Monday, January 19, 2009

International Travel - the Final Leg

Great flight from Singapore to Medan, Indonesia. It was on Silkair, an airline I had never flown before and it was wonderful. Only just over an hour with great service. The sky in Medan when we landed was very hazy and when we disembarked you knew why – humid as all get out!

A little tension as I waited to see if my checked bag had made it after not seeing it for two and a half days but there it came. What a relief as I’m getting very tired of the clothes I have on! 

After I claimed my checked bag I got my first dose of culture shock. There was no obvious way to get to the domestic departure terminal so I asked directions (Yes – it hurt!) and ended up walking down the road and hoping the directions I was given were correct. After a couple of hundred yards (and a good sweat) I finally found the Garuda ticket window and got a paper receipt for my flights. I thought it was the check-in window but it was just a ticket office. It was again not obvious where the departure gates were because everything was just a mass of shops, cafes, loads of people, etc. I headed in the general direction given by the Garuda agent and finally found my way into the departure hall and joy of joys it was air conditioned!

Couldn't check in yet ...... too early so they directed me to a "business class” type lounge where for R60,000 (US$6) I got to sit comfortably and use wifi, drink coffee, eat snacks, and got a ride out to the aircraft – no jet way.

It felt very good take the final leg of the journey to Banda Aceh. A Red Cross driver met me at the airport and took me to the IFRC offices where I was met up with Glen and Sarmad. The drive into town passed through a very lush landscape of tropical foliage, rice fields, and villages. The roads are full of every manner of vehicles and I decide immediately that I won’t be driving. We travelled across the area where the tsunami raged in from the sea and passed by at least one mass grave where 20,000 people are buried. 

Glen and I swap travel stories. His travel was relatively uneventful other than getting stuck in Medan overnight due to overbooking of the flights to Banda Aceh. Given all of the things that went on with my journey it seems strange that Glen and I both left the US at about the same time and arrived at the Red Cross 3 hours apart!

Sarmad took us for lunch at an Indonesian restaurant called the Imperial Kitchen. Excellent meal of nasi goreng (fried rice), beef with ginger, chicken in palm leaves, battered shrimp, and mixed vegetables. 

We then went back to the IFRC offices for a security briefing. This covered the basic things we needed to know about working in the region, particularly Shariah Law, which governs the day to day lives of the predominant Muslim population of Aceh (more on that later). We finally got to go to our hotel to check in and get a long overdue shower and change of clothes. Man, does a good hot shower after a long journey do wonders to restore the soul.

Sarmad picked us up in the evening for a dinner at Bene, a rooftop Italian restaurant in downtown Banda Aceh with Tom Alcedo, Senior Country Representative for the American Red Cross delegation. Tom oversees a staff of 300+ people who are providing post-tsunami relief to the region. Tom had been in Indonesia for many years and arrived in Banda Aceh 2 days after the tsunami to lead the recovery efforts. He had many stories to tell which I’ll cover in future posts.

We finally call it a day and I collapsed into bed. The long travels out to Banda Aceh are finally over. Tomorrow we have a couple more briefings and begin work on the project. I’ll try to elaborate of life in Aceh in future posts.

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