I love nature. Have always loved surrounding myself with the lush greenery of a forest or the soft sands of a beach. My idea of a dream life alternates dramatically between living in a vibrant city where people are always hustling and living on less than 5 hours of sleep a day, or a secluded island where electricity barely exists and people plant everything they need to eat. The latter appeals more to me because of LOST. Oh LOST, what an ending you have. At high school, I used to watch a lot of LOST and I remember having this recurring thought: “Living on an island doesn’t look so bad.” Or maybe Evangeline Lily just makes it look so attractive with her sweaty yet dewy look with smudges of dirt and ninja-climbing techniques. Well, if I ever end up on an island or join The Amazing Race / Survivor, I need to start somewhere to sharpen my survival skills. So off I went to do some camping.
Disclaimer: I had never done any camping before until 2 weeks ago. I don’t exactly know why, but I rarely meet people who like exploring the outdoors and don’t mind to travel quite a bit to get there. Only just recently did I stumble upon a bunch of people who share this nature-loving nature ( had to use that pun). Brought on by an article I was doing about camping (I know, the irony) and the prospect of a long weekend of doing nothing, I finally signed up for a two-day adventure in the wilderness! Yay! Bring on the fun (and leeches and snakes and mosquitoes the size of fruit flies).
I packed anything imaginable that I might need to ward off all the nightmarish creatures of the forest, particularly leeches, snakes and mosquitoes. I have watched enough Nat Geo episodes to know that snakes can fall from trees and slither into your sleeping bags, mosquitoes will annoy the heck out of you by buzzing in your ears while you are sleeping, and leeches crawl up inside your pant legs when you don’t tuck them into your shoes (no sandals and shorts while traipsing around the forest, please). Powered by my paranoia of these things, I brought bug spray, long-sleeved jacket, salt, leggings, socks and shoes, and a whole lot of Tolak Angin ( an Indonesian herbal syrup to help eliminate the stream of constant flatulence). Yeah, you have no idea what cold weather do to Asians living in the tropics.
There were 9 of us, split into three cars. I got into the latest car for the day, and we arrived at the campsite of Taman Simalem Resort at around 8 at night after an 4-hour car trip. It was drizzling with the kind of cold that you can feel in your bones, and we had little hope of ever camping out in the middle of the forest – not if we fancy getting hypothermia. Most of us had already got there in the afternoon and were warming themselves up with rounds of poker games, so we decided to join in. Or them, to be exact. I just watched them placing bets after bets while trying to understand the rules of the game as I had never played any before. My knowledge of card games only extends as far as UNO and domino cards. But one of my friends knows his way around a poker game and kindly taught us the basics. Apparently, it’s all about having a good poker face and excellent bluffing skills. In short, not the game for me.
We played for quite a while until the rain stopped and we finally made our way into the forest. Sounds exciting, right? More exciting when you know you are going to have gourmet meals served right on the silver trays in the middle of the forest. Yep, we did glamping (glamour camping)! I know it kind of defeats the purpose of camping, which often involves living on pre-packaged meals or, even, scrounging for food in the wild, but baby steps…I didn’t have the prerequisite Girl Scouts training (or Pramuka as it is called in my country) while I was growing up.
So we ate our delicious, if cold dinner while sitting close to the bonfire that the camp ranger had made. We chatted, sang, drank, then ate some more. Fun night. Then someone brought out a pack of UNO cards. I played a few rounds until I was sleepy and went to bed at midnight. Now, our tent was put up right across a river and was modest enough in terms of condition and size, but I kept having these bad feelings about sleeping in it. One of my fellow reporters went to camp in the same area 3 weeks ago and encountered supernatural beings, inside the tent nonetheless, that were captured on camera. So I was feeling a little bit uneasy about exposing myself to the same experience again. Fortunately, nothing happened, but I slept on and off for the whole night with the gurgling sounds of flowing water.
Morning call to watch the sunrise approached at 5 am and we made our way to One Tree Hill, the best spot at Taman Simalem Resort to watch this natural phenomenon. I have only witnessed sunrise once in my life, the one at the majestic Bromo in East Java, and it was awesome. Too bad the weather was too cloudy at One Tree Hill so we didn’t get to see the sunrise clearly. But I managed to take some pretty cool shots of how the sunrise progressed that morning.
Next, we did some sightseeing. I couldn’t believe what was laying before my eyes when I walked into the terrace of Kodon-Kodon Cafe. Sky the color of azure, dotted with fluffy clouds, resting over green plains, hills, and pine trees surrounding the mirror-like Lake Toba. No other words came to mind but, “Wow!” And I repeated this word for quite a number of times till my fellow travelers got annoyed, I think. As words don’t do justice to describe the beauty of Lake Toba, I will let pictures speak…
After we took enough pictures of Lake Toba from all possible angles, we moved on to jungle trekking. We were lucky to get a chatty and quite insightful camp ranger who knows quite a lot about the forest in which we were camping in, so our jungle trekking session was really fun and educative. I learnt about how to scrounge for food properly in a forest, such as what to eat and what to avoid. I came to this conclusion: if no other animal enjoys what you are eyeing to eat in the wild, leave it alone; and edible plants are mostly sour.
Learning from past experience of taking long walks in the woods, not that I do it often, I wore my long-treasured sandals to climb the slimy paths across the forest. The last stop on our journey brought us to the Twin Waterfall in Taman Simalem Resort. We shrieked in pleasure when dipping our toes in the deliciously icy-cold water, and just had an all-around great time there. The water from the waterfall runs brown due to the soil of the river, so we didn’t wash ourselves with it. But the business of taking pictures kept rolling…
Our stomach announced their need to be filled at noon, so we went back to Kodon-Kodon Cafe for our second gourmet experience. Organic meats and veggies straight from the organic farm of Taman Simalem Resort were cooked to perfection by the restaurant chef and served in generous portions to appease our hunger. Feeling sleepy after lunch, we walked around to explore what Taman Simalem Resort has to offer. Apparently, many. Coffee, tea,loquat and passion fruit plantations, outbound arenas, picnic sites, flower nursery, ulos-making show, bird park and, the most exciting one, an amphitheater with a unique design that will make you feel as if you were standing on the edge of Lake Toba itself when you step on it. Great for my eyes, but not my nerves.
We decided to head back to Medan at 5 pm when it started to drizzle again, and I bid my goodbye to the Pearl of Lake Toba. You certainly had me at hello.