Exploring the Mentawais: Playgrounds

We’d made it to Sikakap, one of the main towns of the Mentawai island chain. We now headed further north to Tua Pejat on the north of Sipura, where the fast ferry docks. As usual, it was time to extend visas – but instead of the 15-hour sail to Padang, Marco took the fast ferry (3 hours) and got an agent to do the extension for us there. This was so much easier, and avoided more night sailing (yay!).

 

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Seeing Dad off

 

 

The anchorage at Tua Pejat is really protected – in a little inlet passed the ferry terminal. We were a little nervous at one point as the inlet gets quite shallow, but then deepens and widens again, providing a big calm 15m-deep anchorage bordered by mangroves. The town itself was really quiet when we arrived, as it coincided with the last week of Ramadan. Fortunately, we found one warung that was open and could gorge on some protein again – delicious coconut-spiced chicken and beef rendang. The boys realised to their detriment that they shouldn’t eat the beans – most things that look like beans are actually chillis!

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Beautiful calm anchorage

 

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Celebrating our arrival in Tua Pejat

 

Tua Pejat also holds the title of being the only place that we’ve had anything stolen from us in Indonesia. Nothing serious, fortunately – just some little kids that distracted the boys whilst surreptitiously helping themselves to some chocolates in our nearby packet of shopping. Unfortunately for them, we spotted them numerous times after that – and Marco gave them a stern talking to. Some Indonesian adults heard what was going on and joined Marco in reprimanding them. Stealing is really frowned upon in Indo – there is generally a real respect for property (and life), something that has really impressed us. We’ve pulled our dinghy up in front of (materially) poor villages, with our outboard, fuel tank, oars etc left in – and the villagers have been so protective of our stuff, even chasing their kids away from the dinghy. I think it would be a sense of shame for them if something went missing in their village.

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The calm waters provided a great place for some skurfing

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Once Marco was back from Padang, armed with a box of imported food (Weetbix, cheese, cream, butter etc), we were keen to head off and explore. The Mentawais is a chain of about 70 islands, with numerous surf breaks all over the place. We weren’t keen on moving around too much, so headed to Playgrounds, a group of small islands about 15nm to the north, between Sipura and Siberut.

 

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Our anchorage with all the nearby waves

 

Playgrounds was so named due to the abundance of waves in one spot, from gnarly barrels (like “Kandui” and “Rifles”) to gentler breaks (like “Four Bobs” and “Karangbat”). The anchorage is right in the middle of it all, and is surprisingly calm and protected. Charter boats come and go, but we were alone a lot of the time. We were anchored right next to gorgeous “Snake Island”, deserted apart from hundreds of sea kraits. Sea kraits are extremely poisonous but not aggressive, and there are hardly any recorded deaths from a bite (maybe “recorded” is the key word here?). Apparently they go on land during the day and sleep in the undergrowth by the trees – so we just stayed on the beach when going ashore. Fortunately we didn’t see one – just lots of evidence of them!

 

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Our picture-perfect anchorage – with Rifles behind

 

 

The boys surfed a myriad of waves. Their favourite was probably “Four Bobs” – a fun right-hander right in the front of the floating deck. “A-Frames” was just south of our boat, and peeled around the southern side of Snake Island. It had a perfect peak, but the wall fizzled out a bit. “Karangbat” was also nearby and was often less crowded than “Four Bobs”.

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A-Frames
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Josh styling on Four Bobs
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Noah top-turning at Four Bobs

There are 2 resorts on Karangmajet island – Kandui Resort and Kandui Villas. We were hoping to be able to get lunch at one of them, but unfortunately they only cater for resort guests – so it was up to mom’s cooking and dwindling vegetable supply the whole time. Marco paddled over to some fishermen one afternoon and managed to buy some fresh fish, so we had a protein boost again.

The guys at Kandui Resort were very friendly though, and we got to know them and the guests quite well. There were a number of families from the US staying there at the time, which was great for everyone – the boys had other kids to surf with, and I had some moms to SUP, walk and chat with. There was a sundowner deck strategically moored right in front of “Four Bobs”, and I spent most late afternoons there chatting to the guests and watching the boys surf. One evening we were visited by a sea krait which slithered up onto the deck, right by my feet (obviously). I did the usual girl-thing (screamed and stood on a chair), whilst the guys gently prodded it and picked it up by the tail to throw it back in the sea.

 

Karangmajet encloses a large lagoon on the eastern side, and it’s quite interesting to explore on the dinghy. It is bordered by mangroves, and has numerous little inlets and hidden waterways. We meandered through them to Kandui Villas and went for a walk on the beach on the northern side of the island, where the Kandui wave is. The beach was dotted with dead tree trunks and fallen palms – not sure whether it was damage from a big storm or just the general wear-and-tear of the island.

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Exploring the mangroves
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Beautiful reflections
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Northern side of Karangmajet

For a change of scenery, we went for a short walk through the jungle and up Tsunami Hill. We were interested to learn that many of the trees around us were clove trees. The cloves themselves were still green and not ready for harvesting, but if you crushed the leaves they let off a delicious clovey scent. It’s crazy to think how many battles were fought and how many people killed for these spices! Right at the top we stumbled upon a wooden cottage being built by a friendly Frenchman (Sasha) and a small team of Indos. He was building a little getaway where he could surf, spearfish and escape – and it offered lovely views over the jungle and mangroves down below.

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View from Sasha’s cottage
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Looking down into one of the inlets in the mangroves
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Cloves!

Marco surfed a lot of the more mellow waves with the boys, but also had a few more challenging sessions. Kandui is a really fast hollow barrelling wave with a shallow inside section, and he had some heart-pumping rides. We were sitting watching from the dinghy (along with some boats from the resorts), so had a front-row seat of the action. Unfortunately I didn’t have my big lens with me, so couldn’t get decent footage.

 

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Marco getting barrelled at Kandui

 

Sasha picked Marco up a couple mornings (at 5:30am, in the dark!!) and they headed off to Hideaways, a great wave a 20 minute dinghy-ride away. They had it to themselves until a charter boat pulled in with lots of very enthusiastic surfers fresh off the plane.

I had good social times with the ladies from the resort. They would SUP over to our boat and we’d then head off to Snake Island for a walk, snorkel and general chat whilst wallowing in the turquoise shallows. Unfortunately the snorkelling wasn’t very good – there were quite a few fish, but the reef was pretty dead and looked like it was covered with a beige furry growth. Marco and I also enjoyed a few late evening walks on the island – and saw some spectacular sunsets.

 

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Snake Island walk

 

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Dramatic cloudscapes from Snake Island

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The weather was quite unpredictable during the 10 days we were in Playgrounds. The general prediction was for south-easterly winds, but we encountered numerous squalls out of the north-west, the worst reaching 30 knots. Our anchor had “dug in like an Alabama tick”, but we still spent many nights up watching our co-ordinates and monitoring our position – something I really don’t enjoy! Dragging anchor wouldn’t have been fun, due to the big surf breaks on all sides.

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Stormclouds a-gathering
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Rainsqualls out at sea

Playgrounds was a great place to relax and just have fun after all that sailing we’d done to get here. We would have liked to be able to stock up on veges or grab a bite to eat somewhere, and internet would have been helpful (for weather checks and keeping in touch), but we all enjoyed our time and were keen to come back. For now, we had to head back to Tua Pejat to meet Alex and Xan who were going to be joining us for 10 days. To say the boys were excited is a complete understatement!

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