2x plane + 12hr bus + boat + Gastro = 28hrs of :-(
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Well at the end of the last entry we were feeling a little bit so-so in the gastrointestinal region.
Now we have both had some interesting bus rides in foreign countries before, but this driver was insane. He seemed to think the only way up the winding one lane highway was to take a puff from his cigarette and accelerate with every corner. Sleeping was not really an option as if one was to loosen their grip on the seat with either hand they would fly into the opposite side window. So we sat, held on and hoped that our bowels would be too scared to move. Unfortunately not. A few hours in, the grumbling and cramps in my abdomen culminated in an explosion while in a very acrobatic move, holding myself suspended above the seat-less bowl, as it swayed side-to-side with water splashing out of it. That's probably enough detail to paint the picture of the trip up here not being exactly, well, fun.
We survived the bus trip, arriving in 9 hours, record time. So we had a few hours before our boat out of Banda Aceh. Banda Aceh, as you may remember from the news has not only had on-and-off civil unrest since WWII, but was absolutely destroyed be the 2004 boxing Day Tsunami. Being in the town you can see why, it's so flat and only just above the sea level.
We sat around the dock, feeling sick and sorry for ourselves, waiting for our boat to an island called Pulau Weh. This is the most North-Westerly island of Indonesia. This was our destination as we had decided to do our open water diving coarse so that we could see what lurked below the surface of the tropical water. Pulau Weh, although out-of-the-way is renowned among divers as one of the top destinations in the world. Our friend Cara had been 'working' and diving there for a month or so.
We've been hanging around this for the past few days, just
out of a little village, on a beach called Gapang beach. We're staying
at the dive place called Lumbalumba, it's like a dive shop at the front,
with a big communal area for everyone staying in the rooms/bungalows
out the back to hang out in. I'm sitting on the little veranda as I
write this, looking out towards the turquoise water.The vibe is really cool, pretty much everyone dives all
day long (well there's usually 2 dives per day one out at 0930hrs and
back by 1130ish, lunch and then another from 1400 to 1630ish) Then you
have to quickly go and order food as they cook everything from scratch
and it takes hours (like 2 hours for a curry). There's a few food places
along the beach, but they're all pretty much the same. But after dinner
most people hang out in the dive shop communal area bit and chat about
diving more or less. Alcohol is technically illegal due to this being
part of the strictly Muslim state of Aceh. However the locals on the
beach turn a blind eye to Westerners drinking, so the dive shop has beer
in the fridge (but it is VERY expensive by asian standards like 25,000
rupiahs for a tiny little can of Bintang - more than a curry costs!)
There is a coral reef literally out the front
of the dive shop. They call it the lumbalumba house reef, and that's
where Penny and I have been learning to dive. It's great learning to
dive here. Because it is out of the way, pretty hard to get here, and
there's nothing else to do but dive (the locals would certainly not
appreciate bikini clad swimmers or sunbathers on the beach) the only
people who come here are hardcore divers. We've met dive instructors from Thailand and
Malaysia who come here to dive for their holidays! Penny and I were the
only people here learning to dive, everyone else is either doing there
advanced or dive master training. As part of the dive master training
you have to assist with open water coarse, so there's been heaps of
people wanting to help out. We did our first 2 dives there as part of
our open water diving course. Most places in the world these two
'confined water' dives are in swimming pools - but not here, we did it
in amazing coral, surrounded by tropical fish. These dives were full of
practicing skills like what to do when your mask comes off of fills with
water or you run out of air, how to use someone's alternate air source.
Very repetitive. After those dives and some videos, reading and
written exams we had to do 2 'open water' dives.
The next morning we joined the group on a speed boat to a spot about 15mins away,
right near the north-west tip of the island (and therefore the northwest
tip of Indonesia). We waited until all the other groups had dropped down
into the ocean before Penny, our instructor Mike, Cara, a dive-master trainee Jesse and myself dropped in.
The current was INSANE. we had to hold onto rocks most of the time
(after we double checked that they weren't stone fish). Mike joked later
that that was the underwater rock climbing part of the coarse.
you start the dive you start with 200bar (or atmospheres) of air in the
tank. You have to tell your guide when you have 50, so that you can
start ascending. Being bigger than Penny and a man I use my air a hell
of a lot quicker. On this dive I used it especially quick as it was such
hard work. Anyway I had told Mike that I was down to 50 and we slowly
started moving towards a sheltered area to ascend. I was swimming over
have lasted like another 25minutes or something). And kept swimming
then suddenly a breath I took was hard, I exhaled and tried to inhale
again, nothing. 18meters down in terrible current and no air. I swam
faster than I have ever swum before over to Mike, signaled I was out of
air and grabbed his alternate air source. Phew. We slowly headed up to
the surface, me breathing heavier than ever before, tasting that sweet
air. Turns out my pressure gauge had decided to pack up at 30 bar. Even
when it was taken off the tank it said 30 bar. I was very very thankful
for all the repetitive training we did the day before. Anyway that
hasn't put me off diving, went again that afternoon and finished the
coarse. Now we're both certified PADI open water divers.
Some of the people here seem to be almost addicted to diving. They live diving. Diving diving diving. The addiction is understandable. When you're diving you float, weightless (well once you've got the hang of staying neutrally buoyant) just breathing, surrounded by a completely foreign, colorful environment. Although I still have to concentrate on everything I do, I can see why, once you're well practiced, it would be meditative. The concentration of life is unbelievable. One square metre of coral reef just has hundreds of life forms. It is mindblowing, being able to impose on their little world for a little minute and just watch.
Anyway, I could go on about diving for another hour or two, but I wont. An addiction to diving may be in its infancy, however it is expensive so we'll have to quit soon. Now the problem is, where to next? We're thinking we'll do a bit of Sumatra, but who knows.