Aceh. You’ve heard of it, surely? It’s famous for quite a few things.
1. Tsunami. In the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, just a bit over five years ago now, some 70,000 people in Aceh province lost their lives and the capital Banda Aceh was pretty much totally trashed by the earthquake and huge wave that followed. The main mosque in the city, that stunning construction in the very first picture, was one of the few things that was left standing… some saw this as a sign of God being angry… which in some ways has kinda led to…
2. Caning? Stoning? Whack laws about people who wear pants that are too tight? Shariah Law? Fundamentalist Islam? Terror cells training in the countryside? Yes, that’s Aceh too. Known as the verandah of Islam, it was one of the first places where the religion arrived in Indonesia. And thanks to regional autonomy laws, the province now has Shariah Law, which means that all Muslim women wear headscarves and courting teenagers can get into big trouble for holding hands.
3. Wasn’t there, like, some sort of war in Aceh for a while? Yes! There was that on-and-off separatist conflict that killed around 10,000 people. It started heating up in the mid 1970’s, if I’m not mistaken.
4. Coffee. Aceh is pretty famous for its coffee. The alcohol-free culture also means its a pretty popular way to get a buzz around these parts as well.
5. Pulau Weh. Not far off the coast of Aceh lies this island with stunning reefs for diving and snorkeling. I will be heading out there in a few days.
6. Food. Aceh’s food isn’t that well known to those outside of Indonesia, but I’ve eaten it before and loved it, so this, along with all of the above, was part of my reasons for coming.
I have really had a compulsion to come to Aceh since I arrived in Indonesia, just to see what it was like. A place that was so severely impacted the tsunami, a place that has Shariah Law and is the most Islamic in Indonesia… I just had to see. And here I am.
I will wait until I’ve spent a bit more time here before I write about how it “feels” to me. But for now…
Coffee shops are the main social sphere for Banda Aceh-ites. I’ve been here for twelve hours and have already visited two of them. Alcohol is a no-no and the region is known for its coffee, so why not? The coffee shops are relaxed, filled with the young and the old (but a lot more men than women), many of them have WiFi, and when you arrive delicious cakes are plonked down on the table. You only pay for what you eat, just like at a Padang (or Acehnese) restaurant. Pandan or banana flavoured cakes seem to be the default.
These little glutinous pandan cakes were really delicious… and the colour was just fantastic.