One of the best things we did during our stay at Lake Toba (you know, apart from lying around for hours reading books next to our own personal bonfire) was organise for some motorbike driver guides to take us on a day tour of Samosir and surrounding areas.
Samosir is the name of the 'island' we stayed on at Lake Toba. I say 'island' because it's actually joined to the mainland by a strip of land...but we'll let them claim the island title. Besides, how many other island-on-a-lake-on-an-islands are there? We didn't manage to see it on this visit but there is apparently a small lake on the island (in a lake on an island...).
We arranged the driver guides with our hotel and they arrived promptly, with helmets for each of us. Off to a good start! We left the itinerary up to them, knowing they would take us to the key sites on the island. It was such a pleasure to relax on the back of the bike with the wind in our faces, not having to decipher a map, and I happily snapped pictures from the back of my bike when speed allowed.
The vistas in this part of Indonesia are just stunning, with vibrant green fields set against velvety hills. The people of this area are predominately Christian, so it was a nice change to see churches scattered among the houses as opposed to the Mosques and Hindu Temples that I've become used to. Racing past village life, the children waved and shouted greetings at us as we circumnavigated the lake.
Our first stop was Ambarita, a traditional Batak village known for its weavings and ancient stone chairs. It is said that during ancient times, the Batak people of this village practiced cannibalism on captured enemies, serving them up alongside buffalo meat and a glass of the victim's blood. The fate of these enemies was decided at the grouping of stone chairs by Batak elders.
In Ambarita we also explored a traditional Batak house, where an entire extended family would live, eat and sleep. You can just about make out a small square hole in the top left of the image below...that's the toilet!
Our next stop was the hot springs. I was very sick with a cold, so didn't head into the naturally heated pool, but dipping my feet in was absolute bliss. These hot springs are quite basic, for anyone who's visited the springs at Lake Batur in Bali or further afield in places like Iceland's Blue Lagoon, but they did the job. We had the option of also clambering up the rocky hill to see the source of the hot springs, but I thought it best to chill out with the resident dog in a nearby cafe instead. Climbing up hills just ain't my thing.
Back on the bikes we headed towards the mountain village of Tele and boy was I glad I bought my cardigan! A long and windy road up the mountain brought us to the village situated at 1,800m above sea level. We dismounted and climbed to the top of a disused observation tower that looked like something out of a James Bond movie. The view from up top was incredible, even on such a cloudy day.
I think my driver found the mountain village too cold so he was in a bit of a hurry on the way down, racing and twisting through the switchbacks ahead of trucks and other riders. The view was spectacular but I was too busy hanging on for dear life to take pictures. Once we reached the bottom, we had to wait for about 10minutes for the others to catch up with us...THAT'S how fast we went! The area is a haven for mountain bike riders and there are some great photos of the winding road and view here.
We quickly popped into another village with some older Ibu's weaving traditional Batak Ulos. The Ulos is worn draped over the shoulder and during wedding ceremonies is even used to bind the bride and groom together. The weavings can take up to three weeks to make by hand and are full of bright and colourful threads. I couldn't resist picking up a few during my visit to the area. They look fabulous as a table runner, wall hanging or draped across the end of a bed.