In this personal story about his trip to Mentawai, “It’s a Mentawai Paddle,” ISLANDS editor Eddy Patricelli discusses why he journeyed to these remote islands in Indonesia and what he brought back._
Is this still my dream trip? The boat I’m on looks seaworthy, but its Indonesian crew looks suspect. One teen sleeps across three outboard engines that are running wide open. The other stands in board shorts holding an engine throttle. He’s smoking. My eyes drift to the gas cans at his feet. “Ker-o-seen,” he mouths — steering my gaze with his cigarette to red plastic containers. “No wurr-ee. No boooom.”
I nod but quickly face forward. Our 37-foot ferry, packed with surfboards, luggage and eight passengers, motors toward a blank Indian Ocean horizon. I hope there’s an island out there, an un-missable island.
In theory, we’re headed for the Kandui Resort, one of few places travelers can stay in the 70-island Indonesian archipelago of Mentawai (MEN-tah-why). The islands sit about 60 miles off Sumatra, but they might as well be farther. The isles are home to their own people, language, history, even shamans. Some claim this archipelago has the world’s most preserved culture — and the best surfing. No matter the wind, no matter the current, these islands are uniquely arranged on the edge of the ocean to always have perfect waves. All that is why it has been my life’s dream to come here. My wife’s due date gave me a deadline. She blessed this as my swan-song surf trip. But now, I’m not exactly sure what it is.
The engines whine. Another boat approaches. It’s a glimpse into my future. The homeward-bound passengers sport sunburns and taut shoulders. They promise epic waves ahead and joke of trading seats, but the banter doesn’t last. Our drivers are shouting.
The boats are side by side, bow to stern. The other boat’s driver holds a bowling-ball-size object. He motions to hand it over to us, but a swell separates the boats. More shouts. He hesitates, then heaves it. Hurtling in midair, it reveals itself, an old-fashioned compass encased in thick glass. Our driver lunges over the railing and catches it to big cheers. He smiles, glances at its dial, grabs an engine throttle and guns it, raising our vessel to the open sea.
Read the full story in the April/May 2010 issue of ISLANDS magazine, available now in the ISLANDS Store.