On the island of Sumatra lies the world’s largest volcanic crater lake, Danau Toba. Within Lake Toba sits the Singapore-sized island of Samosir. And, if you’re quite determined, high up in the alpine trees of this double island, there are several smaller lakes. If you have the kind of bucket list we have, there’s just no resisting seeing a double lake on a double island.
On rented scooters, we set out to circumnavigate the island, turn inland and head up an over the island in search of said lake. We headed past remnants of the island’s animist history, palm trees on one side of the road, pines on the other. Through rice fields and rocky hills dotted at random with the massive, colorful multistory graves unique to Samosir.
We lost ourselves in towns, through markets filled with staring Indonesians. After some false starts, kind strangers eventually directed us onto the road that would lead us on a quick jaunt across the island. Stop at a lake, click of a camera, back before dark. Or so we thought.
“Hati, hati” and “Palan, palan” are two oft-ignored warnings in Bahasa Indonesia. Slowly and Caution mean very little in a land where driving is reckless, passing is nonchalant, and speeding is a given. So when told to drive slowly and be careful, we assume it’s because we are white and suspected of ignorance about driving motorbikes.
As pavement became pockmarked, giving way for wide expanses to dirt and gravel, we figured it couldn’t last. Wouldn’t maps indicate a dirt road? The road did, indeed, wind its way past the lake, the x on our treasure map. But that's about as far as our luck lasted.
Eventually, you go too far to turn back and must forge on ahead. Even as you are driving at a snail’s pace, the sun inching closer to dusk, trying a dip and dodge around innumerable rocks and potholes, scooter rattling and scraping all the while. At some point we crested the top of the island, some 3,000 feet above sea level, to see the island ring road a thin snaking string along the coast, far below us.
Much in the way that all good things come to an end, so too must the harrowing. After a brief pavement fakeout (which had us so assured we were done with dirt that we stopped for a victory break), the dusk trickled into dark, pavement back into rock and dust, leaving us to crawl back by the light of a barely-functional headlight.
Aching and dusty, we finally pulled up to our hotel. Soothing pizza and beer were applied to our wounded spirits. Bed was crawled into early. But, sometimes it’s not easy to reach your destination. Especially if you’re looking for a lake on an island in a lake on an island in the ocean.