The sun is finally setting on our 3 weeks of volunteering, as we say a fond farewell to Tom, Fitri, Pras, Lenard and the rest of the guests who had been our extended family.
For a volunteering program to work you have to have viable accommodation that us pampered Westerners can hack, and Mahi Mahi far exceeded that necessity and made it a pleasure to be on the program. The owners Jane and Luke have done a marvellous job of engaging with the local community so that at the weekend kids from the village come and play on the lawns and we are greeted in neighbouring villages with a wave. But island life also brings with it a community of animals, so at any time of day there are goats, dogs, lizards, chickens and herds of water buffalo wandering in off the beach to join in the fun … and the yoga given a chance.
Our time here was made by the efforts of Tom and Pras, and the endless smiling and positivity of Fitri, who joined us on our trips and spoke to the various headmen to get permission for us to do our walks and surveys.
Tourism on Simeulue is driven by the barrel rolling waves, that cast off long trails of white spray from their tips, and draw dedicated surfers from LA to Sydney. The surfer is however a curious creature: the Australian variety is an extreme sort and one evening 3 of them appeared covered from head to toe in mud from a good ‘ol Auzzie mud wrestle, and proceeded to chase a remarkably agile baby goat around the lawns before throwing themselves into the swimming pool where they found a poor unfortunate toad to kiss. The toad did not seem to mind, and unfortunately for us did not turn into a prince. Most of the other enthusiasts are from the other extreme and love yoga and nature, and great coffee. Perfect.
Tom was delighted when we arrived as there had been no volunteers staying here for a while; to water down the surf chat, which goes a lot like this …
“Check out that peak. Ain’t that sick”
“Yeah man, the left hander is really gnarly, but the right hander is totally sick”
“Dude, I snapped my last board on the left hander”
“Ohhh … that is totally gnarly”
“No worries man, you can borrow one of mine”
“Dude, that is so sick”
Life at Mahi Mahi is very tempting if you can take the relentless +30°C heat. There are volunteers who have worked here for 3+ years and, those who are planning to make their life here. When you see the island from the water you can see why; it just looks lush, with rolling hills covered with primary rainforest. For those who are considering a life change and can hack the surfer chat …
These islands were hit hard by the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami as they were at the epicenter of the quake that changed the shape of the island and the reefs around it. Fitri told us her story … she was young at the time, and the earthquake lasted 15 minutes during which you could not stand properly as the ground was shaking so much. Some of the elders in the village had experienced big quakes before, and called for everyone to climb the hills behind the beach as the tide started to draw back. Within 30 minutes the big wave came that entirely destroyed the village and covered the whole area with sand, flattening the land where the Mahi Mahi resort now sits (it was built in 2010). Fitri and her family lived for the next week by eating berries in the forest, before help and supplies started to come in.
In reality the program at Mahi Mahi sits somewhere between volunteering and immersive eco tourism, which was a good balance for the family. The girls had school each morning, so a two hour impact activity in the afternoon was the max for them, and for Charlotte and I an additional few hours in the morning worked well. Through the surveys we completed we saw how fragile the coral reef is to the forecast global temperature rises. We saw that the nests of Green and Leatherback Turtles (whom are both at risk of “extinction in the wild”) are poached by people who have very little, and want to eat their eggs, and how tropical birds and fish that can’t breed in captivity are taken for fish tanks and bird cages across the globe. This certainly had a profound affect on us, and although we aren’t about to chain ourselves to a tree we want to look for a way we can make a difference going forward.