Pulau Weh

In Kuala Lumpur. No rest! Up at 5.30am. Which is 3.15am Nepalese time.

Oh dear. I am tired.

I wanted to do a few days diving on this holiday but spent so long debating where to go. I had contemplated the Indian Andaman Islands, but they just seemed a hassle to get to. (2 flights through 2 different countries to get to a small island in Indonesia isn’t a hassle…!! Hmm.) Next stop – Sumatra.

Sumatra is one of the few main Indonesian islands that I have not yet visited. And I have wanted to go to Pulau Weh for ages.

When I booked this flight it was an 11am departure. However Air Asia decided to change their schedule to an 8am departure. Great.

I left the hotel at 5.45am and wandered back to the airport. It was busy, but I didn’t have to wait long before dropping my bag. The shops were starting to open and there is a supermarket here! So much fruit! Amazing!! There was basically no fruit in Nepal, seriously missing it. So stocked up on watermelon, passionfruit and rambutan (I love them!!!). There was just so much that I wanted to get. But I’m coming back here in a few days, so I didn’t go too mad.

Easy passing through immigration, hardly any queue. They really have improved it here! More shops. Long walk. More shops. More scanning. More shops. Seriously so many shops!! In the old terminal there was literally a McDonald’s, an electronics shop, a chemist and a donut stand. This is a massive improvement!!

I was one of two western people flying to Banda Aceh.

2015 country number 8 – Indonesia

Most people will know Banda Aceh from the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. I’m not staying in the city today, instead heading to Pulau Weh, a small island just north of the main island. The area of Aceh is governed by Sharia law (it’s very Muslim here). Although these laws don’t apply to non-Muslims, I am covered up. And it’s too hot.

This has definitely not been a shorts holiday so far – they have not even left my bag!

It was a slight palava buying a visa. Obviously there was no queue. They have recently increased the price from $25 to $35 for a 30 day visa and I had brought exactly $35 with me. But the woman wouldn’t accept one of them as it wasn’t in perfect condition (no rips, just a little worn). She asked for another one, I didn’t have another one. So we stayed in this stalemate for a while. Luckily I had about £3 in Indonesian money left over from a previous trip, so I offered the final 60p in that currency instead. But seeing that I had Indonesian money, she decided that the rest of the $34 weren’t good enough. Well £3 of it wasn’t going to cover it, so we finally settled on $34 and 60p of Indonesian. What a palava.

Despite being one of the first off the plane, the queue to get through actual immigration was now the entirety of the plane and so long. So it took a little while. After emerging with my bags, I was swarmed with taxi drivers.

4 ATM machines later I finally had a sensible amount of money and joined up with the other tourist, who happened to be from England, to get a taxi to the ferry port. They were all quoting ridiculous prices, but when it costs £3.50 each, I was just too tired to get into that argument.

I have no idea what time the ferries are to Pulau Weh, they seem to change on a daily basis. The driver was adamant that we needed to rush as there was one at 10.30am. By my watch it was already 11am so I was a bit confused. In my exhaustion I had forgotten about the time change of 1 hour. But we ran and we made the 10.30am ferry, thank goodness as the next one apparently wasn’t until 4pm. That would have been a long, boring wait.

The ferry cost £4.50 and took an hour over to Pulau Weh. Again bombarded by taxi drivers. I ended up with a motorbike side-car thing. It was such a pretty drive over to Gapang beach. It took nearly an hour, zooming around tight bends, up and down hills, through small villages and down narrow Palm-lined roads. It was so pretty!!

The driver stopped every now and then for some photo opportunities too!

Gapang beach is a curved beach, a sandy road, one dive shop and a couple of beach-side warangs. It’s so quiet.

I’m sure the guy had quoted 50,000Rp to me (£2.60). But now he was saying 80,000Rp (£4.20). But I’ve had barely any sleep and just couldn’t be bothered to argue. So I just paid. I don’t normally do that, but I just want to lie down.

I know a couple of people working here, as I worked with them in Malaysia. So it was good to catch up! I have an amazing room – huge balcony, kitchen and bathroom. I’m here for a few nights and basically unpacked my entire bag across the whole room. Amazing!! I’ve been living out of my bag for the past couple of weeks, just taking the essentials out. Makes such a difference!

And finally (after the disappointment in Oman) time to go diving!!

I went to the house reef, just off the beach. Sloping sand, patches of coral, some buoys and grassy patches. Just like my favourite site in Mabul. We saw loads, highlights being two 1cm long sea moths – one black and one yellow, not only have I never seen them that small, I’ve only seen sand coloured ones before! And a 1cm long scorpion fish. A Pygmy pipe horse and lots of other stuff.

Annoyingly I had packed too many silica packs into my camera housing, so the flash and strobe weren’t working. We spent 100 minutes scouring the sand – it was great!

And then it started to rain! Not quite the tropical paradise I was hoping for! For dinner I joined a few other people and went to a warung next door. It was just us 5, it’s so quiet here. I asked the chef for something vegetarian, he suggested pumpkin curry, so I went with it, and it tasted amazing!! Pumpkin and tempeh in a yellow curry coconut sauce. So good.

As it had been raining all afternoon, and we are right next to a jungle and a mangrove, all the animals were out. Toads and frogs were so loud, I’ve never heard anything like it. And a huge spider, the size of my hand, which crawled up the leg of the person I was sat next to. Needless to say I screamed and ran away.

And then ate my dinner so fast so I could leave. And then an early bed time!

Thursday 16 April 2015

Despite all the frog and jungle noise, I managed to sleep really well. But up at 8am to a nice sunny day. Breakfast next door again, no menu, the guy just asked what I wanted. A banana pancake?! That was easy! And again, it was really tasty!

There is an odd system of food payment here. You just don’t pay. You write it all in a book and pay whenever you want. Quite trusting. But with no menu, that also means I have no idea how much stuff costs. But it’s cheap.

The first dive was at 9.30am. We left on the boat and headed 10 minutes south from our beach. Enroute, a jumping devil Ray! The currents were really strong. Up, down, left, right. It was a bit annoying. Also annoying – my camera again. It just wouldn’t switch on. The on button was totally jammed. Cool things that we saw included a large tuna, leaf scorpion fish and reef top pipe fish. I’m quite fussy about what I like! The site was very much like Mabul, same fish, same visibility, same topography. Asian diving is so much better than the rest of the world. And once I got back up to 13m, suddenly my camera worked again. Yay!

We got back at 11am. Here, the diving is lazy. Only 2 dives are scheduled. So now we have a massive break until 2pm.

I had a bit of a lie down, enjoying my huge room and comfy bed, before going for a walk around the village and up the hill out of town. The beach is pretty – clear waters, gradually turning blue, a couple of boats tied up, jungle and not much else!

Just out of the village is a small warung selling rice with various curries and fish. I got a rice, sambal and vegetable package to go, it cost me 50p. It was really delicious. Everyone eats their lunch from there. But in the afternoon I didn’t feel too good, not sure if it was the food, or not.

Diving again at 2pm. At a site close to where we were this morning, but no current. Three rocky pinnacles. So many fish. Everywhere. Schools of everything. A white tip shark, black tip shark, lots of octopus, a ridiculous number of moray eels (in absolutely every hole!) never seen so many – and not just the boring giant or yellow fin ones, there was honeycomb and zebra too! Again my camera would not work for most of the dive, annoying. But it was really good.

We got back at 4pm and after a few lazy hours (of trying to fix my camera, solve my aching stomach and doing nothing), it was time for dinner. I didn’t feel like eating much, but did anyway.

It was a ‘family’ dinner, so the staff and guests – a grand total of 10 of us – went to the beach. We were served such delicious food, rice, cooked spicy aubergine, fried corn fritters, potato balls, sweet chilli tempeh, gado gado and cooked vegetables. Wow. It was all so good!!! I really love Indonesian food.

Friday 17 April 2015

Woke up to some more rain this morning, but thankfully was short lived. There is no diving this morning. Friday morning is a holy morning, reserved for going to the mosque to pray. So no diving is run! Instead, I tried to have a lie in. And failed. I was up by 8am. Did a bit of laundry. And then went to find some breakfast. Nowhere was open (obviously!). But one small warung was – I ordered a banana pancake (50p), a green coconut (50p) and a fruit salad for take away for lunch (80p). It was all so delicious!

I ate breakfast on the side of the beach, no one around, just the ocean in all shades of blue. Then did nothing for several hours. I’m a bit rubbish at doing nothing. But time flew by.

The first dive was at 2.15pm. But by 2pm everyone was already on the boat and it seemed that I was late. We went back to the same dive site as yesterday – batee tokong, but a slightly different part. After faffing all last night trying to fix the button, my camera is now working again! Yay! It was good again – lots of the same, loads of morays, lots of little things and a huuuuuge eagle Ray. The biggest I’ve ever seen – small manta sized. That was cool.

Just a really short break before the second dive of the day, at 4.45pm. It was getting a bit dark, I don’t normally like diving around 5pm. You seem find less things, fish start feeding and the night urchins are all coming out. We dropped down to a 40m pinnacle, saw a shark swimming away – looked like a grey reef, but not too sure. Then headed to the second pinnacle which was shallower. I still found a red ornate (I love ornates), a cool yellow moray eel – never seen yellow before! And lots of scorpion fish. It started to rain shortly after we got back.

None of the restaurants seem to be open today, but I found one for dinner (and everyone else was there too!) but they didn’t have much selection. So I ordered a gado gado. It was surprisingly good!! Cabbage, green beans, spinach, carrot and potato covered in a spicy peanut sauce. We had a bit of a power cut – total darkness! And early bed time. I like these lazy days.

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