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Sierra magazine
Escape | To an orangutan-friendly jungle inn on Sumatra

Gunung Leuser National Park
Sumatra, Indonesia
8 days, 7 nights: $1,450
MORE jungleinn.htm

GETTING THERE Navigate to Indonesia's capital, Jakarta. Board one-hour flight to Medan, on island of Sumatra. Close eyes for harrowing three-hour minibus race to riverfront tourist town of Bukit Lawang, abutting Gunung Leuser National Park. Heft bags (or hire a local) for 20-minute hike upriver to resort. No scooter traffic here. Just clean jungle living.

BEST MOMENT Watching, from the honeymoon suite's outdoor shower, two endangered Sumatran orangutans hand-over- hand their way into the resort via a cable stretched across the Bohorok River. The rehabilitated circus performers put on an hour-long show: climbing trees, making lewd faces, and thrashing lawn furniture.

WORST MOMENT Total exhaustion just 20 vertical minutes into a scheduled eight-hour hike. With jungle too dense to head back alone, the only option was to press onward--for seven more hours. Relief came in the form of an inner tube, on which we drifted downriver back to our suite.

FAVORITE CHARACTER Resort owner, self-taught chef, and local trekking guide Samsul--or just "Sam"--was born and raised in the nearby village, speaks perfect English, and knows the history behind every rehabilitated orangutan on the reserve. Sam employs other guides, but go to his restaurant, order a plate of gado gado, and beg him to lead your trek.

LOCAL LORE Locals vividly recall the 30-foot-high wall of water--caused by illegal logging--that demolished the village and killed nearly 300 people in 2003. Listen closely and you can still hear the screams of distant chainsaws.

WHAT'S GREEN After the flood, the inn rebuilt using only driftwood and stones from the savaged river. The result is natural and beautiful. Food is cultivated locally or harvested from the surrounding jungle. And supporting local tourism means supporting orangutan conservation.

WHAT'S NOT GREEN While the resort's remoteness encourages eco-simplicity, the place sometimes defies common sense. Is burning trash really an acceptable substitute for packing it out? Understandably, such issues sit low on the long to-do lists of local NGOs. Hear those chainsaws?

PLANET SAVING OPPORTUNITIES Visit the nearby feeding station in the world's largest orangutan sanctuary, home to an estimated 5,000 of the simians. Protecting this endangered species requires halting rampant destruction of their habitat. Indonesia boasts the 2008 Guinness World Record for highest rate of deforestation, at 4.4 million acres a year. --Nathan Myers

Photos by Don Wilder; map by Peter and Maria Hoey



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