Are you looking for an unusual calm, relaxing and uniquely new place unaltered by the forces of globalization and enjoy a rewarding fishing trip? Let me take you to an island in east Indonesia called Sumba, and to a particular location of this island called east of Sumba. How do you get there? There are two flights to Sumba from the island of Bali: one with “Lion Air” and the second one with “Merpati Airline”. The Lion Air has newer Airplanes but the check-in will take at least 45 minutes due to the long queue. All Lion Air flights are using the same single check-in stand, so even if you are 2 hours earlier you will still need to wait about 45 minutes; a worse scenario may occur when other passengers for special reasons have first priority.
The flight and service are good and it takes about 90 minutes to arrive at Sumba; the pilot will announce it once you see Sumba from your window. It is a good time to pull out your camera and take beautiful pictures of the amazing landscape of Sumba. The first impression once you have landed is of being back in the 80s; almost everything at the Airport reminds you of old days except for the computers for check in and the ACs in the boarding lounge. Food is not available at the airport during lunch time, the only restaurants are in Wangaipu –the largest town and capital of East Sumba; “Padang” restaurants and small “nasi bungkus” (wrapped rice meal) stands can be found by the road.
My trip to East Sumba was mainly for attending the funeral of my friend father David Wylie who passed away 6 Month ago. It took a two and a half hours drive to David’s residence. The trip to this location is pleasant and interesting; one can see the amazing landscape, horses, cows and one of Sumba Kings Residence and many other interesting rural scenes. When I arrived at David’s residence, I could feel the positive energy of the place, I felt being at home and these feelings remained with me during the entire few days of my stay. I happened to arrive at the sunset time and all my friends gathered by the beach witnessing this spectacular scene in the evening! They welcomed me with a cold beer, which was really refreshing and it helped me to relax. Not long after that, dinner was ready; the food was delicious and consisted of fish caught by Arvid and Hamish Wylie (son of the deceased), fresh salad, rice, vegetables and chili named by Hamish “dynamite” because it was extremely spicy; even Arvid -who is used to most of the hot chilies of Indonesia, was blown away by this small powerful Sumba chili!
We all had to contribute to a common task: “catch fish or you will starve”! However, the pressure was on me because Arvid and Hamish have proven already the day before of the fantastic catch that we enjoyed at dinner at my arrival. The challenge was still greater because, they requested lobsters, squid and of course good fish! I do not like to fish under pressure because I cannot relax and it affects negatively my concentration. We spent four days fishing and here is how it went.
We swam from the shore and cut through a channel. The visibility was 5-10 meters depending on where you headed to; the amount of rabbit fish and their sizes shocked me. Not only rabbit fish was abundant but also sweetlips, one can easily be mistaken with a mangrove jack, but the only way to differentiate them is by their movements. I was warned to be aware of big GTs, African pompanos and snappers. So I was very selective and patience with pulling the trigger even when I was tempted by how big and close the Rabbit fishes were! I have not shot anything during my first two hours; but after a while, I decided to take any worthwhile game in front of me. Most of them were rabbit fishes but I also spotted a nice scribbled Snapper, which I followed it to a big rock and it disappeared but I was then rewarded with a nice lobster. Then I went back to find the scribbled snapper and it was gone; however, I didn’t wasted my dive because a big rabbit fish passed right in front of me and I took my second fish of the day. I swam further away from the channel and saw an ideal terrain for GT patrol or any pelagic fish. It did not take too long and a nice 5-8 kg green jobfish swam towards me. I dived down and waited but the jobfish didn’t come close enough and my gun was not designed for long shots. I waited for it to come back and this time it was getting closer but still I wasn’t confidence enough; besides that, I thought I could always come back to find it next time or try one more dive; then the jobfish never came back. On the way back I saw another lobster and rabbit fish and I called it a day because visibility was getting worse.
I spent the rest of the day relaxing by the beach with my friends and watching the sunset. At dinner, Lativa (Hamish’s mother) cooked an amazing lobster and fish pasta for dinner. Then, we were a privileged to witness for the first time a typical traditional savu dance. It was particularly touching the last dance, when one of the dancers chanted a song about David Wylie, which sounded exactly like the singing of Native American!
This was the day of the funeral service for David Wylie. The kitchen expanded 10 times; they slaughtered cows, goats, pigs all night and prepared the food during all day. They needed to prepare food for an estimated 1500 to 2000 guests. One part of the group – consisting of between 30 to 40 men, was trying to finish the tombstone which weighted about 5 tons! Sumba is one of the few places in the world in which follows the custom of megalithic burials. The logistic itself was absolutely a nightmare; I spend most of the day watching and trying to suggest them how to complete it. But when you have 40 men shouting, frustrated and holding on their own ideas, it was really hard to get your voice heard; they worked from 6:00 AM to 4.30 PM to finish the tombstone.
The service started at 4:30 PM and it was very emotional; an estimated 1000 of people witnessed the ceremony, which ended by throwing half of the ashes to sea. The funeral could not have been done any better; we admired Hamish and his family who organized this amazing funeral so well! When the last guest went left, I could see the relief in Hamish’s face; it didn’t take too long until we started celebrating his achievement; we dined and drank like there is no tomorrow; dancing and singing and the night were filled with laughter.
Everyone woke up with a big hangover the next day. I was still burping alcohol after breakfast. But the plan was to film spearfishing for Hamish’s “Adventure TV Show” for one of the local channel in Indonesia. I was struggling; none of us shot any fish. But the hangover dive was compensated by a seeing a big turtle and dugong, accompanied by a school of small golden trevally and good size cobia. My energy level was depleting very fast due to hangover and I was also scared to shot anything including the easy target of a cobia behind the dugong. I was afraid that I would miss it and hit the dugong. I decided not to shot anything and I went back with huge regret.
I felt better by noon and decided to try a different spot. We were told that there are rainbow runners, milkfish and trevally. The reef was the ideal habitat for good snappers and pelagic fishes. I was teased by a small scribbled snapper; I missed all the shots. Then I saw another one but 10 times its size. I waited patiently but it didn’t come closed enough. I finished the day with 2 rabbit fishes and one silver snapper not sure of its name. We ended the day by going to bed very early because we were tired.
We had given up on waiting for a boat to take us to a better and more promising spots. So we decided to try our last spot one more time. I entered the reef from a small channel. I was greeted by a school of unicorn fish, then African Pompano and a two meters black tip shark. I felt like a kids in candy store, and my heart was ready to pump out my chest with excitement. I stop for 2 minute to control my heart beat then full charge through the channel. At first all the fish was spooked by my entrance; I tried to creep through the side of the channel but the fish was a little bit edgy. So I decided to ignore the spot and come back later. It paid off because a school of giant African pompano headed straight towards me and of course my first target was the first one, which usually is the biggest one; unfortunately they were too fast so I went for the more promising shot. I took the shot and the buoy start running, I grabbed the rope and followed it. Then I tried to pull it slowly and saw the shaft didn’t go through; clearly I needed to be extra gentle. I slowly pulled it up and it then started swimming so hard heading towards a big rock; my worst nightmare was about to start. I swam down and tried to get it off the rock, then not long after it tangled itself to the next wrong. I literally dive 5 times with 10-20 sec surface time. It the end I caught the fish and grabbed it by the tail and brought it up. It was a nice 8 kg African Pompano, not the biggest of the group but good enough for dinner.
I decided then to explore a new area and it paid off; the terrain was amazing. Not long after that, we saw scribbled snappers, mangrove jacks; cubera snappers and this trigged our enthusiasm! Shot after shot and the catch size was getting bigger and bigger until the point when we decided it was enough fish to last 3 days! The average size of the snapper was 3.5 kg, which amounted to a total of 45 kg of fish! We ended up a day by having a big bonfire and grilled the fish by the beach.
We headed back to Bali the next day. We’d wished we could have hired a boat and hunted the big pelagic fish. Never mind, the size of the catch of the previous days made up for our failure to catch the pelagic fish. All in all our experience in East Sumba from every point of view was unique and rewarding. Our plans are now to go back to East Sumba as soon as we can. Although on a sad occasion of the funeral of Hamish’s father, our trip this time proved to first be of comfort to Hamish and his family and then an opportunity to appreciate their warm hospitality, opportunity to witness such a sensitive funeral service, and finally admire the local people’s respect for the integrity of their ocean and environment.