Mosquito battles, a meagre diet and a few magic moments.
We stayed in the village at Lance’s for about 6 weeks, and in that time we saw one other boat. It was an Australian boat, and there were four guys on it. They saw us lurking, and they waved at us to join them. It was a small day, a little bit onshore, and after the absolute insane days we had experienced at Lances by ourselves thus far, it wasn't very tempting. My seppo mates were fairly listless, but I paddled out to say g’day.
They were friendly enough, average surfers, who were just out to paddle around and have some fun. One of their crew, a goofy-footer, pulled into a backhand barrel at the end section and hit the bottom, putting quite a nasty slice in his hand. After about an hour of trading waves and having some fun, they were gone. They were the only visitors we had the whole time. They made very little fuss about us the waves or anything, and were just there to surf.
We had been scoring ridiculous waves for days on end, and were getting a great feel for the many sections and moods of HT’s. It was a bizarre situation to be in. I had left a messy situation in South Africa, had worked construction sites in London for 18 months, and more by luck and the surfer brotherhood than careful planning, I was surfing ‘The Best Wave In the World’ day in and day out, with two new and relaxed American friends.
There was some rain and the bottom part of the village had turned into a swamp. Back then, malaria was the biggest killer in the Mentawais, but no one seemed to put together the fact that if you had a wet bog in your doorstep, that the mosquitoes were going to form armies in the evenings. We explained to our host Hussein that the bog needed to be drained. There was about fifty metres of digging that would form a drain from the bog to the sea, to the east of HT’s beach. There were no tools on the island. As far as we could gather, Hussein had the best well for delicious water, but after the well had been dug and the bucket-pulley installed, there was no more need for spades and they had gone somewhere else on the island. There was nothing to be found. The three of us found banana fronds that were workable, but we soon found that digging with fronds in boiling tropical heat with bemused villagers looking on was a challenge. Despite us telling Hussein that it needed to be done, he never really engaged with the task, and we were left to our own devices. After much sweating and exasperation we broke through, and it was satisfying to watch the rank water drain out and the sun begin to dry up that end of the village.
The wind turned onshore for a few days, and we were left with nothing to do. Our food had run out, and we were totally dependent on Hussein with his fish, and the green leafy vegetable mixed in the coconut/curry sauce. There wasn’t enough to go around to satisfy our eager western bellies, but Hussein was very solemn and regal in his explanation that we do not need so much food if we weren’t doing anything, and that there will always be enough for us – the food will come. It was hard to accept that we didn't have rice, but we were in fact eating a frugal Banting diet, and as long as we had access to his water, we always had enough energy. Eating was more concerned with engagement, about talking about our countries – America and South Africa and Indonesia, than it was about shoving food into our pie-holes. We were being treated like princes, with a sincere mealtime celebration every night with the whole family present. When discussing the weather with us, through vague interpretation, it was decided that we would proceed to Lance’s Left the next day. Hussein got animated for the first time, pointing his finger at us, telling us that there were no boats around, that it would be a difficult and arduous walk, and that we must not complain.
We started off at first light, and after a few minutes were knee deep in soft mud. Flip-flops became irrelevant, and each and every step became an ecstasy of anticipation as we expected a stump or a rock or a flesh-eating parasite to pierce our skin as our bare feet sunk onto the mud. We were following a riverbed that was thick and muddy. Hussein quickly cut us each a walking stick, which proved to be a great help. We were walking uphill at a fairly steep incline, and the heat was stifling. Sweat was pouring off us in rivers, but Hussein was walking solidly in front, eyes firmly on the ground, so there was no complaining. As we got to the top of the incline it was green and lush, with no more mud. We were led to the edge of a cliff, and stuck against the cliff were a series of three tree trunks, resting against the mountainside, they had a series of chunks hacked out of them as steps.
“Ladder,” said Hussein.
Our feet were wet, the trees were slippery, we had surfboards, and we were exhausted. We were up high, but we made it down to the bottom and alighted on a beautiful white beach.
There were waves out front, and in the distance, to our left was Lances Left, peeling perfectly in the offshore wind. It was still quite a walk away, and we were dog-tired. After some water, we trudged up the soft sand beach towards the wave. I was first to paddle out, and as I hit the water, the wind started fluttering onshore. I quickly paddled up, and caught a wave, flying all the way to the bottom section before kicking out. Matt, my American friend, paddled out, and also caught a wave. I paddled into a bomb, didn't make the section and straightened out, before hitting the reef, and making my uncomfortable way in over the coral. The onshore was up, Matt came in, and our surf was done. Less than a handful of waves had been ridden.
We all sat on the beach, watching and absorbing the moment. There was adrenalin, fatigue, mental clarity, fear and excitement. It had been a big day. A wrinkled old man in nothing but a loincloth came out of the bushes behind us, and started jabbering on to Hussein in their dialect.
“Old man,” explained Hussein.
He walked up to me and looked at me. He was ancient, and had tattoo lines all over his wrinkled body. He was gesticulating at me, and was talking loudly and very fast to me, agitated about something. Hussein watched closely. The old man continued his angry tirade, and when it got a bit much, I reached into my pocket and grabbed my Djarums from my bag, and offered him one. He stopped short, and stared at me, before gently taking a cigarette. I gave him a light, and he lit it and inhaled. I did the same with mine, and he started laughing and cackling. It was too much. I started giggling, as did my American friends. Hussein started chuckling, and shook his head slowly, looking away with a smile on his face. The day softened.
“Come,” said Hussein, mildly gesturing towards the ladders.
Shadows were about, and we needed to get back through the jungle before all the sun was gone. It was time to go home.