The Neolithic Age still bares its mark on this remote gem encroaching the Savu Sea attracting a trickle of adventure-driven culture fanatics and gung-ho surfers. Megalithic tombs abound in charming villages home to thatched clan houses as a reminder that in Sumba, ancient rituals are still a part of daily life.
Journey inland where the indigenous animist religion, Marapu, inclues sacrificial rites and the use of effigies paying homage to the balance of universal life. Sumba’s arid savannah coupled with its distinct cultural traditions create a backdrop steeped in mysticism unlike anywhere else in the world.
Rock-strewn hills blanketed in Alang grass bare the brunt of howling winds on Sumba’s southern coast. The exposed coastline attracts swells creating conditions for other worldly surf safaris in total isolation.
Off the coast, world-class fishing awaits in crystal clear deep waters appealing to divers looking for an off the beaten track destination.
Inland, uncharted paths lead to historic settlements nestled within deciduous forests where the flora and fauna is an unusual mix of Asian and Australasian origin. Weaving through lush jungles, Sumba’s rivers are the waterways for life, cascading down pristine waterfalls and ending up at expansive, empty beaches. Heading up the rivers can make for ideal trekking through sparsely populated wilderness inhabited by colorful endemic birds, further adding to Sumba’s allure.
Sumba’s extensive grasslands are the ideal breeding grounds for wild horses that still run free along the coast. The Pasola Festival, scheduled according to the predictions of local mystics, is a rare opportunity to witness bareback horseman ritualizing tribal battles using hand-carved spears.
Marapu celebratory rituals engage rhythmic chanting, stomping, and elaborate dances to bring about successful harvests and bring a village better luck.
One of Sumba’s most famous practices is ikat, the dying and hand weaving of textiles. Single pieces can take months to prepare, the results breathtaking. The whole island itself seems to share the quality of beauty perfecting over time.
On the southern coastline evergreen forests create a stark contrast to the auburn plains further inland. In these fertile, green hills that remain moist even in the dry season, keep a lookout for the sumba boobook owl, the red-naped fruit-dove and even the Sumba hornbill.
Turquoise tidal pools sit atop cliffs facing the ocean and in some areas, narrow valleys lead to white sandy beaches. The thinly populated island has little road infrastructure along the coast, and that which does exist is poorly mapped, making any foray along the coast the recipe for a guaranteed adventure.
The east of the island cuts a picture of sultry savagery; coral limestone and high, windblown hills marking a place firmly rooted in time. One can’t help but feel that Sumba is caught in paradise purgatory, unsure whether it wants to be an african safari, or an island getaway.
The landscape on the flight into Sumba’s largest city, Waikabubak, is framed with mahogany plantations and traditional settlements overlooking spectacular scenery. Just an hour and a half from Bali, traveling to Tambolaka Airport may as well be traveling back in time.
Waikabubak sits at 600m above sea level, enjoying a cooler climate than the arid lowlands by the coastal areas. Nearby traditional villages are rarely visited by outsiders and offer a glimpse into daily Sumbanese life.
For a further peek into the day to day life in Sumba’s only urban area, head to Waingapu, the trading hub of the island. Take a walk through the market on Saturdays when merchants gather to showcase their wares and a flotsam and jetsam of travelers gather to experience the action.
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