Mentawai: Luxury Redefined
I have a confession to make. You know those beautifully shot tourism commercials for certain countries or states? Like “West Virginia, wild and wonderful” or “Incredible India” or “Australia: There’s NOTHING like it.”
I love them.
Maybe it’s because I’ve primarily watched international TV for the past two years, but there’s something about these commercials that I find transformative. Like for those thirty seconds (or however long they are) I’m on a mini-vacation in my mind.
So when I saw the gorgeous shots of the “Wonderful Indonesia” (their slogan could use some work…) promo, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to see the land of 17,000 islands.
Fast forward to a few months later, and here I am, on an island in Indonesia. But not just any island. My home for the week is a place known as Awera Island, located in Indonesia’s Mentawai Islands. Up until a few months ago, I’d never heard of the Mentawai Islands, and seeing as it takes about 36 hours to get here, it’s not all that surprising. Most people come here for the waves (it’s a world-class surfing spot) or for the total relaxation. I came for one reason, and one reason only:
(*Disclaimer, I was under the influence of a surfer, so I was highly encouraged to check out Awera, while deciding on my Indonesian itinerary.)
Anywho, through my research, and Instagram digging, I was convinced that Awera was my place. My exotic destination, lacking any sort of tourism commercial. But besides a few photos on Tripadvisor, I had no idea what to expect. I mean, the glowing reviews online told me I’d be in good hands, but what would I fill my remote, island days with? There are no commercials for the Mentawai Islands. I’m not even sure there are enough people in the Mentawais to produce a commercial… but more on that later. Basically, I arrived with undetermined expectations, an open mind, and a lot of sunscreen. What I found, is a level of luxury that can’t be captured in a commercial. And in an age of influencers and google reviews, I’m hesitant to write these words, as I want the Mentawais to stay a “secret spot” and retain their natural soul, but it’s not fair for you to be in the dark about this magical place.
Allow me to pitch you my low-budget tourism commercial:
Mentawai: Luxury Redefined
For starters, getting to the Mentawais is an epic feat involving planes, cars and a few boats. Now imagine hauling building materials for an entire resort allllll the way out there, and you can start to picture why accommodation in the Mentawais resembles small tiki huts instead of the Plaza Hotel. Luckily for me, I’m staying at the Taj Mahal of tiki huts, consisting of a gorgeous private beach, an army of boats, a pool, expansive communal indoor/outdoor living area and eight villas. Eight. Eight little bungalows simply, yet artfully, decorated with the utmost privacy, gorgeous stone-lined showers and stunning views of the ocean. The privacy factor is exponentially upped by the fact that, at any given time, you will only be in the company of about 20 other people…
But let’s be honest, nobody comes to the Mentawais to stay inside (said in my expert commercial voiceover tone). It’s all about the outdoors, as illustrated by Awera’s main building nestled right alongside the beach, exposed to the ocean breeze with unparalleled views of the waves. Breakfast is served every morning at a giant wooden table (think Harry Potter style) with all of the other guests, before everyone heads out for their various activities. The mornings here are buzzing with talk of waves, yoga and boat trips, over bites of omelets, fresh fruit, and homemade bread. The zealously attentive staff make sure we’ve had everything we need to start a successful island day, and even pack up coolers with fresh fruit and drinks for the boat trips to various waves or snorkel spots.
So far, everything I’ve described could happen at your mom’s house (if you had a zealously attentive mom…). It doesn’t sound like 5-star, Four Seasons luxury, but in the Mentawais, rest assured that it is. Simply having homemade good bread feels special in Indonesia, so needless to say the avocado toast at Awera feels other worldly (especially after an exhausting surf session).
So now that we’ve set the scene for the commercial, let’s dive in to the good stuff; the meat of why people make the arduous journey here. For me, it’s a combination of yoga and surf, with some paddle boarding thrown in every now and then. Each morning, the expert surf instructors at Awera, Sarah and Facu, powwow with the surfers and concoct a plan for the day’s sessions. Then, the gang takes off in a boat, jetting around the island’s various, world-class surf spots for some memorable waves. For newbie surfers like myself, there’s a top-notch beginner spot just ten minutes away by boat. After catching a few waves there the other day (with some generous pushes from Sarah…), I paddled back to the boat, popped open the cooler with freshly prepared dragon fruit, and reveled in my exhausted bliss on the ride back “home”.
After a quick shower, aka a dip in the pool (they’re the same thing, no?), I rocked up to the centrally-located bar, ordered a power smoothie and some guacamole with Arif, and sat back to enjoy the sound of the ocean. In my commercial, all spare moments would be filled with the gentle, soothing noise of the baby waves crashing onto the sand. Is it not the most relaxing sound? Anywho, food and smoothie arrive (at Awera everything is included. Money has no purpose here, and I love it.) just as yoga instructor Meryl comes over to ask about my yoga needs. We set up a time in the afternoon to meet in the outdoor yoga pavilion and go through a solid flow, with some extra time spent on headstand preparation (I’m determined to conquer it. It’s not going well). Mind you, every interaction with the folks at Awera feels like you’re talking to a friend. There’s no employee-guest relationship tightrope to walk. To be honest, within my first hour on the island, it felt like I was with family. There’s a heartbeat in this place that’s undeniable, and I give major credit to owner Aimar and manager Kepa for cultivating such a haven, on an island in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Expressing this vibe in a commercial would be a bit hard, but I’d include some shots with the guests and employees doing yoga together, and going for a beach cleanup…with massive smiles plastered across their faces. Should get the point across.
And if you’ve made it this far, it’s time to wrap up the commercial with a few striking, closing shots. This Mentawai commercial would open with the waves, as surfing is why the majority of the people come here. But as the footage progresses, you’d notice a wealth of activities, with quite possibly the most stunning island landscapes I’ve ever seen. And when the sun goes down, and faint lights start to dot the neighboring islands, the commercial cuts to a group of six people congregated around a large, wooden table enjoying homemade sushi from the “front yard,” swapping stories and sharing a few Bintangs (the Heineken of Indonesia). No iPhones, no Instagram, no hassle.
And in 2019, this is my kind of luxury.
*While I was generously hosted by Awera Resort for my stay, the thoughts and opinions expressed here are completely authentic, and most importantly, the whole dang truth.