Stranded off the western Sumatran coast on Siberut Island for several days, what else is there to do but explore…
Why not read my previous posts on Siberut Island before this post?
Where is Siberut Island?
Isolated Siberut is an island in the Mentawai Islands Regency group – a chain of around seventy islands and islets.
The Mentawai islands are in the narrow Mentawai Strait and around 81NM (150-kilometres) from the West Sumatran coast.
My travel journal of 1998 holds one of the only available maps during that time as Siberut Island was almost unheard of unless travelling in Sumatra.
Several days in the jungle living mostly on boiled eggs and plain noodles, absorbing the fascinating but tragic forgotten Mentawai people of Indonesia, finally arrive back to Muara Siberut – after the 3-hour canoe trip through the spectacular jungle.
On reaching Muara Siberut, we discover that the boat for Padang isn’t leaving tonight. Needing to spend another night on Siberut, reluctantly, we check into the same crude and noisy losmen as before. The only accommodation on the island in 1998.
The unwillingness comes from the previous stay’s incident. The losmen’s timber-panelled walls with inch-wide gaping joins, lend itself to voyeuristic eyes. Let’s just say that during an amorous interlude, briefly looking up, a set of deep brown eyes peered down at me! Screaming loudly, the ogler fled the scene with my husband chasing after him through the losmen. Unfortunately, with a head start, the peeper escaped. Of course, on learning of the pervert, the losmen owner only smirks – we’re foreigners.
A tour from Bukittinggi returned yesterday and is also staying at the losmen. These people seem only to drink until all hours in the morning, make loads of noise, then sleep all day long.
We’re stuck here again with hardly any food – only eggs, noodles, plain rice, and pancakes. Not much to do as it’s pouring with rain, down to our last few dollars, we’re advised the boat is delayed again. And isn’t arriving tomorrow night but the following night – hopefully.
Exploring Muara Siberut
Henry takes us to meet his family. Better-dressed and a little more affluent than most locals, Henry’s entrepreneurial skills are helping – he owns a better house than most. At least when you book a trek with Henry, the money stays with locals.
Wandering around Muara Siberut during the receding tide reveals garbage strewn around, and firmly wedged in the remaining mud – an open cesspit.
Everything is thrown out of the huts and into the sea without any regard for the environment. Or, the concern that all of this waste washes back in with the relentless tide.
Food on the island
Plenty of fish is caught every day, although this goes to Padang for on-forwarding to Jakarta and elsewhere, so doesn’t remain on the island – ludicrous.
The only restaurant on the island doesn’t serve any fish and is lacking the basic staples. Regardless of the menu’s list, the restaurant serves only boiled eggs and noodles, not even rice. Surprisingly, after asking for fish for the fourth time this week, it’s on today’s menu at barely a higher price than the cost of pancakes. I guess only tourists can afford to eat at this restaurant, so the owner is not too bothered about catering or charging.
Work on Siberut is almost non-existent so, it’s not uncommon to see locals sit all day together and chat in huts.
After a week on the island living mostly on boiled eggs and noodles, we hang around the restaurant for the last time to board the boat to Padang, which finally arrives at midnight.
It seems that through boredom, everyone but us is on an all-day and into the night drinking binge. It’s embarrassing. Quite intoxicated, the Indonesian’s worry that tourists will fall from the sampan into the depths of the blackened sea while trying to board the boat.
Leaving Siberut Island
A smaller boat than before for the overnight trip to Padang, which leaves at 1:30 am, we’re in a slightly cooler 2-berth cabin on this trip. At least the berth isn’t home to armies of relentless ants and toe-ravenous cockroaches.
Leaving Siberut behind in the pitch blackness of the starless night, the rickety, old timber boat groans and creaks with exhaustion on this crossing that it’s endured a thousand times before.
Wooden beams and ceiling move around effortlessly, as the boat undulates over small swells.
Luckily, the weather is kind tonight. Otherwise, it’s disconcerting to imagine this boat breaking up and sinking to the bottom of the Indian Ocean.
At around 150-kilometres from Sumatra, I doubt that anyone would come to our rescue.
Below our cabin, the rustic boat’s open and dark hold is rammed, with locals, smelly copra, fish, live chickens, and abundant cargo. Because of the boat’s lateness to Siberut, it’s overflowing and weighed down more than usual. Not sure where all of the chickens came from – maybe they materialised from within the jungle, but don’t remember seeing any in Muara Siberut.
After waiting 3 long days for the boat to arrive in Muara Siberut, finally arrive in Padang’s grotty harbour at midday – a faster journey than the trip to Siberut. Passengers impatiently push and shove to scurry, off the boat.
As we’re skint without much money, head for the bank and not the haggling taxi drivers – before wandering to the Sriwijaya Hotel’s deluxe double room with aircon and no hot water.
Taking the first real shower in a week and discarding the rancid jungle clothes to the wash, head out to the Sari Raso Restaurant for a sumptuous meal.
Two starters, two scrumptious prawn mains, rice, a large bottle of beer, juice, and drink for AU$12 – bargain and delicious. No boiled eggs and plain noodles today.
Discovered also that we missed the government-run passenger Pelni boat to Jakarta by one day – need to re-assess the next travel leg.
A local flight for two is too expensive. Especially when long-term travelling, so a long bus journey is the only alternative. Much prefer to island-hop in a rickety old boat than risk travelling on Indonesia’s dangerous pot-holed dirt roads.
The bus leaves tomorrow on the 20-hour journey to Kalianda in Sumatra’s southern region. Although travel in Indonesia during 1998 is intrepid, so who knows how long the trip will take…