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Playing Pool in Haranggaol
A Day at the Market

23rd May 1993, Brastagi to Haranggaol, Sumatra, Indonesia

We'd tried to leave Brastagi the day before but couldn't muster the energy, so we're really leaving today. We were up at 8:30 a.m. because the church next door believed in worshipping the lord very early and very loudly to music. I thought the organist and choir were downstairs in the lobby or our losmen. Put ourselves together and got the 11:30 a.m. (whoops!) bemo to the nearby city of Kabanjahe. Transferred to a bus which we were told was going to the small town of Haranggaol on the northern tip of Lake Toba. After a couple of hours the bus dropped us off in this po-dunk town one block long where we had to transfer to yet another minivan the rest of the way to Haranggaol.

Indonesian rubber time wins again, as we had to wait over an hour for there to be enough people to justify leaving for our destination. Off we went and thirty minutes later we crested the top of the crater which forms Lake Toba. Toba's the largest lake in South East Asia, created from a massive volcanic eruption. A second eruption formed Samosir Island in the middle of the lake, where most of the losmen and towns are. We had spectacular views of the lake during our thirty minute descent - the thing is definitely larger than Lake Tahoe without any problem. Arrived in the small town of Haranggaol and got a room at a hotel on the water. When we arrived at the hotel the reminder of the rooms were being rented out by this family from Medan who were celebrating a birthday on the Lake for the day. They welcomed us and had us sit down at their table to chat. They gave us satay - roasted goat with peanut sauce, tea, and birthday cake. I found out it's the Batak people's custom to offer whatever food they've got around to anyone who joins them. We chatted with this family for a couple of hours and got invited to their home for dinner if we made it back to Medan. The family headed back to their city and Rich and I wandered through the town.

It was getting dark so we had food at one of the locals joints - the best coconut fish curry ever - then wandered down the street in the dark. We wandered by this pool hall with all the teens hanging around outside. One of them called us over and asked if we wanted to play pool. With nothing better to do we accepted and the locals took the cover off the single pool table for us. Two of the local dudes paired up and said they'd play doubles against us. We readily accepted the challenge and played five games against them.

Not much goes on in Haranggaol, so when two whiteys are playing the locals at pool, word travels fast. Mothers with children, old men and random people came into the pool hall to watch us play the Indonesians. The room got more and more crowded with each passing game and it got to the point where the crowd would emit noises based on the shot at hand. I remember it was my final shot on the eight ball and the crowd was rooting for us, so when I missed the shot there was an audible groan from some members of the crowd. Our competitors sank a couple of balls then Rich sank our final shot winning us the game. The crowd chatted among themselves while we were raking the balls for the next game, then just as in tennis they became quiet as the pool queue was put into play. At the end of it all Rich and I won 3-2 and when it was time to ante up for the Rs300 games, our competitors said we were to pay for the full five games. We said no, they'd challenged us and we'd pay for the two games we'd lost. The locals were behind us and when we exited I could hear the chattering and muffled laughter of the spectators giving our challengers a hard time about being beaten by the whiteys, and having to pay for the games they lost.

24th May 1993, Haranggaol to Samosir Island, Sumatra

Today was market day in Haranggaol and the bi-weekly boat to Samosir Island was going across the lake today when the market was finished. We walked down to the market - once again the only foreigners and the entire marketplace was teeming with people. We made our way through the masses of people - about half of them older Indonesian women with the red betel nut and tobacco chew hanging out of their mouths. People were selling huge volumes of produce, chickens, coy, and fresh meat from the butcher who was chopping up a pig on the spot.

We watched a charlatan doctor (complete with a microphone hooked up to a car battery) try to cure a man with a bum leg in front of the crowd of locals who'd gathered. They had this man who used one crutch to walk on drink what looked like a shot of orange juice, then the quack told the man to take a few steps forward. The man hesitated, because he knew he wouldn't be able to do it, so noticing the fear on the man's face the quack doctor had him sit down and take another shot of O.J.. I didn't wait around for the main event - I felt bad for the man with the crutch. I had the flu so I headed back to the room to sleep for a few hours; this was the second time in seven months I'd been really sick. Slept a while then woke up, grabbed my pack and headed to the door to catch the boat to Samosir.

Got to the boat and no matter how loud we yelled and ranted on they wouldn't give us the local price of Rs1000 across the lake; they screwed us for Rs2500 each - 800 of which goes to the tourist office wench's pocket. This boat was like a Malawian local bus in that is stopped at each and every person's house on the mainland side of the lake before actually crossing the thing to Samosir Island. We had some absolutely marvelous views of the lake, the island and surrounding countryside. We saw waterfalls coming down the side of the mountain above the three house village where we were stopping. Took loads of photos of village life on the lake. The boat finally stopped at Shangri-La, our stop, about four hours later and when it docked all it did was stick the bow of the boat into the sand and lower a chicken plank over the water for us to walk across. With my 14 kilo pack on I'd have probably gone into the drink so I went for a flying leap and made it.

Shangri-La is about seven kilometres north of the main settlements on the island and consists solely of a restaurant and ten large bungalows. The place is run by a man named Pome who greeted us and ushered us into the restaurant for our complimentary banana shake. He gave us this great welcoming, amps, etc., then took us to our Rs5000 bungalow. The thing was huge - two huge beds with nightstand, two chairs and table below the bay window facing the lake, a full closet, full bathroom and another table the size of a small dining room set with two chairs. Perfect.

We vegged out then went to dinner and met some of the other people staying there. We met yet two more Californians, Gayle and Jen (from Davis) who'd been living there for two weeks waiting for their friends. One celebratory beer for making it there then off to bed.