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Q&A with Nihi Sumba’s General Manager, Madlen Ernest

Thank you for your warm welcome to the “Edge of Wildness” Madlen,
It’s so great to be back post-pandemic. The Resort looks amazing!

Can you tell me how you were able to survive and thrive during covid?

It’s wonderful to see travelers starting to explore the world again after the pandemic. I have been here at Nihi for 3 years, very interesting times for all of us and the hotel industry as a whole around the world. Initially we closed down for five months, starting April 2020. During this time we did some big renovations to all of our villas, projects we weren’t able to complete as we were always quite busy. We refocused our energy into the domestic market since Indonesians were unable to travel abroad. Nihi became an iconic “bucket list” destination.  Our CEO, James McBride, as always the innovator, had our website and marketing materials translated to Indonesian. We were the only resort in Indonesia to do so during that time which then translated to high occupancy with our domestic travelers. It was also wonderful for the team to speak in Indonesian to our Indonesian guests. Nevertheless, we missed our international travelers so we were thrilled when the borders reopened so we could welcome them back to Nihi Sumba.

I know you love animals, tell us the story about Bonnie, she’s an adorable addition to the Nihi family.

As you know we have a little farm here with horses, a petting zoo with goats, pigs, chickens, and geese. Bonnie’s mother rejected her and her brother Clyde upon birth. The staff brought her to me and said what should we do? A couple hours of YouTube videos on how to milk a goat, we finally were able to get a little bit of goat milk and managed to bottle feed her. Sadly her brother Clyde didn’t make it but Bonnie kept thriving and growing. Since she’s grown up with our resort dogs, Nippy and Snowy, she definitely thinks she’s a resort dog.
When you whistle she comes, she likes to sleep in the same way as dogs sleep.
She’s very cuddly and has become a little icon mascot for our young guests, kids and even our adult guests. We’re a great duo, Bonnie and I.

Hiking to the spa safari, I saw that the Sumbanese live above their animals, can you tell me a little bit about the Marapu religion and the significance behind it.

I could talk about the rich and colorful Sumbanese culture for hours. Even though most of the Sumbanese people are technically Christian, the Marapu religion is still practiced in many ways. Generally speaking, they do believe in a temporary life in the world and in eternal life in the Marapu heaven, the world of spirits. Their ancestors play a very big and important role in their everyday life. In their beliefs they all descended from the great mother and father who live in the universe in the form of the moon and the sun. Mythology says that seven pairs of men and women climbed down from the sky on a ladder made out of buffalo horns to Sumba. The Sumbanese believe that when they leave this world they will ascend the same ladder to be reunited with the spirits in the afterlife. The traditional houses are built with their animals below, the first floor is built as the living space for the family, and underneath their very tall roofs, they store their food and with the smoke of their fires in their house going up through the roof, it naturally smokes their food and preserves their rice and grains. They also believe that the height of their roofs brings them closer to their ancestors.

Lastly, can you put into words the magic behind Nihi Sumba from your perspective.

The magic is the people of Sumba, their smiles, their culture, the expansive beaches and the vast array of things you can do from waterfalls to spa safari to riding horses on the beach and that you have access to so many things. The Sumba Foundation is a key part of it, while your staying in beautiful places, you feel good because the people of Sumba are being taken care of, provided with food, healthcare and education.
A key component is that the experience and the beauty of the place is better than any picture, website or video can portray. You have to see it and experience it in person to truly grasp the magic of this beautiful island.

Read About my Nihi Sumba Experience Here

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