The rugged beauty of Sumbawa
Sumbawa is an ultra rugged large landmass with Lombok to the West and Flores to the East. It’s not to be confused with the island of Sumba, which lies to its South East. Sumbawa is indeed large. It’s bigger than Bali and Lombok combined (and then some). The scenic island is hard to get to and does not offer a robust infrastructure, but the adventure loving traveler is rewarded with unspoiled beaches of turquoise waters, world class surf and welcoming and gracious locals.
Indonesia's Volcanos and The Ring of Fire
It is an island of angular and twisting peninsulas, deep protected bays, forested mountains, and of course Mount Tambora, the infamous volcano that is responsible for killing over 72,000 in one eruption. Sumbawa, as the rest of the 14,000 Indonesian islands, sits directly upon The Ring of Fire. The infamous explosion took place in April, 1815 and is considered the most destructive volcanic eruption in modern history. It spewed 100 cubic kilometers (24 cu mi) of ash into the atmosphere, causing the “year without summer”. Very few crops could be produced following the eruption as the ash blocked out the sun causing the deaths of thousands more worldwide.
Sumbawa is a Surfer's Paradise
Historically, Sumbawa was invaded by Western marauders for its honey, wild horses and sandalwood. Today, Sumbawa is known for surfing boasting several world-class surf breaks. The most well known surf spots include Lakey Peak, Cobblestones and Onnie’s Right, but there are many more exceptional breaks like Benete, Nungas, Periscopes, Yo-Yo’s and the ominously and perhaps unfortunately aptly named Scar Reef and Super Suck. Most breaks are for good to experienced surfers but Benete, Lakey, Periscopes and Scar Reef are best left for the more expert level surfers. Sumbawa receives great surf year round but the best swells are generally from April to September. If you are interested, please contact us or research the surf camps at Dompu (Lakey), Sekongkang and Hu’u. One last surf note, tides really determine the conditions here, so it is important to have a tide table handy.
What if you don't surf?
Despite the fact that not many travelers explore this scenic island, it is a wonderful place to visit even if you don't surf. In fact, Sumbawa’s slogan is B E S A R which means 'big' in Bahasa Indonesia and the letters of the slogan stand for Bersih, Elok, Sehat, Aman damai, Rapi. Roughly translated, that means Clean, Beautiful, Healthy, Peaceful and Neat.
Sadly, the island is not without its challenges. Sumbawa is poor, and health and education are very much at the development stage. The infrastructure is in its nascent stages and there are a couple good roads, but for the most part, travel is difficult across the sprawling island. In just a matter of minutes we almost collided with other cars, dozens of motor bikes, huge pot holes, cows, dogs, cats, chickens, goats, some unidentifiable animals, people just hanging out in the roads and other obstacles.
To compound the struggles the good people of Sumbawa are faced with, the mega-corporation Newmont and its partners have invested almost $2 billion USD in an enormous copper mine, making Batu Hijau one of the largest mines in the world. Little if anything is done to protect the island and the company is straight raping the land and leaving muddy, polluted messes for the poor native peoples. Newmont has been involved in many scandals including mercury and arsenic poisoning here in Sulawesi not to mention the ongoing pollution cases on four continents. It is appallingly sad that this continues and permits have already been issued by corrupt politicians to allow further pillaging until 2034.
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Sumbawa is a must for the eco-adventure traveler
The pace of life in Sumbawa is chill and slow. People sit together and eat delicious fresh food and enjoy the rustic natural beauty of the island. That is not to say that they are not dedicated and hard working folk. Local people are predominantly Muslim but traditional beliefs and practices also continue to influence daily life. There are two main cultural groups in Sumbawa. Generally, the Tau Samawa live in the west and the Dou Mbojo inhabit the east.
Traditional living and ancient rituals await the eco-adventure traveler
In parts of Sumbawa, traditional ways of living continue today and I urge you to get out into the villages to observe this interesting way of life. While you are there, see what you can do to help like donate time, clothing, gear or just play with the children and share with them. Many of the ancient rituals are still performed such as water buffalo racing and berempuk, which is an exciting ritual boxing match. Try to find a guide who can take you into these villages as entering them by yourself may be perceived as unwelcomed. We can certainly assist you and have some wonderful contacts that would be delighted to help you, as it is difficult to find accommodations and your way around on your own. Please contact us and we would be happy to help.
Sustainable living and caring for the land
The people have learned to live of the land and have deep respect for the natural resources. We were lucky to spend time with our extended family and my wife’s uncle, despite his advancing age, is still a ‘super forest man’. I consider myself a capable outdoorsman but I could barely keep up with his pace through the jungle. Treading through dense brush barefoot, finding paths I could never see, with machete in hand showing me all kinds of plants used for shelter, first aid, food, water and more. He has build beautiful, strong and sustainable buildings from bamboo for his family and his coveted bonsai trees are a true work of art.
Only two islands over, Sumbawa is a world away from Bali and its luxurious accommodations but the adventure traveler can learn and experience a great deal on this storied island. For more information and help planning your adventure to Sumbawa, please contact us today.
A huge thank you to the lovely people of Sumbawa and now Back to Bali