Heading South

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Flag of Indonesia  , Sumatra,
Monday, April 5, 2010

Once we finished our open water diving certification, we spent a few more days hanging around Pulau Weh. We did a few fun dives, but tried to limit ourselves to one a day in order to save money. One of the last few days we were on the island, we decided to hire a scooter and ride around, and see what else it had to offer aside from diving. Lumbalumba (the dive resort we were staying at) advertises that they hire motorbikes. In actual fact, the local dive masters who work there will sometimes hire out their bikes while they're working. But it turned out the day we wanted to hire a bike there weren’t any helmets for us to borrow. We weren’t too fussed as all the little restaurants along Gapang beach advertise that they hire bikes. But when we asked, most of them didn’t, but we finally found a guy who offered to hire us his bike and 2 helmets and we were off. We first headed to the "biggest waterfall in Pulau Weh" (not sure how much of an achievement that is on such a small island). The waterfall was really pretty, as was the 15minute trek into the jungle to get there. We saw a small snake and hundreds of bats on the way in. After a quick dip in the beautiful fresh water, we headed off, in no particular direction through quite a few tiny little villages ended up in a small town on the opposite side of the island. Feeling adventurous, we decided to take a thin wonky line on our map back towards Sabang (the island’s biggest town). What started as a nice asphalt road into the rainforest centre of the island soon descended into a small, unsealed track, where Penny had to walk as I attempted to guide the scooter through unscathed.  We had an unimpressive lunch in Sabang and headed back towards our end of the island, heading for “Kilometer Zero” the very north-west tip of the island, what the locals refer to as the start of Indonesia. In fact, we found out later there is actually a small island a little bit further west but no one seems to mention this. On the road back we saw a large troop of Makak Monkeys, sitting on the side of the road, many of the females were holding incredibly small, incredibly cute, little babies. We initially rode past but then decided to turn back and get a photo. We turned around and stopped about 15 meters away from the monkeys. They instantly started moving towards us, and when Penny stuck her hand in the camera bag, some of the males started running for us. Obviously expecting food, and looking aggressive I kicked the bike into gear and dropped a quick U-Turn to escape. Unfortunately the U-Turn initially put us closer to the biggest male and he narrowly missed Penny’s leg as he swiped at us and hissed. Thanks to some superior getaway driving we escaped intact, but decided that the monkeys were not in fact cute at all.   The monument at Kilometer Zero was frankly confusing, a large tower-like-thing made in 1997 from what appeared to be white bathroom tiles. By this stage in the afternoon we decided to head back home to relax into another evening, chatting about everyone’s diving that day back at Lumbalumba.

 We had had a fantastic time on Pulau Weh, but we both felt it was time to leave, for the sake of our wallets if nothing else. We decided to leave the island on Good Friday, the same day as Cara was leaving. We left early in the morning on the ferry; Cara had a driver that she knew in Banda Aceh who picked us up from the ferry. He took us for breakfast in China Town (noodles of course) and then to a fishing boat. A massive fishing boat. A massive wooden with steel hull (aka HEAVY) fishing boat. The boat itself wasn’t particularly impressive. It was more the location. The boat was on top of some houses in a residential area of Banda Aceh. 5 kms or so from the sea, it has been there since Boxing Day 2004. It has actually been reinforced in place, and left as a monument to the tsunami, which hit Banda Aceh particularly hard, killing tens of thousands. Later we past some of the dead, at a mass grave on the way to the airport it was quite eerie, and made us think of our much trauma must still be in that town.

We arrived at the airport with the vague plan of buying a ticket to Medan (to avoid the bus back) and from Medan we would head to Lake Toba. We had heard that plane tickets were not that much more expensive than buses now, with the explosion of discount airlines. We would have pre-booked tickets online, however due to bad weather; the internet was down on Pulau Weh the day before we left. Turns out what we’d heard about cheap plane tickets were not exactly true. I mean they were cheap, but they were substantially more than the bus. So we headed back towards town and the bus station. What followed was 36 hours of sitting on buses or in bus stations. I won’t bore with details. But we ended up at Danau Toba (aka Lake Toba). The majority ethnic group here is the Batak people. Until 200 years ago, tribal people who practiced ritualistic cannibalism, but now devout Christians who love palm wine and playing music. Quite a change from the Sharia Law of Aceh Provence. Lake Toba is actually a lake in the crater of a volcano. We are staying on an island in the middle of the lake in a town called Tuk Tuk. It is beautiful. The lake is an amazing dark blue, and every guest house boasts lake side views. It is actually quite a bizarre town. Apparently it used to be right on the backpacker hot-list. But 10 years ago everyone started heading to Thailand for their cheap partying and now Tuk Tuk is full of hotels, restaurants and bars, but there are barely any tourists. Great for us though, rooms are cheap and the food is good. Everything is about a third of the price on Pulau Weh. And without the Sharia Law alcohol is legal and cheap! We spent our first 2 nights in a really nice place with hot water, and, to Penny’s delight, a bath! It was a lovely room, but at Rp 100,000 (AUD about $12) it was on the dear side, so today we moved into a slightly more dingy, yet perfectly livable room, with a lakeside balcony and hot shower (but no bath) for a grand price of Rp 50,000 (about $6). So far we have just been recovering from our bus trip, relaxing, reading, eating, swimming and playing cards. We’re planning on doing a bit of exploring, going to see the stone chairs where, traditionally people were tried for crimes, and beheaded and also some hot springs etc. This place is so relaxed and cheap, I could see a lot of time passing here. We’ll have to keep an eye on those visa dates though!
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