After a busy week of running around North Sumatra looking for orangutans in the jungle and chasing a volcano or two, I thought it was time for a short break before making my way to Malaysia to begin my ten days of silent meditation, so I decided to head to Lake Toba for a couple of days, to do very little except relax and enjoy the water.
Lake Toba is the world’s largest volcanic crater lake; it’s around the same size as the country of Belgium. It sits in the caldera of a supervolcano which is believed to have once caused a “volcanic winter”, altering the weather all over the planet and wiping out a chunk of humanity, when it erupted many eons ago. Looking at the peaceful waters now, it’s hard to believe what lies beneath.
I took a “shared taxi” – a minivan for tourists and locals alike – from Berastagi to Parapat, a small town on the shore of the lake, and from there the ferry over to the little resort of Tuktuk on Samosir Island in the middle of the water, which is the most popular spot for visitors. We sailed as the sun was setting, and the twinkling lights of the guesthouses and restaurants lining the water’s edge was a pretty sight as the boat nudged into the various jetties along the way.
The pace of life in Tuktuk is easy. There’s plenty to see if you’re in the mood for exploring the island, but it is also a perfect spot to relax, which was the approach I took on my very brief visit. I woke early the next day and walked down to the lakeside, a mere one minute from my room, to watch the sun rise as the fisherman paddled out to begin their work.
I spent the morning strolling a little way along the island, enjoying the views of the lake, stopping for a coffee at a cafe with a terrace on the route. The locals were friendly and welcoming, calling out greetings as I passed, and I spent some time chatting to a local student who was interviewing tourists for her university dissertation.
The afternoon was dedicated to lying by the lake, reading a book, listening to the waves, and trying to imagine the immense destructive power sitting far beneath them. I had been looking forward to the experience of swimming in a volcanic crater lake, but on close inspection of the water, I wasn’t sure about its cleanliness, so I made do with a paddle. As lazy and serene as the scene was, I could feel a certain energy about the place – perhaps my volcano-chaser’s instinct!
Lake Toba was the perfect place to end my Indonesian explorations (for now!) and to reflect on what I’d seen and learnt during the almost seven weeks I’d spent there (with a brief visa run to Singapore in the middle). I wish I could have stayed longer, but I had to get back to Medan to head to Malaysia, so, after an evening of delicious food and a couple of Bintangs, and a brief sunrise meditation by the water the next morning, it was time to pack up my things and take the boat back over to the mainland.
I had wanted to visit Indonesia ever since I was a child. It met and exceeded my expectations, and has become my favourite country that I’ve visited so far. It’s time now to leave the Ring of Fire for a little while and to see what else South East Asia has to offer, but I know for certain that I will be back in Indonesia soon.