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Published: April 13th 2007
Survived the Tsunami- an act of God they say. I couldn't agree more
Banda Aceh. It's about as far away from Western Civilisation as I've ever been. They even have Sharia law (conservative Islamic law) imposed.
I first arrived in Medan; the fight was actually not too bad- bit of a bumpy take-off but then Lion Air's full three-hour full flight service of a plastic of water certainly made up for it. I hope that Lion Air can expand their services to NZ.
Medan. All I can say is that if anyone wins a competition for a trip to Medan, just say thanks but no thanks. I had to endure this place and stay the night here. I found a lovely hotel right by the Mosque where at 5am things got going. The following day was a quick exit as I headed to the bus station for another Indonesian bus adventure. 12 hours later I was in Banda Aceh.
My arrival was not the best. No-one spoke English and I really needed accommodation. I got it sorted after a while but the place was pretty horrible but it was late so further endurance was necessary. For those of you who don't know, Aceh was the province most affected by the
2004 Tsunami and it has been fighting a war of Independence with the Indonesian military for the past 30 years. So clearly it's a bit of a mess, there's plenty of damage around and it's only just opened up to the outside world. Tourists numbers are limited.
Despite the mess, the smells left over from the Tsunami and all the open drains, things arn't too bad. People are real friendly and all day long it's Hi Sir, Hello Mr. There are also lots of NGOs and Aid agencies around and the surrounds are pretty interesting. I went for a bit of a walk along the 'river'- clearly it's a smelly disaster zone. At one stage I had the city dump on one side, the dirty river on the other and the smell of sewage, decaying fish, rubbish and whatever else all around me- not much of an ideal nature walk. I also took the time to check out all the still-existing Tsunami damage (still quite a large piece of the city). Then I did find some better accommodation- I thought too bad, I've endured enough so at 4 times the price of the last it was quite a relief
and breakfast was unlimited (bonus).
The following day I finally did some research by visiting and doing an interview at Europa House (the EU's HQs in the region). So spent the day going over it. The next day I headed over to the R&R island of Palau Weh, which actually turned out as the highlight of my trip so far. It's a major off the beaten track tranquil island where many NGO workers and others escape. I finally met other Westerners and got away from all the rubbish, traffic, pollution and general chaos of the mainland(s). I saw monkeys, rare species of fish, and even a snake and stayed in a bungalow overlooking the sea. The islanders seem to think that they're separate from Aceh. This one women, while we were talking about sharia law insisted that if the sharia police come over here- she would go up to them in the nude and say ".... off! This place is for tourists!" I also met some NZers on the island- out of all places- and turned out we studied together and had mutual friends.
So that was the final bit of my Indonesian tour and Aceh was the
biggest eye-opener for sure. Before knew it I was back on Lion Air (I wasn't going to bus it, Medan it and then ferry it) as we roared off and with a bit of a bouncy landing we arrived in Penang (via the lovely Medan). I'm now in Malaysia but that's another story.
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