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Take a trip into the wild with an adventure to the Mentawai islands. Be surrounded by tropical rainforests and immerse yourself in the traditions of the local people. While the physical distance between the mainland and Mentawai is not great, this remains one of the most isolated places in Indonesia, and was only subject to outside influences at the start of the 20th century. A long way from the world of shopping malls and theme parks, this is where travellers come to get a truly off the beaten track adventure.
Located off the West coast of Sumatra, the Mentawai archipelago includes four municipalities, Siberut, Sipora, North Pagai and South Pagai. is the biggest of the Siberut islands and remains largely covered with tropical rainforest. From the moment you arrive on and see the white coral beaches, ancient rainforests and hear the cheeky black gibbons playing in the trees you’ll find it hard to resist falling in love with the place. This Siberut island is home to a rich array of bio-diversity which has earned it designation as a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
The remote location of these islands means that the Mentawai people have had very little contact with the outside world. The archipelogo is thought to have broken off from the rest of Sumara about 500,000 years ago and it is only since the 20th century that outside influences began to have an impact on the local people. Today, the Mentawai still abide by traditional practices and live largely off the land. Local people have a strong spiritual relationship with the forest with a belief system that emphasizes harmony with creation.
It is believed people first came to inhabit these islands at least several thousand years ago. Most anthropologists classify the Mentawai people as Protomalay which means they have a mostly Neotlithic culture but have not been effected by Buddhism, Islam or Hinduism.
Tatoos are an important symbol in Mentawai culture and reflect maturity, manhood and status. The art of this body painting has been inherited from ancient ancestors and the ink is made from natural fibres.
The biggest town on Siberut is Muara Siberut on the southeast coast. This is the major point of entry for tour groups from the mainland. From here, you can travel with a with a local guide and trek inland to some of the Mentawai villages. If your bahasa is good enough, chat to the locals and enjoy their hospitality.
The other big attraction for visitors to these islands is the world class surfing. With some of the best surfing conditions in the world, monster waves and swells that remain all year round, this is ranked by serious surfers as a must visit destination.
(Images credit and copyright: www.freelinesurf.com.au)
To access all the beauties offered, you can rent a boat owned by local people. You can find the boat along the beach. The rate depends on your bargaining skill.
Sebaung Merauke Air flies between Padang and the Mentawai islands. It is a 30 minute flight. Flights can be booked via a number of local agents including Mentawai Air. Some resorts which operate on the islands will arrange flights and airport pick ups for you.
An overnight ferry service departs from Padang. It is best to regularly check times with ferry operators as timetables can change depending on weather conditions.
Probably the easiest way to get to Sirebut is to join a trekking tour. These tours normally depart from Bukittinggi or Padang and will organise transport to the island.
Independent travellers will need to be able to speak reasonable Indonesian to negotiate with local guides in Sirebut. They also must organise their own travel permits with police.