Often, we travel to find something we’ve never seen before. We travel to feel something because our daily routines can be monotonous and especially tiring.
We search for something in new and unfamiliar places that is liberating because it is simply brand new. That newness frees us from what’s real and what is known. The problem here is that we tend to forget that our life, consisting of reporting to someone somewhere five days a week or being present to our children as a full-time mother at home trying to breathe, is not reality.
Reality is something far bigger than that.
It’s a place where we feel we make a difference. Where we are free to feel what we want in the deepest places of our hearts without worrying to get hurt because we are so lost in our minds and it is exactly where we want to be.
Our reality can set us free from the mask we wear, it’s a place where we can run barefoot and have courage, a place where we can be as vulnerable and open as we dream of being.
A place where we belong and where we are meant to be. Living… and everything in between is just surviving without having to impress anyone.
In other words, reality is magic. However, we fail to see this because of the distractions within our heads.
In Nihiwatu, at Sumba Island, I felt the power of being in the now.
I’ve been in love with my reality for a long time. I am not shy of saying it.
Since a young age, I have been fascinated with the idea of magic. My reality was then and still is now magical, I am confident of that. Beautiful, untouched and often broken places have raw edges, yet dipped in magic. I have travelled to foreign lands, and every island, city and capital I visit, I find something new.
Nihiwatu crossed my radar while watching a friend experience his magic on the island. He came back with stories and in his eyes nothing could beat this place. I had to see it for myself, experience what he believed so strong in.
So I booked my 8-hour flight from Dubai to Bali, spent a night on the “Island of Gods” and then took the 50 minute Garuda Indonesia flight to the isolated island of Sumba, a place inhabited by only 650,000. Driving past the jungle, off-roading in a 4×4 convertible (which reminded me of Africa), I came across the local people on my left walking their buffalos and on my right, women and children collecting the water and bringing it back to the villages (as they are responsible for).
The road was bumpy, I kept losing grip of my camera, but it didn’t stop me from getting up on the seat of the car, holding on to the edges of the roof, capturing the lives of the Sumbanese people and the rice fields that kept creeping up on every side of the rural road. We drove past villages that are traditionally built on hills or mountains to be protected from enemies where they are closer to the spirits and ancestors, but the influence from our modern world today showed that it made sense to live where the fields are or near the road, so there are fewer traditional villages and but still, some are partly on the mountain and others partly in the plain.
As we drove closer to Nihiwatu, there are no sign boards here, no electricity poles on the streets, no advertisments, just terrain road. We past chickens and cows crossing the road, the driver who is Sumbanese, struggled to explain everything to me in English. He honks in order for the street dogs to move out of the way with their puppies and it was not long until I saw pigs in the yard with kids playing around them.
During the drive, children on the road and in their homes were yelling for joy ‘DA’ which is hello. They would be waiting for the opportunity for a car to pass by in order to climb the backseat of the jeep or the side and sing their favorite songs while laughing with no care in the world.
It took a 90 minutes drive to reach Nihiwatu. An area in West Sumba first discovered by an American and his German wife in 1988 while hiking and in 2000 opened their own little surf retreat with around 10 rooms until American entrepreneur Chris Burch bought the resort alongside with James McBride as a partner and aimed to make this Nihiwatu’s bohemian’s spirit. They bought more than 56 acres of land in West Sumba in order to protect the land and its people so as not to repeat the same mistake that Bali made (which is over commercialised today).
What I found in the remote Sumba Island was a void in travel. Ancient culture that still exists and offers a unique escape from everyday life. The magic of being the first ever to discover.
Sumba has an area of about 11000 square kilometres, so it is roughly twice the size of Bali. In Nihiwatu, you are set out on a new adventure every day, exploring Sumba and meeting the Sumbanese people. The magic is in both.
You see, the difference on other islands or places that have more exposure to tourists is the expressions on the faces of the locals, as you pass them by, is a new one, one that has not been over used time and again. It is the new expression of joy and happiness and curiosity of a stranger, a tourist, a guest in their homeland. He has only seen a few dozen of you before, to some, you are their first real encounter with the outside world. The children around the villages in each home, that has around 8-10 kids by one mother, they said to me: ” The more kids you have the more blessings will come”. Mainly because the kids help in the fields and fetch the water. The prosperity of a village is not measured by its houses and their equipment, but by the number of water buffaloes, horses, cows, pigs, and more recently of motorcycles.
This is the Magic of Sumba.
To be the first to catch that smile or wave is a reminder of how we all started in life and what matters. It brings us back to our roots and connects us with humanity more than ever. Being amongst the first to feel this magic, has to do with what it felt like being in the wilderness, to walk for miles with no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and rice fields, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.
No two days were the same on the island. Sumba belongs to one of the rather neglected regions, due to its distance to Indonesia, with a relatively low population. Nihiwatu organises visits daily to the Sumba Foundation, a foundation established by Claude Graves and Sean Downs in 2011 to alleviate poverty in Sumba by providing access to clean water, eradicate malaria, general health and education. Empowering communities through basic humanitarian aid. Since inception, 5 health clinics were built and staffed by the Foundation, malaria infection rates were reduced by 85%, more than 60 water wells and 240 water stations where developed, 16 primary schooled supplied with water, toilets, tables, chairs, library books and supplies and the Sumba Foundation Clinics provide reliable healthcare to over 20,000. I spent the morning visiting the Malaria Clinic center and had the opportunity to help providing lunch for kids in a school before we did a tour around and learned more on what the foundation has achieved over the years.
You can donate and be part of the ongoing work here by clicking here.
Nihiwatu has 11 different categories of room to choose from and I stayed in Marangga which was facing the sea with traditional pointed roofs. Every sunrise, I practiced Yoga with Mary Tilson, a resident yogi at Nihiwatu and she would then give me small inside tips on new adventures on the island. Mary and I even laughed so hard one time when we praticed in the pouring rain as she helped me with my crow pose and I never gave up until I woke up one morning both my arms sore but managed to stay in my pose for couple of seconds!
My visit was early in February and the island had just encountered a lot of storms for 2 weeks. The seas were rough, I was not able to go spear fishing or to the waterfalls as I hoped I would, but I enjoyed daily surfing, experienced my first horse riding on the beach, NIHIWATU has a stable of horses in which you can ride with at sunrise and sunset, but the experienced that satisfied my crave of adventure is the Stand-up Paddle (SUP) at Wanukaka River. I was paddle boarding in a river 2.5km long and passed through water buffaloes, wild horses and through the centre of Wanukaka Village where I floated down the river watching the sumbanese villagers and their daily life.
It rained heavily on me towards the end, and I got down on my knees and had to paddle fast with my hands until I couldn’t anymore and had no choice but to give in and went with the flow while I soaked in the rain and in a distance, chanting kids by the other side waiting for me to reach land to play with them in the rain.
There is one thing I remember very clearly as well during my stay at Nihiwatu, an activity they call the Safari Spa. The Nihi Oka Spa Safari which is a full day at Nihi Oka, isolated from the rest of the world on a hilltop cliff facing the Indian ocean. To get there, I had to trek with a guide (or you can ride a horse). It’s called a spa safari because of the unlimited open air spa treatments I had till sunset.
It was the end of my trip. It was so quiet as I was sitting having lunch in my spa lounge. I was so far away from everything unreal.
I left the edge of wilderness with a full heart. I work with children and local villages from a very young age, the heritage and local culture of poverty is not a stranger to me but what I never found was being the first of few to experience ancient cultures that exists today. A thousand times before, people have inspired each other to do greater things, Sumba is no different than that.
The land is always out there, making its way, doing everything it can so you can breathe fresh air; so you can eat fresh food; so you can move and see and feel and think, and it’s on your side. The world is out there doing what it’s been doing way before you came here, it’s firm and strong just like those working at the foundation and the stories I heard… 10 years from today, I want to make sure I can say that I chose my life and that I did not settle for anything within it.
Who I am is due to the people in my life who each played a significant role in my major decision to travel to all corners of the world. We close our eyes when we pray, when we cry and when we kiss, when we dream, because the most beautiful things in our life are not seen, but felt in the heart Sumba Island is living proof of magic that is felt because right here, it’s not a dream. We only see the sign of existing magic in people’s eyes that have visited Nihiwatu just like I saw it in my friend’s eyes and after being there, we believe our reality is this, exploring and we learn that we are exactly where we are meant to be and that each experience brings us closer to one another.
THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
How to get here
Denpasar, Bali (DPS) to Tambolaka, Sumba (TMC)
Garuda Indonesia ETD Bali 1300 hrs ETA Tambolaka 1400 hrs
Tambolaka, Sumba (TMC) to Denpasar, Bali (DPS)
Garuda Indonesia, ETD Tambolaka 1110 hrs, ETA Bali 1210 hrs
Best Time to Go
There is a dry season from May to October. From November to April it might rain. The monsoon or rainy season lasts from about 3 months in the east up to 5 months in the west. The best time for travelling for nature lovers is from April to July, after the monsoon, when it does not rain any longer, and when it is still green.
Spear Fishing – Horseriding – Chocolate making – Cooking classes – Yoga – Surfing – Jet Ski – Stand up Paddle Boarding – Snorkelling – Diving – Weaving – Market Tour – Sumba Foundation Tour – Trekking – Safari Spa
There is no money changing facilities on the island. If you plan to buy handicrafts at villages then please exchange your currency in Bali before arriving at NIHIWATU®. Credit cards can be used in NIHIWATU®’s facilities such as the bar, shop and for activities; however, we are not able to provide cash advances on your card.
NIHIWATU has a small “Mamole” boutique that offers jewellery, surf wear, beachwear, Sumba Foundation products and basic toiletries. There is also staff market stocked with Sumba Ikat textiles brought in from the local villages by the staff. You will be able to find handicrafts of varying quality in some of the villages.
Children: Depending on age and ability, include soccer, volleyball, snorkelling, boating, fishing, visiting villages, hiking to the waterfall, mountain biking, exploring the reefs on low tides and collecting fossils and shells. For younger children they have a nice child-friendly swimming pool and board games. Painting and drawing supplies, as well as beach toys are available.
A clinic is available at NIHIWATU but make sure you also bring your specific medicine, you can read more here.