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Published: December 9th 2019
Banda Aceh to Pulau Weh
Pulau Weh straight ahead
When Indonesians talk about the size of their country, they always mention two names, Sabang and Merauke, the two extremities of the country. I was in Merauke last year, the eastern most point of Indonesia, and now I have been to Sabang, the western most point. In actual fact I haven't been to the uttermost ends of either of the two. There are monuments at both places, at Merauke it is on the border with Papua New Guinea, and I didn't go there. On Pulau Weh, of which Sabang is the main town, it is on the western most cape, and I didn't go there either. But I would say I have been close enough to both. Let's say I have been to the uttermost ends of Indonesia, give or take 50 kilometers. I think that's good enough.
The trip from Sinkil, the gateway to Banyak Islands, to Pulau Weh was rather eventful. A 15 hour bus trip turned into a 22 hour nightmare, with breakdowns, alternative transport arrangements, and a crappy minibus that leaked on all sides, as it made its way through the torrential rains that decided to pour down on us, on the long road to Banda
Aceh, from where I had to catch a ferry to Pulau Weh. I had rain dripping on me from above, from below, and from the side! But at long last, after 26 hours, and a short hop over the ocean, I arrived at my guesthouse on Pulau Weh. The thing to remember when on a bus ride from hell is that you always... eventually... get to your destination. Somehow! And I saw some pretty scenery along the way, so that was nice. One must try to remain positive!
Pulau Weh is a diving destination, and I played with the idea of doing a few dives. But it isn't the best of seasons. The weather just wasn't right. Rain, wind, thunder, lighting and crashing waves, it wasn't conductive to the general visibility in the aquamarine waters. You could still go diving, and people did, however not me. I didn't want to pay a lot of money to float around in turbid water. Instead I snorkeled... in turbid water, but hey! it's free! And I did see (hazy) fishes, and the underwater rock formations were interesting. Plus, it's always nice to be in the water. And I rested, because that 26
View from my veranda
hour journey to get to Pulau Weh, had taken it's toll. I had a great perch to relax from, on the veranda of my bungalow by the water.
I strolled around a little too (very leisurely), but not much. I was tired and I really just wanted to do as little as possible. And I did. For five days. And then it was time to return to Banda Aceh, and explore the city. The city hit by the boxing day tsunami of 2004. Around 60000 lives were lost in Banda Aceh alone! To try to grasp the scope of this disaster I went to the Tsunami Museum. It was under renovation, so a lot of the interactive stuff wasn't working, but still it was an impressive place. The photos and the names of the dead left me in silence.
Right next door to the museum is a Dutch war cemetery. A reminder of an altogether different tragedy. Before the Indonesians tried to subdue Aceh by force, the Dutch tried to do the same, it took them 30 years and a lot of casualties. The dead lie in this cemetery, 2200 of them. I'm sure a lot more Achenese
View from the restaurant at my homestay
died. After the Dutch won that war, they decided to try and appease the people of Aceh and built, what is now called, the Raya Baiturrahman Mosque, the main mosque in Banda Aceh. It miraculously survived the tsunami relatively unscathed. It is a beautiful building I must admit. Whether the people of Aceh, at the time, felt it compensated for everything the Dutch had done, is another matter.
One of the most poignant reminders of the tsunami is the huge generator ship that now lies 3 km's inland from the sea, dragged through the town by the devastating waves. It's surreal site, as this ship is surrounded on all sides by the city these days, and only if you stand on the highest point of the vessel can you just
about catch a glimpse of the ocean on the horizon. Another surreal site, is the fishing boat that was left stranded on top of a house. Fishing boats shouldn't be laying on top of houses, I am pretty sure of that!
As I walked around Banda Aceh, it was hard to imagine that 15 years ago it was basically wiped from the earth. Now it is a thriving
town again, and only the ships stranded far inland, and left as monuments, testify to the disaster that befell this city. And the stories of the people. Stories like the one the driver, who took me from the harbour to my homestay, told me.How he was dragged 4 kilometers inland by the waves, but survived. How he lost 6 family members, including his father that day. How, being traumatised, he left the city for Jakarta for ten years, before once again returning home. Like him, everyone here has a personal story, one of loss, but also of hope and new life, of rebuilding and looking to the future, but never forgetting the past and the dead.
As for me. I have reached the end of this trip. Once again I thank Indonesia for hosting me, and allowing me to explore yet another part of their beautiful archipelago. I'll be back!
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