Day 194: Banda Aceh to Lamno, 84km. Good coastal road over several headlands. 630m climbing.
Day 195: Lamno to Calang, 75km. Mostly flat coastal road. 250m climbing.
Day 196: Calang to Meulaboh, 105km. Flat road through coastal plains and wetlands.
Day 197-198: Mark sick in Meulaboh.
After two days in Banda Aceh we were itching to discover what lay south and the next morning set off on our 2500km journey down the giant island of Sumatra. We planned to head south along the West Coast for three days to Meulaboh and then head east inland and into the highlands. A brand new USAID-built road led the way and the riding was excellent, with the Indian Ocean crashing ashore to meet steep jungle clad mountains and wetlands abundant with birdlife.
Large sections of the West Coast highway and dozens of bridges were destroyed by the 2004 tsunami. The road and bridges have been rebuilt most of the way to Meulaboh now by the USAID program and the result is an 11 metre wide highway with ultra sturdy bridges. There’s hardly any traffic on it and it’s sheer pleasure to ride for the cruise south.
Not far out of Banda Aceh we met this German man on a 18-month motorcycle journey around the world. He was the first foreign tourist we’d seen since getting off the plane in Banda Aceh and the last we’d see for 10 days.
En route to Lamno we rode over some lush jungle headlands and stopped at a roadside shack for a break. Who should drop in but some gibbons and macaques. The gibbons were a family of four: dad, mum, and two children. They casually hung out eating bananas and fighting with the macacques if they got too close.
Protected by hills, Lamno was flooded but was spared total destruction in the tsunami. Consequently most of the original buildings are still standing lending the town an historic feel. Flimsy wooden shop houses, some on the verge of collapse, typify the town and entering the narrow streets you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time.
Everytime we stop we’re surrounded by curious schoolkids. Hana’s practising some Bahasa Indonesia while the kids practice their English, which is taught in most schools here but rarely spoken by adults.
The town of Calang, on a small, low lying isthmus, was totally destroyed by the tsunami and the population halved. A calamity that is hard imagine now as you wander the dusty sreets amid hastily constructed shops and houses. Our hotel (the only one in town) had an aerial photograph on the wall of the isthmus post-tsunami and almost the entire town is gone, with only concrete foundations remaining.
Meulaboh, 240km south of Banda Aceh, was the city closest to the epicentre of the earthquake and was often referred to by the media as ground zero. The town was largely destroyed and nearly a third of the 120,000 poulation killed. Many of the bigger concrete buildings in the city survived intact but thousands of dwellings closer to the shore were wiped out with no trace remaining. The city seemed pretty lively to us and there were a lot of new buildings in place with many more still under construction.
Memorial for Teuku Umar, the Acehnese hero who refused to surrender to the Dutch occupation. After a long manhunt he was killed on the beach in Meulaboh. His wife Cut Nyak Dhien continued with the resistance and has since than become a national hero. [Thanks to Lisa at Aceh Adventure for the correction].
Kids practising their English with Hana on Meulaboh’s beach. We were planning to leave after only one night there but I came down with a full on temperature and bad diarrhoea during the night. I got a bit concerned when 12 hours later it turned bloody, so we made a visit to the hospital for a diagnosis and a handful of drugs. Thankfully the symptoms subsided within a few hours of taking ciprofloxacin and we made plans to leave the next day for a 45km transition day to take us closer to the highlands.