On Wednesday the 22nd of June we would take a night bus from Medan to a town called Singkil on the southern tip of Aceh.
We would arrive in Singkil very early Thursday morning, have to wait a few hours, then take a ferry over to Pulau Banyak. The translation meaning 'Many Islands'. There are roughly 99 islands in the archipelago of Pulau Banyak and we were hoping to stay on only one.
After a few hours on the boat we would then arrive at Pulau Balai. If you're coming from Singkil you have to go there first before going to other islands. We would need to check in with an organisation called the Yayasan. They started up the conservation for sea turtles on Pulau Bangkaru. That was the island we wanted to get to.
You can see Pulau Bangkaru on the left of the small map above. We wanted to spend Thurs and Friday night there, where we would have a tent set up on the beach and be able to see some sea turtles laying their eggs and maybe even catch a few others hatching.
Saturday the 25th we would head back to Pulau Balai to spend one night there and Sunday head back to Singkil via local boat. In the early afternoon we would then get a bus, well in this case a Kijang, back to Medan and arrive in the evening.
Those were the plans. Just the plans. Sounds pretty cool right?
Here's what actually took place...
Catching the bus on the 22nd worked out fine. I shouldn't call it a bus really, it's a small SUV type vehicle called a Kijang. You can take a wild packed bus all the way there or you can pay a little extra for a seat in a Kijang which seats 8 when full.
I'd say we finally rolled out of Medan between 9:30-10:00... and started the journey to Singkil. After the other passengers were dropped off, it was our turn. By that time it had been about 9 hours I believe.
Thursday, June 23
We arrived here. The house of our Singkil contact, Febri.
He invited us into his home and offered drinks until it was time for the boat to Pulau Balai. At about 10am we headed to the dock, which wasn't far and got on our boat. It was a local boat headed to Balai mainly to deliver petrol aka gasoline. As we boarded, a man warned us not to smoke cigarettes on the boat and pointed to all the barrels. Neither of us do smoke but some of the other passengers did and the warning of gasoline didn't seem to bother them even as we passed a half sunken boat in the bay due to an obvious fire.
The boat ride to Balai is roughly 4 hours depending on the weather of course. All you can do is try to rest and catch a bit of sleep because there isn't much to see or do in the ocean on a small boat. Some of the waves were a bit rough and the boat was splashing water about and it was nice. It calmed a bit and I tried to catch some Z's. Most people did the same, but as we all did the waves picked up again and at one point there was this really loud bang that woke everyone up.
The bang had come from the boat crashing down really hard from a wave which sent a container or two flying off the boat. The small crew on the boat said the waves were too rough and they had to turn around.
Half way there and we had to turn around and head back to Singkil. This was disappointing because we knew we probably weren't going to get to Bangkaru that day anymore which meant one less night with the turtles.
After arriving back to Singkil they let us know they are going to wait for the weather to relax a bit and hopefully head back out at 3. We had a little over an hour to kill at Singkil which went by quickly with a small lunch.
3 o'clock comes and the weather looks clear enough so we head out again. 4 hours to go until Balai which meant we were going to arrive much later than we had planned. No chance of getting to Bangkaru that night.
|Sunset from the boat|
Once the sun went down lights came on in the distance at Balai. These were the only lights... I don't think our boat had any. Well I guess you can count the young lad with a flashlight.
We arrive in Balai close to 8 where we meet Febri's friend, Beju, who would help sort out the rest of the trip. We obviously weren't going that night so he showed us to a Guest House. We got cleaned up and we met him and a friend of his, whose name I forget, to get a bit of food and let them know what we were looking to do during our time in Pulau Banyak.
Like I said before the plan was to spend Thursday and Friday night in Bangkaru. Well it was already Thursday night and we were about to spend it in Balai so our trip to Bangkaru would have to be shortened.
We weren't just hoping to see turtles on Bangkaru, we were also hoping to do some kayaking and of course snorkeling. After chatting with the two fellas for a while we find out that you can't really go kayaking or snorkeling in Bangkaru because of the waves being too large there.
We both really wanted to see the turtles but not just that. So we inquired about another island I read about called Pulau Tailana. Go ahead, scroll back up and see if you can find it. This island is very secluded but it is one of the few that has bungalows to stay in.
After some amazing kopi aceh, coffee, we decided on the new plan. The next day, Friday, we would leave for Tailana about 11. Spend Friday there and on Saturday, close to noon, we would go from there to Bangkaru. Spend Saturday night there and early Sunday make our way back to Balai to catch a boat to Singkil so we could catch a bus back to Medan.
Again, here's what actually happened...
Friday, June 24
We got up on time in the morning and met the friend of Beju, whose name I still can't recall, it was really long and confusing. We went on down to the Yayasan to check in for our one night in Bangkaru and organised the cost for that night and the one in Tailana.
We were told that there is a package you have to pay for when going to Bangkaru. It's 800,000 rupiah per person for 3 days and two nights. This includes the transportation to the island and your food while you're there. On today's market that's about 90 dollars. The silly thing was that we wanted to only stay one night and they could not change the price! After a moment of pondering we decided we really wanted to see the turtles so we would pay that.
With that cost plus the night in Tailana with a rented kayak and snorkeling gear would run us close to 2.4 million rupiah total. Cleo doing some smooth talking, along with the fact that she is originally from the Aceh province, they brought it down to 2 million rupiah, 225 dollars.
We grabbed another amazing coffee and waited for the man to get the boat ready.
He called us over when he was finished and off we went to Tailana.
|Heading to that small fueling station and then off to Tailana|
|Happy to finally be on our way...|
|...and so was he|
After about an hour or so on this little boat in the middle of crystal clear waters, we arrive at Tailana.
|About 20 steps from our bungalow|
|We came in on the grey boat|
We ate and went swimming for a bit. It started to rain slightly but we were still able to see some interesting things underwater.We couldn't get a lot of good photos though due to the overcast skies!
We then went for a stroll around the island a little later in the afternoon to see how big or small it really was. We were able to walk around the whole thing in about 20 minutes with a few stops along the way.
|While on our walk, he went out to catch our dinner|
|Can you spot the crab? It's actually quite easy|
It started to get dark as we headed back to the bungalow side of the island.When we got back the man, whose name is lost, came over and showed us what he caught for dinner.
|Cleo was very hungry...|
The sun finished setting and dinner was ready. After we ate, there wasn't much we could do because it was completely pitch black outside. I grabbed my flashlight and we went down to the beach to check out the stars and we saw all these crabs along the beach as well. They all ran back in as we got close though and they were surprisingly quite fast.
Our plan for the next day, Saturday, was to get up early to see the sunset, go kayaking and snorkeling for a bit and then head off to Bangkaru.
Saturday, June 25
We woke up for the sunset only to see that it was extremely clouded over, so we went back to sleep. Woke up at 8 to start the day only to find a huge downpour outside. We were upset that we couldn't go snorkeling or kayaking but we still had hopes for Bangkaru.
We lazed around for a bit hoping for the rain to stop but it didn't. That didn't stop us from going for a swim though. We talked with the man without a name and he said we couldn't go to Bangkaru in this weather. He also said when it cleared a bit we would need to go back to Balai because we had no more food on Tailana.
It was a drag because we had to hope the rain would let up so we could leave Tailana and we had to go back to Balai, which was not where we wanted to spend our last night.
For most the afternoon we were trapped in out Bungalow.
In the end the rain didn't really let up much at all but we had to leave anyways because it was getting late. Everything we brought with us, including us, were put into giant bags. (We forgot to pack raincoats, so we wore big plastic bags as raincoats.)
We left the island on what Cleo and I both agree was the scariest boat ride we have ever been on. The boat really wasn't all that big and we were going through waves that were almost twice the size of it.
I was reminded of this painting...
With almost every wave we hit it felt like we were going to flip over. We were both holding on the best we could in the pouring rain just hoping we would make it there safely.
The ride took almost twice as long with the boat battling all the waves but in the end we made it there a little shook up and soaked but safe.
That night we had dinner and just went to bed a bit early because it was still miserable outside. There really isn't anything to do in Balai and it is no where near as beautiful as Tailana.
Sunday, June 26
We got up early hoping we could catch a boat leaving for Singkil maybe about 9. The ride would be again, 4 hours, but we would be in time to catch a bus at 2 back to Medan.
Remember that happy photo earlier when we started our boat ride to Tailana?
Here's how happy we were when we had to stop because of the rain on the way to the boat for Singkil.
Due to the wonderful weather again, no boats were leaving early in the morning. They were waiting for the weather to calm down before they headed out.
We waited and waited until they said they were ready. We weren't going to be making the bus at 2 back to Medan. We arrived in Singkil I think close to 5 where we were met by Febri.
We were hungry so Febri took us to a restaurant then back to his house where we waiting for the bus, Kijang.
We got on the Kijang about 8 and spent forever picking up the next few passengers. Once the bus was full, we were off to Medan. I felt bad for Cleo because we would be arriving in Medan, if the bus was on time, just a couple hours before she had to go to work. She said she is able to sleep at her work... apparently.
There were many winding roads on the ride too. So many that Cleo actually was a bit sick on the way to Singkil but on the way back the guy in the front must have hurled out of his window at least 5 times during the ride. Those were some wonderful sounds to try to fall asleep to.
Monday, June 27
The bus wasn't on time and so I wasn't dropped off at my door until 7am, then Cleo at hers shortly after. 11 hours in a Kijang with a very unpleasant driver is never much fun.
In the end the one day we had in Tailana was nice, even though it rained. The whole trip just felt like more 'trip' than anything else. We were on the move too much and didn't have enough time to relax and enjoy the beauty of the place.
I'd love to go again but I'd be sure to spend more time there and look into the flights they have headed that way once a week. I'd definitely do some research about the weather beforehand as well.
Here are a few links about Pulau Banyak if anyone is interested.