When most people think about Sabang, they think about diving. For good reason – the diving spots here are among the best in the world. But there’s more to Sabang than diving, as I discovered by chance. It also has biker chicks.
After yet another fabulous weekend of diving, I took the minibus to Balohan, where the ferry port is. But for the first time ever, I could not get a ticket. Normally you can get on the boat by slipping some cash to the crew. But this time it was impossible. When the boat pulled away from the dock, there were people literally hanging off the railings. Definitely a game for younger people than myself.
Luckily, my Indonesian is now good enough to get me through situations like this. I found a little hotel nearby for only 60,000 Rp, leaving just enough for the return ticket and a few meals. Then I decided to go for a good long walk. I was quite a sight – a foreigner huffing along on foot, gushing with sweat. My biggest problem was turning down offers for rides. Saya jalan-jalan saja, I explained. I'm just going for a walk.
But then I had an offer I couldn't refuse: from a woman on a motorbike! In Aceh, this was too exciting an opportunity to turn down. Besides, it was beginning to get dark. So I hopped on the back and off we went. She took me on a motorbike tour of Sabang City, a small but quaint town with hints of the Dutch colonial era.
Sabang is largely unknown to the outside world today. But it was not always so. According to local lore, Sabang’s port was once busier than Singapore's. It has a natural deep water port and is strategically located near shipping routes in the Malacca Strait. In 2000, it was declared a Free Trade Zone. There are now plans to develop the port for trans-shipping throughout the region with the Dublin Port Company. If this happens, Sabang could become an important place.
We had a bite to eat and we chatted in Indonesian. She wasn't wearing a headscarf. When I asked her why, she explained that she didn't need one because she was wearing a helmet. Apparently the Sharia police are too few in number in Sabang to pose a serious threat, and in comparison with other parts of Aceh, the people are laid back about these things.
Afterwards, she took me along Gapang Bay. The sight of the sun setting behind the mountains, glimmering over the bay, was stunning. I tried to capture the beauty with my cheap cell phone camera. Even at low resolution, it is fabulous.
Afterwards, she dropped me off at the hotel. I gave her 20,000 Rp. for petrol, a small price to pay for such an extraordinary evening. The next morning I woke up early and battled the crowds for a ticket. It was marvelous to take the ferry early in the morning, with mountains and island and ocean and sky all around me. But the memory of my trip on the motorbike was much better, definitely the highlight of my brief, wonderful time in this magical place.