Travelling off the beaten path in Sumba

Posted on Posted in Nomad Life

Coming to Sumba, my life had to slow down; the cars drive here 60 max despite the empty roads, and no one seems to make any plans or stick to the time schedule, which for me was quite hard to get used to – especially when I had to catch a flight and the taxi driver was still collecting the passengers to drive to the airport in the city an hour away from the airport.

Traditional villages are in close proximity of the graves to remember the ancestors
Traditional villages are in close proximity of the graves to remember the ancestors
Waiting for the luggage at Tambolaka airport
Waiting for the luggage at Tambolaka airport

I had arranged an accommodation in Sumba Tengah, in central part of Sumba. The closest ‘big’ city is Waikabubak, which is one of the most important cities in West Sumba. My room was part of the local convent (puspas) and of course, English was not spoken there, so I finally utilised my Lonely Planet Phrasebook Bahasa Indonesia. Soon enough I met father Simon and Jegho, who spoke some English and helped me get around and even took me to Kodi for Pasola.

Road traffic in West Sumba
Road traffic in West Sumba

The room was simple: a bed with a mosquito net around, a table, little basin, toilet and a bucket full of water to flush. It took me five minutes to find a single power plug in there, but the electricity stopped working soon after that.

The light powered by diesel generator after the electricity died
The light powered by diesel generator after the electricity died
Charging important devices
Charging important devices
My home - puspas in Sumba Tengah
My home – puspas in Sumba Tengah

The people at the convent were always sending me to ‘take a bath’ (mandi) and Jegho talked a lot about bathrooms here and there. While I had appreciated their concern with my cleanness in this hot weather, I didn’t know what the deal with the bathing was. Having no shower in my room I had thought there are some communal showers so I went around looking for them, which made everyone laugh. As it turned out, the ‘bath’ was that bucket of water in the toilet and I was supposed to splash the water on me and ‘take a bath’ this way. Fair enough. I later found out that the water runs only for couple of hours in the afternoon, so maybe that’s why it is so precious for people to be able (and proud) to take a bath.

The technology for pumping my water
The technology for pumping my water
Getting a fresh avocado down from the tree
Getting a fresh avocado down the tree

Driving around in a car, it was easy to forget that people living in Sumba are extremely poor. I got reminded of that in few villages where I saw an incredible hospitality of people who despite, not having much, gave us cooked corncobs, hot soy milk and showed us their homes. There I also posed for selfies took by their cell phones. So on one hand, they have to deal with often power and water cuts, but everyone has an HP (cell phone in Bahasa Indonesia) and a profile on some social network.

It is extremely easy to take pictures of the kids - they're so happy to pose
It is extremely easy to take pictures of the kids – they’re so happy to be on a picture
Locals in Ole Dewa posing for our pictures
Locals in Ole Dewa posing for our pictures

I knew, that travelling to and in Sumba was not going to be on a low budget. Car rental prices are high and I don’t think it is possible to rent a motorbike, which had made my life so much easier in Bali. I had to move around by taxis or by paying some locals to take me places. I’ve missed my freedom here a little bit. If I had more time I would’ve come for longer – that way I would be able to use the local bemos for transportation – minibuses that are used by locals and drive between cities but are, at the same time, extremely slow.

Bemo is an usual form of transport
Bemo is an usual form of transport

West Sumba is beautiful, we stopped for lunch on a beach near the traditional village Bondokawango in Kodi district and it was one of the cleanest seas I’ve seen in Indonesia so far. Not so much the surroundings, though – after a Pasola the day before, lots of rubbish was left loose at a meadow nearby. This is what makes me think what to do about the rubbish thrown about Indonesia (and developing countries in general).

Lunch on the beach
Lunch on the beach

Another traditional village not so far from there, Ratenggaro, is set up for tourists, which I didn’t know until some villagers came to me trying to sell me some local amulets and cloths. The kids were interested in my camera, so I took a picture for them and then wanted to give them something as a ‘thank you’, but I forgot my chocolate bar in my backpack back at the convent. So a lesson for the future: always take some sweets or fruit to give children you meet.

Ratenggaro village
Ratenggaro village
Musician in Ratenggaro
Musician in Ratenggaro

Sumba is real; the tourists haven’t spoiled the island and its culture yet. My favourite times were when I tried to speak with locals, because I was pushing myself out of my comfort zone, which was both, challenging and rewarding. I talked to Astrid about her going to school and I even managed to arrange a taxi with a local speaking only Bahasa Indonesia.

Sunset in Sumba Tengah
Sunset in Sumba Tengah

For my first experience off the beaten path in rural parts of Indonesia, I really enjoyed it with all its positives and negatives. It made me appreciate what I take for granted in Europe and it made me admire the attitude of locals, who seemed to accept their living condition but not without a hope that it could be changed one day. I had the feeling that the father Simon is kind of counting on me to help them. I would be very glad to do that, but at the moment I am yet just a little person to change something… For now at least.

Road to a village in West Sumba

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