Exploring Pulau Weh in Zero Photographs: Part Two

I gazed out at a placid Indian Ocean from an elevated trajectory, along a stone wall that lined the edge of Sabang, the main town and economic centre of Pulau Weh. Teresa sat to my right, head resting on my shoulder as I wrapped my arm around her waist. I couldn’t believe how quiet this town was, even though I knew the size and population of Weh was quite small. The roads were so wide and the town rose to the top of a hill that allowed us to see for miles around from so many locations. It’s a great place to explore with a tank full of “bensin” in your motorbike.

When we jumped back onto our bike, we had no idea where to go next, so we just took off. We headed south, down a long stretch of highway that took us to the crest of another high hill and then down towards sea level. To our left was a tall rocky cliff with a bit of green shrubbery sprouting out here and there. To our right were a few small shacks, but mostly just trees and bush. As we descended, the land flattened out to small agricultural plots. Still, there were few people to be seen.

We wound up on a road that cut through the island. First it was called Jalan Yos Sudarso, which transitioned into Jalan Sabang-Balohan, and then eventually it was named Jalan Aneuk Laut. This latter street name would take us down to the port where the ferry initially dropped us off on the island. We wound up banking back west. To our left, we got a view of the sea facing back towards the mainland and the city of Banda Aceh. Often, the road would cut further inland and would be lined with forest or palm trees on either side. The scenery was stunning and constantly changing.

We stopped along the side of the road for a bite to eat at an outdoor stall. Three men were chilling on a wooden bench smoking a hand-rolled cigarette. It wasn’t your ordinary tobacco, either. I mentioned how they have something similar in Vietnam that we smoked out of a bong, called thuốc lào. Despite researching it, I’ve been unable to figure out what this particular kind of tobacco is named in Indonesia. Most people in the country smoke kretek cigarettes infused with clove oil and other spices. This was different, much more similar to thuốc lào. The men rolled me one to see how I would react to it, but we were ready for it beforehand. They were expecting to get a good laugh over us as I choked away at the surprisingly strong smoke. By this time I was a lot more experienced with the product.

Teresa and I continued on our journey as it began to rain. We wound up having to drive up a very steep, winding road lined with a red-rocked cliff. It was tough going on the little scooter, but eventually we made it to the top and started working our way back north, towards Iboih. We stopped in the village for an early dinner, but weren’t yet finished for the day. Even though we’d just about circumnavigated the entire island, we still had one more spot to check out.

Not too far from Iboih is Kilometre 0, the most western point of the Indonesian archipelago, looking out at the Indian Ocean towards the Indian mainland thousands of kilometres away. On our drive over, it was beginning to get very dark and insects began swarming around the anterior light of the bike. We managed to catch a glimpse of a skinny green snake weaving its way across the road before slithering into the bushes. We made it to KM 0 at the end of the aptly named Jalan Kilometer Nol. It’s a little loop at the end of the road where you can gaze out at the western waters. By now, it was dark out and we couldn’t see much, but that was okay. We’d made it to the end (or the beginning) of Indonesia, a feat unto itself. We’d come a long way from Bali where we’d first touched down on this magnificent nation. We’d come even farther from Bangkok where our travel adventures began nearly six months prior.

The drive back was pitch black and felt pretty dangerous. It was slow going as there were numerous sharp turns and I didn’t want to risk any head-on collisions with other motorists. Large moths were smacking me in the face every few seconds. The ones that struck my eyes were the most painful.

At one point, I took a wrong turn down a road which turned out to be a military compound. I’m sure a mistake like that could cost a person a lot. Luckily for us, the two young men flanking the main entrance were very friendly about the whole thing and just directed us back to the main road. After passing several remote guesthouses lining the shores of the ocean, we finally made it back to Iboih where we would rest our heads in peace.

The next day, we would catch a tuk-tuk back to the port and hop back on the slow ferry that would return us to Banda Aceh. We weren’t quite finished with Indonesia yet. The solemnity we once circumvented would be faced head on now as we learned more about the disastrous tsunami that occurred in 2004 and how two opposing factions would set aside their differences in the effort to come together and rebuild their home.

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