I suppose it must seem absurd to you that, after coming to the exotic island of Sumatra, I limited myself to visiting Tuk Tuk, on Lake Toba, without bothering to take a look at other interesting places, such as, for example, the different national parks inhabited by orangutans. Although I could argue that it was due to my innate idleness, the main reason is that my time is running at a devilish speed (especially if I am in a place of my liking like this one), and knowing that I would be granted only one month’s visa in Indonesia, I already assumed that I would not go to more places.
The people of Tuk Tuk are surprised that you stay here so long, as they are used to the frenetic pace that takes most tourists, who two or three days are put back on track. However, there are also other inhabitants of this peninsula who understand me better; I mean the westerners who live here permanently because, first, they fell in love with the place, then they formed a couple with some batak, and finally they ended up setting up a tourist resort.
During my travels I was in other places of the Third World that something similar happened because the local young people had developed a great ability to seduce and form a couple with a tourist. When I was a kid, we used to call it hitting a fly. In these places the correct answer to the question: “What are you going to be when you grow up?” would not be “Firefighter” or “Tailor”, but “Couple of a Westerner who mounts my life”. I think it’s wonderful because, if it works, it’s a win-win game: the foreigner gets a residence permit in a paradise that has seduced him, while the local person stops living in a hut and working in the rice fields to run a luxurious resort, knowing that his children will study at a western university and have a better future. I like these cosmopolitan populations.
In Tuk Tuk there are many such cases. One of them is the resort in which I live (I prefer this nickname to hotel, pension or homestay, because it links more with the cabins and the extensive gardens that there are in this type of hostels), which was built several decades ago by a German who married and is still married to a Batak man. Now in their sixties, the couple spend time in Germany, letting a relative of their husband run the business.
Yesterday I met a European woman who came to Tuk Tuk twenty-five years ago, and here she is still, happily married, running one of the best resorts in the town. As we chatted a Batak woman who was married to an Australian and lived a long time in Sydney before deciding that it was better by Toba Lake joined us. Both women were at a similar age, in their fifties, and were good friends.
Sedentary people tend to mistakenly believe that globetrotters do the same as those adopted sons of Tuk Tuk and we go from one place to another looking for a certain place to put down roots, when in reality if we go from one place to another it is because we have a bad ass seat that urges us to change our address periodically.
PECULIARITIES OF TUK TUK
Similar to other tourist resorts, many people in this town have set up shops invariably offering the same products and services, but with one difference: those here are of a diversity that borders on the absurd: in the same place they advertise laundry, massage, photocopies, manicure and … magic mushrooms, which are legal and, according to them, sprout due to lightning. On the street I was offered several times maria assuring me that “no problems”. Knowing how the Indonesian police spend their time with drugs, I told them neither, nor, nor, nor.
Later, one of the Western residents told me a few anecdotes about it: “Some of those camels charge a pasma commission and they would denounce you as soon as they sold you some grass. He smoked in a public place and at midnight they searched the cabin where he was staying and he ended up behind bars. I witnessed it because it was precisely on the porch of a neighboring cabin, and when we were going to light a porrito we saw four guys arrive who, despite being in civilian clothes, we guessed were policemen. Ugh, we’re a close call. A friend of mine was caught with a few grams of weed on the island of Weh, north of Banda Aceh, and sentenced to five years behind bars. Luckily, he served his sentence in the small local prison where the guards’ treatment was really kind and gave him a lot of freedom. While he was imprisoned, he met the sister of a guard and, after forming a relationship with her, they married when he was released. And there he is, but he’s stopped smoking pot. Ha!”
This same westerner invited me to smoke a couple of porritos that were very rich, and more after several months of abstinence. In Duyung I tasted authentic Ketama pollen: travel cost, listen.
The Batak bury the dead in large mausoleums, which they build in the courtyard of their homes to keep them close. The funerals, although they do not last as long as, say, the Laotians, include music and songs. This custom is in harmony with the population, because in every bar, restaurant or resort there are musical instruments and it is common that, at night, in many of them live music is played.
There was an American who, after residing here for several years, chose to be cremated before he died. Preferring Thai customs, he had a small house of the spirits built which was (and is, as I have seen it) a miniature copy of the White House in Washington: patriot to the grave.
The traditional batak houses are made of wood, with very steep roofs that bend down in the centre and rise at the ends, forming an obtuse angle. In the ground floor the cattle is kept, being the housing in the superior one, generally of a single stay, that has the small door to make difficult the entrance of the thieves, to whom they could knock easily when being forced to cross it crouched.
In the excursions I made with my Dutch friend to Tomok and Ambarita, I visited the houses of the kings of those villages. They were little different from the others, but on their land was still the place where the executions of the prisoners were carried out. First they were beheaded and then their hearts were torn out for the king to eat. In some cases they did it the other way around and died watching the king bite his still beating heart.
As in other places that we could describe as paradisiacal due to the natural wealth and perfect atmospheric conditions, such as Valle Gran Rey de La Gomera or Valle de Vilcabamba in Ecuador, in the Tuk Tuk gardens there are all kinds of fruit trees: cocoa trees, avocados, jack fruit, mangoes, coconut trees, coffee trees, and my favorite: the passion fruit of which, as I did in South America, I drink a glass of juice every day.
From the first day I guessed that the Batak women were warriors of care, and a good proof of this was one day when, when I paid for the lunch I had eaten, it occurred to me to tell one that I had badly given the change. The one who was wrong was me, and the pisser she caught scared the hell out of me. I was one of the three sisters who run the small restaurant “Today’s Café”, to which I go daily because, apart from the fact that they cook marvellously and make delicious yogurt, it forces me to walk and climb a couple of kilometres. In the letter there is a very funny absurdity that is perhaps a sample of local humour: “Today’s Café is always open if it’s not closed”.
And that’s all for today, my dear papanatas. Bom Bom.
The Cosmic Chronicle, by Nando Baba