After sweating my way through the jungle I headed all the way north to Pulau Weh, an island famed for its diverse dive sites. Getting here was no easy task. There was a long wait in Ketambe for a minibus to ford the washed away road, another wait in a violent rainstorm for the overnight bus to Banda Aceh, which was an agonisingly slow journey along narrow mountain roads made treacherous by landslides and potholes, a small nap at the bus station in Banda Aceh, the capital of the Aceh region and a city completely destroyed by the 2004 tsunami, a ferry ride to the island and a too-fast motorbike ride the 20km to Ibioh beach.
But I got here, found a bungalow and sighed up for a PADI Open Water diving course. Wow, what fun! The course took three days during which I learnt – thanks to my great instructor Tash – about the science behind diving, how to use the equipment, how to breathe underwater, to equalise the pressure in my ears as I descend, to control my buoyancy and movements under the water and to appreciate the spectacular beauty of the underwater world.
Rubiah Tirta Divers has become my home on the island and I’ve settled into an easy routine here. I wake up early, usually to the sound of rain, and head to Mamma’s for a lemon pancake breakfast. While the girls are cooking, I go next door to the dive shop where I gather all my equipment for the morning dive. I’ve got the set-up (mostly) waxed by now and have claimed a pair of fins, a wetsuit and mask for myself. The diving is adventurous and beautiful, but my favourite part is the camaraderie among all the divers before and after a dive.
For the first time on this trip – now nine months in – I arrived somewhere I didn’t want to leave. The island is beautiful, the diving much fun, the food so delicious and the new friends interesting and comfortable. I settled into a routine that was filled with conversation all day, and being part of a group, having friends to meet for lunch or a Bintang beer, always knowing someone in one of the restaurants along the path and making a friend good enough to become a bungalow mate was just what I needed. Hence the two-week stay…
Diving is hard work, especially in the strong currents around Pulau Weh, and a big lunch (and dinner for that matter) has become standard practice. Post-dive conversations on the boat only concern what we all saw under water and where we plan to have lunch. My favourite spot is Dee Dee’s, a restaurant next door to the dive shop where it’s best to order before you’re actually hungry because all meals are made from scratch and usually take an hour to get to you. But, they are delicious (I know because I tried just about everything on the menu).
Diving is not the only action on Pulau Weh. It is a beautiful island and, when the rain stops and the sun comes out, a most perfect place to float in the turquoise ocean.
My weary hula hoop got a lot of love on Ibioh. The stretch of beach and bungalows is built along a narrow pathway and the only place I could hula easily was outside the dive shop. So I left my hoop there and it got much attention by divers and the shop staff. So funny to see an old man exerting himself in an effort to keep the hoop up, and to share laughs as someone tries it for the first time!
All in all a beautiful stay. OK? OK.