Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sumatra Stories: Danau Toba

Of all my trips around Indonesia, I think my vacation in Sumatra last week was my very favorite. All of the ETAs had the week off for National Testing of senior high school students. During my vacation time I went to Northern Sumatra to meet up with 14 other Fulbrights--me, tall Sarah, Alexa, John, Jimmie, Ricky, Kelly, Vidhi, Kerry, Kalada, Ab, Anna, Ashley, Aaron, and Dani. We spent 4 days at Danau Toba and 1 day in Medan. John and Vidhi live and teach in Medan so they acted as pseudo-tour guides for the week. It was the biggest gathering of ETAs I've been to since the midyear conference in January. We were loud, rambunctious, and happy to see each other. People say "a picture is worth a thousand words" and I think that must be true for I have very few pictures, but can remember millions of fascinating words being spoken. We spent two days at Toba simply lounging around enjoying the intensely beautiful scenery and each other. Another day we rented motorcycles and a car and toured around the area seeing all of the tourist sights and stopping along the way in villages to take photos.
Danau Toba is the largest lake in Southeast Asia and the largest volcanic lake in the world. It is big and deep! The climate at Toba was a refreshing change from the rest of Indonesia--it was cool! It was nice to spend a few days not dripping sweat constantly. We were able to enjoy being outside in the sun without getting heatstroke. There is an island in the middle of Lake Toba named Samosir. The people that traditionally lived on Samosir and in the area surrounding the lake are the Batak people. Many of their descendants still live there today. The traditional homes of the Batak people look like the little house above with pointed roofs that pitch up at both ends. I think they're quite cute!

A trip is never complete for me until we've watched traditional dances! Luckily, we were able to catch a performance at the Batak Museum. This man was the lead dancer. Later in the performance he used that stick as a sort of spear. He threw it at an egg that had been placed in the center of the dance space, which cracked the egg open and exposed the yolk for the gathering birds to eat. Batak dance seems to consist mostly of swaying from side to side, slowly moving the arms in circles in from of the body, and humming. These women are depicted wearing the traditional dance costumes consisting primarily of woven scarves. Someone has a video of us ETAs joining in the dancing--scarves and all. When I get my hands on it I'll be sure to share it with you.
Lake Toba was so green, so calm, so cool, and so relaxing. Here are some rice paddies, the lake, and the cloud-capped mountains in the distance.
We stopped in a small Batak village on our journey around the island. We were able to watch this woman weaving. Her speed and precision were impressive. I also am curious about how she knew which colored string came next in the pattern...there were so many!
Dani perusing some of the scarves for sale. They come in every color and pattern imaginable from shiny, metallic, and gaudy to more traditional earth tones. I much prefer the muted earth tones and water blues. I guess that makes me a traditionalist!
If only we were all this effortlessly adorable! One of the ETAs commented that if the group ever lost me I would probably be found playing with the local kids. He might have a point.
These stone chairs are the traditional courtroom of the Batak people. According to John, acting as tour guide, if you committed an offense you would be brought to this area to be judged by the king and the other important people in the village. If you committed a minor offense like killing a chicken you would be imprisoned in the jail, which is that lattice-work area under the house in the background. If you committed a major offense, you would be publicly killed by decapitation and your body would be eaten raw by the everyone in the village. The Bataks were cannibals until sometime in the 19th century when a missionary came and converted them to Christianity.
Don't think me morbid, but I love these tombs. They are all over the landscape at Toba, seemingly rising up out of the nothingness of the rice paddies. I think they are pretty and solemn. They make you pause for a moment. Isn't that what graves should do?
Here I am posing with the very tiny door of the Batak traditional house. The ETAs had me climb up because they said the door was "Sarah-sized" and I was the only one who would be able to fit through it.
Although tropical, Danau Toba reminded me a bit of Vermont. Sort of like Lake Dunmore in summer. Clear blue water surrounded by green mountains. If I ignored the palm trees I could almost imagine I was hanging out on the dock after a water ski.
The spectacular view from my porch. We stayed at an adorable little place owned by a Dutch woman and her Indonesian husband. The food and view were spectacular. Every morning I would wake up and sit in the comfy porch chair still curled in my blanket to just watch the morning for a bit before starting my day. It was peaceful and relaxing. A great place for thinking big thoughts.
Early one morning this Batak man set out his fishing nets. Do you see the black circles floating on the water? Those are the floats of the net. After he had set the net up in a circle he put on his mask and snorkel, got out his spear and dove into the contained area. He swam around for about 10 minutes occasionally diving down under the water. I'm not sure if he got any fish, but he definitely entertained me.
FYI for those of you interested: I officially accepted my admission to Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions this week! I will be starting classes on June 7th and will be looking for an apartment in Boston to share with the lovely Katherine Pezzella who will be attending graduate classes at Harvard. Exciting goings-on for me!

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful photos. I've often heard how beautiful the Lake Toba region is.