JIPP's WORLD

…….The World Without Boundaries

Horas Samosir!

Written By: jipp - Feb• 17•19

So after more than a year break from traveling, with the last trip was to Chiang Mai in October of 2017, I decided to return to it (traveling) this year and decided to go somewhere for Chinese New Year public holiday. So when I saw that a return ticket to Lake Toba would only cost me RM225, I immediately went ‘why not?’ I was even more exhilarated when I found out that a room at Bagus Bay Homestay – which is like one of the top lodges on Samosir island – would only cost me about RM160 for 6 damn nights. In the end I only changed some RM600 to rupiah, which made my trip to Lake Toba one of the cheapest travel trips thus far!

So I flew directly from KL to Silangit Airport near Lake Toba – instead of flying to Medan like most travelers had to do before this new airport was opened. I have heard so much about gruesome experiences that travelers had to go through going on the ride from Medan to Lake Toba so I was glad that I didn’t have to do it. From Silangit Airport, I took the free ride offered by a bus called Damri which dropped me off near the Tiga Raja jetty in Parapat from where I would be taking a boat to the lake island of Samosir.

Parapat that I found out is a very nice lakeside town. I checked myself in at a budget hotel called Hotel Bagus Inn – which is probably the nearest hotel to Tiga Raja jetty. At IDR100,000 per night (MYR30), the room was very basic but it would do me just fine for the night. I really like that the room has a veranda from where I could get a sweeping view of the Tiga Raja market and also the jetty and what there was beyond.

Hotel Bagus Inn in Parapat

But of course being near to the market means you have to know how to shut yourself down to all the noises from the market and the traffic. The people in Parapat (and probably the whole of Indonesia) honk their cars and motorbikes a lot so you gotta make yourself get used to it or you’ll go crazy before long. Then the Batak people – which dominate the population – are quite loud too. They joke a lot and they talk at the top of their lungs. But I really like them. They are so friendly and welcoming to outsiders.

So from Parapat I went on a 40-minute boat ride to a place called Tuk Tuk on Samosir Island. The most amazing thing is, the boat would drop passengers off at the jetty nearest to their respective hotels so it really was so hassle-free. Once I landed ashore at the jetty, I was at Bagus Bay Homestay in less than 10 minutes. Talking about convenience!

I liked Bagus Bay Homestay almost instantly when I got there. It is very green and I feel like being so close to nature. The restaurant is probably one of the best in Tuk Tuk and it has all kinds of foods and drinks and the great ambiance was a big plus. The pork rendang was definitely my favorite among all the meals that they offered – or at least among those that I had ordered. The combination of curry and coconut just clicked at the right spot of my appetite I actually found myself ordering it over and over again – even to the very last day of my stay at Bagus Bay Homestay.

The room is very basic – it has the bed, a little wooden rack where I put my stuff on – and that’s it. There was one power socket, but I had to be creative with fitting in my hand phone charger because the universal adapter that I took with me would easily slip off the socket under the weight of its bulkiness.

There is a mosquito net which I never got to use anyway because I think the mosquitoes were bearable even without the net. They did not provide towel and shower stuff but thanks God I’ve been traveling quite extensively for the past few years (except for last year of course) that I already knew how to be prepared when going on a budget trip such as this one.

The only downside is probably the rooms being far from sound-proof so it is quite a problem for those who have a sensitive pair of ears. I mean, I was not surprised when the American guy who stayed next door when I first came in moved to another room on the next day. I remember how somebody came nudging at my back in the middle of the night when I and my friend Frank joined a hiking package in New Zealand a couple of years ago.

Watching the Batak dance and folks song performances at Bagus Bay Homestay

I would have been more prepared this time if he came to me but he never did. He did not even say anything when I bumped into him several times all throughout my stay at Bagus Bay Homestay so I just went with the flow and pretended like nothing ever happened at all. LOL.

My favorite part of the whole homestay is the lounging area at the lakeside.  I really like to go there and take in the moment and everything that comes with it – the beautiful view, the serenity of the lake, the relaxing ambiance, the cooling atmosphere – everything. I could spend hours just lounging idly on one of the wooden chairs and watch the world go by – usually until it was too cold or dark to stay outside, then I’d return to my room and do whatever there was to do for the night. I certainly had no specific plan and my trip this time was intended to be such.

For me there is something so relaxing about being on Samosir island. It is so peaceful and for one I felt so glad that there were not many tourists around when I was there. Lake Toba was once a top tourist destination in the region but somehow it had diminished down for reasons that I am still trying to apprehend. When I was there, people would compare it with Bali, which remains the top tourist destination in Indonesia for so many years now.

Lake Toba has all it takes – and one of the locals insisted that Lake Toba is even more beautiful than Bali. I had to agree with him. The fact that Lake Toba is a fresh water lake makes it stand out from the rest (counting in the size of the lake of course). The weather is cool and it doesn’t have the saltiness and tackiness that you’ll get from the air at sea beaches.

Tuk Tuk

But then he was fast to admit that the people around Lake Toba have mostly embraced the modern cultures brought about by Westerners (or may be the more modern people from other regions) so they are losing the cultural appeals that the people in Bali still very much retain.

One of the very first things that struck me when I first arrived at Lake Toba was the existence of so many churches. I mean, churches of all sizes and designs can be found all over the island of Samosir and beyond. It’s like every village has at least a couple of churches – probably one for the Catholics and the other for Protestants. Samosir for one is so Christian – it is even more Christian than most places that I’ve to in the Philippines.

I did make my time attending the Sunday mass at the Catholic Church near to Bagus Bay Homestay. Although the mass was run in Batak language, I had no problem aligning myself to it because Catholic masses are pretty much standard everywhere in the world. One thing I immediately noticed was the dresses of the locals at the mass. They were so dressed up I actually spent most of my time at the mass gazing at their beautiful dresses. I felt so out-of-place dressed in a simple hiking trousers with a tattered round-neck T-shirt but then that was all I had – or rather the best I had on this trip. Heh.

I did do a little bit of hiking to some of the hills near Tuk Tuk and the views were simply amazing. The sweeping view of Tuk Tuk and the rolling hills and the blue lake all around – then the surrounding caldera – they just come straight out of a picture postcard. I saw buffaloes in muddy pools – something that I used to see a lot when I was a kid but not quite anymore – not in  a very long time but this. Being an animal lover now, I can’t bear looking at their roped noses though, something that seemed so normal when I was a kid. I can imagine myself being roped in the nose all the time – the difficulty in breathing and all. It must be so choking for them.

Nights at Tuk Tuk can be deafeningly silent. The travelers at Bagus Bay Homestay would go to the restaurant and spend their time chatting up til late at night – usually over beers. I did join them a couple of times, but somehow I did not really feel like engaging myself with other travelers this time. I did however get on quite well with somebody by the name of Loh from Klang in Malaysia, who at 70 years plus is still very much actively roaming the world. The most amazing thing is, he’d usually go on his own!

He told me about his epic journey in the US, where he did a hike with a Japanese in Grand Canyon but had to turn back after awhile because he just couldn’t keep up with him. Then how he had to disembark from a bus full of Mexicans because the bus had entered Mexico without going through any immigration check (he ran back to the US side and walked back into Mexico the proper way) then how he was detained at Honduran border check because he was suspected of being a Chinese dissident in light of the student massacre on Tienanmen Square in 1989.

Me and Mr. Loh in front of Batak Museum in Tomok

He was quite of a story-teller and I have to admit I enjoyed listening to him and his stories but some of his thoughts are quite too traditional for me. He might have traveled the world but I think a big chuck of his minds is still very much stuck right where it was before he started traveling and arguing back would have been a waste of time because I know it is not easy to change something that’s been developed in one’s head – probably for half a century in his case.

In the end I would just nod to whatever he had to say. I think he enjoyed being listened to quite too much that he decided to come with me when I crossed back over to Parapat the day before I was set to return to KL. But then, I did find quite a big chuck of inspiration in him too. For me, an old man is like a library. You have to read as much of its books as possible while it – the library – is still there.

One of the highlights of my trip to Lake Toba is my motorbike ride around the island of Samosir. It really gave me the opportunity to explore more of this island and see for myself why Lake Toba was once considered the top tourist destination in the region. But of course I would have to spare that for another post.

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A Day Tour to Tun Sakaran Marine Park

Written By: jipp - Feb• 03•19

Since I was already in Semporna where I spent overnight at Mabul island, I decided to stay back for a couple more days so that I could join a day tour to Tun Sakaran Marine Park off Semporna. The picturesque view of Bohey Dulang kept coming to my head and I knew I had to see it for myself whenever I had the chance.

So after a little bit of browsing on the internet, I decided to book the tour with SMP Tour and Travel Sdn. Bhd. My phone call to this company was answered by a lady by the name or Maira. She asked me to whatsapp my full name and IC number, which I did, and she told me that I could pay at their office on the day of the tour itself. So the price was RM150 and it would include a tour to 3 islands, namely the much anticipated Bohey Dulang, then to Mantabuan and then to the famous tiny island called Sibuan.  It would also include lunch and one session of snorkeling in between.

So I shared the tour with 2 young couples, one was from Hong Kong which was surprisingly struggling with their English because I really thought the people in Hong Kong speak fluent English after so many years under the British rule, then the other one was a young doctor who is currently attached to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kota Kinabalu. She was there with her boyfriend. Another member of the tour was a local family of four who came about 45 minutes   late. They came on board, pretending like nothing happened, so I had to remind them that they were late. The fact that they did not even bother to apologize kinda irritated me, and I did not mind to make it known to them.

So the day started off with a perfect weather in the morning when we dashed across the strait of Semporna towards our first destination of the day – the much anticipated Bohey Dulang.  But before going there, the boat took us to a short visit to one of the floating villages of the Palau, the famous seafaring tribe that’s been staying in the Celebes Sea since the beginning of time.

Their houses are scattered all over the area, without any form of walkway to interconnect them (the houses) so it really is isolation within isolation where each family stays in a single-standing house. I could only assume that any visit to a neighbor would involve either a swim or a boat ride. They’d look out the window and wave at us and some of the kids would come near to us on a crafted boat, asking for food and money. I think all of us were aware that giving them food or money was not a good idea, because doing that is known to draw attention from other kids and we’d be swarmed by them in no time.

It is also a well-known fact that they are a people of no nationality but whose rights are protected by international laws. Yet, I really think that they should be helped in any way, probably by facilitating them with (proper) education so that they become aware of the fact that there is much more to the world then just the sea and the islands. They should be given the opportunity to progress with the rest of the world and in order to that, their mindsets need to change first and of course in order to change their mindsets, knowledge should be brought to them in the form of education.

So from the village of the Palau people, we dashed off towards the most anticipated feature of the whole tour – a climb to the peak of Bohey Dulang. The jetty was already bustling with incoming boats when we arrived, and the walkways were already crowded with people. In fact the whole trail was crowded, from the jetty all the way to the peak. It really amazed me just how popular Bohey Dulang had become when it was relatively unknown not so many years ago. Having been there I can now safely say that Bohey Dulang is the most climbed peak in the whole of Malaysia, no kidding!

Climbing to the peak of Bohey Dulang is certainly doable, and even children could do it (with extra care by whoever is with them). But then it is certainly far from a walk in the park. The trail is quite slippery which explains why no climb is allowed when there was rain the day before. Many parts of the trail are heavily studded with sharp-edged rocks which explain why the use of shoes to the trek is mandatory (although I did see some visitors wear sandals). After battling against the ‘human traffic’ for about an hour or so, I finally made it to the peak. As expected, even the peak was crowded so there was no way one could take a photo up there without the spoil of craning heads, umbrellas, selfie-taking hands and what-nots.

The view from the peak was breath-taking, I had no doubt. After all, it was the very view that I saw being widely posted on facebook, Instagram, twitter and what-nots. But then, one of the very first pictures that I saw of Bohey Dulang had the jetty extending far into the sea, but what I saw from the viewing spot now was only a very small fraction to it. In fact, I could only see the jetty head. I guess the restriction was quite loose back then and visitors had more freedom to roam around before the manning ropes were put up in place to restrict the visitors’ viewing area.

Prior to my visit to Tun Sakaran Marine Park, I was told about a white dog that used to usher hikers to the peak of Bohey Dulang and back, so I had this sudden joy in me when I spotted him lying still on the beach. But then he was so still I began to think that he was probably dead and it kinda made me sad. But when I was about to return to the boat, he suddenly came nudging at my leg and the joy that I had in me when I first spotted him returned to me.

But then he appeared to be so old now, and he seemed struggling with his walking. But then he still made the effort to usher me all the way to the jetty head (I’m not sure why he picked me, out of so many visitors. I guess he just knows an animal lover when he sees one). Somehow I felt choked with emotion as I had my last look at him – knowing that I’d never see him again. I remember the same emotion I experienced when I went to the peak of Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka where a dog walked with me and my travel buddy for about a few kilometers before he finally stopped – probably knowing that he had reached his last boundary – and I had my last look at him before walking out of his sight like forever.

So from Bohey Dulang we crossed over to another island called Mantabuan and I couldn’t help but getting awed by how clear the water was I could actually see the pieces of reef at the seabed. We were at Mantabuan island for lunch break and I was so (pleasantly) surprised by the extent of effort that they did in providing food for their tour participants. It was quite a big spread of food; with quite a few choices of dishes I felt so spoiled and wasted after two rounds of meal.

There was nothing extraordinary about Mantabuan to be honest, apart from the crystal clear water of course, but the fact that it is quite isolated from other islands makes it such a perfect place to go nude. But then getting nude may put you into trouble because of the run-in with the laws. Heh.

So from Mantabuan the boat took us to a little more ride before it staggered to a halt somewhere in the middle of the sea – which I found later was a snorkeling area. As the engine stopped running, it suddenly felt so silent as there was no other boats at sight. I did not snorkel. Instead, I just kept myself afloat with the help of the safety jacket and took lots and lots of selfies while I was at it. The fact that I had to have my glasses on while snorkeling did not help at all. In fact I might break my glasses if I forced the goggles on me while I had them on. Otherwise I wouldn’t see anything if I wore them without my glasses.

I was back in the boat when there was a commotion. Apparently, one of the tour guides had just resurfaced with a red octopus in his hand. The octopus was wrapping tightly around his hand and I watched in disbelief when he squeezed and twisted the beautiful octopus with all his might. He then took the half-dead octopus back to the boat where the excited tour-mates were waiting to get a hold of it. I was stunned and disgusted and I really could not believe my eyes. This is a protected marine area and people come all the way to this part of the world to see the richness of its marine life and yet these tour guides who are supposed to be eco-tourism ambassadors of some sort acted totally the opposite. I told myself to file for a complaint when I returned home.

So after this snorkeling session, the boat took us to the last destination of the day – Sibuan island. Sibuan island that I found out is a long beach that stretches out from a tiny island to form the shape of a tadpole. I wouldn’t say I was so wowed by it, but it is quite unique in its own way. The beach is tip-top, and the azure water just completes the beauty.

There were a significant number of tourists on the beach that day, so it felt quite more like a beach party. I walked to the end of the beach, and later into the water which was surprisingly warm. By then the sky had darkened and let out a rain before long so everybody scrambled back onto their boats. We were all fully soaked, and having just completed a long snorkeling session, we were all shivering and it became worse when the boat started to pick up speed. I gotta highlight though that the company had provided us each with a dry towel so it really was there when we needed it most.

We were back at Semporna Harbour at around 4.30pm and I wiggled my way back to the hotel with my towel wrapped around my cold body. It was quite a day.

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