We got off the plane from KL in Banda Aceh and something in me knew the customs process would take a while. I had no idea just how long it would take.
We got to the visa-on-arrival window and realized that we needed cash to purchase them. The only cash we had was in Malaysian Ringgits, and Jade had left her cash in her checked luggage. So we didn’t have enough. Fine. We asked the customs counter if we could go through to the atm and come back to buy our visas. He said ok and took our passports for collateral. A man outside customs offered to take us to an atm. He was really looking for us to buy his taxi service, but we took his help then told him we were meeting someone and didn’t need him. We get to the atm and I try my debit card. Doesn’t work. I try it again. Doesn’t work. I try another atm. Nothing. At this point Jade and I are both sweating. Quite literally. It’s hot. I try my credit card this time, to see if it’s just the debit card that doesn’t work. Still nothing. Ok. Take a deep breath. Jade suggests we go find Nindy. We went out to the small cafe and there she is, waiting with her friend. Hugs and handshakes and names were exchanged, and we shared our perdicament with them. We came up with a plan to go get Jade’s bag, because Jade had more cash and her card in it. The cash was still not enough for two visas, so Jade tried her debit card at the atm. Bet you can guess what happened. It didn’t work. Luckily, Nindy had some Indonesian ruppiahs. Between Nindy, Jade and I we finally had enough cash to buy our visas. We went back into the window after exchanging our ringgits for ruppiahs and purchased two visas. Wow.
I learned a few valuable lessons during this experience at the airport.
- always have cash with you
- its good to have someone waiting to pick you up who knows the language
- patience is necessary when traveling
I don’t know what we would’ve done if Nindy wasn’t there to speak with the customs officer and give us some of her money. Having her there waiting for us really helped put us at ease. At least a little while.
Once we figured out all the stuff at the airport, we walked out to what I thought would be Nindy’s car waiting. But no, instead it was two motor bikes. Jade hopped on the back of one and I on the other, my guitar in my lap and backpack on my back, as we zoomed away from the airport down a busy Banda Aceh street. The bikes were fast, and as we were cruising it started to rain. We stopped at someones house along the way for shelter from the rain, and took off again when it slowed down a little. You drive on the left side of the road in Aceh, and there are only a few road rules that people don’t really follow. The basic rule of thumb is to honk if you’re passing someone. We passed by hundreds of little shops littering the sides of the streets, selling everything from fresh fruit to phone data cards. I saw a worker standing on a huge pile of bricks, throwing each brick one by one up to another worker on the second floor of an open-faced structure, where the second worker would neatly stack the new pile of bricks. Everyone was watching us as we zoomed by, checking out the Bule’s (the common term for white people) and smiling and waving. When we stopped to get a phone card for Jade, a small boy practiced his English with me. “Hello, my name is Harry. How are you?” I said that I was fine and asked how was he, but he only laughed and walked away. It was clear that he had exhausted his limited word bank. After about a half hour of driving passed rice fields with massive mountains looming in the background we turned a final corner and saw where we would be staying. The place, called Joel’s, was a collection of 5 bunglao’s built right into the mountain side to our right. Directly ahead lay the vast Indian ocean. That’s right, we are staying right on the western shoreline of Sumatra.