Ratenggaro and Wainyapu

If you’ve got a sharp eye for funky tribal architecture and you happened to see our recent post on the back roads of Sumba, then you probably noticed that shot of Thomas fording the river backed by a series of unbelievably vertical thatched huts. That was Ratenggaro, perhaps the most stunning village in the entire Kodi tribal region (and perhaps all of Sumba).

Kodi is Sumba at its best, a region of superlatives. The huts are taller, the villages more traditional, the tombs a bit grander, the beaches more sweeping, the sculpture a little more plentiful… Kodi is simply awesome.

Discovering places like Rantenggaro is why we travel. Every time we start to get a bit jaded, we run across a truly incredible location like this which reminds us that – even in the 21st century – there are still discoveries to be made. The small headlands just west of Ratenggaro featuring half a dozen unique stone tombs is pure magic.  Looking back at the huts perched perilously on the river-side cliff, the village feels like a surreal figment of – well – my imagination. This is precisely Continue…

Traditional Sculpture and Carving of Sumba

Carved fence post

As we mentioned in our posts on the megalithic tombs and the unique tribal villages of Sumba, incredible artistic talent is woven into every aspect of Sumbanese daily life. During our motorbike adventure around the island, I was drawn to the phenomenal sculpture and carvings that we discovered on our trip. These are not objects in a museum, but rather religious idols, fence posts, and carved architectural elements we discovered in the compounds of everyday people we met along the way. Unfortunately, while such art is still Continue…

The Back Roads of Sumba

When they say the trip is the destination, they are talking about places like Sumba. Travel here is no piece of cake, but moving through this epic landscape, with all its challenges, is the definition of adventure. We set off on our motorbikes with little more than a vague Lonely Planet map and a couple of useless brochures, and ended up getting lost for two days in one of those fantastically rewarding misadventures we have grown to love.

Our trip started out a bit questionably as we dodged an endless line of overloaded trucks on the “main road” from Waikabubak towards Waitabula. Unable to enjoy the undulating tropical landscape due to the trucks, we improvised a detour across the forested back country to Pero. As is often the case, remote “roads” that appear on maps may not be there. Or there may be more of them than you anticipate. In this case, both scenarios proved to be true. Our road narrowed into slightly more than a paved, potholed path that wound its way through rainforest, past tiny farms and villages becoming a rural maze of forks and side roads. In other words, it was Continue…

Stone Table

As we were exploring the coast along Sumba’s southern Wanokaka region, we happened upon this solitary dolmen-like tomb under a magnificent tree. As a kid, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was one of my favorite books and I read the entire Chronicles of Narnia several times, so it’s not surprising that I immediately associated the site with Stone Table, the mysterious ancient site which figures prominently in the book series.

Situated on a plateau just south of a meandering river near the edge of a forest, the setting was eerily similar. I’m certain C.S. Lewis’ legendary site is NOT based on a Sumbanese tomb, but that didn’t matter to the eight-year-old in me.

Sumba’s Lonely Beaches

Few tourists make it to Sumba’s cultural sites – and even fewer to the island’s stunning beaches and world-class surfing spots. Largely unexplored by tourists, vast stretches of undeveloped, golden sand beaches line the shore. And they are eerily empty. As you can see in the picture above, Tony and I were the only people on Pantai Marosi in western Sumba – the void seemed to go on for miles. Needless to say, that’s how we like our beaches. 😉

But the lack of roads and beach access as well as limited public transportation can make visiting the coastline quite a challenge. We rented a motorbike and, in between village visits, took several side trips to the coast. More often than not, we had to meander along sandy dirt tracks to get to the actual beaches. And once we got there, we couldn’t really spend too much time frolicking before we had to turn around.

In all of Sumba, coastal accommodation is limited to a couple of seasonal, high-end surf resorts and two or three very rough homestays. Until more accommodation arrives, day trips out of Waikabubak, Waingapu, or Waitabula are the best way to enjoy western Sumba’s lonely beaches.

The Tribal Villages of Sumba

Tarung village in Waikabubak, Sumba

Tribal western Sumba is without question one of the most fascinating cultural regions in all of Indonesia. Eclipsed by more famous destinations such as Papua, Sulawesi, Sumatra and Flores, remote Sumba is primarily visited by travelers with a keen interest in ethno-tourism. Way off the beaten path – or any path for that matter – you don’t just end up here by mistake; you come here specifically to take in the unique Sumbanese tribal art, architecture and cultural heritage.

Sumba is a tough place to travel: there are few hotels, roads can be terrible, English is non-existent and the tribal communities can be somewhat volatile. Conflicts can break out at any time, even in the larger population centers such as Waikabubak. In fact, on our way to dinner one evening in Waikabubak, we were turned back because a battle had broken out between two villages and mere meters ahead people were hacking each other to death with their swords. This ain’t Disneyland Continue…

Sumba Kids

Foreigners are a relative rarity in Sumba. While the adults tend to be rather aloof and suspicious, the kids are another story. 🙂

Megalithic Tombs of Sumba

Elaborately carved tomb along road in Kodi region

Although megalithic cultures are a thing of the past in most of the world, these traditions are alive and well in many remote Indonesian islands from Nias to Sulawesi to Flores to Sumba. Of these islands, Sumba is – without a doubt – megalith central. Thousands upon thousands of monstrous stone tombs dot the island. They are literally everywhere.

Even today, megalithic tombs are an important (and exorbitantly expensive) part of the death rituals in Sumba. While archaeologists theorize about the construction of famous sites such as Stonehenge or Gigantia, the people of Sumba are actively building their megalithic masterpieces. We’ve put together a small collection Continue…