Monday, July 16, 2012

Pulau Weh: Iboih Beach

Off the tip of the geologically and socially fractious island of Sumatra is a densely forested, crab-shaped gem of an island: Pulau Weh.  For hundreds of years, Sabang (as it is still referred to locally), functioned as a final quarantine point for Islamic pilgrims piled into longships on their way to Mecca for the hajj.  Between the World Wars, it was a duty-free port that saw more action than Singapore.  These days, the big ships have left and nature has reclaimed most of this languid isle.

Iboih Beach is a strip of hard-wood bungalows clinging to a rocky coast, hanging precariously above aquamarine seas dotted with clumps of hard corals and inhabited by a rich diversity of marine life.

An overgrown jungle path, patrolled by moth-sized mosquitoes and longtail macaques, leads from the indolent "village center" to the various hillside bungalows.

The Boxing Day Earthquake & Tsunami of 2004 (the third largest earthquake ever recorded by a seismograph) left the mainland province of Aceh decimated, but thankfully made a smaller impact on the island.  In Iboih itself, there were luckily no casualties but many a seaside structure was swept into the sea and the village council longhouse was destroyed.  In the longer term, psyches were shaken and with each major storm residents are reminded of the imminent danger.  For underwater explorers, most of the coral and sea biota was unharmed, but unfortunately whale sharks no longer come to bask in the plankton rich waters since the great shifting of the plates.

After the bone-rattling earthquake subsided, residents watched in terror as the water in the passage between Iboih Beach and Pulau Rubiah (the islet in the background) was sucked out to sea by some unseen force, only to come gurgling back in minutes later.  This strange phenomenon occurred four times and each time the water receded the seafloor was left bare.  An otherworldly desert with patches of coral jutting to the sky like bone-white cacti and multicolored fish left mercilessly flopping and gasping for breath.  On the fifth time, the sea returned with a violent and awe-inspiring force; specifically, a three meter wall that laid waste to the coastline, destroying ancient mangrove forests and shattering the livelihoods of many.

Yet, time has marched ceaselessly forward and it is indeed the greatest panacea.  With every waking hour, a new experience is gained to crowd out the tiresome, painful memories that stalk the recesses of our brains.  Eight years onward from that fateful quake, Pulau Weh is alive and well.

The view from Julia's Bungalows...

How we spent our days: reading, relaxing, snorkeling... repeat.

A tiny mollusk perches on the sharp, volcanic rock.  A reminder of the fiery earth below.

A resting place for an aged shell in this comfortable driftwood nook.

1 comment:

Jeff Gibbs said...

Loved your pictures and account! God how I want to go to Asia again! By the way, Stephen Freer and I were outside in Kadıkoy drinking and our waiter looked a lot like Gavin. Stephen says, after taking a drink of beer, 'Doesn't that guy look a lot like Nellie's friend?' And I said, 'You mean Gavin right?' You guys are not forgotten. At least your faces aren't