I’d been in Bandung for about six months and I’m not sure how it happened (my diary says nothing) but I decided to go to Sumba for three weeks on holiday. Back in 1997 it was way off the beaten track and saw very few tourists. It was apparently famous for slavery, fine ikat cloth and horseback fighting festivals. It was also famous for its megalithic tombs – not just from the past, they were still erecting them and I was amazingly lucky to get involved in one such ceremony. But more of that later, first I had to get there and that involved quite a bit of travelling. First up a 24 hour bus journey from Bandung to Denpasar in Bali. Although my bus ticket said Super Deluxe, quite naturally it was anything but. However I did manage to get some sleep and at the other end found my way to Kuta beach. I checked into a cheap losmen called Jus Edith off Poppies Lane II in Kuta beach (12,000Rp/$5). I had a look for it on Google maps but not surprisingly the whole place has changed and it is no longer there. Kuta beach has been on the main tourist trail for many decades and in 1997 it was a pretty laid back place with loads of ramshackle stalls and warungs. I noted the place was full of “dead head ozzies”. The following morning I treated myself to a banana jaffle and got a kijang to the airport.

The flight was uneventful. I noted we flew along the south coast of Lombok with Mt. Rinjani poking through the clouds. I guess this is the photo of it below, and then onto Sumba. Most of Indonesia consists of a chain of volcanic islands. Sumba is very different; rolling hills and very dry.

Soon we landed at Waingapu airport. The airport itself was empty, there were a few families waiting outside the fence for people from the plane. There were also a few guys touting free rides to their hotels for the few tourists about.  As it happens I got a lift from the guy from the airline, Bouraq, to Ali’s guesthouse which comprised of four rooms with a veranda not far from the harbour. Looks like it’s no longer in business (2024). My diary said I wandered around town and noted it was very small and quiet. “The guidebook says there are 25,000 people here. I wonder where the other 20,000 are?” in 2022, the census said 35,000! In the harbour I saw some perahu – Bugis schooners, I’m not sure what they were carrying, but a couple of the crewmen called over and we had a chat in my halting Indonesian. I was a bit chuffed when they told me I spoke Indonesian in an obvious Bandung accent! IT was pretty idyllic here, the soft early evening light and the cool sea breeze.

Monday 22 Sep 1997

After breakfasting on gost soup, rice and satay, hired a Honda motorbike and took off south across a rocky barren wasteland punctuated by scraggy trees. I descended into a very small green valley and on to the village of Rende, where there were three or four big traditional houses and some huge stone tombs but overall it was very quiet and a bit eery. I was met by a couple of locals and asked to sign the visitors book. I noted that the last people to do so were the previous week. I t appears now (2024) the village is know as Praiawang Traditional Village and is even on trip advisor although the last comments are from 2018. Anyway, back in 1997 there were just a couple of women weaving and the usual few kids about.

My diary says I drove on for a bit to get a better view of the valley.


But it was mostly very arid:

I turned back and headed for the only settlement of any note, Melolo for lunch. Here I chatted to the local Bank Manager, Policeman and Warung owner mainly about football and Lady Di, who had recently died – this was a great source of conversation in Indonesia at the time! More goat soup. From here onto Pau and other weaving village. Here I got a bit of a reception – a dozen or more kids surrounded me trying to sell their Ikat weavings.

I did manage to escape eventually but then my bike broke down but for 5000Rp and a tweak of the spark plug I was soon on my way back to Waingapu but not before stopping at an unnamed but beautiful beach. I see from google maps there are plenty along this stretch of coast so it could have been any. Perhaps Pantai Maujawa?

Got back into town by sunset and I spied a restaurant with loads of food in the window (not like any of the Sumba restaurants I’d seen). Tempe, chicken, hati (liver), buncis (beans), telur (egg) etc. I knew it immediately that the Ibu wasn’t from here – Jawa Timur (East Java) and so I could actually understand her and of course had the usual conversation about Lady Di. Anyway the food was delicious and a welcome change from Goat soup.

Tuesday 23rd. Bus journey to hell.

An abiding memory of Indonesia is the awful bus journeys I’d undertaken – even 25 years later I can feel trickles of sweat coming from every pore and pain in my arse of tiny seats and potholed roads. My diary  of the journey: “After breakfast I returned to the losmen to find the bus waiting for me. It was 7:45 and due to leave at 8am. Surely it couldn’t be early?. any notions of leaving early were to be conclusively dispelled as we drove around town for the next two hours trying to collect passengers. I counted going past the bus station five times. Within spitting distance of our destination, Waikabuback we stopped for goat soup. Not long after we restarted we had the second puncture of the trip. Not the usual 10 minute repair but 45 minutes. Of course we then went round Waikabubak for a few laps before finally being let off at the bus station.”  The hotel that was recommended by Ali had no signs and looked deserted but I tracked down a whistler at the back and he showed me to a large bare room with attached mandi for 5000Rp. That would do. I never did find out the name of the hotel but I think it was near the old market which is photographed below. Also, my diary says I walked up a rocky trail behind the hotel to Kampung Tarung. This was a traditional village which had been surrounded by the more modern town. There were a few friendly folk there who welcomed me into their houses for a cup of tea and of course the opportunity to buy some cloth and take a few photos.

Waikabubak old market (now demolished)


When writing the blçog I always cross reference my blog with what is on the gound now. The old market seems to have been demolished in the 1990s and also very sadly Kampung Tarung burned down.

The rocky road to Kampung Tarung
Kampung Tarung
Kampung Tarung


Coming down from thje village I bumped into a fee more locals who all said hello. It seemed like a very friendly town. I also spotted another non-Sumba restaurant – run by another Javanese couple advertising Ayam Goreng (fried chicken). Very tasty it was too.

Wed 24th Sep

I headed off in search of breakfast and a bus to Kodi. I got the breakfast but no bus. As it happened word must have got around as there was a bus waiting for me by the hotel! It seems like these local buses are more like share taxis. It was going to Waitabula but I could change there. As it happens I didn’t get that far. There was a big market going on in the village of Elopada so I got off there instead and got snapping!


It was interesting in that no one paid me any attention whatsover which was in marked contrast to whe I did eventually arrive in Kodi. I was surrounded by a whole group of blokes. there were quite friendly, one guy just wanted to try out his newly learned English on me while others just stared. However, before too long I was able to hop on a truck to my final destination, the beach and village of Pero. The truck was packed to capacity but of course everyone was very friendly. In contrast to a lot of the island so far, here all the houses were traditional with huge straw roofs. Not a sign of brick or tin anywhere. Diary entry: “I arrived at Pero and was immediately directed to quite a nice house with garden and veranda complete with a pink plastic garden seat. IT was run by two oldies who showed me to a large table in a room surrounded by doors to six or seven rooms. A meal was served. Chicken and boiled veggies with smokey water (I think this means the water had been boiled over an open fire). A look at the visitors book suggested the owners were slightly optimistic with the number of rooms. There were a maximum of four guests at any one time and I was the first person for a week.” Although I don’t mention a name, my guidebook from the time (Footprint Indonesia Handbook from 1996) says the only place to stay is Losmen Story and as of 2024 this seems to have changed to Merzy Homestay. Seems like it probably was the place.

I had a snooze and waited for the relative cool of the late afternoon before setting off. A young lad ferried me across the river mouth and I set off south along a rough path. Before long I could see the tall roofs of traditional house poking out above the palm trees. This was Ratenggaro. I was met by the head man and shared some betel nut. Everyone in Sumba seem to take betel nut, as can be seen from so many toothless, red grins. It does give a slight “high” but mainly it made me produce a lot of saliva which I was unable to eject with much decorum. As usual the people were very friendly but their living conditions looked very basic in the extreme.

looking back to Pero
looking back to Pero


Ratenggaro Kampung


The following few days I wandered around the area and was invariably welcomed into a number of villages and given the opportunity of buying either cloth or carvings.

In fact at one stage a group of locals came to my room displaying their wares (below) I had no where to hide so I bought a few. Essentially they were carved buffalo horns with a wooden figure on top.

Of course I also spent time at the beach:

My last night in Pero was not very pleasant. I had a really bad dose of diarrhoea. Despite this I headed back to Waikabubak on the bus. This time my diary says I wanted to stay in a better hotel that previously and it was the Aloha which is actually still in business. At the hotel I then realised that I had left my money belt behind! I was in no state to go back then but I decided to rent a motorbike the following day and retrace my steps.

Fortunately the following day I was feeling better so had some plain rice for breakfast, hired a small Honda Astrea (20000Rp) and was off. I much prefer being on a bike rather than the bus because I love to stop and observe and photograph people by the side of the road.

The roads weren’t too bad so I got to the hotel in under three hours. There was no one around so went to my old room and there it was – under the mattress. I’m not sure why I put it there. Maybe because there was no lock on the door but thankfully I had it back so I was back on the road a happy man. I headed to Waitaula and had some more rice for lunch. My stomach seemed to be returning to normal. I am blessed with a faitrly strong stomach so if it is upset, it is rarely for long. From here I headed to the coast and the beach at Waikelo. The usual picture perfect beach, I sheltered under some sgraggy trees and listened to the waves softly lapping the shore. I was soon joined by a few goats happily eating the few dried leaves lying around. The situation was far rosier than a day or two ago.

After the beach I headed back to town. On the way I was soon confronted by four youths carrying a pig and behind them about thirty or forty people dressed in their finery and marching down the road.

I followed them to a small village. It was some kind of religious festival – they were Roman Catholics but I’m not sure what festival it was. Anyway, there was lots of dancing and singing and banging of gongs. As a side note most of the people in Sumba are Animists and follow the Marapu religion although also mix this with Christianity and Islam so it could have been a more traditional event.

From here I headed back to Waikabubak and took a few photos near the bus station.

29 September 1997

The following morning my diary mentions that I got up and chatted to the only other guest at the hotel, a Japanese man, remarkable I suppose because I had seen so few foreigners in Sumba. I was also assailed by an old man who led me to his village. He gave me sirih (betel) to chew for which I gave him 1000Rp. I guess that is what he was really after. I’ve written down the name of the village as Kampung Kalembunk but I couldn’t find it while researching this blog post. I did find quite an interesting website with loads of travelogues about Indonesia but of most interest for this post is one on  the  kampungs of Waikabubak detailing a number of the other villages in the area. As it was written in 2018 the place seems to be a bit more geared up to tourists.


Back in 1997 I got on my bike and headed south. I ended up at the beach at Wanokaka but it was a bit rough to swim so I retraced my steps. I was soon directed off the road to the village of Praigoli. It seemed to be famous enough to have a visitors book and I was relieved of 1000Rp. I took a few photos and chatted to the locals who gave me a cup of tea. the young bloke in the picture below insisted that I lend him my sunglasses for the photo!

Kampung Praigoli
Kampung Praigoli
Kampung Praigoli

My next destination was the beach at Rua. The locals directed me down a very rough gravel road which got progressively worse as I went along. IT felt like I was really out in the middle of no where and I was slightly concerned that if I had a problem with the bike I would be stuck for hours and it was getting extremely hot with no shade. Anyway, I eventually reached the promised land – Pantai Rua. I striped off and hit the sea. Ahhh. the back to Waikabubak for the night.

30th September 1997

I must have given my motorbike back as the following morning I was on a bemo – to Anakalang. I took some photos of the traditional houses (adat) and the famous stone carving of the man d and woman when a group of lads came up to me.


Apparently there was a huge event taking place tomorrow – the “tarik batu” (stone pull). I believe the raja of the area – the King of Anakalang was to have his funeral ceremony and the stone was for his tomb. But he wasn’t dead, maybe he would come to meet me later. Anyway, the lads said I could stay the night and showed me to a hut.

As an aside I wrote in my diary that loads of people want me to take their photo, they all give the “binoculars” sign and most of my photos were of ordinary people. I don’t know what I did with these photos! Anyway, then the Raja showed up. He must have been important because most of the lads ran off and the few more senior ones that stayed all sat straight and became very serious. He was the only person I had seen that wore trousers and he looked very regal in his World Cup hat. He sat down and we conversed in my halting Indonesian. I must admit most of it went over my head. I’m still not exactly sure what event I was about to witness. Of course he gave me condolences about the recent death of Lady Di “kasian Lady Di” and I took a photo.

As I was left alone for a short while I took the opportunity to go for a short walk, to the holy kampung on the hill where I met the holy man, presumably with his holy pig.

Back at my hut the blokes reappeared and we had dinner. There was a big pile of rice, some sing kang stew (cassava leaves) and very blackened chicken. Cremated rather than barbecued I would say. I guess the place was set up for guests, or at least a guest as I had a bed and there was electricity, or at least there was a light over my head but no bulb! The blokes said that the festivities would start tonight but I was exhausted (both mentally and physically) and I was asleep by 8pm nodding off to the sounds of chanting singing, gongs, bells and the “tokay” of the resident gecko.




Wednesday 1st October 1997

Diary entry: “Morning breaks and I feel refreshed after a good night’s sleep. I’m up at 6.30 and see the sun rise over the far end of the kampung. Already the smoke from fires makes an attractive hazy scene as the kampung is bathed in an earthly orange light. I sit on the step of my hut as the pigs, ducks, chickens, dogs and an odd small hose snuffle around the giant stone tombs. It seems the Subanese have a fascinating attraction to facts and figures. At least three villages round here including this one claim to have the biggest stone tomb in Sumba. It took 2350 men two years to drag the stone to its final resting place. When I noticed a billiard hall in a nearby village I was told it contained 5 tables out of the 55 in Sumba.

I also watched the men put the final touches to a bamboo caged sedan chair which they were going to transport a sacrificial pig to the ceremony. They then take much more time and energy to get the aforementioned pig into its carry case. What time does it begin I ask. 10 o’clock they say. Interesting, it is Indonesia after all, I wander to the site at 11 o’clock. There is already quite a crowd and I see the giant stone. It is still about 10 metres away from its final resting place. A fair distance given its size. I also noticed some foreigners. My diary notes that I had met them before somewhere in Sumba. A big German bloke who kept getting in the way, the Japanese bloke and a French couple who I believe were making a film for National Geographic.

There was a band of sorts who started banging drums and gongs. This was to announce the arrival of a party from a nearby village with offerings for the king – pigs, buffaloes and boxes of betel nut. This went on and on and was interspersed with periods when the men would pull on ropes and move the giant stone another few inches. They were encouraged by a man on the stone with a sound system calling “pull, pull” or something similar.  After the 20th or so buffalo (I believe there would be about 50 in the end, all slaughtered on the day) I got bored and went round the back to see people cutting up pigs and boiling the bits. There were also a number of marquees where some guests were quietly chatting or playing cards. My diary entry for this is all very mundane. I can’t really believe it as the whole event, including the night before was amazing and something straight out of National Geographic. Anyway, I’d seen enough and headed for the main road to get a truck back to Waingapu.

Back at Waingapu, I managed to get the last free room at Ali’s (of 4!) and had a slap up meal at the Mini Indah Hotel (no longer in business).

Friday 3rd October, Last full day in Sumba. I couldn’t resist it. I hired another motorbike and headed for the beach. This time Tarimbang. I got half way there easily enough on the main road. I stopped at the turn off for a bowl of noodles but then the road got really bad. In order to “improve” it they seemed to have dumped tons of rubble which made it very hard going. It was more like scrambling.

Anyway after 4 hours I got to the beach (I see on google that now it takes 2 hours). It was actually well worth it – a picture perfect white sand beach. I thought it was popular with surfers, I only found one who showed me to Martin’s Surf Shack. I think nowadays it is called Marthen Homestay   On its website it says, “25 years ago, the first tourists came to Tarimbang. They were surfers. They came down with horses, because there were no roads yet. Together with some of these surfers we decided to build a homestay: Marthen’s Homestay.”

I guess that was about the time I was there. I did note in my diary that the people there were not very friendly as I needed something to eat and some petrol for my bike. Neither were forthcoming. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I had a great swim then on my way back the bike completely broke down. However, I managed to stop a cattle truck, we threw it in the back and eventually I got back to Waingapu sometime in the evening.

Not the best way to end a fantastic trip and one which would be totally different done now, over 25 years later. Well some things might be the same – the views for instance. Below is my photo from 1997 and below that a screenshot I took from google maps 2022!

One last photo of me at Ali’s Homestay.

And here is a map with all the places I visited:

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