Tej Turner has been featured in the online literary magazine Upcoming4.me as part of their ‘Story behind the Story’ series. In this guest article he discusses some of his inspirations behind his debut novel The Janus Cycle, as well as the process of getting it published and a few other things.
14th-19th December, 2014
During my time on Pulau Weh I stayed at Yulia’s Guest House. It may not have had a sandy beach but its restaurant area balanced over the water, and the background sound of waves breaking against the rocks, more than made up for that.
I was a little tired from my jungle trek and my bus journey through the Gayo Highlands, so I didn’t do much at first. I rested, slept, and the next day I woke up with enough energy to jump into the sea and swim over to the nearby Rubiah Island for some snorkelling. There wasn’t much coral – much of it had been swept away by the tsunami in 2004 – but there was lots of fish, and I even spotted a moray. There are some efforts currently underway to create an artificial reef, and on the day I was there I witnessed some divers busily attaching corals to concrete objects which had been dropped to bottom of the seabed, to help encourage more to grow on them.
When I swam back to Yulia, Dominique had arrived and was sat in the restaurant area. For those of you who haven’t read my other blogs; Dominique is a Canadian girl I keep bumping into because we are taking similar routes through Sumatra. The last time I saw her was at Lake Toba, but we already knew when we parted back then that our paths would cross again. She had a new friend with her; Oleg, a young German man she met on the boat.
After a quick catch up over breakfast, the three of us wandered over to Iboih Dive Centre: Dominique was interested in getting her PADI Open Water Diver certificate, and Oleg and I were just interested in general diving. The prices we were quoted were remarkably cheap (probably the cheapest I have come across in Asia so far) and the outfit seemed quite professional, so I told them I would be going under with them the next morning.
Over the two days which followed, I ended up blowing the last of the funds that I had put aside for diving. I saw barracudas, turtles, several mimic octopi which we watched for a while as they shifted their shapes to impersonate the corals around them, dozens of morays, and countless of other species that I cannot even name. Most rewarding though, for me, was the underwater landscapes of dramatic canyons, caves and ocean walls – all covered in beautiful coral, and teeming with schools of fish.
I spent the rest of my time on Pulau Weh relaxing: I read books while lazing in my hammock, wandered around Iboih, I made a few friends, and in the evenings I ate at Oongs Restaurant, where Oong herself a cooked up a delicious family style buffet dinner of vegetables and fish every night.
On my final day there it was raining but I knew that, despite this, there was one last thing I needed to do before I left: a motorcycle tour.
I still had not got back behind the wheel since my little accident on Lake Toba, and it felt like something I needed to do soon to regain my confidence. Pulau Weh was an ideal place for this because the roads are good and there are some attractions around the island which I wanted to check out, so, I packed my raincoat, snorkel and a bottle of water into my daypack, and set off.
I drove quite slowly and carefully at first, but I soon got the hang of it again and within a few minutes I was roaming around with confidence. Aneuk Laot Lake and the volcano near Jaboi village were both quite disappointing, to be honest – the lake was not very pretty and surrounded by sludgy banks and houses, and the volcano didn’t have a crater and was just a sulphurous gash in the mountain – the coastal road, however, was great.
What I did find very interesting was the underwater volcano which is just off the shore from a beach near Gapang. It didn’t take long to find it; I just swam out and suddenly found myself surrounded by bubbles escaping from a series of fumaroles. They were only about 10 meters down, so it was very easy to duck dive and get a closer look at the volcanic cracks on the ocean floor.
More photos from Pulau Weh can be found on my Flickr.
12th-13th December, 2014
I had just returned from a trek which had been organised through Johan from Wisma Cinta Alam guest house, so it was there that I spent the rest of the day relaxing upon my return to Ketambe village. My guide had suddenly turned ill four days in, so the trek had been cut short. They offered to take me out the next day or for another night walk, but I declined, deciding that there didn’t seem much point in venturing back to the jungle just for a mere few hours: I was back in civilisation now, and the spell had been somewhat broken. I began to make preparations for the next stages of my journey through Sumatra.
Shaved and showered, I put on a clean set of clothes and sat by the river for most of the day while going through all the photos I had taken. Johan came and sat with me for a while and we chatted. His brother and neighbour, Sam – a local ranger whom I met before the trek – also came over to say hello. They seemed to be a very nice family.
I left the following morning on a minibus heading north, along a road which cut through the middle of Gunung Leuser National Park. It passed through lots of small villages, and the mountain views were incredible at times.
I was heading deeper into the Aceh province, which is Sharia Law territory. Well, technically, anything north of Kutacane (a town I stayed in on my way to Ketambe) is governed by Aceh and under Sharia Law, but these people, who have lived for generations in the forested highlands, were Gayo long before they were Aceh and are a little harder to tame. They all call themselves ‘Muslim’ now, if asked, but many of them drink beer, pray very little, and are far from devout.
A bus change in Blankenjeren, and then it was a further six hours of winding mountain roads until I reached Takengon; a charming little highland town nestled by the side of Laut Tawar Lake.
I had four hours to wait until my sleeper bus to Banda Aceh, so I went for a walk. This was obviously not a place very used to seeing foreigners: wherever I walked children (and even some adults) ran out of their houses to yell random, nonsensical phrases at me, like; “Good morning” (it was evening), “Thank you” (what for?), “Wasyur name?” (“Tej”), “Where you going?” (I don’t know, I’m just walking…), and, of course, the usual; “Hey meister!”
I eventually spotted another Caucasian person; a girl whose name I have forgotten but she was very nice, and she seemed quite excited to see another foreigner. I was on my way back to the bus station at the time, but we quickly ate nasi goreng together while she told me how she had been living there for over six months while working on a project to teach the locals to make bricks which are more earthquake proof.
And then I went back to catch my bus. ‘Sleeper’ wasn’t quite a fitting description, as it was actually a minibus and the seats didn’t recline. I closed my eyes thought hopefully of sleep.