Weh - The North end of Indonesia
Jan 3, 2008
|Lumba Lumba, the dive center on Gapang Beach on Pulau Weh, is run by a Dutch couple and several locals and has dive books donated by divers who survived the tsunami. Like most places in this area, everyone has a story, and some will tell it. Gapang Beach is just a narrow strand at the roots of wrinkled trees, with wooden-hulled dive boats moored just offshore. There are six or seven restaurants in the guidebook along the beach, and two hotels, but appearances can be deceiving. The restaurants were usually just mie goreng/nasi goreng shops with some Cokes or soft drinks to drink (no beer). We did eat one night at Mama's - we walked over for a late lunch, and ended up ordering a fish dinner for later, using pidgen English and Indonesian. The restaurant was a porch with a board table and plastic chairs, and the fish dinner was two whole fish, grilled to perfection.
On the second day we went for our first dive. We got our gear together and the divemasters made us assemble it ourselves - strap on the buoyancy compensator, attach the regulator to the tank, test the air pressure, etc. - to make sure we knew what we were doing. They were a skinny bunch of guys, happy and smiling, and they carried everything out to the 25-foot open decked, wooden dive boat. The boat sped out around a point, through a channel past the other tourist spot on Weh, Iboih Beach (where the tsunami hit especially hard), and out to a rockpile off Rubiah Island. The dive spot is named "Bastard Current," in Indonesian, because the current tears through the gap between the pile and the island.
We got our briefing on the dive plan, and went over the side. This was our best dive in our short diving careers. Above the water the visibility looked good - you could see well down, but even with crystal clear water the shapes underneath were still shadowy. When we put our regulators in our mouths and began our descent, immediately we saw thousands of orange fish - called anthias, about the size of an aquarium fish - hovering a few inches to a few feet off the rocks, which were covered in coral. They were all around us as we sank along the side of the rocks down to about 25 meters and began to drift with the current along the edge.
We saw giant moray eels with heads the size of a rottweiler head, gently opening and closing their jaws from crevices among the rocks; we saw see-through cleaner shrimp, visible by a few white spots on their sides, threadlike white antennae and their translucent internal organs; lionfish with arrays of spikey, samurai sword fins. We saw a frog fish, which I had never heard of, but which looked like a bright yellow blob with two buggy eyes on stalks sitting on the coral, about the size of a bullfrog. The coral clung to tumbled boulders the size of small cars: brain coral, fan coral, whip coral, a sea anemone as big as a coffee table and soft-looking as a carpet with half a dozen clown fish lurking over it. Cleaner wrasse (small electric blue fish who clean off larger fish), sea cucumbers, giant starfish, parrotfish and others hovering over the rocks. A pale lavender and black nudibranch, or kind of worm, about the size of a mouse, a stingray under a ledge with electric blue neon spots. A giant puffer fish and a few scorpionfish, which sat camoflaged on the rock with upturned mouths ready to snap down a smaller fish for lunch. Finally, an octopus like a rugby ball, which changed color from dark to light and snuck along a crevice in the reef, pausing now and then to stop, change color and even texture, from smooth to knobby to smooth again, at least one eye always on us. We could have sat there all day observing, but air was low, so we headed up for our 3 minute safety stop, and then to the surface.
We had planned on 4 or 5 dives, but did 7, at 20 euros apiece, and five nights later we had seen so much it was hard to contain our excitement. On one dive we encountered swift currents and honeycomb moray eels, a giant reef fish called a Napoleon wrasse, and several more octopi. We saw a sea turtle, and giant schools of sleek fish called jacks. We hovered over the reef at a dive called the Canyon as a school of a hundred or so 4-foot barracuda swam a slow circuit around us, and saw another frog fish and two more of a different species. We saw three different kinds of morays and dozens of different species of reef fish from anthias to parrotfish to wrasses to lionfish. A dive guide explained it to us - this sea is at the juncture of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and gets species endemic to both bodies of water.
Weh was a much-needed respite and the days were packed, two dives, some books in the afternoons, and the hunt for food in the evenings. The food was very limited, with mostly ramen or rice served at the beachfront restaurants, but the room at Lumba Lumba was luxurious. With the dark came the chip-chip-chipping of the geckos and the screams of the fuck you lizard (it has a call that sounds very close to "FUCK youuu..." and I'd read about greenhorn soldiers in Vietnam mistaking it for Vietcong taunts). The power went out fairly often and there was internet only one day, but we were happy reading using flashlights in our mosquito net-covered bed.
Early on we dove with a Malaysian couple, then a pair of Dutch, who were both over 6 feet tall and clunky underwater - they kept banging into us. There was Scott, an American who had arrived in Banda 3 1/2 years ago, working for a relief agency building houses and schools, sewers and roads. They have built 100,000 homes in Banda in 3 years; Scotts organization has built 4,000 of them, and several schools and health clinics. He is a career aid worker; previous postings were to Haiti, Angola and Madagascar. He still had a year left on his tour here, then would move on to a new challenge.
The second day he dove with us, he told us Obama had won Iowa, along with Huckabee. He'd gotten it over the cell phone from a friend; we spent the ride out to the dive site discussing the implications.
"The last seven years haven't exactly been great for our image overseas," Scott said.
We also dove with Marie, a Quebecquois who was working for the Canadian Red Cross, and met an Australian couple who were teachers in Jakarta, in their third year.
"The traffic is hell," the man said, "but there's no road rage like there is in Australia. People just seem to take it in stride. But I don't think we'll ever take the long distance bus again."
Sometimes I was awake at night when the rain came and I could hear it roaring up closer and closer until it roared on the roof of our bungalow, then passed away. The days were sunny with some clouds. We did get a little bored, and turned to discussing New Zealand and the possibility of returning to northern Thailand and Laos and Cambodia for a short swing beforehand. Being off the road and in one place led us to remember the traveling as easier. But we booked a flight to Jakarta through Ton, the Dutch owner with a face like Bill Clinton's, who was very helpful, calling back and forth with a Banda travel agent to figure out which flight at what time at what cost. After one last dive we took the afternoon boat to Banda (after a bumpy and speedy minibus ride to the wharf), and a becak to the Hotel Parapat.