Mentawais, West Sumatra

I have to open with a big “Bravo” to Team New Zealand winning the Americas Cup.  It seemed incredible to be able to watch live coverage of the racing from our remote anchorage here in the Mentawai Islands, West Sumatra.  We could only imagine the vibes back in New Zealand, on the water, from all the vantage points over the Waitemata harbour and then the Viaduct harbour as the teams came in.

I have been reading “Temple To The Wind” by Christopher Pastore, about how, Nathaneal Herreshoff was designing yachts for the Americas Cup against the Royal Yacht Club back in 1902. This was 120 years ago, the same time as the Wright brothers were experimenting and designing their aeroplane using foil shapes to get lift off the ground. “Nat” Herreshoff talked about incorporating  foils into his designs, even back then, to give more lift to his sailing yachts. Imagine what he would think seeing today’s AC 75’s.

The Mentawai Islands are a chain of about 70 islands and islets off the western coast of Sumatra. Surfing tourism has put the Mentawais on the global tourism map and all around the coast line of the whitest sandy beaches, dozens of surf resorts are tucked away amid the swaying coconut palms in this remote part of the world. The waters are crystal clear and diving on the coral reefs is popular, but it is for the world renowned all year perfect waves that the surfers swarm here.

However, now there are no surfers, no tourism at all, as the world adjusts to Covid 19 restrictions.  Many of the beautiful resorts are falling into disrepair as there is no money coming in to maintain the facilities.  Some owners, managers or caretakers stay around in the hope that business will start up again, but as time goes by, that is becoming less and less of a reality. As we sailed down through the islands, we called in to some of these beautiful resorts and were warmly welcomed by the owners at Kandui Resort, Kandui Villas and Togat Nusa Resort at Pittojet.

Everyone we have met has been really lovely and very interesting from literally all around the world, South Africa, Australia, Italy, Brazil, Peru, New Zealand, USA, Slovenia, Japan, all who love the lifestyle here in Indonesia. But for how much longer????

Under normal circumstances, surfers from all around the world would fly into the International Airport in Jakarta, and then take an internal flight to Padang where a charter boat is waiting to take them to one of the dozens of surf resorts scattered throughout the Mentawai Islands.

Dozens of these boats have now been tied up in the river in Padang, or anchored off down the coast, unused, for the past 18 months, slowly falling into disrepair, the owners unable to afford to maintain them while waiting for business to resume. It is really sad, as the resorts gave employment to hundreds of local people from work in the resorts, running the boats and growing produce and fishing to supply the restaurants.

For the past several weeks we have been anchored in Pototogat, on the northern tip of the island of Sipora. This is a popular, well protected anchorage, in range of a cell phone tower, which gives us good internet access. Plus we can find all our basic provisions in the small town of Tuapejat, just a couple of miles away. The fast ferry from Padang comes here 3 times a week, delivering supplies and fresh produce to the island.

Being right on the equator, we are blessed with the most incredible cloud formations and a rainbow of colours, which announce the arrival of very impressive thunder storms.  Rarely have I seen anything like it.  Real live entertainment everyday as we sit in the cockpit watching the sun setting amidst all the clouds.

Leaving Mai Tai at anchor here, Lane and I took the ferry over to Padang, a 3hr fast trip to this city of 8 million inhabitants, to check out some of the supply shops over there. The city is so spread out that we never got the feeling of being in a big city (no high rises or shopping malls) but did admire the exquisite traditional designs of major banks, government buildings, Traditional Museum and the main city Mosque.

We were introduced to a young man named Bayu who runs a family laundromat in Padang.  He speaks excellent English and is happy to receive any packages or mail sent to us. This is such a blessing as we have been able to order a few things we needed from Amazon, or from home and know they can be handled safely as the local postal service is virtually non-existent.

We spent a day with Bayu driving up into the mountains behind Padang, 3 hrs of roads winding up through tropical forest, rice paddies, waterfalls and monkeys, to arrive in a place called Bukittinggi.  This city was Indonesia’s capital for 2 years, 1948 and 1949, during a time of interim government.  We lunched at a traditional food hall as Bayu was keen for us to try some of the specialties that Sumatra is famous for, especially Rendang dishes which are very hot and spicy.  We tried his Teh Telua, which is tea with egg yolk, sugar and lime. It sounded weird but was absolutely delicious.  Also, the fruit, Bengkuang, which is only found in Sumatra. We were so lucky to have Bayu to share his extensive local knowledge with us.

We need to stock up Mai Tai for our ongoing journey, but lately, it has been more and more difficult to find Western style food.  One year ago, we could order in things like meats, bacon, large blocks of cheese, breakfast cereals and a good variety of quality canned goods.  Thanks to the numbers of European visitors, large supplies of these foods were brought in for the hotels and resorts.  But now the local shops are not restocking these goods and as from last week I have not been able to buy any more cheese!!!!!! Help!!!!

I did find some remaining Weetbix though, and I can make my own muesli. Things are getting tough when I have to survive without cheese, so it is definitely time to move on.

In order to board the ferry for the return trip out to the islands, we needed to show a negative PCR result.  There is no Covid here in Tuapejat, and they want to keep it that way.

In our last blog we talked about heading straight for the Seychelles from here, but we would prefer to go further south to Mauritius. Mauritius has closed its borders at the moment, but if these are open to cruising boats by the time we leave here in May, that is where we will be going first. I have a first cousin, whom I have never met, who has been living there for over 50 years. I am eager to meet her and all her extended family, who are also keen to show us around Mauritius.  We will head north to the Seychelles after that.

The time to leave here will not be before May, which is when the cyclones cease to form in the Southern Indian Ocean bringing strong headwinds and heavy seas, and for the Southeast Trade winds to kick in, to allow us to sail the 3000 miles to our next destination.  We are in the perfect place to wait it out. Meanwhile we are able to do lots maintenance jobs, checking rigging, sewing repairs, choosing which of the daily walks to do then swimming in our idyllic infinity pool that stretches out all around us.

Then another day closes. Another gorgeous sunset. Another toast to how fortunate we are to be isolated in such a beautiful part of the world.

6 comments

  1. What beautiful places you are visiting! I love how crystal clear the water looks and the turquoise blue color of it as well. Such beauty out there! So sorry you can’t find the cheese but, as you said, you must move on sooner and later and then you’ll be able to re-stock on all the good things you can’t do without. Boating can be so challenging food wise and you have been challenged far more than we were! Enjoy your time there and have safe travels!

  2. Lovely place,love the clear water,wish we could join you there,anyway enjoy it for us as well.always thinking of you both,take care.Paul

  3. Good to see you are enjoying so many of the lovely sights and people of Sumatra. And well done NZ with retaining the America Cup.( I didn’t follow it as those boats aren’t my sort of thing!)

  4. Yes, the America Cup series of yacht races certainly were exciting, and with the wonderful result for NZ. Italy certainly put up a good fight.
    You really are making the most of your time, and the islands and the very clear water look idyllic. However I can imagine how much you must be looking forward to moving on ! Fingers crossed for you for the month of May.

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