On the southwest coast of Sumba in Indonesia, five bamboo-thatched bungalows face out to an untouched surf break.
Over the past five years, Christian Sea (he changed his name in homage to the ocean) and his family have been lovingly tending to their 250-acre beachfront plot on this remote island.
What they have created is an off-grid nirvana that calls to adventurous salty souls. There’s an oceanfront restaurant, lounge, yoga and massage studio and a magnificent pool, reached by a cable bridge stretching across a rainforest valley.
Built upon the three tenants of Permaculture – Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share – Ngalung Kalla is unlike any other retreat you’ve heard of before.
Christian calls his family “frontier people” but we simply call them inspiring. We connected with Christian to learn more about what moved them to suspend their reality and create a new life for themselves in this dreamy place.
LU: What first took you to Sumba and when (and how) was the idea for Ngalung Kalla born?
CS: My wife and I came to Sumba together one year after our marriage in Hawaii. I’m originally from St. Thomas, United States Virgin Islands and my wife, Kaale, is from Hilo in Hawaii. We were invited to be volunteers at Nihiwatu Retreat and worked there for a decade.
We loved what we did but not who we did it for in the end. So we were seeking to do much of the same thing without the unnecessary energy demands of a corporate structure.
LU: What do you love most about Sumba?
CS: Sumba is very remote, there is very little here. We are frontier people and if you can handle rising and sleeping with the sun it’s a great environment, really. Everywhere has its pluses and minuses. While there’s lots of malaria here and life is very difficult at times, the pluses are still way past the minuses.
LU: You’ve constructed a beautiful property that works in with the natural surrounds… can you tell us about the process and what challenges you had along the way?
CS: We’ve grown Ngalung Kalla Retreat very “organically”. We started sleeping in tents for seven months, then it evolved to tents on platforms, then a yoga studio that we turned into a bungalow. Then a second bungalow and now we are nearly finished our vision of building and the full scale of the retreat. Five bungalows, a great house, a solar powered pool, a yoga/spa/conference space, and an organic wealth centre.
LU: Who are your guests? Where do they come from and what are they seeking?
CS: Most of our guests come from Australia – about 60% with about 20% USA and 15% Europe as well rounding it out. The remaining from Bali and other South East Asian cities like Singapore and Hong Kong.
Outside of our personal private “non-sponsored” Instagram account we don’t advertise so it’s mostly word of mouth and friends of previous guests.
They are seeking true retreat from it all. Getting away from the normal paths of their daily lives. Seeking good waves, good food, good company, and a different experience. They don’t mind no AC’s, nor a good composting toilet. They’re active and come to play and explore the ocean, the island and the culture of Sumba and to get out of their bubble! We do a good job at making it happen.
LU: How do you work with the local community?
CS: For one, our local community built Ngalung Kalla from lots of sweat and hard work! We are made of our community. Their grass, their rocks, their wood, their bamboo, their sand… it’s all come from a five-mile radius of our location – the impacts are huge.
All of our staff are from Sumba and 80% can walk to work from surrounding villages. So by paying fair trade wages (plus tips and service charge) in an area that previously had no monetary economy is a big start. We may employ only 60 people but the money they earn at Ngalung Kalla is supporting hundreds. We also sponsor a handful of kids with scholarships for secondary education.
What we really aim to do is to start a foundation that brings appropriate solutions to some long-standing problems here. For example, there’s water but they’re carrying it around all day so solar water pumping and rainwater catchment storage is needed. They poo out the back of their villages then chickens, dogs and pigs eat it and bring all the germs right back into the village – which creates lots of sickness – and dry composting toilets are needed. And they’ve got tonnes of cashews and coconuts but they sell them at rock-bottom prices to middlemen. A community level processing facility is needed for cashew production as well as a virgin coconut oil processing facility. So that’s the direction we’re headed.
We’ve been here five years and we’re just now almost finished building our retreat. Next we’ll become more focused on beneficial projects for the community.
LU: What is a typical day like for you and your family?
CS: Rise with the sun at 5am or so, cup of tea and hugs. Kaale and I each have a surf or a yoga session, switching off with the baby, then I walk around and manage various projects and she teaches homeschool till lunch. We have three daughters Dehahati (9), Kamalii (6) and Kaleleyanu (8 months).
After a big healthy lunch, we siesta till the sun cools off and then enjoy some garden time and/or project time till sunset. Chats around the campfire, then dinner and to bed by 8pm is the goal.
LU: Can you tell us about the permaculture farm you’ve created and how that works in with your business? What do you grow?
CS: Many people think permaculture is a new gardening technique or something. The growing things is just one big limb of permaculture. At our stage the most important aspects of permaculture that we’ve applied is in the design of our place.
We’ve done everything we could to minimise energy use and maximise energy efficiency where it is used. We’re not just talking about electricity here, we’re talking about the location of everything in relation to the whole – about zones, about where you spend most of your time and working out from there. It’s about animal systems, about gravity, about the paths of the sun, and the winds in the different seasons. How to harness the tides and use them, where to get water, where to store water, how to process all the different waste that comes through this kind of business. It’s all part of it.
Permaculture is the foundation that our business sits in. It feeds us and nourishes us, challenges us and teaches us. To us, it’s moving forward with eyes and minds wide open about how we can work to organise a regenerative effect.
We have planted extensive fruit forests of avocados, citrus, jackfruit, coconuts, bananas, papayas, passionfruit, mangoes, breadfruit, cassava, soursop, and many more, using guild systems, growing great composts, and using the land according to what will flourish there. Our gardens provide table greens and herbs, and they are always expanding as we grow more and more soil.
LU: What does the name Ngalung Kalla mean?
CS: In the local Sumbanese language of our area it means “big wave”. It’s pronounced Nah-lung Kah-lah, if you’re wondering how to say it. We are modelled after a local village so thought it important we have a local name – all going back to the fact that we are not a separate entity from our community, we are very much one.
LU: What does living a Life Unhurried mean to you?
CS: Do you know what the moon is doing right now? Do you know when the sun rises over the horizon? Do you know what tide is doing today? What is that good for? Did those seeds sprout? Is it time to plant more? How’s my energy level today? Is my daughter asking me to go do something with her right now? Okay I should get off this phone and go do it… ha!
Find out more at ngalungkalla.com
*All photos courtesy of @ngalung_kalla
I was lucky enough to visit in June of 2015 when they were first getting started. I liked the place then and would probably love it now. A friend told me about Christian’s place. It was awesome and I want to go back, it is just 1/2 way around the world! Haha! If life works out I will be back in 2020.
Very lucky. It looks like they’ve made some huge changes since you were there, Jim. What an amazing experience. I hope you get back there next year!