Snapshot: Balige, Sumatra Utara

Shortly after arriving back in Indonesia, I had the opportunity to travel to several cities across the archipelago, as part of inspecting and preparing sites that had not had an ETA before this year.  This “Snapshot” series is composed of short pieces about my all-too-brief visits to these beautiful and fascinating places, which are now the temporary homes of ETAs from the 2016-17 cohort.


A series of sunsets over Danau Toba.

Sumatra has been on my list of places that I have most wanted to see since coming to Indonesia.  Whenever I attend a dance competition with my students, it is the Sumatran dances I find most beautiful.  When a love song to Nasi Padang was recently put on YouTube by a Norwegian traveler to Indonesia, I identified with the song on a level that might just be unhealthy.  Images of the mountains and jungles in the heart of the sixth largest island in the world instill in me an urge to hop on the next plane to Bukittinggi or Banda Aceh… wherever, so long as it is Sumatra.  I can’t explain this fascination.  It just is.


We went to one of the highest points to try to get a better view, but even then we could not capture the full majesty of Danau Toba.

But somehow I never made it to Sumatra during my first two years of living here.  This is mostly because I wanted to spend sufficient time in the places I wanted to visit in Sumatra, and I could never find that kind of space in my schedule.  I kept waiting for the perfect time to visit, and it never really came.

But this year, one of the ETA sites is Balige, North Sumatra, a small-ish town south of Danau (Lake) Toba, which has been on my list of places to see for two years now, and you can imagine my excitement when I found out I would have the opportunity to visit.  I was practically bouncing in my seat the on the plane from Jakarta.


A morning stroll along the shore.

Sometimes you build up places in your mind and when you finally see them in real life, you find yourself disappointed: your imagination gave you expectations that reality, as incredible as it might be, could never meet.

Danau Toba did not disappoint.  Danau Toba was beyond anything I could have imagined.

Danau Toba is the largest volcanic crater lake in the world, and this title always made me imagine a wildness and a rawness to the area, but in reality Danau Toba holds a quiet power, it’s mirror-like water stretching away from the shore where children play and old men fish: its presence dominating its surroundings most powerfully in that it is so much a part of everyday life.


Blessed with color.

I was lucky enough to go to Balige with a colleague whose family is from North Sumatra, which meant I had an expert guide to all the best foods, the most colorful fabrics, and the best places to explore in the short time we had.  She has always talked about how beautiful this area is, and I feel so privileged to be able to confirm how right she was.

I was only in the area for a few days, as this was an office trip, and that certainly was not enough.  I can’t wait for the next opportunity I have to visit Sumatra.