Discover Sumba! It’s a stunning Indonesian island with great scenery, terrific traditional tribal villages, ancient tombs, delightful people and beautiful beaches. It is famous for it’s many horses and it’s beautiful Ikat’s.
It’s 10.15 in the morning and we’ve just arrived in Tambolaka in Western Sumba and we’re all very excited. We’ve been wanting to discover Sumba for ages. Pete from Mario’s Hotel has come to pick us up, where we’re booked for 3 nights. The hotel looks great, beautiful saltwater pool with sunken beds overlooking the ocean and flowers everywhere. The rooms are a little shabby, but comfortable with good aircon. We: are Dominique a social geographer, John an explorer and me, a photographer. We are Australian, British and French.
We did not take the precaution of booking a hire car in advance but fortunately we are able to hire Pete from the hotel for the whole 3 days and he will take us to our next destination in Central Sumba. There don’t appear to be any decent maps of Sumba anywhere and as there is no internet at the hotel we are dependant on the notes I’d taken and the advice given by the hotel. The roads are pretty terrible, and although Mario’s address is given as Tambolaka it is a 45 minute drive from the town.
Wasting no time we took off for Wainyapu which took us a good 2 hours. It was to be our first tribal village and one which seemed completely authentic with friendly people who didn’t try and sell us anything. Despite the overcast sky threatening rain, I didn’t waste a minute taking pictures. From there we went to Ratenggaro that is on everyone’s ‘must do’ list. There were quite a lot of Indonesian tourists taking selfies and the village, which boasts having the highest roofs didn’t quite have the authenticity of Wainyapu.
We finished the day in Weekuri Lake. It’s a gorgeous turquoise lagoon surrounded by lush vegetation with the roaring ocean just behind. It remained cloudy, the lake was full of people and Dominique was stung by a lion fish so the experience was some-what marred! It was there that we discovered we had fallen on the main Indonesian long holiday weekend.
In the following days we visited several more tribal villages, one more beautiful than the next, with some hanging on the side of a hill surrounded by jungle. We saw them building the roofs and repairing their homes. On arrival we would meet the village elder or chief, write our names and give a donation, which we all thought was fair enough. In many of the villages the women would be weaving ikats and some of the men would be carving statues out of wood or bone. As Dominique speaks Indonesian we were really able to hear their stories about their lives and it gave my photography some meaning. We hiked in the hills and watched the sun set.
On our 4th day we set off to Waikabubak, the centre of the island. There were more villages, more friendly people, a waterfall and then finally we arrived at Nautilus Resort Hotel in the south which we had only managed to book for one night as it was so popular. The hotel is quite expensive but gorgeous. Beautiful, spacious cottages tastefully furnished with terraces, each with a stunning view of the coast below. We gorged ourselves on Ali’s French food and wished that we could have stayed longer.
The south coast is stunning. Not all the beaches are surf and we spent a wonderful morning swimming on a deserted beach with clear, calm turquoise water less than an hours walk from Nautilus. Finding a car to take us to Waigapu for our final 3 nights was not an easy task. We contacted several car and drivers on internet but all were booked, finally the Padadita Beach, our hotel in Waingapu found us one. We ordered it for 1.00 pm and it turned up at 5.00! Not really a hardship as the south and Nautilus were so gorgeous.
Padadita Beach had very nice rooms and wifi which was SO welcome! The staff were pretty amateur and we didn’t care for the food at the restaurant. Also, it is not on a beach but dug out of mangrove. By Sumba standards it was quite good, although would have benefited from a pool.
Two full days in Sumba left. Our appetite to buy an ikat had intensified so we set off for Prailliu Kampung, just outside Waingapu. A very pleasant guy married to an Australian researcher showed us around his village. There were some marvellous old tombs and both men and women were weaving and stitching. The ikats were unfortunately hugely expensive so we ended up buying them elsewhere, one in the market and another in a shop near our hotel. We drove on to Waikiki Beach which was full of people at low tide, searching shells and paddling.
We passed fields full of magnificent graceful horses. The horses of Sumba are an integral part of their life, used for riding of course but also as a status symbol. They are often traded as part of the bride price. Brides don’t come cheap in Sumba, although it is a complex situation and in some cases the debt can be carried on for several generations if the boy’s family is not wealthy enough to pay the bride price for the girl of his choice.
Our new driver took us to several villages, a beautiful deserted beach where we were able to swim, a hike to a waterfall and stopped everywhere for me to take pictures. There were children working with their parents in the rice paddies, herds of horses and as we climbed, those wonderful undulating hills with winding roads offering stunning views in every direction.
It is time to leave. I found Sumba to be a fascinating island, one of great beauty with delightful people, ancient customs and a way of life that is lost. Most of the people live very simple lives but are always happy and smiling and delighted to talk to foreigners. There are very few hotels worthy of that name which is perhaps why it is largely unspoilt by mass tourism. There were far more Indonesians visiting than foreigners. I would visit it soon as with all that Sumba has to offer, more hotels will be built and it will lose it’s magic.
Sweet couple in Tambolaka market