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Heat, Torrential Rain & an Island Retreat

South west to the community of Tuk Tuk , on an island apparently in the middle of Danau (Lake) Toba. A 200km day to start with is a good effort given the baptism of fire crossing Medan from north to south and without the ability to use toll roads. They say the population density up here is nothing compared to Java, but it feels like all of the 2.6m residents of Medan have turned out to greet us on their motorcycles as we weave our way toward the jungle rim to the south. From sea level up to 1,000m of the caldera of the volcano in which Danau Toba sits, the heavens open and its an intense downpour complete with spectacular lightning and thunderclaps. We take shelter under the veranda of one of the jungle houses and sit out the worst of it.

By the time we get to the lakeside we’re dry more or less, and running the gauntlet of the roadside monkeys doesn’t detract from the magnificence of the views on the way down into the volcano’s lake-filled crater. It’s a ferry across to the “island” and we just manage to squeeze on as it’s leaving. In fact Dave’s bike appears to be left on the ferry drawbridge which will make for an interesting disembarkation at the other end. The trip is about an hour and sure enough Dave has to reverse his bike off before any other vehicle can move. An interesting exercise given there are more than enough “helpers” to pull his bike backwards, although he’s perilously close to losing his footing over the side of the drawbridge which would have been a very messy outcome with both rider and bike in the drink on Day One of the outing. A few stern words from Dave to the helpers and their enthusiasm tapers so he’s able to get ashore intact.

It’s only 3 kms to the Tabo Cottages, a highly recommended Lonely Planet sleepover, but the heavens open once more and we arrive thoroughly drenched, having declined to stop and put on wet gear just 1 km from the end of the day’s ride. The German hostess is very nice and welcoming and before long we’re showered (not together), and enjoying some beer and agreeing it’s great to be on the road again. 16 years of doing these offshore rides hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm for it one bit.

Friday June 17th – after a lap of the “island” in the lake (it’s actually joined to the surrounding mainland by an isthmus) the plan is to head south down the west of Sumatra for the long 2,000km haul to the bottom of the island. The island communities really are different, mainly Christian with churches as common as mosques were in the run down here yesterday. Rice paddies are everywhere and the buffalo are working getting them ready for planting. Being on the equator the growing season is all year round so some paddies are being harvested, others planted.

No idea where we are tonight but the town’s name is Tapinuli, we’re south of Lake Toba somewhere and am now on the so-called West Sumatra Highway, which comprises a strip of tarmac down the centre of a dirt road, the tar itself poxy with pot holes which keeps the speed down to under 30 kph. At this rate it’s going to take a few days to traverse Sumatra – have being doing the mental arithmetic as I’ve been dodging livestock, people, buses, trucks and tuk tuks – 700 hours at 5 hours riding a day, 14 days in total. I’ve allowed for 9 days. Something has to give – let’s hope it’s the road conditions as we get to the more populous south.

The GPS directs us to the Hotel Bali but it’s a dive so we decide to take a tiki tour around town to find something better. And a block away is another Hotel Bali- this one modern, clean and totally acceptable for the night, at NZ$40 per room. After wandering the town at dusk we determine that this is a mainly Christian settlement so beer so be attainable. We get directed to a Chinese restaurant where the food is great and they make the Bintang cold by serving the bottles in a bucket of ice. No complaints even if the price was especially usurious by local standards, the sweet and sour fish, chicken curry and nasi goreng combo was worth being screwed over at $10 per head (including beer).