2017 Feb 19 - North Sumatra, Indonesia
After spending over a week in various parts of North Sumatra exploring the jungles, land and wildlife sanctuaries, oil palm plantations, cities, and villages, it was time for a slight change of pace. Everything was starting to feel incredibly non-stop on this trip. I certainly wasn’t complaining considering how invigorating the experiences had been thus far, and how much information I’d been consuming each day, but I’d be lying if I said receiving news of taking it easy for a few days on an island didn’t sound appealing.
Not knowing what to expect, I climbed into the front passenger seat of our groups van and settled in for another few hours on the road. The all too familiar landscape of endless, gloomy oil palms changed to rubber tree plantations, eventually unveiling the more natural scenery of endemic flora. Traveling at speeds I was borderline uncomfortable with, our driver treated the downhill twists and turns of the road as if it were a game of chicken. Suddenly our eyes caught a glimpse of wide, open water for the first time since landing in Sumatra.
Lake Toba and the island of Samosir were formed in the wake of a supervolcano eruption roughly 75,000 years ago. Samosir is the largest island within an island in the world, and home to the Batak people and their cultural history, including ritualistic cannibalism in certain tribes - but I’m afraid that’s a story for another day. We arrived in the small village of Parapat only to receive news we just missed the ferry we intended on taking across the lake. It would be hours before the next one arrived at Tiga Raja harbor. Camera in hand, I wandered through town petting as many dogs as I could, and hung out with some kids intent on practicing a variety of hand symbols and phrases they learned from watching western television. When I asked them if they knew what any of it meant they said no - all I could do was laugh behind my camera after one of them yelled “Fuck you, man!” at me with a massive grin on his face.
As dusk began to seep into the day, the group and I gathered aboard the empty ferry docked at the harbor, sitting on the wooden deck and sharing a little more about ourselves. It was the first time during the trip we really had a chance to just talk and get to know each other in more depth. We spoke of our passions not just in photography, but in life. We shared our dreams and goals, stories of love and heartaches, and tales of past adventures. Eventually, the horns of the ferry echoed along the water, signaling it was almost time to cross. Buses, cars, and motorcycles took their turns onto the deck until no more could fit.
Once the vessel was moving towards Samosir, the crew let all the passengers know it was okay to exit their vehicles. Everyone seemed to gather in large, communal groups, chatting and laughing as the lights of Parapat faded into the distance. We wandered around for a bit and headed up to the bridge and say hello to the crew. The captain and his first mates entertained the idea of allowing us to join them - a decision I feel they quickly began to regret after allowing Kristi to take the wheel, beer in hand and a smile bigger than I thought possible. After overstaying our welcome we joined the other passengers who were sharing snacks and sipping on hootch called Tuak, made with fermented palm sugar juice from an endemic palm species, the Arrenga Pinata.
Soon enough the ferry began to dock and we were back in the van, swerving around the coastal roads through the black of night, ending up at Samosir Villa Resorts to check into our rooms and get some much needed sleep. I don’t think any of us were prepared for the kind of sunrise we woke up to the next morning. It absolutely took our breathe away.