To be fair, I had read that Pulau Weh, an island off the north coast of Sumatra, was not a party place, but I figured New Year’s Eve would be the exception. After two overnight flights from Colombo to Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Lumpur to Banda Aceh, a thirty minute haggle with the taxi mafia at Banda Aceh airport, missing the fast ferry by one minute (was the $3 we saved worth it?), a three hour ferry exposed to the elements of first scorching sun and then torrential rain, and an hour motorbike-sidecar ride to the backpacker town of Iboih, we were ready for a drink.
After settling into our cheap bungalow overlooking the water we had settled on, we wandered back down the walking path to decide on a dive shop. Satisfied by the knowledge, reviews and friendly staff of Rubiah Tirta Divers, we signed up for diving the next afternoon (thinking we’d need the morning off to recover from the amazing New Year’s party we were sure to discover). By this point though, we had begun asking around to see if any celebrations might be going on, but were invariably met with the same response of “nope, no party”. To be clear, we weren’t expecting a raucous beach party, as we were aware we were in the State of Aceh, the most Muslim part of Indonesia, but the town was teeming with holidayers from the mainland and elsewhere, so we held out some hope.
Around 8pm we left our bungalow in search of beer. We knew it was technically illegal, but we also knew that the area of town we were staying in, beyond the hill, was usually left alone and many guesthouse owners would call out as you passed, asking if you wanted beer. We wandered up to a restaurant in search of such an offer and immediately ran into our dive shop’s owner, who wanted to know if we wanted to find a party. Pretty soon we were driving across the island to the main city of Sabang with Uri and his friend, towards the party. We stopped at the main market for some dinner, which was packed. Of course our meal choices consisted of nasi goreng (fried rice), which I was still sick of from my last trip to Indonesia six years prior, and an omelette. We went with the omelette. We were more hopeful when the waiter asked what we would like to drink, but sadly, beer was not on the list. Avocado juice, perhaps one the strangest and most delicious drinks I’ve ever had, was. It was good to be back in Indonesia!
Moving on, we drove to Casa de Nemo, a spot known for both live music, and beer. Things were looking up! When we arrived, the party was in full swing, with an amazing Indonesian cover band at the helm. Unfortunately, the establishment had recently been inspected, losing cases of beer (apparently they normally are able to serve beer by paying the police off, in beer of course, but this time it didn’t seem to work), so the only alcohol on the menu was rum. I’m pretty sure I’m allergic to rum, so I only had one drink. The band was great though, with tourists and locals alike dancing along. Our jaws even dropped when the lead singer took a request from the audience and suddenly became Michael Buble singing “Home”.
Moving on, we were told we could either go to a DJ show or to the beach with fireworks. We were in no mood for Indonesian electronic music in a sweaty club without beer, so we opted for the fireworks. Arriving at the beach, we couldn’t help but laugh, as we had just pulled up to a children’s carnival. As the hour hit midnight, we found ourselves saying cheers with cups of coffee (local Aceh brew) on plastic chairs, one or two fireworks going off in the distance. We couldn’t help but smile. Welcome to Indonesia.