Pulau Weh & Banda Aceh

by Tabitha Kidwell

I’m currently am wearing an exfoliating face mask made of volcanic mud that I actually purchased on-site at a volcano! It’s not exactly tested by the FDA, so it might give me a chemical burn or make my skin fall off, but it feels pretty nice and soothing. Sometimes it’s fun living in the Ring of Fire.

Of course, sometimes it is not so fun, like two weeks ago when there was an earthquake off the coast of northwestern Indonesia that led to tsunami warnings. This happened in the early evening here, which means it was all over the news when my friends and family woke up at home, so a bunch of people messaged me asking if I was okay. I was – I actually didn’t even feel the earthquake. It was in Aceh province, which is like 1,000 miles away. Unfortunately, this is also the province that was hit by the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004, so it brought up many sad memories for the people there. All of Indonesia watched the images on the evening news of people panicking and evacuating the city, hoping and praying that the warnings would be false alarms this time. Not having a TV, I kept refreshing my browser for new reports. I’ll admit to a selfish ulterior motive for my online vigilence: the evening before, I had purchased an airline ticket to go visit my friend Jonthon up there, and I was a little concerned that my tropical paradise vacation might be transformed into a disaster zone. I was, of course, first concerned with the people living there. But also for my vacation plans. Just a little bit. I’m a terrible person. I’ll just admit that now.

Luckily (for the Acehnese people and for my conscience) no tsunami developed, and there was not even much damage from the earthquake. So I hopped on a plane a week later to visit! I figured it was a perfect time – given that there had just been a big earthquake, what were the chances of there being another? Probably all the plate tectonic stress had been worked out, so I was safer than ever, right? Nope – there were actually like two earthquakes while I was there. But they were small and we didn’t even feel them. There are risks everywhere, what can you do?

Threat of geologic armageddon aside, it was a great vacation! We had two weeks for midterms at STAIN Salatiga, and I scheduled mine the first Monday and Tuesday and the last Thursday and Friday so I had the week from Wednesday-Wednesday free!

On Thursday morning, Jonthon and I headed up to Pulau Weh, the most northwestern point of Indonesia, and site of some amazing scuba diving. When we got there and it was time to figure out transport to the beach side of the island, Maude (French) and Adrien (German) came up to us and asked if we wanted to share a car. And we had two new traveling buddies from that point forward! We ended up getting a hotel together, and they were tons of fun!

From the port, we headed to Gapang beach, a beautiful little crescent of sand overlooking a tranquil bay. For my triathlon training, I went on a few swims in the bay:

And on a few morning runs on these hilly roads:

I also did my open water scuba diving certification, meaning I can now go on dives up to 30 meters, including at night. It was beautiful underwater – I saw octopuses (octopi?), turtles, eels, shrimp, and more tropical fish than I know names for.

Then we returned to Banda Aceh, and did the tour of Tsunami-related sites:
-One of the Tsunami buildings, which people are supposed to go to if there are tsunami warnings, rather than battle the traffic to get out of the city. Apparently no one went there last week, preferring traffic to government-built structures. I can’t say I blame them, but it did seem pretty sturdy.

-A 2,000 ton ship that was carried a mile inland. When I say 2,000 tons, that doesn’t fully convey the face that this ship is freakin’ ENORMOUS and the fact that it is sitting in the middle of the city shows just how scary and powerful the tsunami was!

-And the “Boat on the Roof,” a smaller ship that is perched on two houses. This might be more shocking because it is on a more human scale. You can look into people’s bathrooms and bedrooms and imagine what life might have been like for them, had they not lived in a tsunami-prone region and had the misfortune of having a giant boat land on top of their house.

Lastly, we visited the Mosque, a testimony to the strength of the Acehnese people. This was one of the regions that held off Dutch colonialism the longest. There were battles here for centuries. At one point, the Dutch burned the mosque to the ground (just because they could), then to reconcile, they built this beautiful mosque. Good plan, until the Acehnese killed the representative they sent to the dedication. Snap. It’s that kind of spirit that probably helped the mosque to survive the tsunami – basically the only building to do so in it’s area of town, apparently!

And then I headed back to Salatiga. All in all, a relaxing, interesting, geological-disaster-free vacation. It will probably be my last long-ish vacation of this year. A good way to go out.

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One Comment to “Pulau Weh & Banda Aceh”

  1. Congrats on your open water certification!!

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