Indonesia is the tenth country we have visited on our current escapade. Sometimes, while I think that we are spoiling ourselves rotten and visiting country after country, without respite or returning to “real life,” I wonder if maybe we are becoming unappreciative of our experiences or desensitised to certain cultural differences. For example, when we first arrived in Asia in February 2010 we must have visited every temple within a ten mile radius, now we’re temple fatigued. Whereas I previously counted down to our ultimate our embarkation, every day for two months or more, now I hardly ever know what day it is or how many days I’ve been in a country, let alone how many until our next destination. Before we would get giddy over passport stamps, being asked to pose for photographs, squat toilets and geckos, but now the extraordinary has become a little... ordinary.
I think I mean to say that those little excitements from our early travels have become part of our everyday lives, the same as red telephone boxes, double-decker buses, warm beer and Royal Weddings are the norm back home in England (just in case you don’t know, they are not normal at all, but popular British stereotypes we’ve picked up on along the way, and I’m just trying to be witty - Har har!). I hope that now we are less concerned with the trivialities of travel in “Indochina” that we are more focused on matters of substance. But it is still hard to deny the fact that the excitement of entering a new country for the first time, as part of a ‘round the world trip’
is anything like the enthusiasm one has who is counting down the days from their office desk.
Now, I’m not sure if it was lack of planning (therefore a little taste of the “unknown”), the short notice or even the fact that we were boarding a plane for the first time since coming out here, but before our arrival in Banda Aceh airport in Sumatra I was experiencing that old, familiar stir in the belly; I was excited (though at the time I did consider possible food poisoning, it can be hard to tell!).
We disembarked, paid $25 for our 30 day visa-on- arrival, made it through customs easily enough, although we were told by the official that we were his “enemies”
(a Man-U supporter, aren’t they all?), and agreed to pay a nominal fee to a cab driver for the ride into town. The cab pulled up but we couldn’t put our bags in the boot or open the passenger door as both were broken, as was the speedometer and various other items and practical apparatus. It was dusk, that special time of day when the entire world looks lovely, aglow...Though I didn’t get to see much of it personally as the window was made entirely from duct tape. Chris left me alone for a few minutes with the driver whilst he went to get some change. The driver used this as an opportunity to enquire into my marital status... which is always appropriate.
The cheap hotel where we had turned up at unannounced was full so we ventured across the street to a motel which Chris described as “the kind of place where prostitutes are murdered” (the boy has a way with words!). As always, looks can be deceiving and we actually had a great sleep before an early start; catching a “labi-labi” (van with two benches on the back to accommodate passengers) to the ferry terminal to take
the express boat leaving at 10am. Before boarding we got chatting to Harry, a local tuk-tuk driver who gave us his phone number and a few tips about spiking bananas with chillies to upset the monkeys on the island. Suffice to say, we probably won’t be keeping in touch with this particular rogue...
So, it was plain sailing all the way to Pulau Weh, Indonesia’s most northerly point, where we arrived before lunchtime. We bartered with a jeep driver to take us to Iboih for “cheap cheap”, and he agreed so long as we didn’t tell the other passengers. Those other passengers busied themselves in conversation re: Vang Vieng and the current clientele of South East Asia. Now, Vang Vieng may not exactly be our kind of scene either, but let ‘s not get holier than thou, Ladies and Gentlemen; this is Asia after all, hardly the final frontier!
It was Wani, a beautiful Indonesian woman, who greeted us as we arrived in Iboih. She told us how she has some new bungalows in a quiet place 5 minutes down the road. Coming for Vietnam, where many people had been less than polite in their approach with us,
I found myself a little suspicious at first; she said five minutes so it will be twenty, we’ll get there and the place will be falling apart, she said it’s peaceful so there’ll be a karaoke bar next door... But “Pele’s Place” proved to be ideal!
Named after her Swedish husband (also her third, so said her gossiping sister!), Pele’s Place makes up two new bungalows in the middle of the jungle with nothing else around. No ambient light, no tourists, not even any locals, unless you count the local wildlife who ensured to frighten me half to death during the pitch black walk home at night. And when I say “wildlife” I’m talking feral hogs running out of the jungle screaming blue murder and a hairy, black tarantula greeting us in the bedroom when we arrived home... But it was all worth it for the uninterrupted sounds of crashing waves and the noise of the nocturnal jungle. The bungalow even came with a small kitchen for the bargain price of 10 USD per night; two thumbs up!
Iboih village is described in a popular travel guide we recently heard referred to as “Lying Planet” as having “that castaway vibe”. Now, to quote my vaguely attractive life partner once more, “Castaway vibe? There’s a bloody car park round the corner!” Not that it was a multi-story or anything, just a patch of tarmac with a few scooters, and Iboih is still reasonably
undeveloped at present (i.e. it’s no Koh Tao), but to liken the place with that harrowing experience of poor old Tom Hanks in the ‘90s is nothing short of misinformation, my friends! The village does have a lovely little strip of beach, a mosque (so no stripping down to your bikini!), a few shops and restaurants, the majority of which don’t actually seem to serve food. Being a predominantly Muslim country and all, there is a sign in the village asking you to “dress politely”, which should of course go without saying, and I’m happy to report that seemingly, the type of crowd drawn to Pulau Weh are nothing but respectful... however, it was amusing and slightly ironic that only feet away from the notice sat a local woman, legs akimbo, with next week’s washing on display. Talk about polite!
Having missed breakfast and with our thoughts turning to food we happened upon “Mama’s Restaurant”, which was empty upon our arrival but turned out to be the
place to eat in Iboih, either on account of the fact that Mama cooks everything fresh, or the lack of other plausible options in the vicinity. The food was good, the portions hearty and Mama herself a lovely lady!
Whilst tucking into our grub we were joined at our table by Larry, a recently retired chap from Alaska, who discredits the common assumption made in the popular idiom, “happy as Larry”! He’d been everywhere, done everything, enjoyed absolutely nothing and wasn’t the least bit interested in us despite sitting at our table and chewing our ears off for the best part of an hour. What’s more, his moral stand points left a sour taste in my mouth and to save myself being drawn into debate I had to switch off entirely after hearing him say, “if they breed like cattle, you treat them like cattle”, on the subject of third world people.
Luckily the majority of people we encountered on the island were much more palatable. In fact, Indonesian’s are unreservedly lovely! Everyone says hello, smiles, comes over for a chat... During
a day spent lazing on the small beach in front of Mama’s I was joined by Rudy and Irum, two adorable guys who approached me asking to take a photograph while Chris was in the shop. They sat with us for some time and the conversation concluded with me promising to set him up with one of my blonde haired friends from England. He said we’re family now, facebook friends at the very least!
That day at the beach we rented snorkels from the dive shop “Ozone” for 15,000 rupiah for the day (or a fraction over a pound). Pulau Weh is renowned for its diving, by all accounts, but I’m not much into that. I get a bit freaked out to tell you the truth! But snorkelling just meters away from the shores was rewarding in itself! We saw a star fish with limbs as long as my own; the full cast of Nemo were in attendance, as well as some gorgeous coral. Then I got stung on the forehead and the chin simultaneously, and dragged away by a strong current so I decided I’d had enough.
I didn’t sleep well at all the next night and
woke up feeling fluey and rubbish. I got up, put my jump suit on back to front, my top on inside out, had a little cry (I think I might be a little homesick after saying goodbye to Dad), received not nearly enough sympathy from Chris and eventually got my act together, kind of. It’s probably a result of the cold in Sapa, or the fact that Mama was sneezing all over my potato salad the day before. Due to my lack of energy I allowed Chris to cart me around on the back of a moto for the rest of the day, not that I have as much choice in the matter as I’m implying, as don’t have a drivers license because I can’t pass my test... Anyway, the rest of the island was pretty and there are some gorgeous costal roads to drive (or be driven) along. At one point we were almost road blocked by a family of thirty or so monkeys spending some quality time together in the middle of the path, but it wasn’t a big problem and we returned to Iboih unscathed and hungry once more.
The next morning I woke up feeling
worse still. Chris had gone out to use the internet while I slept in. Despite being unwell we were leaving that day so as I sat on the balcony repacking my rucksack I was introduced to our only neighbour, “ugly naked guy.” It wasn’t a formal introduction, no handshakes, he didn’t bother to say hello. It was quite informal actually, with him being naked and all. Feeling somewhat vulnerable, effectively alone in the forest with a pervert, I threw on some clothes (I was still in my pyjamas, and he didn’t take the hint...), armed myself with a bottle of mosquito repellent (with which I was planning to attack ugly naked guy should he decide to take the show on the road), and headed into town to find Chris, my protector. As it turned out, my protector found the episode funnier than I.
The taxi picked us up and took us to the ferry on which I was planning to sleep. By this time I was badly congested and aching all over. I dozed off for a little while but awoke to an audience of about 15 teenage girls, one of whom was photographing me with her DSLR as
I drooled. As I opened my eyes, 15 headscarves ducked behind their seats in slapstick fashion. It took them a further five minutes to strike up a conversation with me and as it turned out, they were very sweet girls. We’re ‘Facebook friends’ now, obviously...
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