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The mountainous province of Aceh consists of the entire northern tip of Sumatra, and guards the entrance to the most important sea-route of Asia: Malacca Strait. Almost all traffic over sea between West and East passes this sea-lane, and Aceh has been the first land for Arab and Indian merchants for centuries.

West Aceh
Foaming embracement of the Alas Mountains

The coasts and the highlands of western Aceh belong to the most spectacular nature of Indonesia. Until not too long ago this area was almost not reachable, but recent improvements to the roads have made travelling a lot more easy. Now it's possible to follow the western coast on the road from Banda Aceh towards Tapaktuan and from there to Medan or Danau Toba via Sidikalang.

The journey from Banda Aceh to Danau Toba of Medan takes over twenty hours by bus. A very picturesque detour takes you from the Alas Valley towards the big Gunung Leuser National Park near Kutacane. Adventurous people which want to raft down the Alas River, straight through rapids, can arrange this in Medan.
The western coast

The western coast of Aceh offers nice beaches and views. Mighty waves break on the coast, swimming is dangerous over here. Meulaboh and Tapaktuan are the appointed locations to break up your journey temporarily, both have small hotels. The sunsets over the Indian Ocean are, depending on the weather and the time of the year, very beautiful.

From Banda Aceh towards the south is a road along the concrete-factory of Andalas near the beach of Lhoknga. After that, it ascends, through rough terrain, along fishermen-villages and bays full of brightly coloured boats. Between Lhong and Seuseu the road runs along a steep cliff, with a beautiful view over the Indian Ocean and the islands of Pulau Breueh and Pulau Peunasu just of the coast. After that the road descends towards a fall near Gunung Geureutee towards Lamno, a small and unimportant market place, where some inhabitants inherited blue eyes from the Portuguese sailors who arrived here in the 16th century.

Further south the road follows the coast, with a fierce ocean breaking it's waves. Four big rivers mouth in it, which have been bridged only for the recent years. In the right season jeruk bali are sold here.

North of Calang the road bends towards inland, around a protected, picturesque bay, before it follows it's southern route again along a rocky cape, swamps and sand beaches. Near Keudepasi it takes you a little inland to a fairly new bridge over the Krueng Woila. After that the road runs along coconut trees and casuarinas-trees towards Meulaboh, the harbor and the governmental centre of Aceh Barat. From here a ferry can bring you to Simeulue, a remote island just off the coast, known for it's production of clove.

On the beach north of the city is a monument for Teuku Umar, hero of the Aceh wars, which was killed by the Dutch in 1899 after he ran into an ambush. In the area of Meulaboh also is a big Indonesian/Belgian oil palm plantation and a airstrip. The mountainous inland of this area have been known for it's gold for a long time.

South of Meulaboh a road via Pekankuala and Pantai Seunagan towards Kutanibong. There it bends towards the inland and goes around a big swamp to eventually merge with the coast again near Blangpidia. Sixty kilometer ahead is Tapaktuan, also a small harbour and the governmental centre of South Aceh. From Pakatuan the road runs through mountainous, low populated areas towards the border of North Sumatra and the coffee area of the Dairi Batak around Sidikalang.

Wild water rafting on the Alas

The Alas is the longest river along the western coast of Sumatra. It starts high in the central highlands of Aceh and streams towards the south through Gunung Leuser National Park. This park has the most extended wildlife anywhere in Indonesia, with about 520 species of birds, 194 reptiles and 62 kinds of amphibious animals. Sobek, the American wildlife experts, organize rafting events on the Alas with experienced guides.

The river forms just an interesting challenge for most people. The rapids are in the third grade, between easy and dangerous. These four- to six-day journeys offer an exciting combination of wild water, unspoiled rainforests and rare animals. The chance of an unexpected encounter with a hoard of elephants or an orang-hutan is still there. Cold beer is available and the meals are perfect. This should be enough ingredients for a fantastic holiday.

Most people use Medan as the starting point of their journey: leave early in the morning for the eight-hour-trip via Berastagi and Kebanjahe to the Alas Valley. Luggage and passengers are transported in old buses. The first camp is located on the banks of the Alas above Kutacane. The guided cook the dinner, make the boats usable and learn everyone to set-up their tents.

The next morning it gets serious. After an early breakfast everyone gets into a life-jacket and get aboard on one of the yellow boats. The guides take their places in the middle, and push the boat of the sandbank. Soon the boat runs into the first rapids, caught in the grip of the Alas. The river flows along majestic trees: leaves form a thick wall of vegetation. Once in a while a monkey passes by.

At the end of the morning the boat floats through a cultivated flat area just before Kutacane, and the guides have to give hard labor to maintain some progress. The hot sun burns, and surprised villages wave friendly and shout 'da-da' (bye bye) or the more common 'Hallo Mister'. In the afternoon the tents are built up again.

When this happens in populated areas this will draw attention right away. Quietly they oversee the events and only to disappear when it's getting dark. Their departure is the sign to mosquito's to attack, so everyone seeks protection in their tents soon after, exhausted from the impressive day.

The following morning the best part of the journey starts, three easy days through astonishing and untouched ravines, every time in a different landscape. A symphony of rainforest noises can be heard: the rumour of the river mixes with the sounds of birds and monkeys. At the end of the fourth day a camp is set up near the merge with another river full of falls. From a branch you can enter the water, which will bring you to calmer water again, so you can get out.

The sixth day the boat crosses through the downstream parts of the river, pulled by an old river boat. The journey ends with six hours of travelling by bus, to Medan, with a break in the afternoon for coffee and fresh corn. Here you can get away from the group to make the journey along the western coast.

Last revised on September 02, 2011
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