The bus ride from Parapat was 18 hours, so I crashed as soon as I arrived in Bukittinggi. A bustling town in the Minang Highlands, it was one of my last stops in Sumatra. I crashed on the roof of the Orchid Hotel before making my rounds the next day, ending up at Bedudal that night. On my third day in town, I rented a bike, $6 again, and headed off to Lake Maninjau.
Down into Sianok canyon and back up towards the ridge over the lake, jungle and rice paddies took turns straddling the road. I took it slow down the infamous 44 hairpin turns to the lake itself, descending into thicker, wetter jungle past gangs of monkeys lounging on the roadsides. I'd come this way in a bus a couple years before, and it was one of those bus rides where you think a lot about your own violent death, and how fitting it might be en route to such a random place.
It rained on the ride back, so I pulled over to join a group of Minang men, all huddled under the roof of a small shop in a cloud of Sampoerna smoke. Friendly as always, they talked a bit about Obama and asked about wives and religions, and I felt a first bit of nostalgia over my dwindling days in Indonesia.
Back in Bukittinggi, I headed down to Turret. I'd just been treated to some fantastic beef rendang when some familiar faces showed up in the cafe--friends met on my first visit. They joined in celebrating my last night in town.
Aceh's come a long way since Boxing Day, 2004. Just before the big wave hit, the battle between the Indonesian army and the Free Aceh Movement seemed geared to go on as many decades as it already had, while just after the water receded, the capital, Banda Aceh, was almost totally obliterated: over thirty thousand dead, the streets filled with bodies that could only be dumped into mass graves. Next came a flood of NGOs, substantial peace talks, years of intensive rebuilding and--despite the strict rule of Sharia law all across the remote province--a steadily growing trickle of tourists, most heading straight for Pulau Weh.
On the way to the harbor for my boat to Sabang, my becak driver pointed out some prominent reminders of the tsunami: giant boats that remain where they washed up nearly nine years ago. Some are several miles from the coast, sitting right on top of the homes and bodies they crushed. They're part of the neighborhood now, towering over the new houses and back-to-normal routines.