Monday, March 16, 2009

Back in Banda Aceh

The long road trip ended on Sunday afternoon when we returned to Banda Aceh – 14 days, 1,300 miles, 11 different hotels, and ten Red Cross chapters.

The final stretch of the west coast road lived up to its reputation by providing some of the most stunning coastal scenery tempered by a mostly dirt road that is either washboarded or topped with very bumpy rocks. The stretch of road down the west coast from Calang to Banda Aceh is under repair. The tsunami washed away major sections of the road and all of the coastal bridges. 

USAID has stepped in to fund the reconstruction but it’s a massive task that will take a couple more years to complete. Different sections of the road were allotted to different companies for reconstruction – some got relatively flat terrain, some got mountainous terrain. At one stretch we dropped out of a mountainous section to find a new smooth, wide, level road, and just when we thought we’ll be back in Banda Aceh in no time - the wheels drop off the tarmac and it's back to rough, slow going again.

To bypass the washed out bridges they’ve built a temporary dirt road for much of the route. The dirt road snakes its way back into the interior adding miles to what will eventually be a relatively short distance. When completed I think you’ll be able to drive the distance in a couple of hours. It took us six! 

As I mentioned above the condition of the road is totally offset by the scenery. Some of the best looking beaches are right beside the road with clear ocean water breaking on the shore and totally deserted. One wonders how long it will be before they get developed. The Aceh people and Sharia Law will certainly impact the pace and scale of development but if you want to “get away from it all” it’s hard to imagine a nicer place.

About two thirds of the way to Banda Aceh you have to climb up over a mountain with hillsides that drop straight down into the sea. The road is built into the edge of the mountain and at its highest point we came across a row of coffee huts built on the cliff side of the road. It’s mandatory to stop (of course) …we sit on a covered deck that is suspended out over the hillside and enjoyed a cup of coffee while gazing at the vista – a great rest stop!

Yesterday I caught up on some paperwork and documentation and today Sarmad is here so we will take the day to plan the final four weeks of the project. Tomorrow I fly back to Singapore to get my Indonesian visa renewed for the last time. The first two months have flown by and I’m sure the final month will do the same given what Sarmad would like to get done. We’re adding a few things to my “to do” list.

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