Trip Start Oct 31, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed

Flag of Indonesia  , North Sumatra,
Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The month of Ramadan is that which was revealed in the Quran; a guidance for mankind, and clear proofs of the guidance, and the criterion (of right and wrong). And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, a number of other days. Allah desires for you ease; He desires not hardship for you; and that you should
complete the period, and that you should magnify Allah for having guided you, and that perhaps you may be thankful.
And so for the past month Muslims worldwide have been observing a month of religious fasting. From dawn until sunset during the month of Ramadan, Muslims must refrain from eating, drinking or sexual relations. It is time for more intense prayer and to teach self discipline and self control, a time to cleanse the soul. The word Ramadan comes from the Arabic root ramida or ar-ramad, which means scorching heat or dryness. 
Indonesia itself has the largest Muslim population in the world, with approx 202.9 million people identified as Muslims. Ramadan and Idul Fitri (the fast breaking festivities that follow) have therefore obviously been a fairly big deal here in Sumatra. Although to be honest, not quite as huge as I expected here in Medan. It seems (just from my observations) that Muslims here are somewhat more laid back than in other parts of the world. From the point of view of an outsider (me) the only real differences I noticed during Ramadan seemed to be; more calls to prayer from the mosques, even worse traffic and driving (if that's possible?!), more difficulty getting food (the smaller restaurants tended to close during the day), people being even more laid back than before (sleeping at work, that kind of thing) and the best thing for me...an extra break and free snacks at work at sunset. 
Eid ul-fitri (Idul Fitri in Indonesia)is the festivity of breaking the fast at the end of Ramadan and is based on the moon which means the date changes each year (and subsequently seems to cause some confusion each year too). Idul Fitri meant a week off work for Roger and I and so we headed out to Lake Toba with some friends for a relaxing week of swimming, eating and touring.  I think I've mentioned Toba in previous posts, but just in case you didn't read them here are a couple of facts for you. Lake Toba is the largest volcanic lake in the world, being 100km long, 30km wide and 505 metres at it's deepest point. It is estimated that the volcano erupted around 70,000 years ago and may even had caused the ice age. In the middle of Lake Toba is an island, called Samosir which is where we spent the week, in our favourite spot, a lovely 4 bedroom house, right on the edge of the lake, called Laguna. Toba is a slightly different experience during Idul Fitri, I guess you could compare it to a popular holiday destination back in England during half term, it gets busy. The main visitors to Samosir tend to be the wealthier Chinese population, but it's also strange to spend time surrounded by so many westerners after having been in Medan for such a long time. Toba seems to be popular with European travellers (I'm not sure why) and it takes a while to get used to the fact that the people surrounding you in
public places, like restaurants, can actually understand what you're saying!

We spent most of the time eating and drinking, enjoying the western foods on offer, the rare chance to see pork on the menu and restaurants with atmosphere and character. I tried fishing (unsuccessfully) a couple of times and swimming in the lake and we got the chance to make some new friends.

A group of us got together around the middle of the week and decided that we were going to attempt to cross the middle of Samosir island by motorcycle. We'd been around the outside of the island a couple of times already (roughly a 5 hour trip) on previous visits to Toba and so cutting through the middle seemed like an interesting alternative. Samosir island is split down the center by a small mountain range and so we were expecting a bit of a challenge. We set off in the morning, 7 of us on 3 motorcycles and 2 scooters, but when couldn't find the road we needed to take us off the regular route and into the mountains we accepted help from a thirty-something local guy in a dreadlock beanie hat who'd been driving past on his scooter. After listening to us explain that we wanted to cross the island rather than go around it, he nodded and set off back down the road we'd just came with us in close pursuit. A few back streets, and a quick short cut through the centre of the local market later and we arrived at … the King's tomb, a local tourist attraction and not quite the adventurous road across the island we were hoping for. Trying again we set out to re-explain our plan to our new friend and tour guide, and when he finally seemed to get what we were after we set off again, this time on a more promising route uphill and into the jungle of trees. Now things were getting interesting and the narrow roads turned into mud tracks, which in turn transformed into, well, no roads at all, and the best off road riding I've ever done! We picked our way through trees and over rocks, uphill and down hill, through the mud and the gravel and finally arrived around 45 minutes later at a little village. Two rows of small traditional Toba houses (which, if you haven't seen pictures, look very similar to upturned wooden boats, with tiny high doors and wooden steps leading up like chicken huts. They're beautiful...and weird). Turns out this was the where out tour guide friend lived, and it also turned out that he happened to sell drinks and food from his own Toba house...funny that. Still we were grateful for the unexpected twist in our tour and the chance to look around a 200 year old traditional village and so we bought a few drinks before setting off on our way, a couple of minutes in the same direction...and right back on the road we'd originally met the guy. Forget crossing the island, it was time to cut our losses and go around the outside once more...it is pretty beautiful after all.

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