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January 29 - February 1, 2011 LAKE TOBA Sumatra, INDONESIA
 
  Carian (The Hunt)
  On the Beat and Path begins its search for the Batak Sound. Steve and Gary meet unique individuals and artists in their journey throughout this unique Island setting.
 
 
  Dance of the Batak
  Steve and Gary are invited to a performance of traditional Batak music and dance. Steve gets an opportunity to participate and show off his dancing skills.
 
 
Jungle Juice
  Steve and Gary brave the elements and head off in to the Sumatran jungle to take part in a daily tradition of singing and consuming local Tuak.
 
 
Lakeside Muppet Session  
There are few settings on Earth like the one in this podcast: on an island, in the middle of a lake, in the middle of a volcano, in the middle of a island.  
Recorded on Samosir Island, February 1, 2011

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Lake Toba: Hurts So Good  
For all of you readers who have had just about enough of our “good-timin’-world-cruisin’-happy-go-luckin’-global-voyages,” don’t worry.  Tragedy is about to strike.

Until now, this has been the deal:
Dudes go on trip. They call it work.  Everyone else calls it holiday. Dudes meet musicians. Dudes jam. Dudes record music - even in the jungle (who does that?). Dudes have great time. Yawn.

We get it.  Nothing but good luck gets boring. You want some drama. Maybe some sort of moving vehicle accident, or some prison time, or a sex scandal, or anything else that you might not admit to your mother that you secretly wished would happen to us. Well, fear not, our luck ran out in Sumatra.  And wonderful for you, the viewer/reader/enjoyer of On The Beat and Path, Sumatra is the sort of place where you don’t wish for luck to run out.  First, let’s explain a little but about where we are.
Pulau Samosir is an island ("pulau" is Indonesian for "island"), a fairly large island (the size of Singapore) that rests in South East Asia’s largest fresh water lake, Danau Toba ("danau" = "lake”). This fresh water lake happens to be situated in a volcano.  Granted, a now dormant volcano that hasn’t blasted in 100,000 years.  But, still a volcano.

And of course, this volcano is smack-dab in the middle of Sumatra, an island in the Indonesian Archipelago.   It’s a gorgeous locale with a million shades of green and people so nice you want to put them in your suitcase and bring them home and have them stand as your best man in your wedding.

This is where we spent our time for our Season Two Episode Three shoot.  The people who live on this island are known as the Batak and they live in uniquely shaped homes with steep-sloped roofs surrounded by what could easily be described as Middle Earth.

The Batak are also incredibly friendly.  It’s one of those places where you rarely hear "no" (like Wal-Mart or the Prom).  The Batak are always willing to talk, share a story, meal or band-aid.  Oh, and they love music.
Everywhere you roam, music is being played.  Tuk Tuk is the closest thing that Samosir has to a “town”.  Here you will find restaurants, adequately simple guesthouses and locals who will be more than happy to "loan" you their motorcycle.  There is a marvelous 6 km walk through the town of Tuk Tuk that will allow you to meet the locals and hear the strumming of a beat-up axe.   Locals from nearby “mega-city” Medan often visit Lake Toba for a holiday squeezing a clan of 16 in a $5 room (this often being Lake Toba’s only means for tourist dollars).  As such, there are always Indonesians who wish to practice their English (or serenade the Mat Salleh (meaning "white man") with Taylor Swift songs) with foreigners.

The Hunt was motivating, as always, but featured some pain this time around. Gary and I consider ourselves seasoned motorcycle drivers as both of us have our own “hogs” in Kuala Lumpur. However, the motorbikes we rented one day were a little different than what we're used to, resembling something one would expect to see in the streets of Florence, or at a Senior’s Retirement Living Centre in Florida. Or Arizona.
There was a little rain that day, not enough to cover ourselves or the cameras, but enough to make the gravel-speckled pavement slick. Roads on Samosir Island, mind you, are not wide. In fact, they are not wide enough for two cars, let alone six motorcycles.

We were cruising at a leisurely Lake Toba pace, as were the four motorcyclists heading in the opposite direction who suddenly emerged in front of us, traveling side-by-side "Bonanza"-style. The situation required a minor, but immediate rearrangement, which in turn involved the application of both front and rear brakes.

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Naturally, this is what I did. However, my personal bike uses a foot pedal to operate the rear brake, unlike the hand brake with which these bikes were equipped. So when the urgent need to decelerate was upon me, I simultaneously gripped the front brake and slammed my foot down on an imaginary rear brake. Before I could even say the "Ho" part of "Holy slick gravel-speckled pavement!," my body was skidding on said pavement as the front wheel had tucked beneath me. My age and ignorance allowed me to think of the camera first, which had tumbled into the roadside ditch.  I wasn’t worried too much about my own injuries, but as I got up and looked behind me, I noticed that Gary went down, as well.  I was not expecting this.
Bonus Scenes
 
  The Secret of Jungle Juice
  Steve and Gary learn the secret of TUAK, the moonshine of the Batak people.
 
 
I instantly forgot about the camera equipment and rushed to Gary as he was face down on the road. From the relative position of body to bike, it appeared he went over the handlebars.  He wasn’t moving (you can rent motorbikes in Sumatra but you can’t rent motorbike helmets).  This was not good.   This is never good.  He was alive.  This I knew from his voice but Gary was busy gong through his self-diagnostic check.  “Hands?  Working.  Feet?  I can feel them”.  His wrists took the brunt of the attack with blood streaming down his forearms and lower legs looking a little worse for wear.  I was more worried about his back.

My guitar lay on the shoulder of the road as locals began to gather, offering their assistance.  Both Gary and I were shaken up by the accident, not entirely sure what to do or where to go.  This was an island in a volcano, there wasn’t exactly a nearby hospital.  We moved Gary to the closest building, a simple Samosir home,  where our new caregivers quickly offered water and allowed him to lie on the living room floor.  The family quickly gathered and offered their solutions in a language neither of us understood.  They helped to clean Gary’s wounds as best they could while I went out and collected our gear and inspected our vehicles.

Miraculously, everything was still intact.  Sort of.  The damage to the bikes was minimal enough to conceivably ignore at turn-in time.  The camera only experienced a broken latch on the bag and the beater guitar endured another notch or two adding even more character.  But beyond that, the only thing roughed up was Gary.  I too had a torn-up ankle but that was the brunt of the damage.

As soon as Gary was able to check himself out of our provider’s care, we slowly traveled home. We passed a few cars-as-canvasses, painters, textile weavers and immediately were impressed by the Island's artists. 
We allowed our minds to remember why we were on the Island in the first place and tried to get in the right frame of mind.  When we arrived at the guesthouse, I played nurse. The fact that Gary travels with pain killers for his back is not news. Astonishingly, though, I had packed a first aid kid and proceeded to offer care as necessary, which consisted of Polysporin, Bandaids and Bintang Beer.   The latter of which was the key ingredient to our survival.  After a few Indonesian “pops” we were good to go.

We then met Mr. Bloom who was not only head of customer service at our guesthouse (for reasons that include his charming smile and grasp of the English language – see him in the trailer below - but he also played the “Garatung” in a local cultural band.  The Garatung is a piano/xylophone-like instrument made of materials that can be found naturally around the Island.  Mr. Bloom invited us to a showcase of his band’s music.

The Batak music is composed with themes of history, legend, happiness, and of course the obligatory drinking song.  While traditional acoustic guitars were used in their performance, other instruments included a Sulim (Bamboo flute), Hasapi (2 stringed guitar-like instrument) and a Hasek (percussion device), dancers and multi-part harmonies.  It is often said amongst the members in the orchestra that the most important musician is the dude tapping on the empty beer bottle keeping time.  That may be true.  But the luckiest guy in the band, in our opinion, is the dude who gets to empty the bottle first.

Gary and I learned that that tradition of musical appreciation starts in the home and is passed on from generation to generation.  We also learned that the men of the village meet nightly after a day’s work to drink Tuak (a form of palm wine) and sing their traditional folk songs.  The locals call Tuak simply, Jungle Juice and there remain a few symbolic makers of this beverage in each village.  While it doesn’t look entirely appetizing (resembling a glass of watered down bull semen), it does start to taste better by the second glass.

The nightly set up is simple: As the sun begins to set, men from the village begin to gather around a wooden, outdoor dining table.  The kerabau (bull) will stroll by finishing their days’ work, often led (or ridden) by aging-too-fast-eight-year-old boys.  Someone will eventually pull up to the party with a few guitars or some live chickens for the feast (for the record, if someone in Sumatra asks you if you want to see “how the chicken is prepared?” it’s best to stick to your Jungle Juice).  Most of the instruments in this situation are homemade: lighters tapping on coke bottles, rings knocking on the wooden tables, all to create a sound that is rich with harmony. Gary and I enjoyed the concert, starry night and chicken dish.

Our trip to Samosir was too short.  It always is.  As Gary and I left we made a vow to return.


Catch Us Live Somewhere On This Planet.

Peace
Steve
 
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Mission: On the Beat and Path provides a window into the planet's love and longing for music, using music as the primary language of global communication in order to develop a multi-media outlet for the sharing of music, travel and friendship.
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