Swimming with the fishies

Trip Start Mar 10, 2007
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Trip End Jan 01, 2007


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Flag of Indonesia  ,
Friday, October 19, 2007

Thankfully whilst cluelessley wandering around Banda Aceh  for the tourist office (i knew the road it was on, but had no idea where that was or where i was in relation to it, yet i decided I'd just wander the streets.) a guy came up to me who spoke English and started with the usual pleasantries and questions before telling me all about Aceh and telling me words in Acehinese (different dialect here to the standard Indonesian). He then turned out to be a remarkably kind man, taking me to the tourist info office on his bike (it was closed, bloody hari raya celebrations) and then to the ferry port without expecting anything in return. Good start to my time in Aceh, a regular dust bowl of a town with seemingly little of anything along the streets. Being there reminded me of how i imagine i would feel walking into a deserted wild west town from a movie on tv.
        At the port there is two ferries, a fast, more expensive one and a slower, obviously cheaper one. Getting to the fast ferry port we saw the ferry just leaving, so we drove onto the slow ferry port (fine by me i thought, I'd rather pay less). However when we got to the slow ferry port, just down the dreadful, bumpy stone infested dirt road, the 11am ferry (its 10am now) had already left, leaving me 6hrs to wait for the next slow ferry (next fast ferry same time, so might as well get the slow one i figured).
         Absolutely nothing to do at the port but sit and drink coffee (kopi pahit tanpa gula for me, black coffee no sugar. If you don't ask for no sugar here you get a glass of sugar topped up with a little coffee). Again in the coffee shop I'm a novelty, with several locals trying to talk to me, though they were evidently disappointed with the lack of Achinese i spoke and quickly lost interest, returning to their friends and their more rewarding conversations. 
       Not a particularly exciting time the next few hours, especially as i had finished all my books, was up to date with my diary and my mp3 had no battery life left (always the way!), so i won't bother writing about it.
        Met Jacob and Gabi on the ferry crossing, two Austrians here for a short break on the island. Jacob is writing his thesis in Banda Aceh and Gabi studies in Jogjakarta, so both of them speak some Indonesian. This was very handy when we arrived at the island, for i was gonna have no chance haggling for a better taxi fare to Ipoih beach, though it turns out the drivers all had a set price that any white face produces and they weren't budging from that anyway (despite Gabi and Jacob's best efforts).
       We arrived at the beach late at night, with a room, food and sleep our only priorities, however finding a room proved rather troublesome/comical, as after our first choices being full we found mamas place, where she had two terribly shabby  (by backpacker standards  these were shabby) rooms, both for about $5. One consisted of a dirty looking bed, mosquito net included, whilst the other room simply had a dirty mattress on the floor. Clearly these rooms were not of equal value (and neither were worth$5!). Further comedy ensued when we saw the mandi (the name for the washing facilities in Indonesia; usually a large well like tub from which you use a bucket to scoop water over yourself), which was a well right in the middle of the street, with no privacy, so you had to wash in the street for all to see. It was conveniently situated right outside the 'restaurant' of mamas too.
       In the end we all piled into the less shabby of the two rooms for the night, had some food before an ok nights sleep (i chose to have a mandi in the sea rather than the street, the others had no mandi!)
        Following morning we awoke to get our first impressions of the island, which were off to a good start (the room may have been shabby, but its height up a hill led to a superb morning view of the beach below) as we walked down to the local village for some breakky in the little coffee shop the locals frequented. Stomachs settled, we found ourselves some accommodation of a better standard, sorted all the usual formalities and began enjoying ourselves with a spot of snorkeling. The island is truly beautiful, with Ipoih beach itself being small but nice, however the main focus is on the snorkeling, not the beach. Walking down to the water here there is usually no sand, its just straight into the water off of rocks or grass, however once your in, its amazing. Pretty much anywhere along the coastline of the water you can just jump in and find some fantastic snorkeling. The diversity and abundance of coral here is amazing, and even though there was evidently damage from the tsunami, where patches of coral have been lifted clean out of the sea, the waters here are still amazing. A completely different type of snorkeling experience to Sipidan here, though just as impressive, if not more so. 
         Snorkeling over, we had a fine lunch before lazing back to the bungalows, where i had a brief snorkel again, seeing Octopus, several blue spotted stingray and numerous Lionfish in a mere 20min swim. The evening meal was at mamas, seemingly the place to be at the moment, as all the western tourists on this beach (about 10 people) were there. It was one of those social situations where I'm still not very good due to shyness, but i tried my best and it was still a nice evening and a good finish to a great day.
         Spent the rest of my time lazing around by my hut reading, eating and more snorkeling, as the island gradually got more and more empty (with the idil fitri celebrations coming to an end, more and more Indonesians were resuming their normal lives and leaving), leaving me in peace and quiet.
       Leaving Pulah Weh, i began my mammoth trip to Ketambe...
         
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