Arrival in Northern Sumatra

Trip Start Nov 08, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Indonesia  , Sumatra,
Monday, March 29, 2010

    From Bangkok, we flew down to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and from there over to Northern Sumatra to a town called Banda Aceh.  We intended to immediately head from the airport to the pier to catch a ferry to a small island just north called Pulau Weh.  However, as we flew into Banda Aceh, we saw a patchwork of green farmland fringed by mountains that was so alluring we decided to stay and explore Banda's surroundings a bit. 

     Banda Aceh was one of the areas hardest hit by the tsunami of 2004.  It has since rebounded, but reminders of its devastation are ever-present.  Behind the reception desk of our hotel, a large photograph showed a huge fishing ship swept in by the tsunami and deposited in the parking lot just out front.  A bulletin board displayed photos of the gruesome aftermath of a city reduced to rubble, floating bodies mingled with debris, images that sent sick shivers down my spine.  The efforts of NGO’s during the 5 years following the tsunami have largely restored the area to a state which most say is better than it was before the tsunami.  So the physical recovery has been largely successful, but who can say of the emotional recuperation when one in four people was lost. 

     Most of the NGO’s wrapped up their projects and were required to leave last year.  We saw only two other Westerners during our stay and were constantly aware that our presence created a stir.  Indonesians are a very friendly and welcoming people, and we were constantly greeted with smiles and excited attempts to practice English skills and take photos with the white visitors. 

     While most of SE Asia is Buddhist, Indonesia is predominately Muslim.  The women’s headscarves and wrist-to-ankle coverage always takes me a while to get used to upon arrival to a Muslim country; however, while modesty in my dress is expected and appreciated, full dress isn’t required unless visiting a mosque.

     While roaming the city, Dane and I stumbled upon a fabrics market that was incredible.  I was a bit reluctant to whip out my camera, but I had to snap a few pics to share the amazing detail and colors.  I found myself claiming over and over, "No, this one’s my favorite!" but never being able to narrow it down to just one.  I didn’t end up buying any because it seemed silly to cart it around for the rest of the trip, but I’m hoping to have another opportunity toward the end of our journey, and (fingers crossed) perhaps even get a better price.  The stuff isn’t cheap for something I’m not even sure what to do with.  Anyway…

     On our second day, we rented a motorbike and cruised around the surrounding countryside.  It is harvest time, and the paddies were a mix of green and ripe gold.  All of the farmers were in the process of cutting the flimsy stalks and setting them out to dry for threshing.  We were invited by one farmer to sit under the shade of his lean-to.  He didn’t speak any English, and we only know a few phrases in Bahasa Indonesian, but we all smiled congenially and bonded over our mutual relish in respite from the intense sun.  As we sat, the Muslim call to prayer drifted over the fields from a nearby mosque, giving Dane and me that thrill of exoticism. 

     Throughout the day, as we rode along on our motorbike, people would call out “Hello, sir!” which I found amazing since we were wearing helmets.  Is our skin color that much of a dead giveaway?  Teenagers with impressive English would ride up along side us and attempt to carry on conversations with us.  It was all thoroughly enjoyable – both candy for the eyes and food for the soul.
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