Somewhere in Simalem


There were more or less 24 people besides me who took part in an eco-trip to Taman Simalem, located in Toba Lake, Karo Regency, North Sumatera, Indonesia on June 11 (Saturday), 2011. The caravans were scheduled to depart by 7.30 am, but the timing was procrastinated to more or less 7.40 am.

2 caravans were rented to bring us into what people commonly describe as sculpturesque. To tell you the truth, all the 12 people needed to jostle each other for an approximately 4-hour sojourn. I sat over the corner on the most behind row, both thighs put very tight as there were the other 3 sharing the same seat with me. My body was a bit stiff after the journey, but there are no regrets after taking part in this trip.

The driver was particularly professional, that he was able to push ahead other cars, public-transport buses, and trucks. I was a bit scared, but fortunately, nothing much happened throughout the time the caravans were moving to Simalem.

The roads were hard to cross, but there is no other way except to cross them. They were rocky, two-by-four, and some were filled with potholes or pit roads. Especially when it comes to driving towards Berastagi. The road throughout the mountains reminded me of ‘dying, wounded, bony snakes’. If the drivers were not that careful, the vehicles would either fall down into the land or slip into the trench that is on the left side of the road.

You may feel deplored by its addle-pated infrastructure, but getting in through Toba Lake would compensate for it.

Taman Simalem, which is 30 hectares big, consists of many places we would have to use caravans to move from one place to another. We may either go up or go down, because the geographic structure of the plain here is a bit wavy. We did not live in the hotel, instead we spent the night in a dorm. Even it took 5 minutes of driving to reach the nearest restaurant.

We reached the place by the time it was 11.40 pm. We had a lunch somewhere near the checkpoint; the nice thing is we could enjoy the tranquil sceneries of the tropical rainforest, and the sluggish flow of water throughout a river in front of us. The organizer, Miss Jennifer, who is my Mandarin tuition teacher as well, distributed to us packs of nasi bungkus, which primarily consist of white rice, egg, fried chicken, spicy tempe (fermented soybeans), and gado-gado (a kind of local hodgepodge). It was such kind of a big pack that I could barely afford to finish them.

Time showed 12.20 pm. We got back into the caravan, spent an additional 5- or 10-minute interval, and we reached the dorm. We checked in to the rooms, put our suitcases inside, and got back to the caravans. Some of us (except me and a few) were having fun by challenging their adrenalines on flying fox. Reminded of latest news reports in which people were stuck while having flying-fox made me afraid of doing it. But I could not regret it; it’s all happened. In the long run, it turned out to be not that scary at all. Every person required less than a minute to glide through the ropes. While they were having fun in flying-fox, I went into a nearby forest, and took some pictures of them with my Blackberry. Little, black butterflies surrounded this little forest. Streams of water were flowing past the stones over a river. The sky was sapphire blue. The atmosphere was slightly hot, but it was much better compared to that of Medan. The waves of wind slapped through my body ferociously, as if I would have been blown were I thinner two-times fold.

It was – unless I’m mistaken – 3 pm, and we got back into the caravans, and stopped by a cafe. There were toilets besides the building, and we spent some time to either urinate or defecate. Afterwards, we had a jungle trek. The caravans stopped on the roadside near the jungle, we came out of the caravans, and split into 2 groups. Each group would be accompanied by one tour guide, and mine was guided by Mr.Kaban (one of the surnames of Batak Karo ethnic group). I did not ask the name of the other one. Every few minutes we would stop by, and Mr.Kaban would explain everything about the forest. About the trees, about ‘Barbie harms Indonesian forests’, about ‘one tree provides oxygen for many, many people’, etc.

This is the first time I learn directly to get in touch with nature. I can’t vividly describe the jungle as it may require pages and pages to mention them all. About the trees, about the leaf-rots-laden ground, the rocky path as we got nearer into the jungle, the unique plants, and a long list to go. I should not have described the jungle like how Charles Dickens described the 18th-century London. But just let me summarize. The trees were tall, whose heights averaged at meters high, and the countless leaves made the sky only able to be seen in forms of big, shapeless dots. The ground was laden with leaf rots. The path was wavy, as sometimes it may go down, at the other time it may go up. Up and down, down and up, like the composition of musical tones in an orchestra.

After crossing through hundreds and hundreds of meters, we were finally able to make it. We saw a large waterfall. The river was not too deep. We had to step on the shapeless stones carefully in order to get in touch directly with the waterfall, unless we could fall down and hit our heads on them. Fortunately, nothing terrible happened, despite the facts I almost fell down on the stones a few times.

I did not jump into the waterfall and splash myself with it. I just spent some time sitting on one of the big stones, and took some pictures with my Blackberry. The splashing session ended at 4.30 pm, and we had to get back to the dorm. The first group previously left us, meanwhile the girls were exchanging clothes (with Miss Jennifer taking a bath towel and opened it wide in order to shun anybody from looking at them) I was involved in a conversation with Mr.Kaban. He told me many things. He had ever guided Western tourists, and watched them getting fully naked as they jumped into the waterfall. He had ever been to jungles in Aceh, and befriended with some GAM fighters (GAM is an abbreviation of Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, or Aceh Movement for Independence, a rebel organization who in the past struggled to achieve an independent Aceh state). His English was a bit not fluent, but at least I got some points from him. If there were no GAM members in the jungle, the trees would have been chopped down by the locals, because the jungles were the base camps for the combatants. He had ever tried marijuana there, but only once. Only once in a lifetime. He had also travelled to Nias, and told that one of his friends offered him a shark bone for any ‘supernatural power’. But he fully turned down the offer, replying that he ‘has full belief in God’.

As the girls had finished exchanging their clothes, our conversation ended. We returned to the same path we got in. It was 5.30 pm when we got back into the hotel. After taking a bath, we gathered together in the main lobby. We got in to the caravans, and had dinner in a nearby restaurant. The air was purely fresh, and I inhaled in as much air as I could. Everything was so tranquil and peaceful. Out there, was what I mentioned as ‘starry starry night’. There were little, sparkling stars in the sky like countless beads scattered in an ocean of darkness. The waves of wind moved swiftly toward my body, and I could feel touches of coldness throughout my body.

We had a sharing session in a nearby building at 8 pm. Miss Jennifer told us to summarize what points we had learnt from having the eco-trip. Afterwards, we had karaoke session. I was deeply drowsy that I almost fell asleep amidst the explosive sound of the songs. I came back into the dorm at 10.30 pm. I was deeply asleep.

The next day, all of us had to wake up as early as 4 am, in order to watch the sunrise. I was the very first one, together with one of my roommates, Michael, to wake up exactly at that moment. As there were no toilets in the rooms, we needed to get out, and shared all the 4 bathrooms outside, altogether with other boys. And so were the sinks. I wore two jackets, brushed my teeth, and loosened my bowels. It was just 4.30 am when these things were all done. I came back into the room, with hands shivering. The wind was much more violently cold than I thought; inside, it was much warmer.

Most of the participants only woke up as time showed 5 am. I came out of the room, sat in the main lobby, and read my National Geographic magazine I put in my backpack. It was 5.30 am when all of us came out of the dorm, and watched the sunrise. The sky that was purely black began to fade into dark blue, then into deep reddish orange, until a flashing yellowish light began to emerge. The surrounding sky metamorphosed from deep black into greyish blue, before it faded into pale, light blue. I captured some of these moments in my Blackberry, but unfortunately, there were some technical problems with the handphone that it suddenly turned off automatically. Luckily, it didn’t take much time to activate the handphone back.

At 7 am, we had breakfast in the same restaurant we had dinner the previous day. Afterwards, we visited organic farms. This time, all of us were only accompanied by Mr.Kaban. We also paid a visit to a marquisa farm, a coffee-and-tea plantation, and sipped a cup of coffee and tea in an organic-food market. We also visited a Buddhist shrine, and the building’s status was still far from accomplished. We again returned to the dorm, and time showed 10.40 pm. We all had to check out at 11.30 pm, so some of us immediately took a hurry-scurry bath.

On the final lunch in Taman Simalem, we were treated with plates of fried rice, chips, and fried chicken. We left the place at 12.30 pm, on June 12 (Sunday), 2011. I still miss the jungle, the waterfall, and the sceneries I found it hard to describe them one by one.

And the ‘starry starry night’, one thing I missed the most.

The scenery of the river while all of us had lunch before we checked in to the dorm.

The sceneries of Toba Lake I took besides the dorm.

This picture was taken in the checkpoint of Taman Simalem.

I took this picture while most of them had fun in the flying-fox.

The jungle we trekked in. It reminded me of the Pandora in ‘Avatar’.

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9 thoughts on “Somewhere in Simalem

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