Just off the north coast of Sumatra and the Northern most tip of Indonesia is the beautiful little island of Pulau Weh.
It’s not too hard to get to, but it’s a little bit of a pain in the ass really.
You have to fly to Banda Aceh (of notorious tsunami devastation infamy) and then get a taxi to the ferry port, and then board the ferry over to Pulau Weh. The ferry only takes a few hours. I cant remember exactly how many.
Once you get there and you walk off the ferry you’ll be accosted by an avalanche of aggressive taxi drivers trying to drag you into their particular rattletrap of a vehicle while promising you the cheapest deal and the smoothest ride. I don’t like this part of traveling.
I got a bit stressed out and started getting shitty with a few of the most obstinate pushers.
They skulked off, muttering.
I ended up on Gapang beach. It’s a beautiful, sleepy, tropical beach with multi coloured fish flittering about in the shallows. Ramshackle wooden and palm buildings nestle in amongst the trees just meters from the crystal clear waters edge.
The main business on Pulau Weh is scuba diving and on Gapang Beach is the Lumba Lumba dive resort. For a modest fee they take scuba divers out to various reefs.
I went along on some of the trips but I just free dived with the scuba divers which was more fun for me. The fish life was astounding. The best I’ve ever seen I think and with my job being what it is, that says something about the multitude and diversity of the life on the surrounding reefs and even just off Gapang Beach it was quite something.
The water temperature and visibility just made me want to spend all day in it, the only thing stopping me was the searing tropical sun that would hospitalise someone like me with fair European skin if I didn’t grease myself up completely with total block sun cream.
Lumba Lumba also offered accommodation. I had a lovely bungalow on the high ground, overlooking the poorer low budget tourists below (tee hee) and only a minutes walk from the beach. I shared it with a family of voracious gecko lizards and watching them chase bugs across the ceiling was a delight and a nightly ritual.
There was a bit of a fresh water swamp between my bungalow and the beach and signs warned me to keep an eye out for monitor lizards.
I hired a scooter and so had access to explore the island in full and I used it every day. Most of the island was thick jungle with snakes slithering across the road in front of you and bugs as big as rats flying into my face as I whizzed along windy narrow tar roads where the growth was so thick as to seem impenetrable.
Just North of Gapang Beach was another slightly more expansive village of Iboih (pronounced ib-wah)
I didn’t like it there. Indonesia is a Muslim country and Pulau Weh is a Muslim island of course but Gapang beach was isolated from the hardcore Muslim ideas and the tourist at Gapang could go for a swim with just the normal bikini or shorts or whatever. But at Iboih there were big signs warning tourist to cover themselves up on the beach and to be ‘respectful’.
So I couldn’t swim unless I wore a T shirt and my girlfriend couldn’t swim unless she wore a full dress. Also the locals weren’t very friendly. They clearly wanted my money but also wanted to dictate terms with respect to what I did, how I dressed and where I parked.
I’m sorry lovely Muslim people, I respect your right to your own religion and culture but in many ways I think its a bit backward and stupid. Time to drag yourselves into the 21st century me-thinks.
The monkeys at Iboih were fittingly hostile. Nasty little shits they were.
OK in an attempt to show off to my girlfriend I might have provoked one of them just a little bit, but their reaction was over the top to say the least.
They wasted no time in calling for reinforcements, ganging up on me, and when they had a big enough mob, chasing Eve and I down the beach, screaming obscenities through gaping red maws and yellow fangs. Little fuckers!
Iboih. We didn’t go back.
The Tsunami – Amongst the photographs that you’ll find attached to this article is one of the Lumba Lumba dive resort main building. If you look carefully, about four meters up from the ground level and stretched across the glass window is a line of masking tape. That line marks the maximum height that the water level reached during the infamous boxing day tsunami of 2005. That line is about six meters above sea level I think.
Miraculously nobody at Gapang beach was killed. This was because there was never really a destructive, rushing wave. The water off Pulau Weh gets very deep very quickly and the island topography is also quite steep so the effect of the tsunami was just a relatively tranquil filling up and then a dropping back down of water.
Don’t go to Pulau Weh for food. Its very poor. Actually it was pretty damn awful. The coffee was OK and one of the local restaurants, Mamma Jungle’s was palatable, but there certainly was no risk of any of the local chefs winning a Michelin star or anything. And I am talking about the local cuisine here.
Even the sea food, which they had plentiful supply of, was grim.
If you’re into diving though, then Pulau Weh is a great spot to be. Its beautiful.
Check out the pictures.
I have a lifetimes worth of screen savers there.