Indonesian Island Paradise

Trip Start Nov 08, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Casa Nemo

Flag of Indonesia  , Aceh,
Wednesday, March 31, 2010

    The island of Pulau Weh was just a 45-minute ferry ride from Banda Aceh. From the pier, we took a becak (a motorbike with a side cart for passengers) to the beach where we wanted to stay.  We had made reservations at a place called Casa Nemo, currently run by a terrific Dutch couple.  Its description in the Lonely Planet and the photos on their website made it seem very appealing – well-equipped bungalows spaciously spread out along the cliffside with balconies overlooking one of the best stretches of beach on the island.  But you never can really tell until you arrive.  I am happy to report, however, that Casa Nemo did not disappoint.  Our view is literally breathtaking.  The bungalow has glass doors opening onto a large balcony with chairs and a hammock.  The ocean is deep cobalt blue, fading to light aquamarine at the sandy shallows.  The sound of the crashing waves is a constant accompaniment.  We spend hours upon hours just lounging, reading, and enjoying the incredible panorama.  It is blissful.

     Only one problem.  Accommodation is rather basic on this island.  Our bungalow has thatch walls and roof, which does not provide the best barrier from the outside environs of our surrounding tropical jungle.  While the songs of the birds throughout the day and the chirping of insects throughout the night are rather charming, the bombardment of our dwelling is not.  I don't mind the plethora of geckos, moths, and crickets.  I am, however, strictly opposed to the abundance of mosquitoes, spiders, ants, wasps, and roaches that insist on sharing our humble abode.  Dane and I are becoming quite the stealthy defenders of our territory though. One mysterious creature did manage to evade us, however.  Just as we were about to go to bed one night, we heard a distinct stirring in our trashcan.  We kicked ourselves for having left the lid slightly askew, allowing some animal to crawl inside.  We were very curious what it was, but not enough so to risk letting it loose into our bungalow for the night.  So we closed the lid and stuck it out on the balcony for further examination the next morning.  However, the next day when we lifted the lid and waited to see what would sneak out, nothing emerged.  There had been something in there.  A mouse?  A snake?  No clue.  But apparently, whatever it was was strong enough to lift the lid and escape.  Ick!

     But such is the price we pay for staying in a tropical paradise.  And a paradise it certainly is, not only above the surface but also below.  Most visitors come here for the spectacular front door diving.  You only have to wade out a few feet, stick your face into the water, and you feel like you are in an aquarium.  There were fantastic coral gardens here just off the shore that lured an immensity of tropical fish.  Sadly, much of the reef was damaged by the tsunami, but, not having seen the before version, I am still quite in awe.  The visibility of these crystal clear waters is said to be among the best in the world.  Underwater, you can see vast distances, both below and outward.  Layers of table coral stretch along the ocean’s bottom and others tower upward like pinnacles.  Brightly colored fish are everywhere, poking in and out of the corals’ crevices.  Their colors and patterns are mesmerizing and so unreal that they seem like some animation straight out of Finding Nemo.  We followed a school of about a hundred blue tang (that’s Dora from Finding Nemo) for about an hour as they moved from coral to coral nibbling for food.  They seemed like a long flock of birds on some migratory route, and we were able to hover just above them, almost, just almost, inconspicuously merging with the group.  And sound carries so well underwater that you can even hear the fish munching and the constant, low snap-crackle-pop sound that the coral makes.

     We were so excited about witnessing this underwater world that we decided to give scuba diving a try.  The owners of Casa Nemo, Marcel and Natasha, are both scuba instructors, and this is one of the cheapest places to get certified.  We agreed to first do a practice dive, so we could test how we felt about scuba before starting the non-refundable certification program.  Natasha gave us a brief how-to on the equipment.  Then we suited up, swam out a bit, and sunk down.  Convincing yourself to take that first breath is no easy thing.  And you’re forced breath in and out of the mouthpiece, called a regulator, makes you sound like Darth Vader, while your bubbles are in a constant stream about your face.  My ears ached from the pressure despite my attempts to equalize (pop) them.  But if you can get past all of that to enjoy the scenery around you, it is quite magical.  You really feel like you are one with the fish.  The schools swarm all around you, inches from your face, unfazed by your presence.  And there are so many…everywhere you look!  They are every color of the artist’s palette…no, more than that because there is a bright intensity to their color that makes it look electric, like they are fitted with neon lights.  It is such an other-worldly experience, intensified by the fact that you are geared up like an astronaut. 

     So the fish part of diving I enjoyed very much.  However, to get certified, you have to prove you can handle the worst of emergency situations.  Natasha started with what she considered to be some simple scuba skills.  While underwater, let some water into your mask and then blow it out.  Take your regulator (your breathing apparatus) out of your mouth and then put it back it, while blowing the water, which has now flooded into your mouthpiece, out of it, so you don’t choke when you try to breath in.  I managed to do both of these without drowning myself, but doing them gave me little panic attacks. 

     After exiting the water, we discussed what other skills would be required of us to complete certification.  While underwater, we would have to let our tank of air be turned off.  We would signal for alternate air and then take the spare regulator from our instructor, while blowing the flooded water out of it so that we wouldn’t suck it in.  What?!  We’d also have our air turned off and have to swim to the surface while exhaling our remaining half-breath.  Huh?!  We’d have to take our scuba gear completely off and then put it back on…while underwater.  We’d have to remove our masks for one minute, still breathing with our regulators, but trying not to let the water coming up our noses drown us.  Oh, and here’s my favorite.  We’d have to take the regulators out of our mouths but press the air release button so that the air continues to flow in bubbles.  However, we cannot put the mouthpiece back into our mouths, but rather we have to try to breath the bubbles without choking on water at the same time.  Are you kidding me!?  I understood the purpose in learning most of these skills because one needs to know how to deal with emergency situations.  But the idea of doing them was heart attack-inspiring for me, and certainly not the ideal way to spend my vacation.  I loved the fish…but not that much.  I bowed out and decided I was quite content with snorkeling.  After a bit of deliberation, Dane decided to do it, and I am pleased to report that he has managed to survive the skills tests (even mastered them all on his first try, which is a good thing because it seems to me that if you mess it up, the unpleasant consequence is nearly drowning).  He studied his book, passed his test, completed his final dives, and is now a certified scuba diver!

     Oh, and I almost forgot one of the coolest things!  We’ve seen dolphins six times!  Five of those times were from our balcony.  They were too far out for us to swim to but close enough that we could still see them clearly, swimming in huge schools of several dozen, gliding in and out of the water in graceful arches with an occasional playful jump or spin.  One time we saw them from a boat, when we heading to another snorkeling spot.  The dolphins came so close they were barely more than an arm’s length away.  A juvenile jumped out of the water and did a double spin.  Needless to say, it was quite thrilling to see them in their natural habitat.  We also saw flying fish.  I was surprised at how long they could fly out of the water.  They glided above the surface alongside our boat for a good 5 to 10 seconds.  That was pretty cool, too.

     So Pulau Weh has been fantastic, both relaxing and invigorating, a perfect combination.

     P.S.  I've added some underwater photos.  Since we don't have an underwater camera, these were borrowed from a fellow diver.
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Carole Leezer on

Beautiful pictures. Felt as if I was almost there!

Becca on

So BEAUTIFUL!!!! Im glad you take such amazing photos, Im vacationing from my living room! love ya!

Laura Acuña on

Oh my goodness!! Those underwater photos are fantastic!! Thank you for posting and giving me wunderlust!!! :-)

marcel / natasja on

Wow guys, what an excellent piece on Casa Nemo and our island! Thanks a lot, we enjoyed your company as well. Guess what ?: last week we had giant bumpheads and eagle rays visiting our reef as well.
Hope all is cool again in BKK, c u next time ok!

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