The first time I heard of Banda Aceh was in the aftermath of the tsunami in December 2004. I remember one of the journalists from TVE reporting from Banda Aceh and being stunned by the magnitude of the disaster, but also by the beauty of the images shown on TV. Banda Aceh was the province closest to the epicentre of the earthquake and where the waves caused most deaths.
Almost five years after we experience Banda Aceh as a city with busy markets, lots of traffic and beautiful mosques. The damages of the tsunami, however, are visible around town.
On our bus ride from the airport to town, we passed by beautiful coconut and banana trees and very green rice paddies. What a strong contrast to the coastal area which is still bleak and where reforestation is in progress.
Some house have been rebuilt, others are still waiting for their turn. Many hotels e.g. have not reopened after the tsunami allowing hotel prices to soar.
Now that most of the NGOs which helped to rebuild the area have left town and the political tension of separatist movement has eased, the government seeks to reestablish Banda Aceh as a tourist destination for beach tourism.
We hire a betjak, a motorbike with a side car where Oskar and I and even our two travelbags fit “nicely”, and and ask the driver to take us to the two boats now in the middle of the city that remain as tsunami landmarks. The first boat, a mid size fisherboat sits on the roof of a house.
The other one, a huge boat which produced electricity is also stranded in a residential neighbourhood, it was thrown 3 km land inwards by the power of the wave.
We also try to visit the newly built Tsunami museum, but always find its doors closed.
We spend some time in the big patio of the museum, observing the locals and thinking about Banda Aceh and its future. In the days in Banda Aceh we did not see any other Western tourists. With the past years of tsunami, terrorism of the separatists, will the tourists return to Banda Aceh and find peace on its pristine beaches? Inshallah.
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