Only an one hour ferry ride from Banda Aceh we reach the tiny tropical island Pulau Weh. A dense jungle surrounded by a white sand beach on the Northern tip of Sumatra. When we reach Tiga Beach on the East Coast of the island Iris and I want to scream of excitement looking out over the sky high palm trees, white sanded beach, crystal clear water, hammocks and Freddies funky beach bungalows. Welcome to paradise!
Our rotan bungalow is built on high poles on the beach. The balcony with hammock and amazing ocean view is perfect, to relax and dream away with only the sound of the waves. Early morning I wake up and look up through the window. Palm leaves wave above the wild blue ocean while the sky turns orange and pink. This is what you call a breathtaking morning view.
Pulau Weh lies under Sharia law, which has been implemented 10 years ago by the local government of Aceh province. It requires the use of head covering and long, loose pants. We see Muslim women commonly go to the beach and in the water fully covered. Sharia law forbids gambling and drinking alcohol, but officials rely on tourism to fuel the local economy, so they turn a blind eye to non-Muslims who can order a cold beer at the bar, or wear a bikini down to the beach.
A home away from home
Strolling Tiga Beach we see a tiny Indonesian woman look out over the ocean. She is not wearing a hijab, she is wearing a short and top with uncovered shoulders. Her name is Balqis and she is standing in front of her ‘house’ Casa Nemo Beach Resort and Spa. Set on a hillside of coconut trees overlooking the emerald sea this charming place is her own created paradise. Balqis mostly employs single moms, offering free English classes to them and to their children on weekends. Casa Nemo is a place for them to open up and be themselves. Women take of their hijab arriving here, wear what they want and talk freely about their feelings and thoughts. During dinner her 21-year-old receptionist Fajiri Sabri joins us. He is gay and fears living on the mainland since the new law took effect in Aceh, punishing gays with jail time, fines and public canings. ”Casa Nemo is the only place where I can be myself without feeling fear. I want to make the best out of my life, especially after experiencing life can be over in a few minutes.” Most people we speak have witnessed the Tsunami in 2004. I have goose bumps all over my body when Fajiri and Balqis open up and share how they fought for their life and how they deal with their losses. Both concurred a cruel life changing experience but it gave them positive energy to chase their passion and heart. Inspired by her life experiences (Read more about Balqis in the interview for Under The Same Sun) Balqis created Casa Nemo a home away from home, together with her Swiss husband. If you don’t stay at Casa Nemo, make sure you come by at this unique place to have dinner and try out the fresh local food (fish!), delicious cheesecake (from their own bakery!) and have a chat with the warm, special and friendly employees!
Explore the island
Driving around the island on the motorcycle we pass by secluded white beaches with tropical trees. We make a stop at cliffs and look out over small deserted islands and beautiful deep blue bays. When we cross from South to North we go up and downhill through the jungle before we reach a waterfall. The last 500 meters we walk through small farms of coconut trees, cocoa, herbs and vegetables before we reach the stream and waterfall. The various scenery you walk through make it a nice little escape from the beach.
Driving further to the most Northern tip of the island we arrive in Iboih village, popular for its coral reefs that are on easy swimming distance from the shore. There are many laidback beach cafe’s and diving schools. But if you long for a cold beer or glass of wine you won’t find it here. Drive a little further up to Bixio cafe, a lovely Italian restaurant and homestay nestled between ocean and jungle. Relax in the hammocks with breathtaking views over the clear blue sea and mangrove trees. Luca and Eva, the friendly owners, prepare you delicious traditional (grandmothers) pasta, gnocchi or pizza and treat you with sweet tiramisu and espresso. I am sure you will return and so will I.
– Casa Nemo –
– Explore the island-
– Bixio, Iboih-
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