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February 24, 2010

Of The Past and Present….

Tom McLaughlin

Lake Toba, Sumatra Island, Indonesia – The largest volcanic crater lake in the world did not make much of an impression. Comparing it to the huge, crystal clear bodies of water in Canada, I realized, later, (don’t we always realize things later?) there can be no comparison between bodies of water on one side of the world in the very northern hemisphere to one on the opposite just along the equator.


The journey, from the god-awful port city of Medan, took about five hours over fine but heavily trafficked roads. Motorized trishaws, trucks, cars and bicycles all surged forward in a cacophony of sounding horns and seemingly in absolute chaos. Somehow there were no accidents in a journey that I had predicted would end in a multitude of deaths and destruction – including mine.


The place we stayed, highly recommended, turned out to be series of two story buildings, some fronting on the lake. A series of structures with sliding glass doors and balconies, each holding two units, then moved upwards from the shore stacked along the side of a hill. The shore front ones advertised hot water cost $18 a night. The rooms were decorated like the Bates motel in Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” The hot water turned out to be tepid at best. The saving grace was the cleanliness.


Lake Toba, once a resort for wealthy tourists, had down sized to a collection of seedy establishments. Once proud hostelries were left with barely any maintenance, the owners squeezing out every Rupee they can get, like Atlantic City without the casinos.


The lake looked clean and pure. From the pier I could see the bottom and it was cooler here than in the lowlands, a refreshing breeze invited a swim to wash off the grim and sweat from the journey. But warning bells clanged. There were no fishing boats or anyone in the water. I asked at the desk if the lake was safe to swim in, they assured me it was, but I still had my doubts.


The roads around the island sported the usual tourist T-shirts and trinket shops. The only thing missing were nude velvet paintings. In a flashback to my hippie days, some places advertised hallucination producing mushrooms. I overheard some Finnish young people counseling a young Englishman on where to get some good smoke. I don’t think they meant Marlboros.


Outdoor restaurants signed awful tasting western food. Shoe leather steak, tomato soup sauced pizza and breaded barely cooked chicken revolted the taste buds and stomach. We stayed with the local soups and deeply fried foods. At least, we reasoned, everything would be cooked to death, killing the bugs that gave us the horrible case of Bali Belly a few weeks earlier.


Time machine my mind 30 years ago, same date, same place, different mindset.


Like, wow! I am one with nature as the sides of the volcano rise up towards nirvana from the thrusts of the earth. Man! Can’t you feel the energy flowing from the earths vibrations?


And the food. Like, is sooo cheap! They even have pizza here! And places to crash are, like wow! A mattress! But hey, I splurged just for tonight. Moonbeam, my lady, is like totally in awe of the waters lapping up on the shore, watching the sunsets through the clouds and writing poetry. Puts her in the mood, know what I mean?


The locals look so spiritual, at one with the universe. There are some neat T-shirts, carvings of sacred gods and paintings of charging stallions, and Apache warriors. Natives in spirit touch with each other through the cosmos spreading their art.


The lake with the deep green vegetation covered volcanic sides, blue waters and islands is worth maybe a three-day visit but only if you find yourself elsewhere in Sumatra, or you are in your teens- twenties, or on an adventure honeymoon.


Don’t make a special trip unless you are into what I heard was good dope and a Timothy Leary experience with the mushrooms. I will admit it is a good place to stay stoned. But, those days have been long gone for me. I won’t be back.


…life is good


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