Indonesia, Pulau Weh

Would like to have spent a little more  time exploring Banda Aceh but I really came here to get to the idyllic tropical island of Pulau Weh, an hours ferry ride off the northern tip of Sumatra.

The main reason for coming to this island, I admit, is a selfish one; the lure of the underwater coral playground. Diving aside it is a lush green tropical paradise with gin clear water that displays a million shades of cerulean when lit up by the equatorial sun. Half an hour of twisty roads and impossible hill climbs in a beat up old Nissan takes us from the port town of Sabang to the tiny Gapang bay where we’ll be based for the next few days.

This is the beach that time forgot (except during an Indonesian holiday when it gets inundated by locals brandishing iPads); tiny shacks selling nasi goreng, goats wandering around for food, local men lazing under palm trees smoking, and the rhythmic music of the waves crashing over the coral shore as the soundtrack.

Into the blue we go to see if sub-aqua Pulau Weh lives up to the haughty claims (best diving in the Indian Ocean according to Lonely Planet). The first thing that impresses is the clarity of the water, at least 20 meters visibility on most dives, secondly the cleanliness and health of the reef which (unlike other parts of the region such as Thailand) bears no scars of overfishing.

Fish life is prolific and most of the underwater topography is similar; rocky reef slopes descending into the abyssal blue. One dive called the canyon was simply epic with around 30 meters of visibility, gorgonian fan forests, moray eels abound, a turtle and even blacktip reef sharks. Aside from diving and chilling out there was little else to do here.

Due to family circumstances our trip changed at this point and we had to reschedule our return flight cutting it short by ten days. Air Asia graciously stung us for changing the dates by charging us the cost of the original flight again in “change fees” plus the difference since the new flight was twice the price. Ouch.

The Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha was upon us and Pulau Weh closed down so we decided to leave the island a day early on the slow ferry. As it happened half of the island’s population had the same idea and the car ferry was a floating sardine tin. Finding a vacant square foot of floor space we settled in for the two hour journey.

Overcrowded Indonesian ferries are a sight to behold especially at departure time when 80 motorbikes try to squeeze through a gap big enough for about five! It is not surprising that Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world; evidently birth control is not a priority here since nearly everyone you see has at least one child in tow.