Desperate Surfer's Wife

  >  DSW Stories   >  What to do in Nyang-Nyang, Mentawai

If you bear in mind that the Mentawais are a surfer’s paradise, what alternatives are thee if you do not ride the waves? Obviously, anything that deals with the ocean, like  snorkeling, swimming, fishing, boat excursions.

For a tourist hunting for emotions our tiny island did not have much to offer, apart from its notorious waves and the question nagging me and begging for an answer was: How many persons apart from castaways, would choose a remote island famous only for its waves?

Which brought to the fore an even more important question: How many tourists who do not enjoy snorkeling, swimming and fishing landed of their own free will on Nyang-Nyang?

Let me raise my hand, or both, extending my arms in sign of joy and celebration, my Mexican wave in honour of having, perhaps, set a record.

As brief premise to the story of my holiday as an outsider to the Beng-Beng Surf Camp, I wish to clarify that life in a non-luxury standard surf camp is spartan and collective…

Everyone wakes up at the same time, queues together to use the facilities, eat all together and all together go in search of the best waves.

I am not by choice a person that easily shares life with persons she has only just become acquainted to, I love my comforts and I do not practice any aquatic sports. Anything else?!

My reading spot just a walk away from the surfcamp


Large breakfast, excited chatter, stretching and related exercises, paraffin, sun tan lotion, selection of the ‘right’ spot and daily doubt: which board to use.

In the middle of this frantic activity, a sudden silence falls over the surfers, all eyes turn towards a sole target and the ritual question is asked: Vivi, what will you do today?

Questioning smiles on the faces of handsome guys seek a sign on my face, in the vain hope that the answer will involve even a minimum of sports activities.

At times like these I wish I was gifted with the art of improvisation, that I could answer point-blank with the description of a series of athletic activities that would leave my questioners speechless on this beautiful, sunny day. But no, only an initial embarrassed silence, a sort of stage fright that sees me tight as a clam, until I suddenly remember to wave my faithful book, which I always keep in my right hand. I knowingly glance at my beach-towel popping up from my bag as hints of my daily lazy activities, whilst I think to myself that you need a special talent to land in Paradise only to read a 6000 page volume in 10 days!

On the third day I reached a decision. I would avoid the Beng-Beng audience and their embarrassing questions, by turning up later than the rest of the clan did for their daily pre-surfing activities.

When all the surf chatter has died down and I am certain that the boat was moving away from the shore, I make my move and surreptitiously reach the beach only to discover someone that appears with a knowing smile and bombards me with the ritual question…

Silence, embarrassed cough followed by a triumphant smile. I’ve found the answer.

Today I start on a new book. Thrilling emotions await me, since it’s a thriller!

This apparently depressing morning scenario over, allow me to argue in my favor,  by saying that first of all, as a city dweller getting away from the daily chaos to enjoy some healthy, relaxing nothing doing is exactly what I ask of a holiday!

When Italy was hit by the first cold wave and rain, and the metropolitan stress was reaching record levels… I was walking barefoot on a marvelous, deserted beach with nothing to do other than lazily select the best spot in which to bask in the sun and dive in the warm, crystal clear water of the sea.

And I am not totally devoid of any interest in aquatic sports because I snorkel and, on occasion, even fish! My crucible, so to say is not where I am or what to do, but in my modest opinion, having to do without a loved one with whom to share all this.

It’s a pity in fact that Emanuele, always faithfully by my side in the everyday events of day to day life, when on holidays tends to adopt his typical, marvelous routine:

  • Wake up at dawn
  • Accurate, in-depth analysis of the weather conditions in our room
  • Stockpiling of caloric food
  • Accurate, in-depth analysis of the weather conditions with his friends
  • Surfing
  • Lunch, sharing comments on the surfing activity of the morning with his friends
  • Siesta
  • Surfing
  • Dinner, with a recap of the surfing activities of the day with his friends
  • Early night, preceded by an…accurate analysis of the weather forecast for the following day
  • Sleep…!!!

..somewhere in the outer reef!

I don’t give up easily and whilst I am totally in love with every calorie I add to my body, I love to walk for hours, on my own, up and down hills, under the sun, alone, with someone, alone.

On the ferry as we made our way to the island we met a group of French trekkers and my spirits rose at the idea that our island, too, could hide interesting circuits to discover, perhaps in good company.

My husband immediately curbed my enthusiasm informing me that the trekkers were going to a different place from ours, and that our destination wasn’t exactly famous for trekking.

Don’t worry, though, dear – he added – you can walk along deserted beaches

…the awesome coconut doesn’t fall far from the awesome conconut palm tree!

Actually, a whole six minutes of walking, from our room to the furthest point on the island, on my own, without having to calculate the tides, cross streams, risk getting lost amongst the palm trees.

Did I say palm trees? Of course I am aware of the danger that falling coconuts represent, especially if you are a six hour ferry ride from the closest medical assistance.

But let’s go back to trekking: local legends want that there are still some parts of the island that have not yet been fully explored. These hidden paths are reserved solely to the natives as if to say: yes, walk around in freedom, but watch your step!

I don’t mean to say by this that the natives are dangerous or lacking in hospitality, since never in my life did I feel safer than on Nyang-Nyang….but you know, I didn’t fell so comfortable to explore the island all alone.

OK, it’s time to stop portraying myself as the designated victim! After a week on the island, Emanuele and his inseparable friend Filippo decided to forego the afternoon surfing sessions.

A sudden wish to keep me company? Wrong!

Let’s get real and say that the waves were no longer as good as they had been and, if you can keep a secret and just between you and me: the two young sportsmen were fatigued after their intense first week spent riding waves.
So, what happens in the afternoon when you are free from surfing activities?

Allow me to say, before I continue, that surfers without surfing, tend to be incurably lazy.

Lazy Afternoon at Beng Beng!

So, to do something different, they enjoyed post-prandial siestas, hammock sessions, never-ending comments about all the surf sessions of the previous days, accurate analysis of the meteorological conditions of the days to come, soon aborted attempts at walks along the beach.

In short, total boredom!

In three short hours they reached the climax of boredom practicing activities that I had mastered to an art in over a week. The only difference being that I refrained from talking surf and never took a siesta.

So, what to do? I had a brilliant idea! There’s a shop on the island. Let’s go shopping!

Like dwarves following Snow White, we set off to walk through the jungle in Indian file and finally reached a series of wooden huts with one that stood out, although for reasons I could not totally grasp, that we identified as the only commercial activity on the island.

We entered on tip-toe and discovered that the goods on offer consisted of ten packs of Oreo, an assortment of canned noodle soups and various chocolate-based snacks.

I had forgotten to mention that accommodation on the Mentawai Islands is on a full board basis and that therefore no restaurants or shops exist on the island, therefore it was unfair to expect a huge assortment of foodstuffs.

Everyday, our expectations for lunch and dinner were quite high; we felt a bit like school children on their way home, wondering what goodies mum had cooked for lunch. Especially if, like myself, your mum was an over the top good cook, who only ever disappointed me when she prepared rice in a light broth, which left me down in the mouth and hungry!

All this to say, to the Beng-Beng kitchen staff, especially now that I am writing from Italy, that your fettuccine al ragù – home made egg pasta with a meat and tomato sauce – was comparable to my mother’s rice in broth: absolutely inacceptable!

Ragù at the Mentawai? No, nein, rien a faire, kaput, verboten!!!

And to think that the Italian owned camp had well trained local staff, when it came to cooking a memorable roast chicken and potatos and, allow me to add as a suggestion: more seafood and less fettuccine!

With love, your lazy, gourmand customer XXX J