Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Road to Bener Meriah I - Aceh, North Sumatera, Indonesia

Beyond this check point, we could only drive at the speed of 25 km per hour but most of the time lesser

We booked the tickets to Banda Aceh about three weeks before the earthquake of 6.2 magnitude in the epicenter of Kabupaten (province) Bener Meriah, Aceh, Indonesia.  Banda Aceh felt the tremor but was not affected...no change of plan, we are going and secretly, I was hatching a plan to go to Bener Meriah. Originally, we just want to be in Banda Meriah, performing terawih (Ramadhan prayers) in Baiturahman Mosque and visit the 2004 Tsunami sites. But upon hearing the earthquake in Bener Meriah, I wanted to visit the place.The news about a group of children perished under the shattered mosque while studying Quran touched my heart. I did an extensive search on how to get to Bener Meriah but this place seems to be in a very remote area in the mountainous part of Central Aceh. Even the NGOs find difficult to access certain areas and it took days before aid could reach the victims, roads had major cracks and landslides happened everywhere. I really don't know how I would get there.

Landslides all along the road to Bener Meriah
All went well, and on 21 July while I was queuing at the check-in counter, a friendly young Aceh lady approached me. "You're from Aceh?" she asked. From that point, we picked up a conversation and soon, we were talking about the earthquake. I asked her how I could get to Bener Meriah. I really do not know how in the world I could get there. Expressing my concern for the children studying in the temporary tents, I'm hoping to visit one of those camps. She looked at me seriously, paused and told me that it will take about 7 hours depending on the condition of the road after the quake.  She said, she would help me to get to Bener Meriah. My face was glowing, there's hope...I gave her my hotel name and she promised she'll look for someone reliable to take us to Bener Meriah.
Goodies for the kids

On arrival at Banda Aceh airport, Misbah anxiously introduced us to her family, her parents and siblings who were all at the airport to meet her. Everyone cheerfully greeted and welcomed us to Aceh...it felt like we've known them forever. We took a cab to the hotel  and their family's vehicle followed us...we had a short discussion on the trip to Bener Meriah at the hotel and we chose to make the trip the next day. 
At the hotel we packed the goodies

Late afternoon, we received a call from her brother, who managed to get us a driver and a car to drive us to Bener Meriah and Misbah kindly offered herself to accompany us all the way. We agreed on the price 450,000 Rupiah per day with vehicle and driver but excluding petrol.  Petrol price has recently gone up by 45% which makes transportation cost very expensive in this country but we have no other choice. We actually spent about 600,000 Rupiah on petrol for the whole trip. Relatively, it was still cheap for us and we took the deal right away.

After everything was sorted, she then left us for her hometown, Sigli about 3 hour drive from Banda Aceh. All agreed, the driver will pick us at the hotel at 6 am tomorrow, then picked Misbah in Meurdu and we'll be all the way to Kabupaten (District) Bener Meriah. I never imagined my journey will be so facilitated and what a blessing to meet the kind souls who seem to appear out of nowhere when I least expected! Alhamdullilah...

Misbah's house in Meurdu
Welcome to Bener Meriah

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