Our first day on the jungle trip was far from the wilds of the tropical wilderness, we had to reach the island of Siberut off the western coast of Sumatra and the only way there was via an over night ferry from Padang.
We met up with our guide for the trip, Mr. Moly, an extremely kind and helpful chap who would be taking us into the jungle, and help teach us understand the history of the people, as well as cook meals, make beds, carry bags, pour drinks, fluff pillows, translate and wash our muddy feet.
The three of us set off to Padang via a mini bus which turned out to be so uncomfortable for our stupid long western legs. We spent the two and bit hour journey with our knees bent and crushed into the back of the seats in front. Once in Padang we headed on over to the port where our journey to the new world would really commence.
The port is pretty much exactly as you’d picture a tropical Asian small port to be: A jetty of broken and hastily repaired planks of wood, crammed full of people shouting and dashing too and fro with an assortment of crates, sacks and boxes all filled with food and supplies for the island.
We boarded the ferry via a rickety wooden walkway suspended above the filthy waters below. Entering into the holding area that was already full of boxes and plumes of diesel fuel, continuing down the small corridor to a set of stairs that took us up to the cabins above.
There we selected our bunks for the journey, and settled in for the ride whilst enjoying stinkingly hot temperatures and the calming sway of the boat as it rocked its way across the waters throughout the night.
We reached Siberut Island at about 4am, but opted to stay in our bunks till the sun rose, which would give us some extra sleeping time as well as allow the workers to clear the sacks and boxes from the hold below.
Siberut from what we could see was a simple island, electricity was served to the more developed coastal areas via a generator that ran from 6pm till 10am. There are few roadways to speak of, mainly one coastal road which is really no more than a wide concrete path, broken in parts due to ground tremors and earthquakes. The government developed a number of villages in the ’70s, ingeniously called government villages by the locals; where they created schools, churches, shops and supply clean washing water.
Over the years many of the indigenous people have moved out of their natural jungle setting into these villages, and by our guide Mr. Moly’s reckoning, within the next fifteen years there’ll be few if any folk left in the wild living a traditional life style.
After a breakfast of pancakes we set off on a small canoe boat and powered up the river for about one and a half hours into the jungle to reach our new home.
One of the first lessons we learned of the jungle is why the locals don’t bother with shoes. With so much mud and many streams to wade through it’s almost pointless having them as they so quickly get drenched and slippery. Jungle highways are made of felled trees and scraps of wood, the B roads are of mud and the dirt tracks are made from whatever is left over.
After a short wade through the jungle highway we arrived at the home of Aman and his family, a true to life Jungle medicine man of Mentawai. Their home is a grand wooden structure built up on stilts above a muddy pool where his pigs like to reside when not out eating.
The buildings of the Mentawai follow a fairly strict design, with three variations. Firstly there’s the small hut, which is known as the chicken house. Surprisingly, the chicken house is a place where chickens are kept, but not only that, there are also pigs, and the place is also used for when two loving people of the jungle want to have some private time.
The second house is more of a standard home that has two large rooms. Aman’s home was the three room version that has a sleeping quarter and cooking area for the family at the back, a communal eating and sleeping area in the centre and another cooking and sitting/eating area at the front.
One thing I noticed after a few days of being there was the lack of doors. The whole place was open planned, which was a great reflection of the mentality of the Mentawai people, they were so open, friendly and sharing with what they had, everything seemed to be done in a very communal way.
In the afternoon Papa arrived, Aman’s father, who was an old and quite frail looking guy, but to see him traverse the jungle and do his work you wouldn’t believe it. Ok, maybe the fact that his actions were very slow and tender footed means you would, but it was still amazing to see him navigate such inhospitable terrain.
In the afternoon Papa and Aman’s brother took us down to the stream to show us how they made the traditional jungle attire, loin cloths.
A thin strip of bark professionally cut from a tree trunk made up the entire cloth, not cotton nor any other weave but the actual fibre strip of bark.
Once the bark was stripped it was taken into the stream and soaked, then opened up and repeatedly struck with a sort of toughened wooden hammer. The constant battering of the strip was to break the fibres and give the bark some flexibility. This process was repeated a number of times, then the strip was pulled to stretch out the broken fibres and create a larger surface area.
A finished loin cloth, like the one Papa and Aman wore were coloured using dyes created from the jungle (where else?), with the red dye is created from Nutmeg.
Our original plan was to stay at the home of Aman for one evening, before setting off on a trek to visit another family on the second day, followed by a return to Aman’s for the final night before leaving for Sumatra again, but Aman came to us with a proposal.
He’d recently built a new entrance area to his house, and in tradition with the people of Mentawai, he needed to host a party in order to bless this new addition. The chance to see a party in the jungle was impossible to refuse, so we agreed to change our plans and skip the second house.
The party was set to happen in two days time, giving us the next day to trek to the jungle waterfall and visit another Mentawai home.