July 22nd, 2009 - I think I had a date yesterday. A couple of days ago I went for a drive along Lake Toba that took me through a number of Batak fishing villages. The road eventually slimmed down to nothing more than a concrete path large enough for a motorcycle, maybe two. It was a little awkward as this path runs right along some of the houses. At times it was a bit like driving through someone’s living room. The glances local folks were sending my way did nothing to quell my self-consciousness. In these situations I always feel like a trespasser even when I am certain it is of no import to the locals.
So when I turned around at a point I thought prudent to do so I found myself in front of a house by the lake. As I slowly sputtered by an elderly woman came out of the house and motioned for me to stop. She then began speaking to me in Indonesian. Most it was beyond me but I did get enough to realize that she wanted me to wait a moment so I could speak with a woman paddling onto shore at the moment.
The woman in the boat greeted me in surprisingly good English. She introduced herself as Ratna, a Batak woman living with her mother (the old woman who stopped me). From the first moment I met her I found her to be extremely friendly, personable, and someone with whom it is easy to converse. I liked her from the start. After a short conversation she invited me to visit the following day for a short hike in the forest and a bite of fresh fish. As I viewed this as an excellent opportunity to get some insight into the local culture I accepted.
When I returned to Ratna’s village I was greeted with a smile and some local tea. Soon after we went for a short walk in the hills behind her village. I discovered that Ratna was one of twelve children and that her father was a Batak king whose jurisdiction stretched to the villages in the area and up the mountain. He died when she was only four years old (she is 40 now) and unfortunately, did not pass on a king’s ransom. I guess the crown was not what it used to be by the time of his reign. I surmised that his was solely a leadership role, all the power without all the glory. He was apparently married twice, Ratna’s mother being the second after the death of the first.
Ratna spent most of her adult life away from Toba living first in Jakarta with the majority of her family, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, etc. She worked at a transportation/cargo company based in Jakarta for much of the time until she was transferred to Medan in Northern Sumatra. But as her mother began to advance in years she returned home to take care of her.
She is married but does not like her husband anymore. As she said, “I don’t think he is a good guy. I don’t want to see him again.” She said this so matter-of-factly that it was difficult to hold back a smile. She lived with him in a house in Medan but grew tired of their relationship on account of idleness (not much of a worker I gather) and his tendency toward violence and control. So she was basically supporting him, giving him money for whatever he requested and catering to his every whim. And for her trouble he was not allowed to have friends and would receive harsh punishment for violation of his rules. You could tell that this made her sad and that she did not understand why Jesus ( Did I mention the Batak people are catholic?) would send her such a man. I tried to console her a bit by relaying the fact that assholes like that are by no means endemic only to Sumatra (different phrasing of course). Every village has their share.
Ratna has many friends from other parts of the world. One of the best hails from Australia and is coming to live with her in her village for four months starting in September. Together they are involved in a small eco-movement in Indonesia, permaculture to be precise. For those unfamiliar with the concept permaculture is ‘a system of cultivation intended to maintain permanent agriculture or horticulture by relying on renewable resources and a self-sustaining ecosystem.’ She even has a compost area near her home. She is dedicated to sharing the principles of conservation with the youth of her village and introducing them to all the things she was never exposed to when she was a child. She also wants to teach English as well and even has a computer program that translates Indo to English. On top of that she is slowly building a small library of books to loan to anyone that wants to study permaculture , English, or other topics of interest. I guess the bottom line here is that she is one of those special people doing grand things on a small scale. I so admire people like that.
After our short walk in the forest we sat down to a tasty meal of rice and fresh fish. And I do mean fresh. From water to dinner table was no more than 25 minutes. I watched as she scooped a couple of fish out of the little enclosure in front of her house and nonchalantly began slicing up the catch. There was something strangely attractive about a forty-year-old Batak woman ripping the guts out of Tilapia fish in preparation for a meal, my meal. No high maintenance princess here, just a confident Batak woman living her life. All I could do was snap photos and contemplate how useless I would be in this village.
While loitering about I snapped a picture of man’s best friend, let’s call him Fido. There are many Fidos running all over the island. Gosh, I love dogs. Always have. The Batak people love dogs too……on a spit, in a stew, with a side of rice, so on a so forth. I guess you could say that Fido is one of man’s best dishes. I first learned of this when a British gentleman told me a went for an early morning to discover a couple of Batak men roasting Fido on a stick. In fact one of them was burning off the fur with a propane torch. Yummy.
Unfortunately, very few, if any, of the cute healthy dogs I see scampering about are pets. I asked Ratna about this and learned that none of the dogs in her village are pets. They share the same status as the chickens, ducks, buffaloes, and pigs. An American I met told me that he met a woman that was afraid to leave her dog (a pet) alone for fear that her friends might turn it into a light snack. Oh, the culture shock. I am afraid that kitty has to watch her step as well. Although not as popular it is not unheard of for Boots to end up on the barbecue as well. Ratna said she’d only eaten kitty once when she was a little girl.
So after dinner I thanked Ratna for her hospitality and for sharing a bit of her history with me and headed back to my hotel. She offered to show me around the island so I may see her again. What a reward for driving down a lakeside road just for the hell of it!
I finally manged to get some shots of a local 'school' bus. The ride to sixth grade would have been so much more exciting had I been lucky enough to have such an opportunity.
I love your post and your photos! I think I have my next trip to Sumatra planned!ReplyDelete
Thanks. I appreciate that.Delete
Where are you now Rich/ReplyDelete
ARE YOU STILL TRAVELLING LOVE THE LOOK OF lake Toba!ReplyDelete
My traveling days are over...for now. But someday....Delete
Hi Rich is Radna still about on Lake Toba? And does she have an email or Facebook would love to meet up with her when I get to Lake Toba?And do you think you could live in a place like Lake Toba it and Sumatra in general have always appealed to me for there simple way of life! And the wildlife!ReplyDelete
Hi Steve. I can't seem to find any contact info for Radna. I'll keep looking. Assuming the landscape has not changed significantly she should not be hard to find. I believe if you follow the trail west along the lake you will end up at her doorstep, literally. I'm thinking maybe printing out a couple of the photos might aid in your search as well.Delete
Could I live there? For a time, definitely, but the truth is I am not sure living anywhere for years and years appeals to me but I could definitely hang there at least for a few months, if not a year. If you do go and track her down, let me know. I'd love to know how she is doing.
Actually, that might be 'north' along the lake in the village of Sitamlang.Delete
Terima Kasih for the reply Rich,what photos could you send me if possible and do you think you had a contact for Radna?ReplyDelete
Rich Iam a 56 year old whos had a "gutfull of working and Western society" my family and wife think I am NUTS to want to travel and see whats out there and I do agree it would be difficult to stay in one place indefinitely whats your thoughts on this vagabonding DREAM of mine? As they say" dont collect stuff collect EXPERIENCES?"
I still can't find any contact info for Radna. You should be able to download the photos from this page. If not, let me know.Delete
Nuts? I spent over two years traveling around the world. If you're nuts then I must be Mr. Peanut himself. Keeping in mind that i am not familiar with your particular circumstances and background I will speak in general terms. Are you healthy? Do you have the means to travel? Do you have the time? Do you have the desire? The curiosity? The longing to see what's out there? Chances are you'll be dead in thirty years. And even if you make it the full thirty what is the likelihood you'll maintain good health that whole time? I did meet an 80-yr-old American traveling in Indonesia but how many of us are that lucky? My suggestion is to live as if you'll find out next week you have terminal cancer. How would that change things?
The truth is I took it a little but too far. I shouldn't have been gone so long and I should've had a plan for after. Still, it was the most remarkable time of my f***ing life. Sounds like you might be a better position, a better foundation from which to launch. Only you know what is right for you. Extensive travel in some far flung places changed my perspective on the world and the people in it forever.I believe it may be the single most effective way to open one's mind, assuming one is willing to do so in the first place. A two week vacation at a five star resort in Bali won't do shit. You want crazy? Go run around Irian Jaya (Eastern Indonesia) for a month. I never made it but I did have the good fortune to visit Papa New Guinea years ago, before the trip chronicled in this blog. It blew my mind.
Rich your reply to say the least was very uplifting to me! Going on 8 years ago my mother passed away of cancer and to say least had a profound effect on me in regards to "how short life is" I reacessed my life and came to the conclusion that "life is NOT a dress rehearsal" one chance on this planet to do what we desire to do! Have a look at the trailer of a dvd called "Im fine,thanks" Google it and tell me what you think it really struck a chord with me and I sense it will with you also,I want a simple life and at the end of the day I want to "die with memories not Dreams" I agree totally with the 2 week vacation in Bali thing as this is what my wife and I have done now for many years but when I get there I dont want to come home! As you know the Balinese are wonderful people and we could learn a lot from them they have very little but are very happy,may have something to do with the Hindu religion I suggest? Read the Mark Twain quote also on "In 20 years from now" I am rather computer illiterate or I would have given you a link to it my friend! I have been with my wife for 41 years we met at school and we have 3 children in there early 30s I love them all dearly BUT I have this gut wrenching urge to see the rest of the world especially Asia and Sth America,I like to travel on a budget and rough it to experience the real environment around me. A couple of years ago I went to Kalimantan by myself with a backpack to see the orangutans in the wild it took us 2 days to find them and it was extremely overwhelming! On my return my wife was very upset and told me if I want to continue leaving her on her own I would have to leave which put a stop to my adventures,I started my apprenticeship at Qantas Airways which afforded me very cheap travel in my younger years which probably helped create my WANDERLUST when the children came along that all stopped! My wife likes shot holidays overseas but I would preffer much longer even living in different countries to immerse myself in the country,people and culture not to mention how cheap it is to live there,Australia is very expensive to live and I fear a boring retirement looming,I am resonably fit but I would have to divorce and sell the house to realise enough funds to live my dream which would be difficult for me and the family emmotionally? Its a real catch 22 Rich but Mark Twains quote about what you will REGRET more in 20 years holds true to me. Its working up enough guts to actually do it,but as you said about the terminal cancer you DONT know whats around the corner? The number 1 regret of men on their death bed is" NOT living a life true to themselves,instead living their life as others EXPECTED them to" which really hit home to me Rich. Sorry about the ramble but I am really in need of support and advice just glad I found your blog when researching Sumatra and really pulled me in especially the Indonesian section and Borobodur and Komodo are on the Bucket list! Sulawesi looks interesting also! Any advise would be greatly appreciated Rich??? Have a look at Jonathan Look blog "Life part 2" He sold everything!ReplyDelete
You might need support but I don't think you necessarily need advice. What I'm saying is this: i think you have a pretty good idea of what to do. That being said I have no knowledge of your particular circumstances and I'm a little hesitant to push you in a direction that might alienate your entire family. But I am going to say this anyway. Sounds like you've lived a good life and have a great family. You worked hard and made the sacrifices that were expected of you and did it with an earnest heart. You've given your life to your family.Delete
Well, now it's time for you. What do you want? What do you need? What good are you to your family if you're f***ing miserable? People change. It’s as simple as that. You’re not the same person you were thirty years ago and neither is your wife. If your paths lead in different directions then so be it. Staying together because it is the socially acceptable way to behave is not the answer. I realize it is easier said than done and the pain might be extremely acute and last for years but how will it be if you don’t follow your dreams? Maybe it’s better to separate now rather than end up bitter and risk tainting all the fond memories.
All we have is the here and now. The past is locked and the future is unknowable. When it’s over it’s really over. You may think you have a choice, that you’re at a crossroads, but are you? Maybe there is no choice and the road is only one way. I don’t know but it sounds like you already know what to do.
I hate cliches but it might be time to carpe your f***ing diem. If i were in a position to do so I’d meet you somewhere. I’m guessing we’d get along. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the possibility that you might make a bold move and regret it later. It is always possible but from the little that you’ve shared I don’t think that would be the case.
Do you have a reply Rich?ReplyDelete
Sorry. Been a little caught up the last few days. I'll get there.ReplyDelete
Hey Steve. Not sure if you've been checking this but I did reply to your post above.ReplyDelete
Hi Rich, must admit have been DEEP in thought the last week after reading your reply which I appreciate more than you will know my friend! My wife and I have now seperated our bank accounts and have agreed to live under the same roof amicably for the time being anyway, as a divorce would mean selling the house making it impossible for her to buy another place in our town as real estate prices here in Sydney have absolutely gone through the roof believe it or not, they are out of control and I do worry about this country? Australia used to be known as "the lucky country" but NOW it is "the expensive country" She and our adult children know where I am at in regards to what I wish to accomplish at this stage of MY LIFE! As you said this may not be socially acceptable but nothing is set in stone as they say! Maybe the road is only" one way "as I am miserable everyday at the thought of NOT living "My Dream" Steve Jobs once said "Your time is limited,so dont waste it living somebody elses life" And our most precious asset is TIME for it can NEVER be regained or bought back!ReplyDelete
As fate or luck would have it I recently through chance and FBook got in touch with and old friend from my teenage surfing years,havent seen or heard from him in around 40 years or so.Hes divorced and retired early due to making money in the construction industry, he still surfs and has opened a small surf shop in Sri Lanka where he is at the moment for 5 or 6 weeks surfing, lucky bastard! He has a 31 ft yatch here and tells me hes looking for a deckhand to go with him in the new year to explore the North East coast of Australia ( Queensland) then to the Kimberleys ( Northern Australia ) then on to Papua New Guinea and Asia with no time limits! He only requires me to pay for my own food and help out onboard, maybe its time to" Carpe my f***ing Diem" mate? MUST admit I am petrified what the family will or would think? I have enough money to do a trip like this as I love the ocean and anything to do with it! I went snorkeling around Gili Trawangan also like you,loved it and Lombok! Sounds like I would be away for a rather long time? Nothing ventured nothing gained as they say! I feel rather lost with my life at the moment and a lot of "What if " thoughts? And "coulda, shoulda, woulda" moments! Maybe this trip would help me FIND myself, my purpose?
The very basic core of mans living spirit is his passion for adventure.The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences. Dont settle down in one place.Move around, be nomadic, make each day a new horizon. We just have to have the COURAGE to turn against our habitual lifestyle and engage in unconventional living!
Love to hear your reply oh and PLEASE look at the " Im fine thanks" trailer if you havent already?
Your friend Steve
Sorry about the delay. It was a holiday weekend and I was no where near my computer. Wow, looks like you are making it happen. There's a quote i like to paraphrase from time to time: It's not the things we do we regret the most, it's the thing's we didn't do. Now I suppose it wouldn't take long to get carried away with such logic but I think you get the point. Sometimes just taking steps to make your dream come true can be extremely liberating. You have to know. You have to find out. So find out!Delete
Don't get too caught up in the romanticized vision of 'finding yourself'. A lot of that can be new age babble bullshit. That's not to say it won't happen or that you won't find your version of nirvana but to set out with those kinds of expectations can be highly detrimental. Take it as it is and be with each day as it unfolds. Maybe you'll hate every minute of every day as you lament on the stern of your boat crying out, "Why, oh why, hath I done such a thing?!", but that's not the point. Finding out is the point. Of course I don't think that will happen but you never know. Only one way to find out. The cool thing is it seems almost impossible to fail. Even 'failure' would be worth the lesson it would teach. Who the hell knows what you will learn about yourself or your life? Nobody, Certainly not you. And THAT is the idea. Take whatever comes. Evaluate. Move on from there. Does it get any more fucking exciting than that? I don't think so.
At the risk of sounding like a douchebag the universe might be trying to tell you something with the timely arrival of your friend's yacht. Do coincidences exist? Hmmmmmm. Then again maybe your friend turned into an asshole. Maybe he will think you turned into an asshole. Doesn't really matter. Don't like the boat? Get off the boat. Do something else. Fairly good metaphor I suppose. I should properly stop now. I am starting to sound like Jiminy Cricket trying to do an impression of the Dalai Lama.
Do you have a reply Rich?ReplyDelete
Hi Steve. I replied above just in case you didn't notice.ReplyDelete
Thanks for the reply Rich, my mate says hes probably going for a couple of years and what ever happens happens he says? If he finds a place he likes we will stay or just move on somewhere else as time is of no importance!ReplyDelete
Got to admit offers like this dont come often do they? But I would hate to be lamenting my decision day after day week after week,wondering what the family will think, but life is short my friend.
Just in the middle of booking a ticket to Bali to get my teeth fixed cheap as over there and good quality as I have had work done previously. Going by myself to see how I handle it and I have many friends there one in particular said I can stay with him and his family which I would love.Keen to get immersion in the culture as I said they are great people as you know! Thought about the side trip to Sumatra but dont have the time as my son just surprised me with tickets to Fleetwood Mac concert and also AC\DC concert so I have to be back in time.
FEAR is my biggest enemy at the moment Rich I must admit,how did it effect you when you started out solo on your travels? Any tips or advise?
Your friend Steve
Do you have a reply Rich?ReplyDelete
Sorry about the delay. I’ve had a few things going on my end.ReplyDelete
Fear is probably everyone’s biggest enemy in just about any arena of life. Context his important but, generally speaking, I try to use the fear as a catalyst for action. If I’m afraid I should probably do it. Was i afraid when i left for my trip? No, not at all, but that’s only because i had done some traveling before. The first time I went to Africa, Nairobi to be precise, anxiety levels were definitely high. The next morning when I walked to the center of town from my hotel it felt liked I landed on another planet. As I walked down a street in broad daylight it felt as if the record had scratched and all eyes were upon me. One tall, lanky, jackass American in a sea of Kenyans. I hadn’t a clue. I might as well have been on stage. It scared the shit out of me and was so far out of my frame of reference I was nearly speechless. Here’s the thing: I fucking loved it. It was like a drug ad I wanted more. I suppose that’s when my addiction really took hold. It happened again in Papua New Guinea a couple years later. Blew my fucking mind. But, like any drug, it becomes harder and harder to duplicate the experience, which is when you may start chasing the dragon a bit. I suppose, as far as addictions go, this would be one of the lesser evils.
You have to remember, you can return any time you like. It’s not a crossing the Rubicon, point of no return scenario, is it? You could always take smaller trips at first. One month here, two months there. See how it goes. When you feel it’s right turn it into a six month or year fandango. This might not be suitable for you but I thought I would mention it.
The most important thing (in my most humble opinion) is not to overreact in the beginning, even if you’re miserable. Especially if you’re miserable. Give it some time. Give yourself some leeway to acclimatize. And let’s juts say that you’re gone for three months or more and you are miserable the whole time? You can home any time. Would that be a failure? No fucking way! Think about it. You will have learned something about yourself. You’d of had a go and decided it wasn’t for you. Isn’t that what life is supposed to be? the only to know who you are is to push your boundaries. It’s the only way my friend.
I’m hoping some of this is helpful. I don’t claim t have the answers. I can only speak from experience, from the heart.
Hi Rich thanks for the reply, I found Radna on google her name is "Ratna" Ratnauli Gultom on Facebook!ReplyDelete
Shes married now and you ought to see what shes done to the place!
Google 'Ecovillage Samosir blog' Restaurant and and accomodation!
Wow. That's awesome and exactly what I would have expected from her. That's is fantastic. Thank's for sharing. Looks like I spelled her name wrong, huh? Come to think of it I don't believe I ever actually saw it spelled out. Any chance you will drop in and see her?ReplyDelete
Gday Rich,long time no talking! A lot has happened since we last corresponded mate, the yacht trip never happened he bailed out on it! Last February I went to Bali for more dental work and took a 2 week side trip to Flores and absolutely had a ball, Landed in Labuan Bajo hired a local boat out with 2 other guys and went to Rinca Island and Komodo Island to see the Komodo Dragons then went snorkelling at Manta Point withe manta rays AWESOME both things were bucket list stuff for me! Then I caught local buses to Ruteng to see The Hobbit cave a must do for me!Delete
Then onto Bajawa then Riung down to Ende and Moni and finally Maumere on the East coast then flew back to Bali. Im pretty sure from memory you got to Flores also the crater lakes at Moni were closed unfortunately due to shocking weather tearing rooves off when I was there next time maybe would LOVE to do it on a bike like you did extremely green, tropical and scenic hey!
The present, still with the wife albeit tentatively and a few months ago got a bargain return flight to Malaysia for $219! Cant believe how CHEAP flying is nowadays.So this Friday I am off to Kuala Lumpur then change over same morning to fly down to Sumatra mate as we talked about previously and see Lake Toba and stay at Ratnas house. I will certainly mention you to her and will show her your Blog and pics of her and her house in 2009 if possible, looking forward to that and hiring a scooter to explore the island. Apparently theres a boat that goes directly to her house nowadays, From there to Bukit Lawang like you to do the orangutan thing, where did you stay there any suggestions or contacts? Then Im heading North to the tip of Sumatra Banda Aceh and Palau Weh supposed to be great for diving and snorkelling should be good,
Then Im flying back to Kuala Lumpur and heading for Northern Malaysian Borneo (Sabah, Brunei and Sarawak)go from the top down to the bottom with local transport love mixing with the locals to immerse myself in the culture! should have mentioned i am going for 5 weeks by myself with my backpack and the itinerary isnt set instone so if I meet someone I can tag along if I wish and go where ever that suits me and I havent bought any othe flight tickets so making it up as I go along which is probably how youd like to do it to mate! Anyways finished my rant hope you are keeping well and would love to do some exploring with you in the near future if your up for a trip with a young 58 year old it would be fun guaranteed champ!
Regards Vagabond STEVE