We had both gone through similar adventures and pain roughly at the same time both with crucial decisions at about 4 PM, both rescued at 6.30 PM. There seemed to be a Swiss connection at work though this time through the French side. His friend looked like Tin Tin and was going to be a brain surgeon. In fact all the French there seemed to be parodies of a Herge Tin Tin comic, I was just waiting for Captain Haddock to appear. We had had a long conversation as I joined them for dinner about Swiss Banks laundering money and using the Nazis to keep Jewish holocaust victims money. The employee who had blown the whistle now lived in New York due to death threats. I did not realise at the time but a melt down was going on in America in the stock market. Another investment bank had crashed and Merryl Lynch had been sold to the Bank of America. A major insurer had also gone down and massive amounts of money were being pumped in by the government to ease liquidity problems. The Oz dollar appeared stuck on US$0.80. Housing prices were still tumbling.


I got up at 8 just intending to take it easy and write up the adventure to try and sell it to LP with the photos co-ordinated with it - a pipe dream I often flirted with pointlessly. The Australian woman turned up by herself. The only lone female on the island. I leaned across from the perch I was squatting on to her perch and asked her about herself. She was an anthropologist from Arceh University looking at social living here. From North Queensland, she was about in her 30s and not that pretty but a good figure. She soon got distracted talking to one of the boys there, and I was left sitting there patiently. I asked her if she knew about the Batak and she told me to ask them rather petulantly. Finally after he left I tried once again, asking her name, 'Catherine'. Then she pointed to the fact that she was eating, so I left her until she had finished her meal and by that time I had lost interest. She was not my height, not tall enough and not that good looking and beginning to age and get that grumpy middle aged resentment. Not worth the effort even in an empty resort. I contemplated chatting up one of the waitresses in front of her, but decided it was all a waste of time. Just send her happy thoughts. I got on with my writing - then after I gave up she asked what I did and I told her I was a photojournalist. She made a song and dance when she left saying goodbye to everyone very loudly.

I met the Swiss after the long sumptuous buffet breakfast, and talked a bit more to the serious one, not Tin Tin. I gave him my UOCA flyer the next day and never heard from them again. Perhaps they weren't superstitious. Or didn't like my comparison to Herge's cartoons as he had been a Nazi collaborator. Tin Tin in India - the Yogi, hadn't yet been written.

I was getting anxious about my tight schedule with the plane. Annette had gone to Parapat. When she returned I chased her down as she plucked weed from the swimming area by the lake. 'Do you want to help?' she used her voluptuous arms to pull out a weed.
'How much will you pay?' I replied not amused.
She told me to come back later. At the house I asked her about paying for the fare when I met the agent at the airport and she did not want that. I made her drop the credit card surcharge then. Any missed connection and I would lose my ticket and Indonesia was a mass of missed connections. I had to signal the ferry to come to this dock at 7. I had to get the taxi as soon as I arrived in Parapat. I had to meet them at the airport at Dunkin Donuts with the ticket and fly out at 2 pm. There were roadworks on entry to Medan. If nothing went wrong it should all be possible. But Annette made it clear that if I was late I lost the ticket. She was kind of callous about it and I wanted to talk to the agent, so she charged me for the call which of course was not answered, so I left a message. It was getting late and I went to my room half regretting coming to their place. It seemed I had to bare all the risk for her plan when I could have left today. She did agree that if they did not turn up at the airport I would get my money back. Finally her Batak husband arrived, eyes twitching, saying the agent had rung. I rang on his mobile and got a friendly American who assured me he would be at the airport. I went to the office and paid by credit card. He got upset when she did not charge a commission on the card, so I tried to offer 2% as good will. They got very angry saying how busy they were but took it. She had admitted she was smoking dope yesterday and I began to see that confused selfish streak of ganja users. They had a good hotel and food, but the grounds were a mess and in a way so were they. She lit up a cigarette to calm herself, her good looks fading to plumpness from too much good life and looked at me like I was the devil sent to haunt her - to remind her of what she had lost in efficient high tech Germany who wouldn't put up with inaccuracy.

That night I brought my guitar out and she did not want to play it, instead we had one of those entranced spiritual conversations leading nowhere, other than to the conclusion I had made a mistake about Lake Toba, another corrupted distraction from the truth and yoga. And meanwhile the Australian had discretely come back despite her prolific goodbye earlier and was looking at me across the restaurant with dagger eyes, as if she was saying how could you be so mean to these kind people who are trying to help you. A large tour group then arrived and I had some dinner and returned to my room with that 'I was an unreasonable asshole' feel sitting in me. I set my Palm alarm which was unreliable and packed everything.


I had a sleepless nervous night. Woke before the alarm at 5 and got up. Showered quickly as I had shaved and packed last night. I got out my trekking trousers. They had taken my laundry only to return the quick dry trek zip off trousers with a massive mess of holes in the left side pocket, of course neatly ironed and folded so I would not see the mess. A superhot iron used on the special material without any realisation - an indication of Indonesia - in 3 years no-one had ironed it like the Indos had twice, once myself using one of their volcanic irons where I had just melted a bit of material. Second time they did the job like Toba did to the planet 75k years ago. Putting it into an ice age after putting a great rip into the planet. And an icy rage I felt at their stupidity then deceit. It was probably karma that prevented me from seeing the damage until it was too late to go back to them, maybe even karma that manifested the damage then as I left without giving Jonah the guitar and so perhaps had been leading him on.

Her husband knocked on the door. I asked for breakfast and they got me some. Then I was waiting on the jetty in fear that the ferry was going to go past, but at 6.50 it rolled up and swung towards me, then seemed to hesitate as if to say are you sure you want to go, I nodded my head vigarously and it turned back on course. Picked me up, with the man grabbing my guitar, I was not quite sure if he was going to throw it in the water. And there I was on deck alone in the cold after dawn air. Some locals were picked up then it moseyed by the Carolina and I was hoping for maybe the Australian, but just a Batak woman was there. I finally dragged out my jacket and went underneath, but it was too noisy.
The driver seemed to be in a mini-living room there. So on the deck I waited until Parapat appeared and the jetty and Raja taxis called out and took me up to the bus stop on the highway. There was a twenty minute wait for the luxury 4 WD 6 seater and we were off. A civil engineer who spoke good English and had lived in America doing bible studies was in there with his cousin, learning to be a teacher. He was trying to restore water to the local villages. At the moment they trucked it to some in the mountains. He said change was hard to come by here. He lent me his phone to ring the hotel about the Carolina laundry - the holes concealed by them. I got hold of Jonah of course and asked him to email a report for my travel insurance. He wanted to know where his guitar was and I told him we don't get everything we expect, like holes in our laundry. He assured me they would email me a report (never sent). My Batak engineer laughed.

Soon we were down the mountain and it was good to have AC in the car. We stopped at a small city, Tebingtinggi, and the car just sat and waited for passengers. I was starting to get nervous again, despite the connections going smoothly. He had a flight before me and was not worried, in fact headed off to a bakery. At 9.50 we headed off and a theological debate ensued about truth. At 11.50 we ground to a halt at the roadworks outside Medan. At 12.20 we were going down some back road to the airport and I was worried. Just before 12.30 we arrived outside Dunkin Donuts and the American with his pretty Batak wife was there looking submissive. He handed me the ticket and got off his mobile to Annette. I was all for going to the check in but he told me not to worry, so we had a long chat and I told him my life story and UOCA giving him a flyer. He was a Buddhist.

Lion Air to Penang was leaving at 2 and I checked in quickly, but only at boarding did they ask for the 75k departure tax. I had to back track to the entry point to buy it 15 minutes before the plane took off. No one minded, it was running late and I strolled up to the plane on the runway which was an ancient 70s looking Airbus with the jets at the back. I was wondering if the plane would make it. It was stifling on board and I had a sudden fear that the pressurisation controls were on manual and it would be another Helios disaster. I grabbed the hostess and asked her.

'When we take off the ac comes on.'
She seemed amazed that I did not know.
read on:

----- Original Message ----From: James Travers To:
Sent: Saturday, 20 September, 2008 11:47:58 PM
Subject: Stay at Toba Cottages


A Tweezermen nose trimmer, a small device has gone missing since leaving your hotel. Could you check the room, looking for a small black bag containing a black manual nose trimmer that is squeezed to make it operate? AND GET BACK TO ME.

I got my flight alright and your American friend was very helpful and nice - I got there spot on 12.30. Thankyou for all your help. I am in Penang still heading to India via KL most likely.

Would you believe it the Carolina Hotel laundry burnt a huge hole in my trekking trousers! Never told me and I only found out when I went to put them on. Then my Palm defaulted wiping my entire travel story I had written for my photojournalism on Lake Toba.



If you would like to be part of UOCA's ashram see please also email me. Check Experischool - for those interested in starting an alternative yoga based school for educating children.
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