Two long days in Aceh, Sumatra

Are we there yet?

We had our first glimpse of Indonesia on our first trip to the Far East and we started with one of the less popular islands, Sumatra. We only had 12 days, barely enough to make quick stops at four distinct destinations: a volcanic lake, the top of an active volcano, the bustling capital of Aceh and a real tropical paradise, the Island of Weh.

More pages from an old travel diary…

Tuesday 11th July 2000

It’s Tuesday today, the first day of a long and not the least pleasant journey. The entire trip can be divided into 7 smaller sections, the half of which takes place today.

After breakfast (not porridge for a change) the minibus transformed from a pickup to suit the high local demands sets off from Iboih to Sabang, the port of Weh, with a little delay (this word will gain special importance later on). Following an hour’s jolting ride, spent sweating and sticking to one another, we are dropped at the ferry, 20,000 rupiah poorer.

We suffered at this place for three days and our bungalow even boasted with a bathroom - the others had their bath at the public well...
We suffered at this place for three days and our bungalow even boasted with a bathroom – the others had their bath at the public well…

We no longer worry about the timetable just wait in the shade patiently. We have a few words with an elderly man, whose hobby is to collect tourists’ addresses and coins from their countries. He proudly shows us his collection and gets a 100 forint coin from us.

Unlike when we arrived here, we now settle down on the upper board with the captain’s special permission. It’s certainly better than the smelly and crowded lower deck but it’s also stifling hot. Luckily, it’s only 2 hours to the mainland!

A short break in the capital of Aceh province

You can take a minibus to Banda Aceh from the port. We quickly hop into one and it leaves within fifteen minutes.

We kind of feel at home in Banda Aceh now; everybody says hello and shakes our hands, etc. We find an internet cafe and get up-to-date with our letters and then head to the CFC (next to a Burger Queen). We try to buy some souvenirs to get rid of our remaining rupiah but only find some basic stuff.

At the time Aceh was far from being a tourist destination. The province had been suffering from civil war conditions for years as the local community wished to become independent, which the central government didn’t quite support. We were chatting with a young Acehnese man by Lake Toba and he said we were in the middle of a half-year ceasefire. It was enough for us to go. Then the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 abruptly ended the fights but it demanded the lives of more than 170,000…

Baiturrahman Grand Mosque in Banda Aceh is arguably one of the most beautiful of its kind in Indonesia and the symbol of Acehnese culture and nationalism.
Baiturrahman Grand Mosque in Banda Aceh is arguably one of the most beautiful of its kind in Indonesia and the symbol of Acehnese culture and nationalism.

We take two becaks to the bus station, where we find the bus to Medan after a little search. It is indeed a luxury bus with large comfy seats and even seat belts.

We set off and it all goes fine until…

Wednesday 11th July

…until the driver hits a huge pothole somewhere between Aceh and Medan (it’s not hard, there are plenty of them) and it destroys one of the tyres. However, they decide to carry on after a short examination and discussion. It’s only in the car park of a petrol station some time after 5 that we learn from one of the passengers why they didn’t change the wheel. It’s because they’d lent the spare wheel to another bus. Right now we’re waiting for yet another one to fit its spare wheel on ours.

The rescue bus finally arrives and we can get going again at 6.30. By the way, we were supposed to arrive in Medan at 8 the latest in our “nonstop express bus” to catch the free ride to the ferry.

Meat for sale - in one of the small towns where we stopped for a coffee.
Meat for sale – in one of the small towns where we stopped for a coffee.

All’s well that ends well

It turns out that we have another 80 km ahead of us, which means a good 2 hours in this part of the world. Two nerve-wrecking hours for us. At 8 it becomes clear that we’ll miss the bust to the port so now we pray to get there at least by 9 and somehow reach the ferry, scheduled at 10.

At 9.30 the bus finally stops somewhere in the outskirts of Medan and we get off. After a mild physical insult of the driver (Anita, the little spitfire), we get in a taxi.

Although we clearly explain to the cab driver that our ferry sails at 10 and he should hurry, he drives as if we were on a sightseeing trip. At last we reach the port at 10.10, park and then run to the gate. Of course, we didn’t miss anything and still have to queue for half an hour.

To our surprise, this boat doesn’t swing up and down like mad and nobody vomits. In only 5 hours we are back in Malaysia.

 

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