After nearly 200 years of war, the Acehnese of Sumatra could have kept fighting for independence. But then came the tsunami. In 2004, a 30-meter high wave swept away most of the Aceh coast, leaving death, pestilence and suddenly, silence, in its wake.
The gunfire stopped. Guerillas came out of the jungles and mountains to find their families and villages gone. To allow aid into their area of Indonesia, Acehnese rebels were forced to declare a ceasefire, and ultimately signed a peace agreement to end the insurgency. The Free Aceh Movement (GAM) disbanded their military wing. The rebels dispersed.
But what do adolescent freedom-fighters do when their cause, their families, their villages and farms are all carried away in a single natural disaster?
Tourism. Having given up the revolutionary ghost, Acehnese ex-militants have turned to taking (mostly Western) tourists through their old stomping grounds. The jungle treks lead to improvised armories and hideouts, and provide opportunities to teach asymmetric combat tactics.
Twenty-three former freedom-fighters now cater to adventure tourists, and call their business Jelajah Aceh. Their Facebook page capitalizes on Free Aceh Movement’s bloody past, featuring testimonials like this:
“Marjuni Ibrahim, 28, joined GAM when he was 20. While his group of about 20 GAM fighters lived in the jungle for days at a time, they had to leave the jungle periodically to pick up provisions at an agreed location. "I was most scared coming down from the jungle in case the TNI was there," he said. They drank water from waterfalls, and if they missed their food drop, had to live off whatever they could find to eat in the jungle.
His unit was high on the hill when the tsunami hit Aceh on December 26, 2004, with a noise so loud they thought it was an aerial bombing. “We saw it come in and we were very scared," said Marjuni, whose sister and parents died.”
Now you can hire Marjuni to lead you to an old skirmish areas, find photo ops with old army graffiti and other reminders of the conflict that left the blood of 15,000 Acehnese freedom fighters and Javanese soldiers on the ground. Tours also come with breakfast.