So there we were, the gal and nine others around a long table set in the sand at Nihi Sumba, the luxury resort that confounds the rules. That night was a seven-course pop-up dinner cooked, on a grill he had built himself that very afternoon, by Panama’s charismatic culinarian Andres Morataya – Nihi Sumba’s equivalent of CEO, James McBride, had discovered this guy when travelling through Central America scouting for the next Nihi property. Most of the guests that night had been initially attracted by the surfing on Nihiwatu beach here (the waves come, unhindered, all the way from Antarctica, and the biggest, the Sumba Sunset, a left-hander for the advanced surfer, is up to 15 feet – surfers talk feet rather than metres).
There are 320 people making this resort work, 95% of them local. Nihi’s culture has been immersed in Sumba Island life since before McBride and his business partner Chris Burch first came here – the Sumba Foundation, set up in 2001, has eradicated over 85% of malaria on the island, set up four health clinics and trained over 300 nurses and lab technicians. More than 25,000 now have potable water. A recent initiative is to help kids as young as four with computer skills. All this makes for a lovely interchange between hotel guests and staff – there was no problem in taking a photo of this young man I had never seen before (notice the curved dagger set into his belt).
The team includes some formidable equestrian talent. On October 27th, 2017, Nihi Sumba hosted its third annual British Polo Day (BPD) tournament – above – in aid of the Foundation. Over 60 players and camp-followers descended from all over for what turned out to be a four-day jamboree, which included a 90-minute pre-breakfast hike with James McBride to Nihi Oka, and of course surfing, and sundown beach riding as well as the tournament itself – fortunately Nihi Sumba has its own horses, mostly Sumba Sandalwoods, named because they were traded for sandalwood in years past. Nihi entered its own team, sponsored by RJI Capital, whose CEO Ben Vestey is also a co-founder of the self-described eccentric BPD. This year’s winning team was Mashomack, from New York, captained by Bruce Colley.
But there are always plenty of times and places to escape the crowd. Yes, Nihi Sumba is about community, make new friends, join up with others. Villas, with their natural boundaries and pools and lawns and outside salas, here called bales, allow contemplation, and there is an excellent library, in space shared with the 24/7 gym. I loved my breakfasts, both at Ombak restaurant facing down to the sea, and also at home by my pool – notice how I ordered the healthy green goddess drink that became an instant signifier while I was here. It is easy to see, looking back, why Sumba quickly becomes a way of life. NOW, FINALLY, SEE WHAT MY VILLA WAS LIKE