Exploring a Doomed Rainforest

The Batuk people of Lake Toba lead a rather primitive life. Those who don't cater to tourism probably tend the same rice patty that their ancestors have worked for centuries. What sets the Batuk people apart is their propensity for violence as a group. Tribal warfare was a way of life for them, as well as gruesome public beheadings followed by cannibalistic feasts. When Christian missionaries tried to put an end to cannibalism in the 19th century, they too were munched -- the last being eaten in the 1920's.

Seventy years doesn't change a culture too much. Because now, rather than consuming missionaries and each other, they are rapidly consuming their rainforests. When we heard there was a virgin tract of trees on the cliffs above Tuk-Tuk on Samosir Island, Frank, Veronique, Keith and I packed some gear for a three-day trek.

Smoking a fatty on the climb up.

The first day hiking up the steep trail was slow, probably because we stopped for a spliff every 30 minutes. Reaching the summit we found ourselves right inside an age-old forest. Lizards the size of your foot and insects as large as your big toe slithered underfoot. Monkeys jumped vine to vine overhead. Birds of all sizes watched us as we ducked under logs and hopped over streams. But the wildest sensation of all were the bizarre sounds we were hearing. Sounds of the living forest like nothing I've ever heard. Our joyous sense of wonderment abruptly changed to utter disgust when we discovered red marks on all the big trees. This ecosystem was on death row.

The logging road that cut through the forest.

That night we smoked ourselves silly in an attempt to rid ourselves of the ecocide about to be committed. In the morning we were thrust straight back into our depression session. We observed local villagers marching off to the forests with defoliant chemicals on their backs. Defoliant chemicals are used to kill the underbrush so loggers can slash and burn their way to the big trees.

Traditional homes of the interior.

Walking down the gradual backside of Samosir Island we viewed the vegetation decrease in direct proportion to the large amounts of people in the villages, especially children. By day's end the only visibly green thing left was ultra-short grass. Grazing cows had chewed all the vegetation down to putting green level.

Where there once stood an ancient forest.

I hate to think of the world those innocent village children will inherit when all the natural resources of the region have been stripped bare. When we asked why the villagers told us there were evil spirits in the forests -- of course they should be cut down. Little do they realize they are cutting their own throats. And the planet as a whole.

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