When Teresa and I arrived in Banda Aceh in the early morning, we immediately jumped onto a tuk-tuk-like vehicle (really more of a wooden flatbed attached to a motorcycle) and headed straight for the port. The ferry that would carry us to Pulau Weh was hulking and slow. The first few minutes on any watercraft has me feeling a bit nauseous as my body adjusts to the swaying unbalance, but I’m always fine afterward. It wasn’t long before we docked at a long pier on the southern side of the island to hundreds of waiting family members and drivers looking to make a buck.
After disembarking from the ferry, all of the passengers dispersed to their own business on Pulau Weh. Teresa and I ran into a tuk-tuk driver with a big personality; he was constantly cracking jokes about us, about his pot belly, about the mischievous gang of monkeys we would pass on the road halfway to our destination. The drive itself was beautiful and the island is lush and hilly. Dark green forests line much of the roads, little villages dotting the way as well. It was good fun for the near-hour drive it took us to reach Iboih, a little strip of beachside guesthouses, restaurants, and dive shops facing the Indian Ocean on the northern part of the island. I’ll point out now that, because this was so deep into the trip and The Traveling Space Opera wasn’t even a concept in my mind yet, I went through a phase on this island where I essentially stopped taking pictures so that I could simply bask in the presence of my surroundings. There are a few images I have saved from my trip to Pulau Weh, but instead I’ll be doing my best to paint as bright and vivid a picture as my mind will allow.
When we arrived, we decided to walk up and down the main pathway in search of a guesthouse. Many were simple wooden units built near the shore. After checking a few out, we decided on a guesthouse just south of the central cluster of businesses. After dropping our belongings, we set out to explore.
Travellers tend to come to Pulau Weh for the diving and snorkeling. The waters sparkle all different shades of blue and green, and are brimming with vibrant sea life that’s incredible to observe. One of the first things Teresa and I did was rent a snorkel/mask combo, some fins, and a kayak. We set out not far from our seaside guesthouse, taking only a few essentials with us.
Across from this small segment on the island is an even smaller island called Pulau Rubiah. Along its shores lie some nice snorkelling spots. The beauty of it was being on our own, able to explore the waters around this island. After pulling our bright orange craft onto the rocky sands, we tied it up and dove in, enjoying the rainbow of variety in the fish, coral, urchins, and sea cucumbers.
Later, we worked our way further up the island. Teresa and I were still getting used to a synchronous rhythm and it was tough going. This wasn’t a placid river, it was a churning ocean that we had to fight much of the time. Finding a little alcove, we worked our way in to calmer waters and docked on a much smoother, open beach. A few dozen metres in, plotted on a field of grass peppered with coconut trees is a wooden house where a lady serves up lunch and drinks. A few cows were tied to the coconut trees, grazing in the bright, short grass. An outer kitchen of stone and metal spilled out the side of the building and the open eating area faced us as we approached.
The menu was simple: mie goreng, nasi goreng, ayam goreng. It’s the basics of Indonesian cuisine and delicious every time. While waiting, we took our chairs right out into the sunlight and enjoyed the fresh air. When our plates arrived, they were heaping, as usual. It was the energy we needed to continue the vigorous kayaking and frequent swimming.
After relaxing for a little longer, we decided to swim right out into the sea from the shore, exploring the area underwater before returning to our kayak and setting out once more. From the trajectory of the shore that we initially set sail from, Pulau Rubiah looks very small. Looking at it on a map now, though, the island stretches back in length very far compared to the narrow width you see from the shores of Pulau Weh. We thought we could kayak around the whole thing, but when we rounded a sharp corner, we realized that the trip would be impossible to complete before dark. We headed back.
In the evening, we strolled along the seaside, stopping in at a restaurant about a minute from our guesthouse. We wound up coming here almost every single night for the fresh fish that would be caught off of the coast and brought in to be barbecued with vegetables and potatoes. The fish are generally massive and enough for at least two people, often more.
Our first day on Pulau Weh was an active and enjoyable one. We still had an entire island to discover, though, and Teresa and I’s exploratory nature would, as always, get the best of us.