Sunday, 17 August 2008

Soaking in the heat

On yer bike
On a gorgeous day, my son and I decided set off from the village of Tuktuk on the island of Samosir for a bike trip of more than 50 km's, along the islands' shore with Danau Toba, all the way to Pangururanwhich is administrative capital of the island. The ride is pleasant, flat and extremely picturesque.

On the island side, steep mountains rise which used to form the crater rim of the Toba volcano, while on the other side, one can see over the lake towards the equally steep mountains which form the other side of the volcano rim. Between the mountains and the shore were a slow procession of pleasant and quiet villages, with the landscape evolving from rice fields to orchards / plantations to forests. Traffic was light, the rental bikes well-greased. And the sun was shining.

By mid day, we were nearing Pangururan and took a right turn just before the town, cross a bridge which leads from Samosir onto Sumatra proper. Then after the bridge, another right turn leads to a track which follows the shore clockwise this time, but on the other side of the lake. A few km's up the road, we park our bikes for a richly deserved lunch.

Air Panas
We were now at Air Panas. The sun was relentless: besides being near the equator, we're also at a high elevation. The hot springs site seemed to be a plethora of hot water springs, gradually climbing up the slope which faced the sun. After parking the bikes, we wander off to explore the site.

From the main park area which gives access to 2-3 soaking sites, there's a track which goes up the steep slope giving access to another number of soaking sites, while a small walking track to the right leads to a 'hot springs walk'.

We choose the highest soaking site, as the restaurant provides a great view of Danau Toba and Samosir, while the restaurant is next to a very hot stream and there is a big rectangular pool above the restaurant.

View of a few of the hot springs. In the background, Danau Toba and Samosir island.

The third sex
There are actually two rectangular pools above the restaurant, the higher one is for men, the lower for women. Why the distinction I would not know, as the women's pool is easily observable from the males pool, But beware, not the other way around. Maybe, it's because the men's pool is better (larger, better view), equality is still some way off I'm afraid.

One of the resorts below even had a third sex, I'd yet to encounter: a pool for men, a pool for women and a pool for foreigners! Naturally the pool for foreigners could be observed from all corners, the other two were hidden away somewhere in the back. Odd.

The sign for "Foreigners": complete with (inflated?) price: 0,50 $US; still very cheap.

Dori, in her travel blog describes a visit to the women's hot springs:
'The hot springs was a bunch of separate pools-men and women bathed separately. The women were mostly older and bathed topless with a sarong on the bottom and dipped screaming babies into the water'.
Relaxing? Somehow she failed to qualify for the foreigner springs ...

A lunch time soak
After the ride we were pretty hungry. We ordered our lunch and while waiting, went to have a soak. Of course this being during the week, the pools were deserted and (with exception of the restaurant mistress) so was the restaurant. The pool was actually great, nice length, good depth, hot but not extreme hot. Glare from the lake and the surrounded denuded hills did make this a very hot event.

Everything was a bit makeshift though. For instance, the toilet had only a wall of 50 cm height, with full view of the surroundings (in both ways). It was the first toilet I've ever seen, that's flushed with hot springs water. At least the sulfur smell hides all other smells!

The uppermost pool. Alas ladies, it's reserved for us men. Note the big pipe with steaming hot water gushing into the pool.

The pool is surrounded by a 50-60 cm wall which is a pity because the view is stupendous. Well, we will just have to leave the view for lunch.

Lunch consists of some fried rice, good but nothing special. After lunch we mess around a bit in the pool and stream. Confident nobody is coming along, I enjoy an uninhibited soak this time round.

The highest restaurant, great views. In the foreground a hot water stream flows.

We get dressed and before leaving take a stroll over the hot water walk. Well, most tourists will be stupefied, as the path ends 30 m from where it begins. But having seen the path from higher up, we move further over a track and enter a small canyon, 50 m in length maybe, 10-15 m high. As we move to the end of the canyon, more sulfurous steam is gasping from the porous earth. Is this dangerous?

The stream itself contains a number of small boiling hot springs. At the end of the canyon, you can take a really hot shower: hot water is falling down from about 10 m higher.

It's also where the track ends and where we return. Back to our bikes, back on our bikes and back for the 50 km trek to our hotel.

The hot water stream

More information
The correct name for this site is well, um, unknown? It's referred to as Pangururan / Tele / Samosir / Toba hot springs. But none with the exact location. Others refer to it as Permandian / Kolam Renang / Kolam Air Panas / Aek Rangat meaning bathing place / swimming pool / hot springs swim / sulfur springs; none as to the exact location. So I'll file these springs under Pangururan hot springs, if only to avoid confusion with the onsen in the Japanese town of Toba ....

The actual source of the springs themselves are described by an anonymous blog:
'After lunch we search for the hot springs. Every restaurant appears to have a bath of swimming pool fed with hot water from the springs, but we want to find the springs themselves. So we climb up, until we reach a restaurant that only lets us through if we order something. Here is a pool as well, but also a natural bath in the rocks. And as we climb up, we reach the actual source of the hot springs. In some kind of white moon landscape there is a stream of hot, yellow water. It is boiling up from the rocks, although we cannot see exactly where'.
Getting There: From Pangururan, it's very straight forward. Just cross the bridge and take the first right. After roughly 2 km you'll come to a large number of restaurants and hot spring pools. This is it.

Soaking Experience: Well, we made a good choice to walk up to the 'last' resort. Not only the solitude, both the accessible stream and large pool make this a great place to soak. However experience may differ per resort and even women might have a different 'view' on this.

Overall impression: It's a pity that, on the one side, development has been haphazard: it certainly is an area of outstanding beauty, if not outstanding for it's uniqueness. Most resorts though, seem to have made quite an effort to attract visitors and some of the pools are quite large. More could have been made of the view. And it could be much better ...

Lonely Planet though refers to this site as 'uninspiring', so whether or not it appeals to you, that's your choice.

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