Day : 87
Temperature : 32 degrees
Weather : Overcast
Indonesia!!! It's so great to be here. This country is immensly vast and has so much to offer with thousands of different islands each with their own different cultures, landscapes and scenery, and some of the best diving in the world.
We'd read in the lonely planet and on various websites that it is necessary to have an onward ticket out of Indonesia before officials will let you through immigration. We thought long and hard about whether we ought to chance it, but in the end we decided to book a ticket on Air Asia back out of Banda Aceh to KL in a month's time, as we didn't want to be turned away at the airport or be forced to purchase a ticket in Banda Aceh which might cost a fortune
. We found the cheapest ticket available and so £50 and a day later we arrived at KL airport where we met 4 other westerners that were on the same flight as us. Upon arriving in Banda Aceh we discovered that none of the other westerners else had onward tickets out of Indonesia, but still we thought we had done the right thing as we had yet to get through immigration...that was until one girl who had been in the region on and off for 5 years was told by an immigration official that she needed an onward ticket, at which point she replied, "no I don't!", to which the official said, "yes you do", to which she replied once again, "no, I don't", at which point the official said, "ok, go on through"....arggh.. so we could have chanced it and got away with it after all!! £50 down the drain!
We were just about to approach the immigration desk when both Kevin and I got plucked out of the queue and taken to a private room...great! We had to go in one at a time and were asked where we were going and what we were doing there. This was then followed by fingerprints and photographs...brilliant!! We finally received our visas, and returned to our 4 new friends who were also going to Pulau Weh, and we filled out the immigration forms which asked if you had anything over the value of $50 in your luggage, or any DVD's or magazines. We decided to tick "no" to all of these questions even though we had DVD's, and we quite clearly had more than $50 on our persons
. One of the other girls (Jenna from England) ticked "yes" to these questions and was quickly pulled aside by one the female airport staff who told her quietly to fill "no" on everything, and gave her a new form. This border crossing was getting more and more dodgy with every passing minute! We then received our luggage which some airport staff brought to us, and Jenna discovered that she had a big white chalk cross marked on her bag, at which point we all started wondering whether her luggage had been "picked out" for something. Now, you have to forgive our paranoia, but Aceh is the most strongly religious state in Indonesia, where Sharia law exists and women get stoned to death for adultery, men and women are not allowed to be in close proximity to each other and as was written in big,bold, red writing everywhere...most probably for the tourists' benefit, it's the death penatly if you are found with drugs! After quickly rubbing out her big white cross on her bag, Jenna and the rest of us proceeded through customs, putting our bags through the x-ray machine, and we hoped that we wouldn't be searched because we had incorrectly filled out our customs forms and dreaded to think of the problems that this might have caused. After another grilling, "where are you going, what are you doing there" we successfully entered Indonesia and all was well.
After getting some money out of the ATM's and being completely confused by the number of zeros that are on the bills..14,000 Rupiahs to the UK Pound!....we caught a taxi through Banda Aceh to the port of Uleh Leh where we bought our tickets and boarded the ferry to Pulau Weh
. At this point we were totally gasping for a drink as we were all hot and sweaty and tired. But no, there would be no drinks for us for another few hours, because our arrival had coincided with the arrival of Ramadan! With all the cafes and shops shut we found our seats on the ferry and rumaged through our bags to see what food and drink supplies we had left. Luckily I found that I had half a bottle of water left and we had some Werthers sweets, which had in secret, making as little noise as we could and feeling extremely guilty like naughty schoolchildren once again! After arriving at the port of Sabang we jumped into an extortionately expensive taxi and sped our way across the island, having a few near death experiences as the driver clearly thought he was Schumacher and was actually watching a DVD, driving on the wrong side of the road, and texting at the same time!! Kevin's requests of "please watch the road and can you slow down" made no difference at all but thankfully we arrived in Gapang beach intact.
We are staying at Lumba Lumba dive school in one of their four budget rooms which cost 8 euros per night for a perfectly acceptable room, mosquito net, fan and shared bathroom. Our room backs on to the jungle where you can hear the monkeys squabbling during the day, and in the evenings giant fruit bats circle directly above us looking like something out of a vampire movie
! There are beautiful butterflies, frogs and crabs all around the grounds of the dive school and we even spotted an amazing black and bright green snake slithering quickly up a tree a few metres from where we kit up for our dives! On the front window of the dive school you can see a white line which marks the height to which the water rose during the Boxing Day Tsunami...very frightening indeed and incredible that anybody survived! You can see the line in one of the photographs which I have uploaded although you will have to look closely at the front window. The dive school doesn't do food which ordinarily wouldn't be a problem, but Ramadan makes things a little more tricky since there are only a handful of places to eat and many of them are closed. In addition, even foreigners are not allowed to eat, drink or smoke in public, even on the beach, or anywhere outside during daylight hours. When the cafes do open this means you have to eat inside which is not great but is fine under the circumstances.
So, we had our first dive 2 days ago!! Yay! Well, actually Kevin had two dives and I had one. Unfortunately I had to abort a dive because my ears wouldn't equalise, something that has never happened before. Thankfully, the problem seemed to resolve on it's own and in the afternoon I successfully got under the water. Yestderday we had another dive on the house reef and this time Kevin's low pressure inflator hose popped off his BCD....so he couldn't inflate his jacket to control his bouyancy
. It was a good test to see if we managed to resolve the problem without having to surface. I gave him my octopus and turned off his air on his tank so we were breathing solely on my air. After purging his system from the air already in his system we managed to reattach the hose to the BCD and then we turned his air back on and checked the system worked which it did so he went back onto his own regulator to breathe. Unfortunately this was not the first problem we have had with equipment so we will plan on being ultra cautious with our diving off the boat in the next couple of days.
Will upload some photos of our dives soon so you can see what's going on under the surface.