We were dropped in Banda Aceh at a really dingy hotel. And for people who are used to paying $5-10 a night for a room, we don't have high expectations.
We decided to rather look around for something else, but after 2 hours of walking, we were stuck with the one miserable option. It turns out that since Banda Aceh was one of the city most devastated by the Tsunami (you can see a passenger ship lying beached about 3km inland!) there has been a flood of NGOs to the town, and the prices of rooms and beer have gone through the roof.
Our new low in accomodation not only lacked windows or any form of ventilation, but when I asked where the light switch was, the manager showed me how to drag a rickety table over to beneath the bare, dangling bulb and unscrew it from its socket. Great, but then you're balancing arm outstreched over the edge of a shaky table in pitch dark. Needless to say we were out of there first thing in the morning.
The fast morning ferry to Palau Weh is 4x the price of the slow afternoon ferry. But to spend
the day on the beautiful island of Palu Weh rather than in Banda Aceh it's a bargain.
From the island's harbour it was a short bus ride along the winding coast to the sleepy Iboih beach. Walking along a line of small bungallows built in the forest above the rocky shore, we eventually arrived at the pick of the lot, Yulia's. Here we found the room we'd been dreaming about while we were saving up for our trip to Indonesia. For $5 we were given a wooden bungallow on stilts built out over the coral reef. From our hammocks on the balcony you could see bright blue and yellow fish darting around the coral below us. At night the sound of the waves below us soothed us to sleep.
Since the weather had still not turned any drier, we spent most of the time enjoying the peaceful atmosphere of this sleepy island and taking advantage of the great home-cooked meals. It was pretty much impossible to get any meat on the island (we spent a while trying to get chicken hold of chicken, to no avail) everything was vegitarian. In spite of that, the cooking was so fantastic,
even I managed to feast on the veg-only diet. Banana & coconut pancakes, fried noodles with egg, vegetable tacos, and Gado-gado (fried veg with peanut sauce) were sufficient for keeping us happy for the 5 days while we were there.
We had intended to explore the mountain paths and the secluded beaches by motorbike, but since the weather never really opened up, we resorted to reading books, trying new foods and chatting to other travellers and the owners. Much of the island's development had been damaged by the tsunami, and the owner had stories of how he'd been sitting in his restaurant by the water with guests when the massive wave came up and washed the whole structure away.
On 2 of the mornings of our stay we joined a local dive operator to explore the reefs just off the coast. The strong currents we had during the dives made them quite thrilling, and the amount of fish on the reefs was spectacular to see. We were fortunate also to spot a slit-eye shark, a species of shark we've never seen before.
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