Lake Toba: "A Room with a View"

Samosir Island
Lake Toba
North Sumatra
Indonesia

July 1, 2008

To the Editor

Condé Nast Traveler
New York, New York

Dear Editor,

(cc: Family and Friends)

I have attached my photographic submissions for the "Room with a View" section of your magazine, Condé Nast Traveler.

The view is from Room 50 on the second floor of the comfortable Toledo Hotel on Samosir Island on Lake Toba, the second largest lake in Southeast Asia.

Samosir Island is almost as large as Singapore but there are no high-rise office buildings or traffic signals here. Small Batak villages, hotels, restaurants and shops are sprinkled around the landscape. The friendly people live in traditional homes. They cook great food.

Up the road from the Toledo Hotel we found the Horas Restaurant. (In Batak, horas means hello and welcome.) For dinner we enjoyed a clear soup with fresh, crunchy local vegetables along with juicy grilled fish from the lake. Hot chili sauce is served on request.

At the outdoor Boruna restaurant, a Dutch style coffee house, they serve pineapple pancakes and muddy black Kopi Sumatra. Occasionally I down a Bir Bintang. I am working up the courage to sample the local magic mushrooms.

Technically, Samosir is not an island. Samosir is connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus at Parapat.

Many of the hotels and restaurants on Samosir are located at Tuk Tuk, an oblong peninsula that juts out into the lake.

Travelers learn a lot of geography here.

We also learn some geology.

Thirty to seventy thousand years ago, a volcano blew its top and left behind Lake Toba, the largest volcanic lake in the world - 100 km (62 miles) long and 30 km (18 miles) wide, and 505 m (1657 feet) deep.

In the Nineteenth Century, the devastating and climate-altering eruption in South Sumatra on Krakatoa was nothing more than the pop of a Chinese firecracker compared to the massive explosion that formed Lake Toba.

Mr. Editor, have you ever heard the expression "I love the smell of sulfur in the afternoon?"

My driver Anto crossed the isthmus and deposited Utami and me at Mata Air Panas, the Hot Springs. Anto reminded me to take my walking stick for the uphill hike to the source of the springs.

The pathway is littered with small flat stones and pebbles. Everything is wet. Lithe, nimble Utami skips up the path. I need my stick to find solid ground. I am not afraid to fall and scrape my hands, elbow and knees. I am afraid to fall and burn my hands, elbows and knees.

The ground is hot. Mud boils and bubbles up at my feet. The whole side of the mountain is nothing but rocks, stones and pebbles interspersed with streams of hot water flowing down from the steaming hot springs up ahead. You can boil an egg in the water. It smells like eggs, too. But, "I love the smell of sulfur…."

The hot steam escapes from a mossy green, sulfurous yellow cleft in the hill. Looking up that hill is a geologist's dream. Turning around and looking down would make an artist want to set up an easel. How many shades of blue are there on the rippling lake and quiet sky? How many shapes and shades of white are in the clouds?

I have attached photos of the Hot Springs, Tuk Tuk, and Lake Toba at dusk and at dawn. Also I took a series of photos of the tropical plants on the grounds of the Toledo Hotel. The "Room with a View" folder is my favorite.

I am very sad to leave Samosir and Lake Toba. I promise myself I will return. Next time, will I muster the courage to use the magic mushrooms? "With a little help from my friends" will I have a new, enhanced "view" of Lake Toba, a view from a higher plane?

Don't hold your breath, Mr. Editor. Sulfur is about it for me.

Sincerely,

Jan Polatschek

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