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  • Writer's pictureDeb Smithers

Tomok - Sumatra

Hora emblem

Horas !

Every trip I have made to Sumatra has been full of adventure, and each time I leave with a greater appreciation for how incredible this island is. Loved for its combination of dense forests, diverse landscapes, mountains, and coastal areas. It is one of the largest Islands in Indonesia and the 6th largest in the world. It is home to the grand Sumatran tiger who tragically are now critically endangered with only 400-600 remaining in the wild. Sumatra is also known for its coffee and it is said to be one of the best in the world.

Map of Sumatra, showing Samosir Island

While in Indonesia, be sure to try the unique and much sought-after Luwak Coffee, made from the droppings of the Asian Palm Civet and is commonly known as "Poo Coffee". To be honest, it's actually not that bad. Any coffee from Indonesia is going to leave an impression and those who have tried can relate.

Samosir Island

I traveled from Bukit Luwang to Berestagi, to trek the active volcano of Mount Sibayak. Next down to south Sumatra and taking a boat across to Lake Toba to visit the sacred Samosir Island. Samosir is the largest 'Island in an Island', and Lake Toba one of the deepest lakes in the world.

Arial shot of Samosir Island and Lake Toba, Sumatra

I wanted to locate the village of Tomok that I had heard so much about, offering a tapestry of experiences. This is the joy of travel, you never know where you could end up or what situation you may find yourself in, and I love that feeling.

Surely a joke by some that I was heading to a village of the remaining cannibals?

After an hour-long boat ride to the small town of Tuktuk, immediately I was in awe of how beautiful it was and I was excited because on this particular visit I had decided to lash out and take a superior cabin, on the water's edge of Lake Toba. The cabin was stunning and well-earned after spending a week trekking in the jungle of Sumatra. Oh, to see white sheets and towels again!

Traditional Batak houses lining the edge of Lake Toba, Sumatra

Sometimes you just have to do it.

The village of Tomok is situated 7 kms from Tuktuk and you can easily Travel by motorbike. Alternately you can take a ferry from Prapat (leaving from Tiga Raja Harbour) which will take 40 minutes and is a lovely way to see the traditional Batak houses dot the landscapes of this volcanic Island. Any way you decide to get around on Samosir Island will cost you next to nothing.

Traditional Batak House

The traditional Batak houses (Karo Rumah Adat) can house over 10 families at one time, with huge fire pits for cooking and drying, also a huge space underneath for wood and animals. They serve practical purposes considering things such as climate, what materials were available and local traditions.

The Batak people's architectural ingenuity really is a testament to their resourcefulness and adaptability. Climbing up the ladder to enter the home was a challenge but once I was in, I could only stand in amazement at the massive structure.

I tried to walk everywhere whilst on the Island, it was the much-needed exercise for the upcoming Camino from France. I walked 7 kms to Tomok, and on a 37-degree day it felt like 70 km, but it was a great opportunity to meet the local people along the way. By the time I had reached the town, I had been taught how to weave a basket, paint stones and had 7 children walking along with me. Immensely happy children.

I was Invited to eat lunch with a local family that I passed along the way, standing not far from the roadside all watching their very special feast simmer away.

In a humorous transaction of words and charades, he says that they only cook this on very special occasions because it is too expensive to buy meat. He removes the lid from the big claypot to reveal an entire pig, cooking in its own blood.

Unfortunately, I had to decline the invitation, hoping to find pancakes along the way.

A view of lake Toba with the mountains in the foreground.

I was curious to know why there was a celebration, and he tell me there is no special event but instead that last week their pig died. Gasp! The Batak's enjoy eating rice, dog, congealed blood and pig. And I did happen to notice that in my time spent in this wonderful village, I actually did not see one single dog. Which takes me to the exact reason why I like to go vegetarian when visiting more remote and primitive places on my travels.

Arriving in Tomok reminded me a lot like parts of Sri Lanka, with its pieced together little make-shift shops and stalls, made from rusty corrugated sheeting and mud. It is hot, dry and dusty. Tomok has one road running through, so everything is very easy to find.

I stumbled upon the small village market in the town center, it was fun and each stall identical to the other. They sell souvenirs, banners, shirts and memorabilia all displaying the traditional greeting of 'Horas', meaning hello and goodbye, gratefulness and happiness.

Tradition Batak greeting. Horas on a Banner

The Batak are recognizably very happy people, seemingly not a care in the world, and of course all trying to strike up a deal for you if you buy something.

After the market, I finally found the sacred cemetery of Tomok. The burial ground of tribal royalty, including the tomb of King Sidabutar. The amazing sarcophagus tomb in which the king lays to rest has been skillfully carved with the head of the king on the front. Two tombs rest either side of the king, his respected bodyguard and also, Anteng Melila Senega. The woman the king is said to have always loved, but without fulfillment. There are many tiny tombs placed close by that are said to be of displaced children.

An ancient tomb with the head of the king cared into the stone

Tomok is also home to the 300-year-old King's Stone Chairs.

In public trials, it was the role of the king to determine the fate of enemies or those who committed crimes. The worst crimes ended in Beheading. Others were tried then later bound to the stone chairs where they were blindfolded, sliced open and rubbed with lemon.

For those suspected of being overcome by black magic, those rituals were extremely gruesome. Some involved cutting out an organ as a way of removing evil. What a serious court session! The dead body was then mutilated and shared amongst the villagers. The ritual of eating human flesh is said to have endured among the Toba Batak people until the 19th century.

Stone chairs circling as stone block for beheading. Tomok. Vietnam

Photo by world Atlas

Ancient photo of the Batak people. Black and white.

Marco Polo describing the Batak people in Sumatra;

"As beasts...For I tell you quite truly that they eat the flesh of men."

I stopped to take a glimpse of what seemed like a serious ceremony amongst the local villagers. Propped up on a crate with wheels, is a life-size wooden statue of a man swaying to the music, with his hands held high and eyes that follow you. He even sheds a tear (with the help of wet sponges at the back of his head).

A wooden figure of a man with hands ready to receive. Traditional

Si gale-gale

I am invited to dance with them; the music is catchy and I begin to realize as I shuffled past the figure, that you are to put money in his little wooden box.

"And then this piece of dressed timber is going to bless you with abundance in life".... apparently.

After the blessing they all began to dance, these amazing and hospitable humans. I could not help but join in and throw in a few Aussie dance moves of my own.

The children of Tomok are fun and spirited, and upon speaking with them and their families, it was lovely to hear that the children get 3 hours of education each day thanks to a Christian run organization that has built a tiny school for the children to attend.

The Children of the Village on the street

These kids walked with me for quite a while, so stopping to treat them all to an ice cream of their choice and feel their overwhelming gratitude was surely the best part of the day.

Spending time in Tomok gave me a glimpse into how the whole community works together and how close they are. I was fascinated by the rich and incredible heritage of the Batak people.

Sumatra has so much to do and some magnificent sights to see. It's safe and the locals are very honest and helpful, with the majority being Christians.

Portrail of traditional Batak Costume

Pic from world Atlas

  • Visit the village of Simanindo which is 15 kms from Tuktuk.

  • See the incredible traditional Batak Homes.

  • Ride around the Island on a motorbike or take a jeep tour for a more relaxed day.

  • Visit the Tomok Batak Museum showcasing the intriguing Batak culture.

  • See the Tomb of King Sidabutar, who rests in an amazing sarcophagus carved in stone.

  • Hiking on Pusuk Buhit Mountain.

  • Samosir Island hopping.

  • Hike to Simangande Waterfall.

  • And you absolutely must try the traditional breakfast of Lontong.

Traditional noodle sprouts and egg dish

I highly recommend travelling to Samosir Island and visiting its many inspiring villages. I left Tomok with a deeper understanding and appreciation of a culture that continues to develop amidst the winds of change.

And as luck would have it, I didn't find those pancakes,

but I did find the best (and only), Nutella Toastie in Tomok,

and a big cup of legendary Indo coffee.

a plate of nutella toast and a coffee on the plate ready to eat.


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