The Biggest Bang Theory

Danau Toba, from space looks like a giant donut, and is the largest lake in South-East Asia. Superficially it is an amazing place, you can dream your days away on the ‘island’ of Samosir while swimming in the azure blue waters and trying some delicious local food. What made Lake Toba so special for me was learning the story that lies beneath the calm shores, only then can you truly appreciate the sheer mind-boggling beauty of this mysterious place.


Toba was once a volcano, until it erupted some 69 – 77 thousand years ago. The eruption was the most gargantuan that Mother Earth has ever witnessed, making some modern day volcanic blasts seem like nothing more than a few wet farts. The biggest eruption in recent history, Mount Tambora of 1816, was but one hundredth the size of the beast that was Toba.

It left one hell of a crater

Scientists believe that the Toba catastrophe sent the world into a 10 year volcanic winter which wiped out countless species and resulted in a bottleneck in homo sapiens. A bottleneck, as well as being something an Englishman might be on the receiving end of in a Glaswegian boozer, is also a term for a sudden drop in population numbers. Toba volcanic ash has been discovered in Africa, Europe and even as far as the UK. To comprehend the significance this explosion had on our planet whilst chilling with a Bintang and looking out onto the world’s largest crater lake, is enough to make your head spin. For more superlative Toba info check here.


It took Toba one thousand years to eventually cool down, it was then that the surrounding mountains provided protection for the Batak people, who are direct decedents of the mountain tribes of Thailand and Burma. Here they lived in isolation for many years and were among the most fierce people in all of Sumatra, known for their strict adat (traditional laws) and cannibalism. Thankfully human isn’t on the menu in the restaurants around Tanjung Tuk-Tuk, the main settlement on Samosir island.

Traditional Batak House

Batak Grave

Driving around Samosir is the best way to take in the scenery, one of the few sights include the ‘stone chairs’, a 300 year old ritual ground where the Batak elders would practice black magic, discuss legal matters and where guilty parties would be executed in a bloodthirsty manner. It’s 10,000Rp to get in, but a guide that can barley string an English sentence together is free. Part of the fun is trying to decipher exactly what the stone chairs are all about from what he tells you, I still don’t have a clue…

Batak torture device


Although Sumatra is a predominantly Muslim island, the Bataks are Christians after being converted by a bit of Dutch courage

Magic mushrooms grow in buffalo shite around this area and are a favourite pastime for locals. This could be the reason behind the crazy Batak art and architecture. They’re also widely available for the tourists if Toba isn’t magical enough…

Things ain’t as they seem on Toba…

Before I left Tuk-Tuk, I thought about that eruption all those years ago and how it led to mass migration throughout the world due to changes in climate. It got me thinking what the Earth could have been like nowadays had this historic event not have happened. White people in Africa, Turks in Germany, Africans in France, Afro Caribbeans in London, a mile long stretch of Indian restaurants in Manchester, imagine…


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