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Early morning Luwak coffee on Pahoda Hill, Lake Toba

Walking op Pahoda Hill with Batak graves

Horas is the word for Batak people to greet each other. It’s more than just hello. It could mean how are you, good morning, afternoon and evening, wishing good health and also welcome and goodbye. So it’s an important word and frequently used. Before sunrise we get up to have a very early pick nick on Pahoda Hill near Balige high above lakeToba in North Sumatra. We are an international group of journalists from Europe and Asia, invited to attend the official opening on 17th of September of  Festival Danau (Lake) Toba 2014. A short drive brings us from our hotel on the shore of Lake Toba to the foot of the hill. In a fairy-tale light we walk up the hill passing a protestant church, rice fields and a traditional Toba Batak village.

Enjoying the exquisite taste of luwak coffee

On the top of the hill we get a breakfast of authentic Batak food – white rice, noodles, vegetables, meat and tempeh (soya bean cake). We taste some of the finest coffee varieties presented by people of the Lintong Coffee Corporation.* Gani and other members of the cooperative show us how their coffee is selected and processed. The Sumatra Lintong Coffee grows at an altitude of 1500 metres. They export their organic coffee mainly to America. Their prime coffee is the Wild Luwak Coffee. A famous kind of coffee, brewed from beans that are first eaten by civets, animals living in the forest that pick out the best beans. The farmers collect the excrements of the civets in the forest and use these beans to produce the most expensive coffee you may find anywhere. A cup of coffee in an American Starbucks will cost you over 10 dollars.

There was a promise of a beautiful sunrise and a spectacular view from the hill. Sometimes shit happens. Somewhere in Riau and Jambi provinces probably illegal logging caused serious forest fires. Smoke travels a long distance. Thus no spectacular view and no sunrise but what a great breakfast on a spot next to beautiful Batak tombs. They look like traditional Toba Batak houses that are to be found around the lake.Toba Batak bury the bones of their deceased in these tombs after they dig them up from the graves. The burial of the remains is done with a lot of rituals going back to animist times. One theory says the tombs are located high on the hill, where the soil is not fertile enough. Another theory, a lot more romantic, says the deceased is thus closer to heaven.

Luwak coffee beans from civet excrements

After breakfast we walk down to Balige and then visit the local market offering fish, meat, vegetables, clothes and of course also ulos, Batak woven cloth from all regions. The market is built in the form of traditional Batak houses. The façade is decorated with Batak symbols. Four red breasts symbolize the virtues of women: hospitality, fertility, honesty and good housekeeping, as our Batak Toba guide Anta explains. Often a cicak (small lizard) accompanies the female symbol. It represents migrating Batak men who like cicaks are always on the move but always come back to their mothers and wives. We follow their example by leaving Balige to cross the lake from the town of Prapat to Samosir, the island in the middle of the lake.

With thanks to the Department of Tourism and Creative Economy, Jakarta, Indonesia


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