The second-largest town of Sumba is actually mostly a collection of traditional villages with tall, thatched-roof houses and ancient tombs.
Waikabubak, all seven streets of it, is one of those typically Sumbanese towns, not much happening, but full of genuinely friendly people; all curious about the foreigner, to be sure, but breaking into a smile as soon as you establish eye contact, and all eager to help – sometimes annoyingly so. But tourism has penetrated here, more than in Waingapu; the area around Waikabubak is more densely populated, and easier accessible. So more children have taken to holding up their hand, for a sweet or for money, and some have even taken to sticking up their middle finger, although I am sure they have no idea what it means.
The town is a strange mixture of those facilities you expect in a town, government buildings, shops, a few churches, even a real football pitch, and that combined with the traditional kampungs with conical thatched roof houses. In the outskirts, but also right in the middle of town, whenever there is a rocky hill, there is a kampung on top, complete with tombs, praying totems, and rows of traditional houses. Scramble down again, over the slippery stones that make up the steep access to the kampong, and you end up in the main street, with cars, busses and noisy motorbikes, an ATM machine and the occasional restaurant.
Obviously, our interest is mainly in the traditional villages – after all, the ATMs here distribute only very small amounts of money, and the restaurants, as if by prior agreement, only serve ayam goring (fried chicken and white rice), nothing else. A relaxed stroll on a Sunday morning takes us through four or five kampungs, all different, all unique. Upon entering the village, we are stopped by people who want to know who we are, where we are from, where we are going to; all eager to show off their village, and exceedingly hospitable. We are invited to sit down, and chat about whatever seems appropriate, and between our limited Bahasa Indonesia and some limited English of our hosts, we manage – especially because some of the younger people actually speak excellent English. Some kampungs consist of five houses, no more, and are a rather muddy affair in between the exposed rocks, others are large establishments, twenty or more houses, and better equipped, with concrete walking paths and even street lights. Like in East Sumba, animals are scurrying in between the houses, and the tombs. Laundry everywhere, and – thanks to grandpa – the tombs, the big slabs of stone, make an excellent place to dry.
Outside Waikabubak, just a few kilometers east, there are more villages, once again mostly confined to the hill tops, but here they are not surrounded by a town, just jungle. Once more, I scramble from village to village, occasionally asking for directions – not seldom helped by somebody who decides to show me all the way -, and always being received kindly. It is that I am not a great fan of betelnut, but otherwise I am sure my teeth would have been coloured deeply red, by now. Great experience, wandering around in these villages. Difficult to explain, though, so enjoy the pictures, instead.
next: more villages around Wanokaka