No fancy boats, but plain and simple! This is how the local people of the Mentawai live.

The Mentawai are known for its big and beautiful waves. The tropical surf spots attract people (mostly guys) from all over the world, who pay a fortune to go at a big, luxurious charter boat and to chase the waves. Most western people, and especially the surfers, often forget though that the Mentawai are also a couple of tropical islands, where local, often poor people live.

At North pagai, one of the southern islands of the Mentawai, I got the opportunity to spend five days with a local family. Reno Lainge Baje Sapalakai and his dad (Hendri Nasrani Sapalakai) gave me the possibility to stay with them and to see how they and their family are living. In short. Where the Western surf charter boats are very luxurious, the houses of the local people are not. Most houses are constructed of wood and they are built by the people themselves! Reno and his dad spend days to redecorate their existing house and they make their own chairs, their own tables and their own balconies. And if something is broken, they don’t call a company, but they fix it themselves.

Jali (Reno’s uncle) with the banana’s and Reno who’s picking coconuts

Most of the houses are built on the water front and it is no surprise that a tsunami or an earthquake could do big harm out here. Maybe not at Sikakap itself, because its located between a couple of islands, but at other islands like Simeulue the tsunami of 2014 caused a lot of damage. A lot of houses were destroyed and in the province of Aceh a lot of people were killed.

Reno has a big family (his dad has 11 brothers and sisters) and his family is strongly represented in Sikakap and the island of North Pagai. His dad sits in the parliament of the Mentawai, but he spends most of his time working on the guesthouse that Reno wants to construct. These guys don’t fool around. They work day and night! Don’t be surprised if you still find them working at 03.00 o clock at night. They make a lot hours, but your never hear them complain. Reno’s dad likes to sing when he is cutting the wood or constructing a chair. Sometimes they are so got up in their work that they forget to eat and forget the time. If you are building a guesthouse with your own (bare) hands, it takes time!

We also got the opportunity to visit Reno’s uncle Jali who lives in the jungle. Jali works as a security guard at the government, but most of the time he works as a farmer. He has small wooden house in the jungle, with only a few things in there. A fire, a chair and a bed (I haven’t seen it though) are all that his wife and his two young children need. It is amazing to see how these people can live in these simple conditions and still be happy. You don’t need all that luxury if you can live in nature and live from everything that is growing around you.

Around his house Jali planted a lot of banana trees, (a bunge of banana’s will earn him 15 dollars) a local fruit which I consider as lychee and lot of other plants, that give the uncle enough money and food to live from. The whole family works at the farm and grandfather (who lost most of his teeth) lives with them. This is how a lot of local people in the Mentawai live and that is what most charter boats, when they float around to find waves, seem to forget. There is nothing wrong with chasing the waves of your life, but it would be good to do something back for the local people. To give them a bit of money or other means, where they can improve their life with. Because these people are not only local and a bit poor, but also some of the nicest people in the world.

Dreamsurf in the Mentawai

Surfing the Mentawai. Isn’t that the dream of every surfer? This summer I got the opportunity to travel through Indonesia for a month and to explore several islands of this diverse, spread out country. After one week in Simeulue my next destination were the Mentawai. The tropical islands which are in front of Sumatra and that are known for its heavy, but beautiful waves. After my first struggle to find a safe and decent place to stay, I found the waves that I was looking for.

The surf in Simeulue was pretty heavy last week. I managed myself well out there, but I was a bit nervous to go surfing in the Mentawai. What if I would only find heavy, shallow reef breaks? I am not a bad surfer; I have been surfing for 16 years. But I am also not a professional surfer and if the surf gets bigger than 8 foot I can also get scared. After seeing also those videos of beautiful, but heavy surf, I was a bit nervous about my surf trip in the Mentawai.

Well, too be short. Those nerves were unnecessary! Eric of (a surfcamp called the Southern Mentawai Outpost) was an amazing surf guide for the first two days and he showed me that there are several spots in the Mentawai, where you can find easy, fun, but sometimes also fast waves. My first encounter with the surf spot called Roxies was a bit unfortunate, because after my seasickness I was too weak to handle those (big) waves. But on the last few days I had a blast with surfing Roxies. I love that spot!

We found some good waves there. Sometimes they were a bit fast and you could even find barrels there. But in general the waves at Roxies (a right hand point break) were just fun and easy to surf. After the heavy surf in Simeulue it was a relieve to find some easy, fun waves. One afternoon Eric and I just had the surf spot for ourselves and the other day I surfed there with three local kids.

This is why I love surfing. To have fun in the water, to play in the waves and to chill. After surfing for two days with Eric, I moved to Reno’s guesthouse called Oinan’s and I continued surfing with him. Reno is a local boy of 28 years old, that grew up in the Mentawai. For about 10 years he lived in Bali though and that’s why his English is pretty good.

Reno understands what having fun is and it has been wonderful to surf with him. He got a small boat from his dad and we used that to come around. His whole family helped with getting his boat ready and after some work on the motor, we were ready to go. It felt like an adventure to go out on a small speedboat, while all the international surf charters float around on big charter boats. It took us 45 minutes to get out to Roxies and it was fantastic. For about 5 hours we had the whole spot for ourselves. First it was a bit messy, but after that the wind went down and we surfed on glassy, head high waves for 2 hours straight. With nobody else in the water. This is what surfing in the Mentawai is about. This is every surfer’s dream and we managed to find it. That is an incredible feeling and I can’t wait to find more!

Scary moments on the Mentawai

Scary moments on the Mentawai

The Mentawai. The tropical islands in the Indian Ocean where every surfer dreams of going. With the most beautiful waves in the world! And I got the possibility to go there. Wowwww!! Isn’t that amazing.

But before I went there, I was going back and forward between my feelings of excitement and feelings of fair. ,,Don’t die out there, ok’’ a friend of mine said. ,,Please, be safe.’’ Two Australian guys, that I met on the island of Simeulue, made it worse. ,,Are you sure that you want to surf there? In the Mentawai you will only find heavy and nasty barrels. Are you up for that?’’

Because of all these comments I almost decided not to go, but Ian, one of the owners of a surfcamp on the Mentawai, convinced me to go after all. He said that besides the heavy reef breaks there, there are also more protected spots and that it would be fun to surf those waves.

Well, the travelling from the island of Simeulue to the most southern island of the Mentawai (Sibaru) was a nightmare. If you go travelling in Indonesia, don’t expect to travel easy and quick. It took me 2,5 days to get from Simeulue to the Mentawai. In short: one flight with a small propeller plane from Simeulue to Medan, a flight from Medan to Padang with a lot of waiting on the airport and 6 hours by boat to get from Padang (Sumatra) to Sikakap. Well, I sail catamarans in Holland, but I am not used to these kind of waves. Because of the bouncing and the turbulence of the boat I threw up 5 times and the most of the time between Padang and Sikakap I was lying flat on the floor of the boat. It was probably not in the best shape to arrive on the Mentawai but hey, I was there.

Eric, the other owner of the surfcamp, picked me up from the boat and he immediately showed me a good surf spot, called Roxies. Roxies is a fun and easy wave, but if it gets bigger than 6-8 foot its transforms in a heavy barrel. I decided to go for a surf anyway to experience my first surf session in the Mentawai. Well, it was good to be out there, but it wasn’t easy. The waves were pretty fast (closing out or just barrelling, just how you see it) and my weak condition after throwing up 5 times, didn’t make it any better. After another bumpy ride on Eric’s boat, I was glad to arrive on the small island, where his surfcamp was located.

Eric’s wife gave me a wonderful meal and I was happy with that. But then adventure for me begin. At least in my perception. The surfcamp is located on a small island, with nothing there but the surfcamp itself, which is made of 3 wooden huts and a kitchen. It is a beautiful place with palm trees, white beaches, a heavy surfbreak called thunders and a lot of jungle. It is beautiful, but personally I also found it a bit scary to be so far away from civilization. It takes 60 minutes to get from this island to Sikakap (the first real village), so if you need any medical help, you need to be sure that you don’t need it immediately. Eric is a smart guy and he is pretty handy guy, but I thought it was not a smart idea to be totally dependent of him.

They have built two beautiful huts on the island, where you can sleep in. The huts don’t have a real door though (only a net) and that made me think as well. There I was, lying on my bed, in a small hut with the jungle next to me. I am born and raised in Amsterdam (in Holland) and I am not used to the Indonesian jungle. How could I be sure that there weren’t any snakes that wanted to come in? Besides all the mosquitos which were present, I spent some time thinking about all the other animals that could come in. It was a beautiful hut, but I saw a rat passing by in my hut and my bag with valuable stuff was run over by ants. For a long time I couldn’t fall asleep. To be honest, I was too afraid to fall asleep.

I read for a couple of hours and in the end I called my best friend. I was crying! She told me that it would all be okay and said to me that I should do what was best for me. I gave it some thought and the next morning I decided that it would be better to find another place in Sikakap. Eric and his wife were very nice people, but I didn’t feel safe out there. Besides all their good efforts to make me feel at home there, I didn’t want to stay there. I did not want to be dependent on one person to get me in to safety when there was trouble. And I did not want to have to travel 60 minutes with a small boat to see a doctor. Besides all the animals, that was the main reason to leave. I felt bad for Eric and his wife, but I also felt that it was my own responsibility to feel safe.

After some searching I found a nice homestay called Oinan’s, which is located next to the river in Sikakap. They are still redecorating Oinan and it is not the most fancy place where you can stay in, but at least it was safe! Reno, the owner, and his dad are two lovely guys from the Mentawai, who immediately gave me a very warm feeling. They made me feel at home. Besides that it was also nice to have my own room (with a lock on the door) and to stay in the small local town called Sikakap.

On my next blog I will write about the surf in the Mentawai.