Admittedly, Mentawai has never occurred to me before as a holiday destination. It was more a place to learn about tattoos, a place where anthropologists would camp out and do their research. This may have been the case four decades ago, but after recently spending a short time in Siberut , Tuapejat and Simakakang, I seriously believe that the parameter of travelers have extended to the non-research related ones. The Garuda Destination magazine once described Mentawai as an “edge of the world” kind of experience and to a certain extent, yes, it does have that feel, but it is so much more than being remote and alien.
1. Indulge in Mentawai’s first stop = Padang
With 20 flights boarding daily from Jakarta, and just two hours away, Padang is the easiest and the tastiest leg of your Mentawai trip. Book your ferry or Mentawai Fast tickets and arrive 24 hours prior to your boat departure time in Padang. Spend the day and night sightseeing and sampling culinary delights, sleep it off in one of Padang’s hotels and head out to the harbor at midnight or early morning the next day. I mean, there are worse ways of transiting, don’t you think?
2. Live like a sailor
There is no way around the water when traversing the Mentawai islands and it will build you a heck of a sailor character! From ferries, to speedboats, to longboats, to “pompongs”, we have experienced it all. To get to the main villages in Siberut we could either take a motorbike “mudrally” style, or sail the river in a wooden pompong. Not for the faint of heart, but the breathtaking forest scenery (+ a modest dose of Antimo) will make everything worth while and unleash your inner Popeye.
3. Meet the clans
The marketing hook of guided tours to the villages in the deep forests of Siberut is to “see the primitive lives of natives before they get sweeped away by modernization”. To tell you the shocking truth, there are no primitives to begin with. We visited Madobag and Saliguma and they have an elementary school with organic and non-organic trashbins. None of them are wearing tribal gear on a day-to-day basis and everyone is clad in T-shirts and jeans. The people are extremely proud of their culture and tradition, and they love to show you their heritage and their “uma”. For the right amount and through the proper guides, they are willing to re-create their nomad hunter and tribal lifestyle. We met a couple from Israel who took their 3 young kids to the village for a 3-day native experience. They made kabit (a loincloth from tree barks), went out for a hunt, made poison arrows and slept near the pigs. It was one of their most unforgettable experiences ever.
Website: Mentawai tour guide, reginaadventures.com, ineedtoiletpaper.com
4. Disappear in the resorts
Don’t you ever feel like you’re in Jakarta after bumping into so many familiar faces at the W in Seminyak? These bump-ins are likely not going to happen when you stay at one of the resorts in Mentawai. Aside from the four main islands Siberut, Sipora, North Pagai and South Pagai, there are between 70 to 200 islets across the Mentawai archipelago, some of them carefully and beautifully transformed into resort and surf sanctuaries. We stayed at the Aloita and the only bump-ins we had was with a group of surfers, the owners and huge schools of flying fish. It’s perfect when you want to be unreachable for a week or so because signals are hard to find in Mentawai. For IDR 30,000 a day however, the friendly staff at Aloita will provide you wifi via satelite.
Website: mentawai-travel.com, aloitaresort.com