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The Mentawai Islands: Sumatra

Mention the Mentawai Islands and a majority of people will respond with it’s a great place for surfing. Indeed so, but, the island chain of about seventy islands off the western coast of Sumatra is an incredibly interesting place to see wildlife, pristine stretches of white-sand beaches, the unique culture of the inhabitants of the island, the Mentawai people, and it is also excellent for scuba diving and snorkelling. Getting to the islands takes a 9 hour boat trip from the city of Padang and although not the most comfortable boat ride, it is an experience not to be missed. Interestingly, the Mentawai Islands lie on an active and powerful earthquake zone that divides the Pacific and Indian Ocean plates.

For nature lovers, the Mentawai Islands are the natural habitat of 16 endemic species, some of them endangered species like the Simakobu monkey. If you are in to trekking jungle paths to view the animal and bird life then you couldn’t have picked a better spot in Sumatra. Those of you with cultural interests, then you will find the life of Mentawai people fascinating and especially the stone-jumping. They have a strong believe in a nature spirit of life and that nature is the centre of all life and living. Their culture, traditional cloths, art, music and the way of life are all attributed to nature. The most important symbol for the Mentawai people is the tattoo as it symbolises maturity, manhood and status. This incredible body art is fascinating. There are four diving spots in the Mentawai Islands. Siberut, Sipora, Pagai Utara and Pagai Selatan. Each of these have good clearance for many metres and the pristine waters offer up some of the most beautiful corals and reef fish in the whole of the Indonesian archipelago. But it is the surfing that is the drawcard of the Mentawai Islands where good surf can be found year-round. Some of these waves are 3 to 4 meters, and will totally challenge your expertise as a surfer. The best waves are during dry season from March to October.

The best accommodation is staying at the houses of the local people just for the experience of living in a unique culture for your period of stay and for experiencing the interaction with them. However, if this is not your cup of tea then there are. budget hotels in Siberut. To access all the beauty on offer, whether it is the beaches, surf or diving, I suggest you head down to the beach and ask one of the locals to take you to where you want to go in the island chain. Naturally you will have to bargain the price! The Mentawai Islands are indeed exotic to the max and their fresh seafoods you can find in any of the restaurants run by the local people. If luck is with you then you can cook your own sea food. Of course to get the correct taste like the locals cook, make sure you ask the locals for the secret recipe or spices to be used. Getting that secret is another matter!

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Syofiardi Bachyul