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Sumba, Indonesia

Last Word: Terra Incognita

By Andrew Harper

The Hideaway Report | March 15, 2017

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In recent years I have found myself to be the recipient of an unexpected degree of sympathy. “It must be really difficult for you,” people say, fixing me with a look of obvious concern. “After all, there’s really nowhere left. It’s all been discovered.” In truth, I have been known to get a little gloomy myself about the contemporary world’s lack of terrae incognitae. Which is why, a few weeks ago, I was extremely heartened to receive an invitation to lunch in New York from an acquaintance, James McBride. He wanted to tell me, he said, about his latest project on the island of Sumba. As you might imagine, four decades of globe-trotting has equipped me with fairly extensive geographical knowledge. But Sumba? I’d never heard of it. I hastened to my computer.

In recent years I have found myself to be the recipient of an unexpected degree of sympathy. “It must be really difficult for you,” people say, fixing me with a look of obvious concern. “After all, there’s really nowhere left. It’s all been discovered.” In truth, I have been known to get a little gloomy myself about the contemporary world’s lack of terrae incognitae. Which is why, a few weeks ago, I was extremely heartened to receive an invitation to lunch in New York from an acquaintance, James McBride. He wanted to tell me, he said, about his latest project on the island of Sumba. As you might imagine, four decades of globe-trotting has equipped me with fairly extensive geographical knowledge. But Sumba? I’d never heard of it. I hastened to my computer.

Sumba, it turns out, is a sizable island located about 250 miles to the east of Bali. The Sumbanese speak a variety of languages, and about a third of them practice an animist religion called Marapu. Prominent individuals still receive burials in megalithic tombs — think Stonehenge — while the national pastime is called Pasola, a game in which hundreds of horsemen charge one another and hurl wooden spears. Fatalities are frequent, apparently.

Nihiwatu on Sumba Island Courtest Nihiwatu

At lunch, McBride said it was clear that I was not a surfer, because otherwise I would have heard of Sumba, specifically a world-famous break there known as Occy’s Left. His own connection to the island, he explained, was as the partner of J. Christopher Burch, the New York billionaire best known as the founder, with his former wife, of the Tory Burch fashion label. McBride and Burch’s new resort, Nihiwatu, comprises more than 30 sumptuous villas and treehouses set on a remote 550-acre estate. Aside from a mile and a half of white sand, the property offers an open-air spa, a hilltop yoga pavilion and horseback riding, plus exceptional big-game fishing for marlin and sailfish. And surfing. At the end of an extremely cordial lunch, I took a stroll down Park Avenue and reflected on what a pleasure it was to discover that the world still contains exotic and fascinating places that even I have never heard of.

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