My job takes me to places strange and wonderful – Nihiwatu in Sumba was definitely the latter. Lush green, sparkling blue, powder white and sunkissed skin, its untainted, earthy aesthetic is everywhere and it certainly gave this jaded city girl a much-needed wake up call.
Sumba is only an hour flight from Bali but centuries behind the rest of the world. The majority of Sumbanese still live in huts without electricity and our guide, Tinus, proudly tells us that he is married to the woman who “cost the most buffalo” in his village (which isn’t surprising – she’s a total babe).
It’s about an hour drive through mountains, villages and Sumbanese jungle to reach Nihiwatu, which is essentially the only resort on the island but even then, I use the term resort loosely. Every element of Nihiwatu was designed to melt into its existing environment; everything is built by locals using local materials and roads are replaced with bougainvillea-lined rock paths.
Your days can be packed with adventure or lazy with zero agenda but they are never, ever empty. Yoga is practiced multiple times a day in a bamboo pavilion with no walls and you can sign up for guided hikes through rice fields and mountains that take you anywhere from the pristine isolated beaches at Nihi Oka, where a five-star breakfast and massages await, or, for the more adventurous, guided treks through lush Sumbanese jungle to an otherworldly secret waterfall.
I had come to Nihiwatu with one goal in mind and that was to disconnect from the world and reconnect with the earth because if there’s anywhere to get re-acquainted with your most primitive, raw self, it’s here.
Step one – no shoes.
The first day and night I was extremely cautious – I was constantly looking at my feet to watch for rocks and sticks that might hurt my perpetually bare feet –but by day three, I had thrown caution to the wind, running and diving and completely giving myself to the environment around me. I started to trust it and in turn I lost all senses of fear and anxiety. I was – dare I say it – playing!
Our primal instincts have been put to sleep from cowering behind concrete and a growing penchant for social media. Slowly but surely, it has left us disconnected and, well, scared of a lot of things that should come naturally to us.
Which brings me to the next rule.
Step two – put down the f*cking phone.
Smart phones are great. But it’s important to remember that our phones are there for us and not the other way around. You can learn a lot just by looking up – be it at the perfect azure blue that mirrors the ocean by day, the streaks of citrus colors at sunset or the blanket of stars by night.
Being present for moments like these are far more rewarding than a like or a new follower.
Phones offer a simulated version of what already exists. Why see where everyone else is when you’re in one of the most beautiful corners of the world? Why use a sleep-aid app when real waves are crashing against thousand-year-old rocks at your doorstep? Why see what people are up to on Facebook when you can talk to the person right there in front of you?
Life is happening all around us. Be part of it. Be present.
Step three – reconnect.
There’s a rule I go by as a journalist and that’s that “there are no boring people, only boring questions”.
Everyday people are fascinating and social media only offers a shallow, muted version of how colorful, amazing and inspiring the people around us really are. At the heart of Nihiwatu are people who had the balls to kiss modern life goodbye and follow their bliss – whether it’s Tinus who comes from a Sumbanese warrior family and turned down a royal position to get an education and end generations of violence; or one of their resident surf instructors, Marshall, who left the slums of South Africa to come to Nihiwatu so he could share his love of the ocean with guests.
During daily sunset drinks at the boathouse, it became clear that everyone at Nihiwatu shared a common desire to return to what it means to be human. To be part of the living, breathing thing that is our world without feeling the need to own it or change it. We all have a lot to learn and the best place to find it is in each other – or Nihiwatu. That’s cool too.
It seems a cliché to say, but it really is the people that make Nihiwatu. From waterman Marshall Boulton, who left behind a rough neighbourhood in South Africa to come to Nihiwatu and share his love of the ocean, to the kind-hearted, charismatic Sumbanese staff in search of a better life without compromising who they are and where they come from.
Luxury resorts are a dime a dozen, but it’s truly one in a million to find one with as much heart – and as wild – as Nihiwatu.