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Bandah Aceh to Pulau Weh


The touts were sharp that morning. Even at an early morning pit stop in the town of Sigli still some way from Banda, Becak drivers tried their luck despite the obvious competition of the bus being sat right there. Upon arrival in Banda they swarmed the bus doorway in typical fashion but I just played it cool and found myself an egg rice breakfast whilst deliberating my next move, ignoring a new found admirer. The problem in this part of the world was that the locals had become accustomed to the excesses of the many NGO parasites who in the name of charity were renowned for squandering much of the contributions donated for the tsunami effort. Big wagers driving around in shiny 4X4s had pushed up the prices but not the standards of the local hotels and at the weekend anywhere worth being was doomed to be busy and commensurately overpriced. I had a choice to make then whether I would go to Pulau Weh, an as yet allegedly "undiscovered" paradise island renowned for its world class underwater attractions, but if so I would have to go immediately. It was Thursday and come the weekend it would be clogged with fat walleted do-gooders doubtless up to no good. Given the amount of people who had raved about it I decided some things just had to be done, time considerations aside, and maybe a couple of days loafing on a beach wouldnt be so bad. My previous tentative forays at snorkelling had been unsuccessful and the sidetrip also had the bonus of offering the chance to start coming down the length of Indonesia from its extremity for the sake of anorak completeness. Having just missed the early morning fast ferry, I thought I just had time to catch Gondangon, a museum like testimony to the local Sultanate, but the Opelet driver perhaps just got me onboard for the sake of another drinks worth and dropped me at the citys grand mosque instead. I just settled for that then, a very fine example in white, before struggling to track down the Opelet terminal for a spot known as Ulehleh. Drenched in sweat, legs buzzing and a torn shirt later, I finally managed to track down the incongruous spot and landed myself in position for the local tub departing at 2. With just one other Westerner milling about, fortune shone down on me from Allah again as I opted for a seat next to some untended bags, only to find they belonged to Aaron from Manchester, now living on the island with his local wife. The usual story sharing led to an offer of a lift on his moped to our mutual destination Iboih, a strategy compromised first of all by 2 trucks reluctant to leave the boat. The vehicles had been packed in so tightly that they had become inadvertantly co-joined like post-copulative foxes and there was a keystone cops episode of too many chiefs to part them. The bikes finally managed to squeeze around the side of them, and so we were off, me laden somewhat backbrakingly with my bags and Aaron with a large box of booze and nappies wedged between his legs. The sweet little main town of Sabang didnt materialise immediately as expected and the bike squealed on the way up to it on surprisingly hilly terrain. A stop for fuel prompted payment from me which was fair enough, white man or not I knew that nothing was ever for free in Indonesia, and after attending to some business in town Aaron "suggested" that I go with a local mate in his Jeep for another quids worth. It was still working out less than the alternative taxi and when I saw the state of the roads I understaod why. Potholes and loose surface lay strewn like the face of the moon and the bike would have never got up some of the inclines so laden. First impressions of the island besides the stunning topography, it was a volcano after all, revealed fantastic vistas of tropical palm forest and enticing blue bays, even at the ferry pier the water was a picture of cool turquoise clarity. Iboih itself was remarkably tiny with just a ramshackle array of teensy rustic thatched bungalows and the odd cafe, and you could walk the beach in 30 seconds. A small heavily wooded island lay just 100 metres offshore and the snorkelling in between was reputed to be spectacular. I opted for a chalet in celtic colours close by the "action", with point number 1 being the firing up of a mosquito coil, then smearing myself liberally in precious repellant. They had found me already and werent about to go away in the epitome of the hot, sticky, sweaty, cricket chirping tropics. Two small distinctive fishing boats with very high pointy upcurled prows set the scene as I caught the last of the sun going down from the beach. Really sweet. That is if you didnt mind the heat, the bugs, the toads, the monkeys rattling over the roofs and the fact that the shower was a bucket of water tipped over you from the well and the toilet was the bush. As for shaving, forget it. I passed the evening with a German guy I had bumped into a couple of times before at a spot called Norma's place, one of the local chicks who rented bungalows. Hitting on the obvious subject of the tsunami, she explained that some people unaffected by it had received new houses whereas others who had lost everything went unhelped. Corruption. She also told how after the disaster, free healthcare had been provided for a while but now having lived in pain for 11 months she couldnt afford the operation which was deemed necessary by the local doc. Upon enquiry I pretty quickly reckoned that her problem was lactose intolerance and told her to go off milk for a week. It was a pity I wouldnt be hanging around for long enough to witness the results.

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Indonesia

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