Padang  and  Mentawai Islands

21 - 27 December 2007 Padang

Once back from KL we were able to get to the mechanics to try and sort out our car problems. The diagnosis was a blown head gasket probably due to water getting into our fuel. Not sure how it happened probably a bad batch of fuel. The spare parts needed had to be ordered from Medan so all in all the car was going to be out of action for a week. We decided to head out to the Mentawai islands off the West coast to wait this out. In the meantime we had a very understated Xmas in Padang. We had planned to spend it by the pool in  one of the big hotels (you can pay just to use facilities) but the rain all day was torrential, so we vetoed that one.  For most people who were Moslem it was business as usual so it was an incredibly low key Xmas, we had lunch at Papa Ron's an Indonesian Pizza Hut ………..maybe turkey next year !!

Hope you all had happy healthy Xmas seasons, thanks for all the emails.

27 December 2007 - 3 January 2008 the Mentawai Islands

Whilst just 150km from the mainland these islands have remained virtually isolated until recent years. When we tried to get there we began to appreciate why! We were not helped by the fact that all the tourist info centres had shut down (they would have an Xmas holiday!) we kept getting confusing contradictory stories re the timings/venues for the ferry. Thus we took an extremely over crowded bus (always room for one more here) out to Bugis 20 km south of Padang. We had to push the bus to start it, and then took the last seats which were over the engine so we were both shifting around by the time we were dropped off, definitely the hot seats! Unfortunately we were dropped off at the wrong place and had to hail another bus back. Finally getting to the port, we were told that the ferry didn't go for 2 days. We had been going to Sipora the more southern island which was excellent for surfing, but determined to get somewhere after spending the whole day trying,  we got back on a bus to Padang where we caught the other ferry to Siberut the more northern island, with the plan of catching another ferry down to Sipora later in the week for Andrew to go surfing.

We took a cabin on the way over.. forget any visions of cruise ships this was a shared room of 6 bunks which unfortunately for me were very short but had hard ends. Thus I spent all night trying to fold my legs out of the way. Arrived at the main port at 5am in the dark, feeling a bit bleary. We had met some nice people Yan and Carrie from Holland/England and we all wandered down to the nearby National Park to book into the Losmen there. It soon became clear this was not happening as the earthquake in September (8.2 on the richter scale) had completely destroyed them, the piered foundations having totally collapsed. After asking around we decided to head to Muarasiberut the main town. Here we booked into the town's only losman. We quickly found a guide (a boy named) Su, and arranged to go up the jungle by boat to Rorogot a traditional village where we would stay with a native family in their Uma (communal home) for 3 days. We had to go by "speed boat" which turned out to be a 45 foot long boat with 15hp Yamaha attached. Traditional boat building is very much in evidence all over the island which Andrew very much enjoyed. The river is still a major thoroughfare and the main means of transport and we passed many traders on the way. When we arrived we were made very welcome by Bay Yeresit the lady of the house, her daughter Nini and her nephew Armi who was visiting for the school holidays. Her husband Aman Yeresit was away in town and joined us the next day.

The house was a traditional Uma with kitchen at the rear (all scraps are thrown out the back for the pigs) and open plan sleeping/living quarters. It was elevated over the ground by 1 metre with room for the pigs underneath. The house was traditionally decorated with the skulls of monkeys and pigs. All ceremonial items (drums/tools/wooden carvings) were hung on the walls. The people still remain very traditional wearing loin cloths and covered in traditional tattoos, which are sort of wedding jewelry, husband and wife sharing the same design.  The bathroom arrangements were very rudimentary basically the river serving as the sole  source of water. As it had rained heavily for a while it was very muddy. There was a system of logs to walk along to keep you out of the mud but as I have bad feet I couldn't balance so spent much of the time sloshing knee deep through mud so attempts to keep clean were futile!

We learnt a lot of how the people live and it was a fascinating insight into a people whose life unchanged for centuries is now under threat due to government logging practices. We tried our hands at fishing  in specially prepared banana skirts (one shrimp only!) as well as making loin cloths out of tree bark, and learning how to make poison for arrow tips (might come in useful back in the corporate world!)

As I said the experience was fascinating and the villagers were lovely people, as were Yan and Carrie whose company we very much enjoyed. The whole experience though was slightly marred for me by the fact I got a bit sick ..too much wallowing in pig mud! Think we were all glad to return to the relative luxury of Muarasiberut for New Years Eve and a few cold Bintangs!

NYE was fairly low key, we were all struggling to stay awake till midnight, enjoyed my  first night back in a bed (we had done it native style in the Uma - no mattress - mosquito nets only on bare floor boards) and  slept really well.


We were supposed to catch the ferry back on 1st January but it was cancelled as it was a holiday. The next ferry was due on Thursday so we tried to find something to do. This is where it was a bit annoying. The ferry we had been told about between the islands didn't exist and in the absence of this the only way to get about on  the island - to get to the other islands out to the surf breaks or anywhere really - was by speed boat. There was a heavy cartel operating which meant that to do anything cost 1 million rupees which was ridiculous. We resigned ourselves to a couple of quiet days ..not much to do and -horror of horrors!- it was a dry island as we had singlehandedly wiped out the supply of Bintang! Just when we thought it couldn't get worse we were told that the Thursday ferry was now cancelled. As there was a ferry going from the next island that night we had to bite the bullet and pay for the speed boat between islands. This was expensive but worthwhile as  the journey through the jungle and across the ocean was beautiful and from our brief look around it Sipora looked a lovely island. The overnight ferry across was a bit more luxurious than that out. Andrew and Carrie had been watching the movie "The Bourne Identity" when just at a good bit they took it off….Andrew went to chase up the captain who was apparently also driving the DVD and was told it would be put back on at 7am. As we got in at 6am this was a bit irrelevant ..but thankfully we arrived back in one piece once more at Bungus 20km south of Padang. This time poor Yan (who is much taller than me) got the cramped hot seat over the engine …but at last hurrah we were safely back in Padang!   Now to see how the car is doing!