Saturday, January 24, 2009

Our First Tour of Banda Aceh

Glen and I decided to use Saturday afternoon to take a tour of Banda Aceh. Our first stop was lunch at an Acehnese restaurant. As you can see we won't be going hungry! I don't like everything but there's so many choices that there's always dishes to enjoy. I'm tucking into some satay.

After lunch we drove to see this fishing boat that ended up on top of a house. It’s now a monument to the tsunami. The plaque indicates 59 people were saved by the boat. The whole area swept clean by the tsunami has been rebuilt since 2004. The effect of the warm humid climate and ocean air have taken there toll on the construction so when you look at the new building they look older than 4 years. To drive down a small street and suddenly see this boat perched on top of a house is odd, to say the least.

From there we drove to visit one of the mass graves used to bury the many victims. The one we saw had over 14,200 people interred in it. It’s very sobering to imagine that many people buried in one small plot of land. There were a few small headstones that we could see from the path that we assume are memorials to family members killed by the tsunami.

Both of our interpreters were with us, Jumari and Salman. They both attended school together and seem to be good friends. I’m guessing they were both around 20 when the tsunami hit and were both living in Banda Aceh. Jumari said they heard a lot of shouting about “The water is coming!” and he and his family ran to safety. Salman said that his family stayed at home and that water rose gradually to about knee height and then receeded. The whole event only lasted about 2 hours but the devastation and loss of life was staggering. One of the primary reasons for the mass destruction was that the earthquake that caused the tsunami was very intense in Banda Aceh and it severely damaged and weakened most of the buildings. They provided little protection from the water that came ashore in the worst hit area.

From the mass grave we went to visit the large generator ship that was swept in 3km from the sea. Sarmad had taken us there before but this time we got to take some photos and climb aboard the boat. As we were climbing up the ladders we were asked by some Muslim women if they could have their photo taken with us, a flashback to my time in China where it was commonplace for the locals to want photos with us. We obliged of course. I took some video from the top of the ship that I will try to post to my Facebook page.

From the barge we went back into downtown Banda Aceh to visit the Baiturrahman Mosque, the largest in Aceh. We walked around the outside of the mosque and marveled at the architecture. We were not permitted to enter. Muslims are required to pray five times everyday: dawn, mid-day, afternoon, sunset, and night. The “call to prayer” resounds throughout the city prior to each of these times and can be heard coming from every direction, a clear auditory reminder that I’m not in Wisconsin.

Next to the mosque we walked into the Aceh Bazaar, a large claustrophobic collection of market stalls. It would seem to be a great place to bargain. For those who have visited the big market in Bangkok try to image Chatuchak but narrower, darker, and lower!! A good friend from Nashville, Barry, would be in seventh heaven. And Barry, you’d never find Ann in there!!

During the afternoon the rains came which was the first we’d seen since arriving. Big tropical drops of warm rain – it felt good. Some thunder and lightening after dark was wonderful.

After the bazaar we decided to call it a day and head back to the hotel. We made arrangements for Jumari and Salman to meet us again on Monday afternoon for a second tour. Monday’s a national holiday for Chinese New Year.

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