Friday 21 December 2012

Location Scouting in Sumatra – Samosir round trip

Eventually! I am travelling again! 

This is my third trip to Indonesia and you may remember that I got completely hooked to Tangkahan on my first trip in July 2011. I then went back in April 2012 to help drive forward the ‘English Club’ into ‘Tangkahan Education Centre’ and now I am back to see how the projects evolve during the wet season. I however never got round to write a comprehensive travel diary, so lets see if I will manage to that this time.

After my first trip I decided to compile the diary into an eBook to sell for charity in support of the ‘English Club’, then things at home got busy and it didn’t happen. For the April trip the plan was to use Tangkahan as writer’s retreat, but the mood took a bit on a downturn when two of the elephant baby died. I at least met Jess again, who had some troubles of her own, needing to take some tough decisions for RAW. All this didn’t really help to lift the writing spirits. Although I felt that the community quite appreciated my support I could not do a lot more than inspire during this short period of time. I knew needed to be on location to turn the ‘English Club’ into the Tangkahan Education Centre’, so I booked the next flight for December 2012, an here I am.

Tangkahan - Augustines wet kiss!

Oh, and what a change I see! The mood has completely changed. The elephants are healthy and happy, and RAW has taken initiative again: Jess brought her friend Sonya into the game who has a strong background in sustainability. She drives things with ease and encourages people to see and take opportunities. Due to employing more of the guides with RAW they have grown from a group of friends into a real team, with each member taking full responsibility in their role. They are strong role models for the younger guides and thus the future is looking safe and prosperous for Tangkahan.

That does not mean that things are easy, though. There is still a lot of work to be done to be sustainable. One of the actions which RAW is taking in this respect is to find alliances. They are extending their tours to sustain the RAW profits to maintain the company healthy, and to be able to run and extend their corporate responsibility schemes of giving grants, paying fair wages, rubbish management and many more. And that is were my current trip comes in: I am travelling with the team to scout for new locations.

Samosir Island, Lake Toba - West coast
They already had made initial contact within the Lake Toba region, a volcanic lake, which was created by one of the biggest eruption that ever happened. We now are travelling around and finding out more details so that at the end we can plan a tour from Medan, to Lake Toba moving on to Tangkahan. The Lake is about a day drive from Medan and has the absolutely beautiful island Samosir in the middle. As I type we are driving along the North coast towards the West side of the island where there is a to reach the mainland without the ferry, we however want to go further South down the West coast. We were told that at one point the road gets bad and 4-wheel drive is needed, which we don’t have. So we feel like explorers. The road we are on does not look like being able to take two cars, at least it does not have a white line, yet we are dashing along with 80km an hour at times not really knowing what is around the next corner, people walking, animals crossing, potholes usually a bit deeper than expected - ok, now we are crossing a little bridge of wood I would be careful to walk on…

Samosir Island, Lake Toba - Water buffalo at the South coast

One gets quite used to this sort of driving, though. In the UK I would have an adrenalin shock by now, clinging to something to hold on to. Oh, and the music is howling louder than in a disco. I feel more relaxed than ever in my life, and I am learning again to type without looking at the keyboard so that I don’t miss too much of the scenery. So many traditional Batak houses, each different, water buffalos everywhere, flora changing from fruit trees, to rice terraces – no palm oil nor rubber plantations, beautiful churches and the island seems to be mainly Christian, and graveyards with mausoleums taking the prime spots of land to honour the spirits of the ancestors and make them watch over their children. I quite like that idea to have the graveyard so close to the community – the Western view point of strict separation between life and death and the denial that we all have to go one day, does not seem to exist here. 

Samosir Island, Lake Toba - Sunset in the mountains

The task for today is to find out where the ferries go, how the streets are, how much time one needs to get round and if there are attractions we don’t know of yet. The coastline of the mainland is absolutely beautiful here on the West side, very close to the island, with a shimmering strip of water in-between.

I had to interrupt my writing for taking as much pictures as possible; we a had coffee break at the ferry, followed by a strip of bumpy road in the south of the island and then turned up North into the mountains which truly are a secret treasure. After every turn we were surprised by an even more beautiful view to then find at the perfect spot for a beautiful sunset.

Now however we are in another adventure; we need to get off this mountain in rain and fog. Weather is changing quickly. We could see the big cloud closing in on us, almost sitting on the surface of the lake. We could see it from above and all of a sudden this wall of grey had overtaken us and we became like blindfolded. As I write the driver is negotiating a small road with a sight of not more than 50m. We already have passed a small slippery bridge made from strips of wood, which had just the with of the car with the mountain on one and a steep fall on the other. Basically: If you are reading this then we made it!

I will close my story now, we are going downhill and the sight is starting to clear at least a little bit. I guess we will have at least another half hour to go and I suppose a toilet brake is out of question. Some focus from my side is required!

PS: The music seems to be on ‘shuffle’ – it did not stop for a single moment

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