Saturday, November 03, 2007

Indra Patra

After the wedding yesterday, Richard suggested we drive out to the beach, to a place called "Indra Patra." Right along side the beach are remains of enormous fortresses - of which there is known very little. All Richard could tell me is that the forts were probably built long before the Dutch and the British, and that they survived the tsunami with little to no damage. Even Desy, who had taken a high school class trip here, was hard pressed to give me details.

Even when I googled it, the only thing I could find in English was this:

"Indra Patra Fortress. This old fort was built during the time of Iskandar Muda. It probably functioned as a defense against invaders."

Cursory google searches have let me down. I believe that Iskandar Muda was one of the many sultans that have ruled Aceh through the ages, but that's my own best guess. Since my Rough Guide pooped out on me in terms of Aceh, I'm left to my own terrible Bahasa and my slow computer to discover things, so you'll have to bear with me.

What I do know, and am able to glean from Richard and others, is that Banda Aceh has historically been very independent. It was the first part of "Indonesia" to have been invaded by westerners - and it was the gateway of Islam into the rest of the country. And while very observant, I don't get the feeling that the brand of Islam around here is very virulent. Conservative, but there are no mullah "decency police" wandering around.

To know the root of the conflict in BA (because yes, there was major conflict here before the tsunami - and now there's a shaky peace agreement) is to try to understand the history of Indonesia. As Faisal was fond of saying last week, Indo is make up of over 3600 islands. Do you think they all wanted to be a part of this country? Heck, half of the island of Papua is part of Indonesia - but the other half got to be it's own country (Papau New Guinea). Who decided THAT?

The fact is, Indonesia today was, at one time, millions and millions of little city-states, under the rule of their own sultans. Aceh was at one time, a main trading port with the outside world. They have their own language, their own culture - and Jakarta is over 4 hours away by plane. Who's to say they should follow what Jakarta does? This is precisely (ok a bit more complicated of course but it's a small blog, ok?) what happened in East Timor as well. And, for that matter, if we're speaking simplistically, let's go with Yugoslavia too.

I forget where I'm going with this, except to say that there are layers and layers of history, culture and war here that, in one weekend, I can't even begin to fathom. In looking at the fortresses, I got that amazing feeling again - the one where you realize you would've never known this place existed if I'd never left home. There is so much to life I have no idea about, it's scary.

Anyway, it was bloody freakin' hot at the fortresses, so we hopped on over to the beach (photo in previous posting). Richard, who is this funny Australian man my company has employed in Aceh since 2005, is determined that I have a good time here, so he suggested that we all get coconuts to drink. Coconuts! Who's gonna say no to that?

But sure enough, five minutes in the car later, we pulled up to this beachside roadstop, grabbed a couple of benches and waited in the breeze while barman chopped open our coconuts. I was tempted to ask hiim to carve a face in mine, but good taste held me back :)

Anyway (and this must be the theme) it was not at all what I expected. Coconuts you normally think of from Hawai'i - or see in the grocery store - had nothing on these things. They were enormous! The barman had chopped off the bottom, to make it sit flat, and cut open a hole in the top, and served it with a spoon, a straw and either sugar or a lime. I joked that perhaps I could make a jack-o-lantern out of it when I was done.

Richard explained that different coconuts have different tastes. I was surprised to find that my coconut "milk" was a clear bitter water - not at all sweet or milk-like. It was kind of gross, actually. But Richard went on, stating that coconut "milk" is actually very good for you - life-sustaining actually - as it is full of minerals and vitimans - and a sterile, drinkable fluid in a place that doesn't have alot of that. "Nature's gatorade" is what he called it. So of course, I had to drink up (I added a lot of sugar, though).

I was also surprised by the nut flesh. I actually really love coconut - flavorings, shavings, you name it, I'll eat it. But I wasn't prepared for the soggy flesh of a coconut that still had the "milk" in it. It was white, yes, but it was slimey, squishy and soft. I scraped what I could from the side, which then landed in the "milk" which then clogged up my straw. Honestly, I was having a hard time. I finally resigned myself to sipping what I could from the hole and calling it a day.

As it turns out, it cost about $2.80 for five coconuts, a bottle of water and all the pre-packaged cookies you could shake a stick at. Not a bad haul for a Saturday afternoon!

Today I am off to see the rest of the "sights" of Banda Aceh. As it's Sunday, the day of rest, I am resigned NOT to work and to simply enjoy myself. If yesterday is any indication, I'm sure I'm in for a great time.

More later -

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