Indonesia Expat
Meet the Expats

Eco-Village Hero: Meet Thomas Heinle

Karen Davis meets Thomas Heinle of Eco-Village Samosir on Lake Toba: a unique community where you may do something of value and really experience true village life on your holiday. 

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Munich and grew up in the south of Germany. At the age of 17, I already wanted to leave what I saw as the rich and senseless world of Germany.

What brought you to Indonesia and to Lake Toba, Sumatra?

When I was 31, I flew for the first time on an aircraft. The following year in 1993 my girlfriend wanted to go to Indonesia. We went to Lake Toba, the natural lake created in the caldera of the world’s largest supervolcanic eruption, on Sumatra. I arrived there and immediately felt more at home than in Germany.

How did you meet your beautiful wife, Ratnauli Gultom?

In 2011 I lived for one year in Tuktuk on Samosir, the island in the middle of Lake Toba. One beautiful day I biked south down the coast until the end of the road. Two foreigners stood on the path and asked me if I wanted to meet Ratna. I asked them, who is Ratna? Then Ratna appeared. It was love at first sight.

Tell me about Silimalombu, on the island of Samosir.

Silimalombu is a village on the coast of Samosir, which Ratna’s grandfather founded around 150 years ago. Her father was the King of Silimalombu. In 2000 a huge Aquafarm started to operate here, where most people now work.

How was Ecovillage Samosir started?

Ratna came home from Jakarta in 2006 and found that all the beaches were full of dead, stinking fish. So, she started setting up an ecovillage along with other international volunteers. She focused on the composting of the fish. She is still fighting with the Aquafarm to avert destruction of Lake Toba. Ratna started to plant trees and has now planted more than 4,000 trees – she works with the international organization WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms).

What is required to work in exchange for food and lodging at the Ecovillage? Do you offer an option for paying guests?

If you want to stay in exchange for work; it is important you like working on a farm. If you come here only because you want to save money then it is better you work elsewhere. It’s a mindset: if your focus is poor, or only on saving money, then you won’t have the power to help to create the Ecovillage vision.

Last year we decided to build a guesthouse and restaurant, serving seafood and pizza. You can book it directly or with Airbnb. We offer one day for Rp.120,000, including breakfast. For full board we charge an extra Rp.70,000.

What is a typical day for you?

Get up at six with the sunrise; prepare some breakfast. In the morning we work on the farm or in the forest until lunchtime. In the afternoon we mostly do something around the house or work on our products. In the evening we sing or play chess, or just relax.

What are some of your favourite activities on Lake Toba?

Food designing is my specialty. I make mango wine, then mango vinegar, and distil the rest into white mango whisky. The mangoes from Silimalombu are a trademark Origin established by the Government.

I like to empower the people. We do this with the Lake Toba Foundation (Yayasan Pencinta Danau Toba). The Chairman of the foundation and I have the same dream: to share the paradise of the hills from Samosir with the world.

Can you explain what your photovoltaic project involves?

We produce all the energy for our new house with solar power. For lighting we use the 12-volt DC directly, and the whole roof construction is like the minus cable. Around the house we have one strong cable, which is the positive. You can use this power everywhere. It is accessed with an alligator clamp. We don’t need switches or other cables. With a simple car adapter you can charge your phone. We pump the water for our 13 aquariums on the terrace or inside the house with the solar system. We no longer have any blackouts.

What are some of the sustainable products you have developed, especially those based on the water hyacinth?

The water hyacinth cleans the lake’s water. We built three ponds in front of our houses, where the dirty water is cleaned more. It is a perfect symbiosis with the fishes in the ponds. This water is cleaner than the lake, and out of the plants we make bags, hats, mats, etc. It’s a strong fibre.

Also, we’ve developed detox teas, and teas to prevent or heal cancer. These are based on graviola leaves and the Andaliman pepper. The teas are available internationally via our website (see details below).

How does one get involved with your Adopt a Tree programme?

Just send US$50 via PayPal, and we’ll plant you a tree and take care of it for five years. Every six months we send you a photo of your named tree. But you also can come and plant the tree yourself!

Tell us a funny story from your conservation exploits. 

Last weekend we were with our volunteer Daniela at a Lake Toba Foundation meeting. Three families offered to adopt Daniela! You have to understand that Batak society is built up from strong family clans. If you are in, you can use the whole clan for your needs. Daniela didn’t really have the feeling of a family in Germany before. Now she has three offers to choose from!

How do you and your family envision the future of the Lake Toba area?

We want to show that paradise is already here: if people understand this, then they take care of the environment and we can have our paradise.

We state our vision for Lake Toba 2030 on the webpage: Some of it is already turning into projects, so we hope to fulfil our vision by 2020.

Thank You Thomas! To find out more, please visit, email [email protected], or call +62 8126 0858 209.


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