Sumbawa is the mysterious island between Flores and Lombok. Mysterious because it was very difficult for us to find any information about the place! The Lonely Planet made it sound like it was better to skip over and our usual go-to online sites, TravelFish and WikiVoyage, were also drawing blanks… Naturally, this made us even more determined to go to Sumbawa and find out for ourselves.
The key to great experiences in any place is getting to know the locals. When your guide-book fails always try Couchsurfing. Even in the most out-of-the-way, unlikely places – we recommend searching by province/district if the area is remote/not well visited – if there’s someone hosting there, they must be pretty cool and probably don’t get so many requests! On this occasion, Couchsurfing connected us with an amazing group of people passionate about the natural beauty of their island and excited to share it with the world: Adventurous Sumbawa (they are most active through their facebook group).
Adventurous Sumbawa helped us every step across the island; Starting right from the English teacher who met us at the ferry in Sape: the island’s eastern arrival port. In Sumbawa Besar we stayed with Jhony and his family at the Adventurous Sumbawa ‘Base Camp’. Jhony has an amazing vibe, that transcended his limited English and our limited Indonesian. He is the most chilled father of two I’ve ever met – and fatherhood has far from stopped his adventuring, his 4-year-old son is the youngest recorded climber of Mt Tambora (Sumbawa’s active volcano. You might not have heard of today, but in 1815 Tambora made itself known to the world when it erupted and caused a ‘year without summer’ around the globe!)
From Base Camp, we headed out on a camping trip to Moyo Island with Adventurous Sumbawians’ Winda, Mike, Andi and Iuthis. It was here that we experienced the best walk-in-off-the-beach snorkelling we found on our travels in Asia. A reef bursting with colour, teeming with tropical fish! We had snorkelled at Komodo just a few days before, so despite the very high standard that had been set, we were blown away by what we saw underwater. And WE HAD IT ALL TO OURSELVES. And IT WAS FREE. Seriously, how can this island stay a secret?!
Lucky for you Iuthis is a talented film maker and uses his skills to promote Sumbawa, so you can have some idea of the beauty we were witness to. See Iuthis’ youtube channel here.
The next morning, waiting for our boatman to pick us up, we were surprised when a couple of middle-aged bules (foreigners) arrived to the island. I was even more surprised when they opened their mouths and were undeniably Australians. “This is what Bali use to be like 30 years ago.” The woman told us, “Beautiful, untouched nature and genuine people. You can’t find it on Bali anymore.”
A few weeks later, when we reached Bali, we began to understand what the woman meant. Yes, Balinese culture is beautiful. But I found it really hard to enjoy Bali because people continually tried to rip us off (asking sometimes 10 times that of a fair price), prices are the highest of all Indonesia and you share every place with a mass of other tourists. Indonesia has 7000+ islands, so why does everyone hang out on only one of them? I suppose that ease and creature comforts have a lot to do with the answer to that question. But I’d take the beauty and friendships of raw and real Sumbawa any day!
One experience Sumbawa gave us, is something I know I’d never get in Bali. We were guided on a two-hour jungle trek to reach the absolutely breath-taking Agal Waterfall – to which we are the first foreigners to ever visit! Local Mr Erik, with the help of Adventurous Sumbawa, started promoting the waterfall just this year. He hopes that the waterfall, which he’s grown up with, can begin to bring eco-tourists and some income to his village of Marente. Mr Erik was the Indonesian with the best sense of humour I’ve met, a laugh to warm the room. He and his very-pregnant wife hosted us free of charge, so we could complete the trek and even treated us to a karaoke performance by his talented 8 year-old daughter!
One of Sumbawa’s greatest secrets is that it is home to Indonesia’s longest waterfall: Sebera Falls, with a height of 300m. We didn’t have time for the 4 hour (one-way) jungle trek… So, title for ‘first foreigner to Indonesia’s tallest waterfall’ is still open – what are you waiting for?!! Go, Sumbawa, go!!!