Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Banda Aceh 2013

Banda Aceh

January 2013

So where do I start, and please cut me some slack on my writing coz I only just passed fifth form English back in 1970 and only because the one novel we had to review at exam time was fortunately for me also a movie. The extra study I did was to ask a few A grade students the difference between the book and the movie. Bingo! Question one right there. I winged the rest and Voila, pass mark at 52%. The missing 48% was or were ?? transitive verbs, correct tense and the like.  

So back to Aceh, there is good news and sadly bad news, but I will get to that later, just to set the scene which is quite different from any other surf destination you may end up in.

Sitting in the line up with a fiery red Sumatran sunset in twenty eight degree water, small hollow lefts running down the coral reef and an A frame across the channel.  A ramshackle warung sits on the beach in front of a golf course. Hard to tell it’s a golf course, not your average garden variety manicured greens and pro shop deal but it is green and there where people with golf clubs walking around on it along with the odd cow and a family of goats. There is clear view of a cement factory across the river that looks like the Helms Deep fortress from Lord of the Rings. It is eerily quiet with the only noise from the imam on the loud speaker from the local mosque conducting evening prayer. I am not big on any formalised religion but an imam can sound pretty cool as it drifts over the water. Mind you sometimes the noise from those loud speakers is not dissimilar to raucous sound a cat makes with its tail caught under a rocking chair.
Biggest wave of the trip

After travelling around Indo since the mid seventies I found Banda Aceh pretty mellow and damn interesting. Sharia law is part of life here and to foreigners that means no bikinis for the girls and under the counter beer. Definitely no spirits. Don't get too upset if there are limited supplies, one shopkeeper got sent to the big house for eight years just having eight cartons for sale on his premises. That’s one year per carton, case, box or slab depending where you come from. There are also rumours this will become law throughout Indo. Another one is women should only ride side saddle on a motor bike. Given women are often on the back of a scooter holding two kids, five live chickens and the weeks groceries I reckon these laws are a tad impractical and will struggle get through parliament. Mind you Indonesian law can change daily. 

You may be wondering why I am blabbing about a secret surf destination in Indo. Two reasons, last time I checked my Google analysis blog Info I only had about a hundred hits. Twenty five of those were from me and apart from you the rest were from my dear 87 year old Mum's senior citizens 'how to use a computer class'. Second is Aceh ain't no secret. The bad news is Lhoknga can hold around 20 -25 guys. There were fifty odd tourists including Aussies, Euros, Seth Efricans and Americans and 20 odd locals when I was there squabbling over 2-3 ft short waves. Granted they where hollow fun little runners but if you a surf nazi the frustration factor will kick in big time before the end of day one. If you like to spend time absorbing the Indonesian culture and can handle doing two or three airports there is plenty to do and see cruising around checking the markets, snorkelling and scoping a different area you will enjoy the experience.  

Speaking of culture and the values of sharia law, tourism etc I did see the proud Aussie exhibition at 10.30 am on Australia Day here. One really pissed unit dive bombing a plastic toddler’s pool half full of water without spilling his beer. 'Way to Go'. Pretty sure some of the locals where starting to think eight years in the big house for selling grog was light on. 

The waves are not heavy and only turn on in a short two month season around January. The rest of the time is onshore. Anything over head high is considered an epic swell. Waist high is the norm and be prepared to hang for a swell. Locals are super friendly although a few of the surfing variety don't share waves all that well.  

We stayed at Udi's place, awesome hospitality, only basic rooms with a fan and a trickling version of a shower but a five minute walk to the beach, great food (try the BBQ fish) and coffee. Speaking of coffee, Aceh coffee rules. If you want to ante up you can splurge of coffee lewak. A lewak is a small cat like animal that seeks out the best coffee beans in the wild and eats them and only digests the beans outer skin before crapping them out. You give them a wash and roast them up as per normal and it is a great drop. It is expensive and unfortunately the latest trend is to capture a lewak and feed them as many beans as possible. The poor animal doesn't have a chance to select the best beans as it would in the wild but that's progress for you!! 

Masakan Padang food is a treat and you gotta try the Rendang. It is beef curry slow cooked by mama for a week or two but Woo hoo taste bud sensation. I should add it may take a few days for those taste buds to regrow after the Rendang chilly hit has killed them. You can even score a Magnum or Cornetto at the local super market. 

Easy place to travel around, plenty of buses and scooters or Yudi will organise a car for you. The roads are great. There has been a massive rebuild here after the horrific tsunami in 2004. They stared with roads and mosques, although I suspect the other way round. There are tsunami evacuation signs everywhere but the nearest hills that surround the area look at least a half marathon away, if another one came I couldn't tell you where to head because it is flat as a shit carters  hat in between those hills.  Maybe a mask and snorkel while sitting on your board ready to kiss your arse good bye might work. 

Two hundred and fifty thousand people lost the lives due to the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. 
Tsunami damaged hills

That is almost the ammount of supporters at three AFL grand final days at the MCG. Another perspective is more people tragically perished from this Tsunami than all the US soldier fatalities in The American revolutionary war, World War One, Korean, Vietnam, Afgan and Iraq wars combined. !!! 

I don't want to end this little story on a downer though, the place is up and running and a credit to the Acehnese.  I visited here with my Russian buddies, old and new. A big Spicey Bar (thanks) to Alena. I learnt six more Russian words and forgot twenty three other ones. It's a complex rich language. I did learn Russians don't have green with envy in the vocabulary rather white and black envy. Pretty handy to know these sorts of things. 

So I probably won't be back in hurry but we had a blast soaking up the culture despite the fickle crowded waves. Hope you have a better perspective of the place now when you are considering how to spend you surf travel dollar and if you ever decide to check it out remember to decline any business offer to start a lewak coffee venture or more importantly a bottle shop.


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