I feel good when I look out on the lake from my balcony. The morning greeted me with magnificent weather. I’m surrounded by blue skies, a few puffy white clouds and barely a ripple on the sapphire surface of the lake. Tropical fruit trees, flowers, terraced hills, villages and fishing nets.
The Batak people have an easy way about them–very hard workers, but at the same time, and very much unlike the Vietnamese, they enjoy the good life. And they know they are blessed by the lake.
Ifan asked me this morning, “what are your plans today?”
“Nothing,” I replied.
“Good plans,” he said with a smile. “We’re barbecuing a suckling pig tonight, will you join us?”
Ifan runs the guest house I’m staying in. He’s here most of the day, although he leaves for a few hours in the afternoon to take the ferry to Parapat. He’ll wait until the buses from Medan arrive and disgorge the bewildered travelers. He approaches them, much as he did me, on the ferry to Samosir Island. He wasn’t pushy or annoying. The converse, actually, very soft spoken, with almost Caucasian features but skin as dark as any South Indian Dravidian.
More after the jump.
He asked, “where do you come from?”
“America,” I replied, relieved for the first time in many years to be able to say it with pride.
“We don’t get many Americans here,” he said. “Why don’t more of you travel? You have so much money. It doesn’t make sense.”
“Two reasons,” I said, preparing a speech I’ve given many times over the years.
“First, America is a very big nation and there are so many beautiful places to see that many Americans spend most of their lives traveling in America. But the other reason is many Americans are simply afraid to visit a place like ‘Muslim’ Indonesia,” I said.
“Why afraid? We’re Christians here in Toba,” he said.
“Most Americans don’t know Toba exists, much less that the Batak people are Christian,” I told him.
“Unfortunate,” he said. He grew quiet, almost thoughtful for several minutes after that, as if he were pondering some deep mystery. The only sounds were the hum of the motors and the soft sounds of water as the ferry crossed the 8km channel between the mainland and Samosir Island.
“I have a small guest house on the island,” Ifan said, “it’s not much, but you can dive into the water from your balcony, if you like.”
“Do you have hot showers?” I asked, not willing to forgo this one luxury–mind you, I hadn’t showered in two days.
“Yes, we do,” he answered.
“And how much is the room?” I asked.
“50,000 rupiah–or a little less than $6,” he said.
“Excellent,” he replied, “I think you will like it here.”
And he was right. The room is spartan, bare. But it sits over the water, has a mosquito net over a comfortable bed and a shower that does indeed spit out a decent trickle of hot water after a few minutes of waiting.
The restaurant serves a wonderfully light chicken curry–free range chickens, as well. They also serve a delicious fish from the lake; light, flaky white meat over a bed of rice and a tasty tomato, chili, garlic sauce. And the coffee? Wonderful in every way.
A Batak house juts into the water below me like the stern of a boat. Birds flitter back from the palm tree to the avocado tree. The lake is still. There is no breeze.
A lone figure across the cove walks onto a pier, sits in it and paddles off. A coconut falls from a palm tree making a terrific smack as it hits the paved walkway below. The sheer walls of Samosir Island watch over it all, deep gullies and ravines carved into their sides. Little rock is visible on the walls, most just a blinding green blur.
Another ferry knifes its ways across the the lake, leaving behind an ever widening ‘V’ in its wake. Soon the waves will meet the shore under me, adding to the melodious lapping that threatens to lull me back to sleep.
One if Ifan’s friends strums a Batak guitar meldoy on the veranda overhead. There are no cars here, only mopeds and the rare truck. Most people walk. One woman walks by with a large basin of rice balanced on her head, a bag of coffee beans in one hand and an infant in the other. Old men amble by with canes in a slow purposeful gait.
A small flock of birds chatter in the tree next to me. A dried leaf falls to the ground.
“More coffee,” asks Ifan, waking from my reverie.
“No thank you, I’m going for a walk now,” I reply.
“Where go you?,” he asks.
“I don’t know.”
“It’s a good place to go,” he smiles.
As I get up and grab my things a pair of white butterflies twist and circle around each other in a delicate aerial ballet over the surface of the lake.
All is silent–except for a whisper on the wind. I can’t make out the words, yet. I’m patient. I will soon.