where 2 wear it

Sumba – an exotic Indonesian island of worms and horses!

When my travel writer partner told me about an island where people eat worms and charge about on tinsel-decorated ponies hurling spears at each other I thought he was having me on – but no, he was describing the magical Indonesian island of Sumba which has inspired me to design a simple travel kimono – find out why below and click here to download the pattern.

Just an hour’s flight southeast from Bali, Sumba feels a world away with a much more traditional lifestyle. Many Sumbanese still live communally in rural villages, their ancestors kept close by in elaborate table-top tombs in the garden. Their houses have exceptionally tall roofs made- of thatch but sometimes cerulean blue corrugated metal.

Traditional village house on the Indonesian Island of Sumba

It’s a pretty spartan life but luckily for me I get to stay in the posh version with hot and cold running plunge pool at the award-winning resort of Nihiwatu where ‘barefoot’ is of the utmost luxury boho variety.

Marangga my Nihiwatu villa Sumba style

Even luckier my visit coincides with the Pasola – a bizarre annual ritual associated with the Marapu animist religion which many islanders still follow despite having to be officially Christian or Muslim. The festivities only take place in February and March when the  moon is right and the worms arrive. Plentiful worms is said to herald a bountiful rice harvest and a little or a lot of blood spilled from the horsemen’s spears helps things along too. This is indeed a mad place!

The early bird catches the worm

Fishing for Nyla worms on the Indonesian Island of Sumba Nihiwatu

Just after dawn I run down to the beach in my Nihiwatu kimono to have a look at the catch. The wriggly iridescent Nyla worms look like a bucket full of Haribo sweets but rather than sugar they’re packed with protein. This lady is very happy with her haul.

Nyla worn catch on the Indonesian Isle of Sumba

But no diet of worms for me – I take a cooking class with Erik, an engaging chef in the Nihiwatu kitchen.

Cooking lesson in the Nihiwatu kitchen Sumba

Tah dah! After a lot of pounding and stirring here’s my finished nasi goreng and kebab with peanut satay sauce – delicious!

Nasi Goreng Nihiwatu Sumba

Let out of the kitchen for good behaviour I run off along the beach to the Nihiwatu stables where head girl Carol encourages us to meditate with our mount for 10 minutes before setting off on our beach ride. I take the opportunity to suggest to my horse Hunter that he forget that he was once a racehorse and instead think ‘beach donkey’.

communing with Hunter at the Nihiwatu stables Sumba Indonesia

He takes no notice and we take off for an exhilarating canter through the waves

Beach ride Nihuwatu Sumba Indonesia

Day Two and another early morning start to catch the Marapu priests summoning the worms to set off the proceedings for the day’s Pasola.

Maputu priest Indonesian Island Sumba Pasola Festival

They sport wear some great headgear and beautifully woven Ikat wraps. Sumba is famous for it’s weaving.

Sea worm priests Indonesian Island of Sumba

The horses have some cool head decoration too, which might look as sweet as ‘My Little Pony’

Pasola pony Indonesian Island of Sumba

Their riders could all qualify as ace polo players and make my beach ride look pretty tame as they charge around, riding bareback and barefoot and chucking wooden spears at each other in an incomprehensible jousting tournament that doesn’t appear to have any rules, regulations or referee. If you fancy trying this at home I suggest a course at the Centre for Horse Combat in Hertfordshire UK  where you can learn to shoot all manner of things from the back of a moving horse.

Spear throwing horsemen Pasola Festival Sumba Indonesia

My third early morning start and I’m back on my mount Hunter, this time for a meander across the paddy fields

Riding in the paddy fields Sumba Indonesia

to spend a whole day at the Nihiwatu Spa

Spa treatments Nihiwatu Sumba Indonesia

….which sounds like way too long – but there are many dreamy treatments on offer and our cheerful therapists are keen we try them all ….

Alice relaxing in kimono Nihiwatu Sumba Indonesia

Back in my villa and all serene and blissed out I realise that the luxury here is so barefoot that there’s scarcely any need for clothes at all. So I’m offering an easy kimono pattern for lounging anywhere that will take up no space in your luggage. Click here if you’d like a copy.


I’m off to Sarawak, Borneo for the last couple of weeks of my winter away.

All images © nigeltisdall.com

Please get in touch here if you’d like to order an Alice & Co made to measure outfit or download one of my PDF patterns to make something yourself, whether for travelling or staying at home.

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  1. Sandra Gann

    Exotic does not come into it – what a wonderful experience and the colours of all your holiday wardrobe fit the environment. I’m thrilled with my striped skirt and top and will be wearing it here in the Scottish Borders immediately – cannot wait for Patagonia in February to be seen strutting around in ‘made by Alice & Co’

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