It was back to Indonesia which involved getting to KL and then a flight onto Medan where I could get a visa on arrival at the airport. There was not much hanging around in Medan as this was a city that was famed for noise, traffic pollution and general chaos. After touching down in Medan I headed straight to Pinang Baris to catch an overnight bus straight up to Banda Aceh. I had 3 hours to spare until the bus departed on its 150km journey to the northern tip of Sumatra so I found a little Padang (Indonesia food cart on wheels) and tucked into mutton Sate. I have to say sorry to Sandra and Lawrie at this point as they warned about side effects off eating from Padangs but I must say that they are both cheap (£1 for Sate, curry and rice), tasty and I haven’t suffered any ill effects yet! Whilst dining I had one of my most bizarre Indonesian experiences to date – a Indonesian guy pulled up on his motorbike and joined me at my plastic table for a spot of dinner too. During our conversation of very limited English (on his part) and Indonesian (on my part) it transpired that he had 3 wives, loved disco dancing and enjoyed taking ecstasy! To prove this point he got out his phone showed my pictures of his wives and family and showed him dancing off his head, outside the scruffy little dinner that we were sat at! Who said Muslim countries were reserved?! Some parts of travelling never cease to amaze me. After broken conversations a lots of cups of coffee, a few photos (to add to his collection no doubt) he paid for my dinner and it was time to depart a little bemused and board the bus to Banda!
I looked at the bus I was about to board and wondered how the hell i was going to make a 12 hour journey in the rickety old minibus that stood in front of me. Luckily for me this was the shuttle bus to take us to the larger AC bus round the corner.Aboard the very full and nice AC bus with reclining seats and with screaming children in the seat next to me, we set off on the very bumpy and winding road out of Medan. This was the first long haul ride on a proper bus I had taken in Indonesia and I wasn’t going to be disappointed for fun and amusement on the way. After the woman next to me sedated (yep she did!) her children with sleeping tablets we made an unprecedented amount of stops on the way out of Medan to pick up even more people. They had the unfortunate prospect of sitting on small plastic chairs in the aisle of the bus, if you liked your own personal space this was not the time to fret about it. I soon sedated myself (music via ipod) and feel asleep only to be woken at 4am for a food stop. Interesting timing for a food stop seeing as we were only 30km from Banda!
We were we soon arriving in Banda Aceh at 8am.Banda Aceh was one of the worst hit towns in the Tsunami of 2004 killing over 61,000 people in the process. Most of the town was obliterated by the floods and waves that smashed through this coast town and port. Since then a massive UN project has helped rebuild this city with the infrastructure needed. The roads in Banda are some of the best in Indonesia and the only structure that stood during the floods was the mosque in the centre of town, religious intervention some say. A short taxi ride to the port and by 9.30am we were on the high seas to Palau Wey.
At the port there we a collection of westerners all heading the same way so on arrival we all grouped to together and shared a mini bus to Gapang Beach on the northern side of Palau Wey.Gapang Beach is the main tourist destination for travellers to Palau Wey due to its excellent diving and quiet beaches. One of the main reasons for coming to Palau Wey was to dive and also a amazing wreck dive Gary and Trish had told me about called the Sophie Rickmer. This wreck dive was 60m deep and required no official PADI training that you need to go deeper than 40m. Although not PADI recognised it was a cheaper way to go deep (more in another blog entry later).
In Gapang bay there are only 3 dive shops, 5 restaurants and no tourists! Bliss. A perfect getaway and I was amongst only a handful of people who had made the journey up here. I found nice accommodation 20m from the beach with a mandi (a large basin of fresh water that you use to flush the toilet and use as a shower) and toilet downstairs. Gapang Beach is all of 100m long so everything I needed for my 4 day stay was in touching distance. After unpacking I checked in with Lumba Lumba (the recommended dive shop) and enquired about diving in the days ahead. The beach has a very laid back feeling, the dive shop is owned by a Dutch coupe who moved there 10 years ago who like many of the businesses on the beach almost lost there business due to the Tsunami. As a community they all survived and rebuilt all the premises along the beach, a true feeling of community spirit.
The beach also boasts an excellent house reef (beautiful coral within 10m of the shore) which provides great snorkelling and diving where you can see plenty of lionfish, ornate ghostpipe fish, razorfish and also a WWII mine (diffused of course) to swim amongst. A short boat ride away there are many diving spots amongst boulders, deep drop offs and some splendid corals and aquatic life. I enjoyed around 5 dives whilst I was on Gapang, all very different and worthwhile although my mind always raced back to how good the diving was on Komodo. Would I ever find anywhere that would match the Komodo liveaboard? I hope so.They were very lazy days on Gapang Beach, wake up dive, eat, sleep, dive, eat, sleep was the order of most days. Most evenings was enjoyed sampling the local food including the odd Taco, Indo style and chatting with fellow travellers from or visiting the dive shop. It was a great place to relax and chill out and I really understood why Gary and Trish had come here for one week and ended up staying a month. The sheer lack of tourists, beautiful beach and the great diving made this place one of my favourites of my journey so far. Unfortunately was on a slightly tighter schedule and having to think of getting my visa for India soon the four days passed very quickly and soon I had to head for the big smoke of Jakarta. There was however a stop on the way to place called Bukit Lawang to jungle trek and to hopefully see one of our most endangered primates – the Orang-utans of Sumatra.