I have been unusually silent for over a week and there are good reasons for this. On September 14th, I left Jakarta to visit my friend D., in Banda Aceh, and unwind on the beach side. However, what was planned as a chill, uneventfull, bule-less vacation away from the big city turned out to be a life changing journey for Yours Truly: a quixotic tale of existential self-discovery, with a magnanimous twist.
My original plan consisted in Escaping From Jakarta for about one week to relax before starting a one year teaching contract in Palembang (Sumatra). While researching possible destinations, I stumbled upon a blog page highlighting Ujung Genteng, a virtually deserted resort and sea turtle reserve in the South West of Java. I was looking forward to meeting and socializing with sea turtles, and taking a swim in a wonderful waterfall located close by. Instead, I opted for Aceh at the last minute to visit a friend and unwind oceanside, snorkel in the turquoise sea and let my skin see the sun for a bit.
Turns out September and beyond is the rainy season in a large portion of Sumatera.
The rain was pouring down heavily on the tarmac as our plane landed at Sultan Iskandar Mudah Airport. The bad weather didn’t impede my excitement, I was thrilled to be in a city fairly unsullied by urban pollution with luxuriant vegetation. My friend D. surprised me by welcoming me at the airport. It was a warm reunion—as warm as an Islamic permits—we had known each other for well over two years, but had only spoken on Skype. A nice, old taksi driver with two teeth had chatted D. up while she was waiting for me, so off I went into the tiny Toyota, as she guided us on her motorbike to Joel’s Bungalow in Lampuuk. The hour-long drive was quite emotional for me; images of the Tsunami flooded my mind as the scenery passed us by, with the driver chain-smoking cheap indo cigarettes on the front seat. The infrastructure still exhibited scars, old Tsunami battle wounds, despite massive decade-long reconstruction efforts. Often, I found tears trickling down my cheeks and the second hand smoke had nothing to do with. As I mentionned before, very few places/events have managed to elicit in me such a powerful feeling and deep connexion, without me having actually been there. First, there was Palestine-Jerusalem, then Makkah and now Aceh.
We arrived at Joel’s Bungalow, a beautiful property situated right beneath a massive rocky hill, on one of the nicest beaches I have ever visited. A virtually deserted haven, this establishment is mostly visited by Acehnese and other Indonesian tourists, although it does see its occasional bule. The wooden bungalows are simplistic in design, but possess a certain charm. Four of them were built right in the bedrock, or at the foot of the abrupt cliff.
One of the bungalows, refered to as “AIR”, it’s pronounced Ah-year, and means ‘water’, is built on stilts in the middle of a fresh water pond, a stone’s throw from the sea. It’s a little a beauty and quite breathtaking, really.
And ‘Bungalow Air’ was to be my abode for the following 7 days.
D. suggested we try to watch the sunset on the beach, but although the rain had stopped, the sky remained overcast. We still walked along the beach and due to my inexplicable enfatuation with the sea, I rushed in the water despite her warning that she had never seen the waves ap high… I only had time to get knee-deep into the water, and that’s when I felt the back-current exerting a tremendous force, pulling me away from the shore. I got out just in time as I had never felt the sea so powerful.
It was a taste of things to come. A monstruous storm was brewing, but I was too elated to grasp what that meant in reality. So we said goodbye for the night, D. returned to the city of Aceh on her motorbike and I retreated to my new waterborne domicile. In this idylic setting, I laid in the queen size bed, under a mosquito-net, with the door and window wide open so as to let the breeze in, and began writing what was going to be my first blog entry in Aceh. I quickly felt sleep overcome me and passed out, feeling relaxed and safe, before 11pm.
What follows is very difficult for me to talk about, let alone depict faithfully, as the flood of emotions from that night is still fresh.
As my dreams gradually faded out, a vivid sense of impending doom overcame me entirely. It was a formidable feeling of sheer panic—utter despair—that tore me away from the ‘arms of Morpheus’…
To be continued…
Coming up Next, Part 02