Friday, 16 March 2018

Lake Toba Ride (1-5 March 2018), Day 4 : Simpang Kawat to Tanjung Balai

Loading the bikes onto Felix
On the way to Parapat
KC Tay was all smiles for the first 5 minutes...
...flat out after that!!!
Disembarkation without a ladder, right in front of the public toilet!
Assembling at Simpang Kawat
Pushing off at Simpang Kawat
First section at Simpang Kawat
Kedai Makan Putri
Across the road from Kedai Makan Putri
At exit to Air Terjun Jambuara Indah
Road condition at exit to Air Terjun Jambuara Indah. Some sections are a lot worse
River rapids
Conferred 5 stars ratings; shop at Bandar Pasir Mondage
Metal truss bridge at Prapat Janji
River is calmer coming to sea
The first scouts at Wr Bang Men
Helping in the kitchen
On the way to Simpang Katarina
Just before Simpang Katarina

This morning’s routine was more hurried than usual. Meeting for breakfast at 7 am, we rushed through the same core menu with a few additional perks thrown in on a Sunday.

Running on a different tune, we were directed to a buffet spread made to cater to a resort running at full capacity! Besides the basic staples, a fruit platter and a dessert of black glutinous rice congee made it to the tables.

When we were done fighting for food with the other hotel guests, we wheeled our bikes through a car park, rolled over construction rubbles left at the building’s basement and out on a corridor. Passing by a row of guest rooms we marveled at the laundries thrown over patio chairs and a couple slurping cup noodles on a verandah.

Waiting for our ferry at the jetty, Felix soon arrives. Possibly, chartered for our group or the resort’s private vessel, it was the same ferry we took on Day 1.

The ferry ride from Tuk Tuk to Parapat saw the same set of passengers BUT a different display of emotions. Everyone looked visibly tired while the evening of “stars” performers looked like they could do with a double shot of espresso and aspirins! Last night’s crooner, KC Tay and his back up singer, Hanz were flat out on deck while the rest tried snoozing with their eyes wide open!!!!

Kudos is given to these jolly men who are able to conduct business dealings even when intoxicated. Striking up a last minute business deal, they negotiated for today’s transport from Parapat to Simpang Kawat, saving us a 28 km leg exercise through roads that literally hugs a cliff!

At Parapat, our bikes were loaded into the same lorry that came on Day 1. Expecting the same roomy vehicles, we were instead packed into a Suzuki APV minivan and a Toyota Rush that have seen it’s better days!

While Dot and Claudine rode with their partners; Peter, Patrick and KY who went along in the same Suzuki were nothing more than lightweights. All heavyweights with the exception of VT were crushed into the Rush with the rest of the team!

Not a good mass distribution, those that went into the Rush could not “rush” out immediately upon arrival at Simpang Kawat. They were literally molded together after the 30 minutes long journey that saw all 3 vehicles speeding past the junction!!!

Captain though, was looking after all our interests. He spilled over to the lorry to oversee our RM100,000 worth of scrap metal junks!

At Simpang Kawat, the amused local folks stared at us, akin to a circus caravan that had just arrived in town! While they foretell on bad roads and long journeys, sales peaked at that hour, thanks to our frantic purchasing. After all, we learnt by Day 4, food can be scarce and hard to come by!

The initial stretches of road were similar to those found in Malaysian kampungs. Narrow and filled with potholes, it was still manageable.

Just a couple of kilometers into the ride, KC Tay’s promise of “145 km downhills all the way” began. Initially fun, we jammed brakes when we reached segments of stripped tarmac, filled with river rocks! This pattern will go on and on for a whole 20 km!

Less than half an hour after push off, we were careening down a slope at high speed when Dot’s bike flew a few inches off the ground. Coming back to earth, the sudden jolt sent her pannier flying!

Making a brief stop for the “rescue” mission, we were radioed on KY’s delay. Faced with a fender issue arising from the land logistics, he had to remove it and tie it to the rear rack.

Once reunited, we continued our journey on the village route, passing scattered settlements and rice fields. Corn is planted as an alternative crop along the road, flanked by drains brimming with running water. Possibly doubled as an irrigation canal, the water could be channeled to flood the paddy fields.

As we rode along, we marveled at the village life along this waterline. Many households are out doing laundry, dishes and even bathing! 

Once in a while, we crossed bridges over gushing rivers. Sometimes, we rode parallel to the streams. Several times, we were rewarded with peaks of watergates.

Close to 20 km from Simpang Kawat, we made a right turn after Greja Gkpi Paliaborta, a church. On a Sunday, churchgoers were out in their Sunday Bests, all ready for mass! By now, farming has taken on a richer crop of palm oil.

Stopping for regrouping at a roadside stall, Claudine scurried into the stall for cold drinks and ice. Feeling low ever since Simpang Kawat, the few biscuits consumed over there were no help at all.

As expected, hot tea and coffee were the standard beverages sold in this region but today’s bonus was a few bottles of Sprite which sat next to an equally few bottles of local carbonated drinks. Requesting for ice, it was brought out from the owner’s kitchen in the form of a frozen bag of water. Getting to it, our shopkeeper had it flung against the wall several times!

High on sugar, the next leg saw Claudine keeping up well with the front riders. However, before she could reach Mach speed, everyone slowed to a stop at Kedai Makan Putri.

Fong Wan thinking hard if he can "blow the house" down!!!

Located less than 5 km from the earlier junction, this stall is uniquely built with screw pine leaves making it an easy task for the Big Bad Wolf! Offering simple Nasi Padang served with good sambal and keropok kulit, we lapped it up even though midday was still half an hour away! By this stage, nobody dares to gamble on food stalls along this isolated road!!!

Directly after lunch, rolling hills await. Gone was the “145 km downhills all the way”! This was Kim Chai, Hanz, Gerard, Peter, Patrick, KC Tay, KY and Kelvin’s playground! Racing up the first slope, Claudine pushed hard to keep up. Speeding down the other side, everyone were gone in seconds!

Thankfully, the guys did not punish Claudine for long. Half an hour later, at the exit to Air Terjun Jambuara Indah, we made yet another stop. Validated by the locals on the 3 km distance to the Falls, coupled with rocky terrain, we decided against the detour!

It seems the hills are Fong Wan’s greatest nightmare! It took quite a lot of clock ticking before he finally arrives at the exit. Even sweepers, VT and Freddoe had to abandon him; only waiting for him to catch up at each peak!

By this juncture, Dot’s Ortlieb pannier which fell earlier was already half way through its morphing process! It had to be bound by duct tape brought by Herbert; ending its life akin to an Egyptian mummy!

Rested and regrouped, we continued our journey through the mountains. The roads began to improve after the exit to the Falls but yet dangerously misleading. Here and there were potholes while collapsed sections by the edge of the road became a hazard especially when one is maneuvering corners during a high speed descent.

Not only did we have to suffer hazards from potholes but animals too! Once, while tackling a corner on a downhill cruise, Kim Chai had to e-brake when cows decided to cross our path! Later, on flat ground, confused sheeps surprised us with “the running of the bull” festival! They went all over the road!!!

About 18 km from our lunch stop, we careened downhill to a wide river and picnic spot. After crossing the bridge, we had to work ourselves uphill again!

Soon, we started traversing on flat grounds again. Out of the woods, stalls took on a more promising look with refrigerators offering cold drinks and even ice creams.

Leaning on energy savings tactics, Claudine drafted behind Kim Chai. In fact, everyone seemed to be doing the same, latching on to the strongest rider in their comfort speed zones. While Gerard, Kelvin and Claudine tails after Kim Chai; Patrick became a constant wind breaker for Peter, KY, KC and Yong.

After 10 km of spinning, we started to look out for shops with a refrigerator. When we came by one, we did not hesitate to stop.

This little alcove in the district of Bandar Pasir Mondage not only offers carbonated drinks but also isotonic drinks! Conferred a 5 stars rating by us, it comes with a tatami platform built under the canopy of a tree which soon became Claudine and Fong Wan’s day bed!

About 20 km later, we crossed the metal truss bridge of Prapat Janji. Stopping at the edge of town, Kim Chai was at an all time low having to lead the ride all this while with no one to block the wind. Flicking out his chocolate, he pawed at it ravenously.

Enquiring at the nasi Padang shop for noodles, they were kind to direct us 2 km down the road to Sg Mati. Claudine and Kim Chai were then sent to scout for this place while the rest waited to regroup.

Despite the thumbs up, food is only edible. Herbert Hor, " Giving herself the thumps up for her own cooking as we were not eager to do so as we had been brought up not to lie."

Wr Bang Men was at the exact spot mentioned by our kind shop keeper. Serving all kinds of noodles, they all tasted queer to us.

After our tea break, Kim Chai decided to take on the sweeper role. With another 12 km to the major junction, we all agreed to regroup at Simpang Katarina just before the turn off.

Surprisingly, leading this segment was Gerard! Initially following obediently from behind he decided to take off, overtaking everyone! Egged on by Claudine, the two raced forward in heavy traffic, finally catching up with VT and Freddoe who had taken a head start.

Dutch architecture at Simpang Katarina

Waiting to regroup just before Simpang Katarina, Peter, KY and Herbert took to the trees like dogs to lamp posts! When the last rider arrives, we made the right turn, heading to Tanjung Balai via AH25.

AH25 turns out to be a major artery in Sumatra. Traveling along, we were caught in after work traffic which saw a crazy amount of vehicles. At one point, at least 12 lorries rolled past us in a continuous sequence! Motorists purchasing food from roadside stalls rolled off the road shoulders without looking out for oncoming traffic! Once, Claudine was almost knocked off her bike from a swinging door of a van!

After traveling on AH25 for a whole 15 km, we left the busy highway at Simpang Ampat and proceeded straight to Jalan Perintis. A sudden lull engulfed us as traffic quietened down a bit. More relaxed, we let our guards down only to meet a pile up 4 km down the road!

According to Kelvin, a motorcyclists was veering off the road shoulder to get back on track when Peter was caught off guard. He swerved his bicycle to avoid contact. Kelvin was her next target!

Following 3 feet behind, Claudine saw him shout as he swung hard to the right and back to the left before falling. She jammed her brakes but it was too late to avoid a collision. She practically fell on top of him!

Like a cushion, Kelvin broke her fall. He took the full brunt of the crash while she came out totally unhurt. Only the strap to her sponge bob sandals came off.

Stunned, it took him awhile before he finally stood up. Checking for injuries, he had a few bruises on his leg but what worried us was the pain on his abdomen.

First aid was administered on the injured by the injured himself. Claudine was no nurse!

With another 5 km to Tanjung Balai and 3 km more to our homestay, we ventured on. Thankfully, as the ride continues, Kelvin’s constricted look, relaxes. His abdomen pain was just a muscle pull, nothing major!

Approaching Tanjung Balai, traffic picks up again. On Jln Jendral Sudirman, government offices lined the road. Makeshift barber shops with “Tangkas” signages took up the space on the road shoulders.

Regrouping near the hypermarket, we rode on again. Soon, a strange man on a motorcycle with a sidecar carriage started smiling to all of us, offering seats on his carriage. It turns out he was the proprietor to our homestay.

Out to lead us, he guided us through 2 busy roundabouts before making a right turn to Jln MT Haryono. Thereafter, we finally arrived at Penginapan Al Karim.

At the homestay, we were given warm greetings by Nevii and her family members. Feeling almost heroic as everyone came out to meet us, Claudine had almost expected a traditional dance to the beatings of kompang!

Our rooms, though huge was sadly lacking. Towels were not freely dispensed but had to be collected from the reception. As in Pangururan, the toilet lacks a washbasin and toilet paper was totally unknown! Filled with mosquitoes, VT insect sprayed the room only to fog out a 4 inch centipede from the toilet and a wife with scratchy throat!

When it was time to take a shower, 8 taps a running left a small trickle in the shower head. All of us had to resort to dipper style bathing!
And while the water was hot, it was slimy.

We soon learnt at dinner time their water source came from an underground aquifer. That explains why the feel of shampoo remains permanently on our body no matter how much we scrubbed. Making up for the water quality, a drinking water dispenser is left at the lobby, free for all to use.

Nasi Uduk was served at the homestay with an additional top up. A rice cooked in thin coconut milk served with fried chicken and sambal tomat, it was the most delicious meal Claudine had ever had since the trip started.

But while we relished on the meal, we became the mosquitoes’ meal. Many of us were chased back into our rooms by these blood thirsty insects. As for some others, they continued relishing the day’s event while smoking coils and swatting pests!!! 

Trip Costs :
1. Malindo Airfare inclusive of 30kg baggage allowance : RM109
2. Lorry and 2 van transfer from Kuala Namo to Parapat, Return ferry crossing to Tuk-Tuk, 2 nights hotel stay at Samosir Cottages Resort, 1 night stay at Hotel Wisata Samosir for 18 pax : IDR18,000,000
3. Ad Hoc lorry and 2 van transfer from Parapat to Simpang Kawat : IDR100,000
4. Ferry costs from Tanjung Balai to Port Klang and other miscellaneous : IDR550,000 (Strangely, fee on ticket is IDR372,000 and boarding pass is IDR60,000)
5. Bike Handling Fee in Tanjung Balai : RM20
6. Bike Handling Fee in Port Klang : RM15
7. Penginapan Al Karim : RM100
8. Dinner and Breakfast at Penginapan Al Karim : RM8
9. Grab taxi fare to Subang Jaya at 5 pm : RM42
10. Commuter train do not allow full sized bikes on train during peak hours ie from 4pm to 8 pm. (Otherwise, passenger fee is RM4.30; bike fee is RM2)

Photo Credits :
1. KC Tay
2. All Toba Riders
 Penginapan Al Karim

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