Northern Sumatra: After the trek, on to Lake Toba
The jungle trek out of Bukit Lawang and all the orangutan sightings was my main reason for coming to Sumatra. But I knew that if I had the time, I would also love to drive the rented motorbike down to Lake Toba and see the much talked about beautiful lake.
I headed out in the morning, back to the bad roads and stopping often to check my GPS as the roads are not very big and the way is not always obvious.
Things were going well, and I was able to get some more cash out of the ATM machine in a good sized town I went through. I had read that ATM’s were non-existent once you got out of Medan, but I didn’t find this to be the case. Most all decent sized tons had at least one ATM.
I was probably 3/4 of the way between Bukit Lawang and Lake Toba when I arrived at a place in the middle of nowhere with many people hanging out. I had just passed a church letting out. as it was Sunday morning, and there seemed to be many people turning back.
A man spoke decent English and told me the road was closed ahead and I couldn’t get through. He then pointed to a man and said, but if you pay him 200,0000 rupiah (about $12), he can take your motorbike through. I tried to ask him why couldn’t I then take my motorbike through, but he wouldn’t answer.
Then another man, who spoke much better English told me that it was impossible to get through and I’d have to go around and we got out our phones to look for the route and he told me to just follow him.
After a km or so, he stopped and told me that that man had been trying to steal my bike! Also, that we’d be going right past his in-law’s house and I was welcome to join them for lunch……………… I followed.
He stopped at a nice house with a family inside and everyone was so friendly. Food was brought out as well as drinks and we talked about the route I would have to take and where I was from and all the standard questions: Where are you from? What brings you to Sumatra? etc.
The food was strange and when I asked what it was, he told me it was meat. I asked if it was beef, he said no. I asked if it was pork, he said no. He then told me it was a traditional Sumatra food and was actually dog meat. I had only tasted a small piece and knew it was something strange. I didn’t eat anymore. After pictures, it was time to move on and he told me to make sure I stop at Berastagi, a town that was a favorite of his and his family. Turned out traffic was really bad as everyone was heading back to Medan on this Sunday evening and it was getting near sunset when I got to this town.
I was cold as it was raining slightly and the town is high elevation. So I headed for the best hotel in town, the Grand Mutiara Berastagi, and got the best room for $40. (600,000 rupiah).
The staff was so friendly as were all the people that I met. I checked in and took a long, hot shower as it was the only way to get warm as the rooms were a bit cold and had no heat. I had a decent meal in the restaurant and I went to bed.
In the morning, after the buffet breakfast of mostly all Asian food (although they did make me 2 fried eggs and had toast), I walked outside and checked out the vast garden area. Beautiful. I was really impressed. Everything looked perfect and I told the gardener I saw.
Continuing south on the bike, I drove through a lot of agriculture and a few small towns. Once again, the people were so friendly. If I stopped somewhere, there would always be someone who wanted their picture taken with me.
It started raining again and I was trying to go around Lake Toba but changed my mind after I stopped for gas and talked to a shop owner there. This man sold gas, groceries and butchered and de-feathered chickens among other things and was quite friendly. He had an interesting machine that took off all the feathers in about 30 seconds!
I did have a few views of the lake from some of the scenic restaurants along the road.
I turned around and headed to the town of Parapat, on the eastern side of Lake Toba. I passed many interesting scenic lookout places along the way, on the northern side of the lake. All trying to outdo each other with the different art and platforms along the way.
Finally arriving at Parapat, and went up the hill to a nice hotel with a view. It was a great one and they even had live music at night.
Went out shopping for gifts for my family that night and the shopkeepers drove a hard bargain, but always smiled and asked for the picture after all was said and done and paid for.
Headed back to Medan on a big road the next day and my last full day in Sumatra. Where did the time go? Too much of it on the motorbike as I lost a day because of that road closing and too much rain made me change plans.
Kids riding school buses, interesting homes, and stopping to wash my dirty motorbike before returning.
Many people use the Grab app to book rides and I found it to be very useful when returning the bike and getting to the train station in Medan the next (my last) day. I must recommend “Transkumedan Terrain Bike Rental” in northwestern Medan. The owner was great, the bike too, and I had no problems at all with this rental. It cost about $30 for the week!
In conclusion, I would say Sumatra is 3rd world. Poor, but happy and very friendly people. Some things so cheap for us westerners. But dangerous roads for driving and you never know when one gets closed. I felt safe walking around Medan at night although I think I was in a decent neighborhood at the Batik hotel.
Thanks for listening. Do yourself a favor and go to Sumatra (but maybe don’t rent a motorbike)