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If you yearn for an exotic locale, you couldn't find one better than Lake Toba. Located in the province of North Sumatra in Indonesia, Lake Toba is the largest permanent lake in Southeast Asia. The lake is the result of a supervolcano about 75,000 years ago, believed to be the largest volcanic explosion on earth. Lake Toba is the largest volcanic crater lake in the world, covering almost 272,000 acres. Much of its area is taken up by the island of Samosir, 267 square miles of mountainous terrain, Batak villages, holiday rentals, lush tropical forests and freshwater lakes. Samosir is nearly a world of its own - a large island with small lakes, in the middle of huge Lake Toba, on the island nation of Indonesia. Many who visit Lake Toba describe it as the most beautiful place in the world, with lush green jungles and mountains, sparkling lakes, breathtaking waterfalls and exotic birds and animals robed in riotous tropical colors.
Most visitors fly to Medan and then travel by land to Parapat on the shores of Lake Toba. Parapat is a prime tourist town, occupying a small rocky peninsula jutting into the lake. A large number of excellent lodging accommodations are located in the area, and the town boasts a great number of small shops and eating establishments. Shops sell an array of Batak textiles, ceramics, wood carvings, and handicrafts with the occasional genuine antique mixed in. Purchasers are expected to haggle over the price, so stated prices are usually high. Here the visitor can enjoy such local treats as Ting Ting and Tong Tong (peanut and sesame sticks), satay and ginger tea.
Parapat offers swimming, water skiing, motor boating, canoeing, fishing and golf. Fishing excursions can be arranged for tilapia, catfish and several lesser-known local species, many of which would look right at home in the tropical aquarium. Lake cruises are a favorite activity for tourists, as the wonders of the rugged shoreline can be observed without the effort of hiking in the high humidity. The altitude at Lake Toba - over 2950 feet - and cooling breezes off the lake help tourists escape the oppressive humidity of the lowlands, making a visit to Lake Toba much more pleasant. Of the more than 200 brooks and rivers that empty into the lake, only 70 run year-round. The shallower bays are warm for swimming, but much of the lake is quite cold due to the great depth.
Most visitors to Lake Toba take one of the regularly scheduled ferry boats to Samosir Island. A favored destination is the village of TukTuk, a regular ferry destination. TukTuk is a village geared to tourists, with holiday rentals and hotels of every description. Guest houses and cottages are plentiful; traditional Batak stilt-houses can even be rented. The small town is filled with shops and market stalls selling local handicrafts and food. Many of the hotels have either swimming pools or beachfront swimming areas for guest use. Here, too, guests can enjoy sailing, fishing and water sports. Samosir has become world-famous for paragliding from the steep cliffs overlooking the lake.
Many holiday rentals and hotels around Lake Toba will rent bicycles for guest use, as there are no taxis at TukTuk. Another favorite way to get around is to rent a motor scooter. These small motorized bikes are a common and economical method of transportation on the island. Without one, the visitor will need to sign on to a regular tour to visit the interior and the fascinating villages of the native Batak. The island was originally an isthmus on the west side, but under Dutch rule a channel was cut through to facilitate shipping. The road across the causeway is known to be in poor condition, but many enjoy a visit to the hot springs on the western side of the island just across the causeway from Pangururan. The water is very hot, so care should be exercised. Much of the island and surrounding land are farmed for coffee, rubber, tobacco, palm oil and tea.
The local people around Lake Toba welcome tourists and are willing to let visitors observe their villages and culture. Most still live in traditional three-story saddle-roofed houses on stilts which are decorated with colorful painted carvings on the posts and roof trees. Local guides inform visitors that the ground floor is for rearing poultry, the second floor is for adults and is divided into two areas for men and women, and the top floor is for children. The Batak people dye traditional brightly-colored cloth which is used in their ceremonial dances. This cloth can be purchased from enterprising villagers. The culture has elaborate funeral traditions, and many villages have massive stone burial vaults that hold the bones of their ancestors. The stone tombs of past tribal kings are located on the island and maintained regularly by the population.
Sumatra proudly proclaims itself the original "Jungle Book". Sumatra is home to tigers, leopards, orangutan, elephants, rhinos, bears, tapirs, hundreds of monkeys, and giant snakes. It is one of the last places on earth to see the Sun Bear, majestic Sumatran tiger or leopards, the Pocket Sumatran Elephants and Rhinos, and a variety of birds and mammals that exist nowhere else. No trip to Sumatra would be complete without a trip to Gunung Leuser National Park, a two hour bus trip from Madan where many of these exotic animals are found. Those with an urge toward adventure can join organized hikes or strike out on their own. Again, the rental scooter will allow freedom of movement to enjoy the many sights. The Batak locals are friendly and always glad to help a tourist find their way, often for a small tip.
A holiday at Lake Toba is perfect for relaxing and enjoying an exotic location without undue tourist pressures and rush. Vacation rentals are plentiful. Guest cottages and hostels can be found off the beaten track for a more authentic native experience. Many hotels provide wireless internet, so visitors can start making left-behind friends and family envious from the moment they arrive by sending emails and pictures. Real estate may be hard to find and purchase arrangements complicated, but those lucky enough to have settled here don't appear to miss their 'civilized' past one bit. So, go native. Enjoy Lake Toba. It will change your outlook on life forever.
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