Around 75,000 years ago, the world experienced its largest ever volcanic eruption. This event covered all of South Asia in about 15 centimeters of ash, and cooled off our planet for the next 6-10 years.
The sheer size of this eruption is difficult to understand without comparing it to other large volcanic events. I’ve always been fascinated by volcanos, and the Pompeii eruption in 79AD interested me so much that I ended up with minor in Classical History! But Vesuvius’ eruption had NOTHING on Mt. Toba.
Our first stop in Indonesia was to see Ground 0 of this disastrous historic event. Like Yellowstone, you wouldn’t necessarily know that you were on a massive volcano. This is because the last time Toba blew, it resulted in a crater lake so big that there is an island the size of SINGAPORE inside it!
Modern Samosir Island
Samosir island is located in Northern Sumatra, near the city of Medan (about 5 hours away by car). We got in touch with an tour company ahead of time, and arranged for a driver to pick us up from Medan airport. We’re really glad we went this route, because the car was comfortable and safe (as oppose to many of the other vehicles we saw on the road). We arrived in Parapat, a small town across the lake from Samosir, and before long we were on the ferry and on our way to our hotel in the little town of Tuk Tuk.
Samosir is a popular tourist destination for foreigners and Indonesians alike. The island has many attractions, which has allowed beautiful hotels and bungalows to pop up all over the island. We got to see a lot of those bungalows during our ferry-ride.
On the Island
There’s lots to do on the island, especially if you rent a motorbike. We didn’t have much time on our first day, but we did drive into town from our bungalow and see some of the sights.
Our second day on Samosir was more eventful. We took a drive out to the island’s waterfall, but discovered that the trail had been washed away from a mudslide a while back. We tried to climb it anyway (in our flip flops…), but I eventually told Dave I was turning around with or without him, because it just wasn’t safe.
We also dipped our toes into Lake Toba, which is crystal clear and gorgeously warm. Unfortunately, it was quite windy that day and the water was very rough, so we didn’t actually get to go swimming.
There are a tonne of restaurants on the island where you can enjoy some Indonesian food. We found a restaurant that rated well on Trip Advisor and enjoyed a FANTASTIC BBQ meal from Joe and his wife.
The most popular thing to do on Samosir Island is to see the Batak culture and history. The Batak have lived on Samosir Island for hundreds of years (some say thousands…), and they have heavily influenced the area with their architecture and traditions. There are plenty of modern buildings that have been constructed in Batak style on Samosir Island, and you can see some old artifacts as well.
We visited 2 Batak historical sights. The Stone Chairs are the island’s biggest cultural draw, so we set out to find them first. We DID find stone chairs, but it turned out they weren’t the ‘right’ ones. Either way, they ended up being my favourite spot on the island. There was something beautiful about them.
We found the ‘real’ Stone Chairs later in the day. Their fame comes from the fact that ritualistic cannibalism was practiced at that particular sight. Criminals were tried and sentenced by the King, who consumed parts of their bodies after they were killed for their crimes. If you take a tour of the area, you are given all sorts of information about the cannibalistic rituals of early Batak people, but we went on our own and were spared the gory details.
The sight was beautiful though, and I’m glad we stopped by.
My only regret about Samosir Island is that we didn’t have enough time there. It’s a gorgeously relaxing place to spend a few days, and I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest in culture or geology.
I’ll be back soon with my second post about our time in Sumatra. Spoiler: Orangutans will be involved!!!