Today we are going to begin a new series: Ecotourist Stories with Astrid Vinje, blogger at The Wandering Daughter. I will be interviewing women who have been on ecotourism adventures around the world and sharing their amazing stories with you.
Where did you go on your eco-trip?
Last September, my husband, kids, and I did a three week trip to Indonesia. Most of our time was spent on the islands of Bali and Java, but we did spend four days on the island of Sumatra. We mostly stayed in Bukit Lawang, a small village about four hours northwest from the city of Medan, right next to Gunung Leuser National Park. We also stayed one night in Medan, since we had an early morning flight the next day.
Why did you choose that location?
My daughter is a big animal lover, and when we were planning for our trip to Indonesia, I thought it would be nice to go to a place where my kids could see animals in the wild, especially orangutans, which are native to the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. I had never been to Sumatra, so it would also be a new experience for me. When I was researching places to see orangutans in Sumatra, I was drawn to Bukit Lawang because of its close proximity to the national park. Many of the other parks I found through my research required lengthy treks into the jungle in order to see wildlife, but since we were traveling with kids, I wanted something a little more accessible. We chose the guest house, Green Hill Guest House because they offered a half-day trek, which was the perfect length for our kids.
Why did you become interested in choosing a sustainable tourism trip/ ecotrip?
We actually didn’t intentionally set out to do an ecotrip. However, when we travel, we try as hard as we can to support the local economy. That’s why we will usually choose an Airbnb over a hotel, or a local guesthouse rather than a national chain. When we were choosing our guesthouse, we mainly chose it because it had a reasonable family room option, which is important when you’re traveling with two little ones. But it also happened that they were an eco-minded guest house. So we lucked out on that aspect.
What were the sustainable measures or qualifications you looked for when planning the trip or employed while on the trip?
One of the things I liked about Green Hill Guest House was they offered other activities besides trekking in the jungle. Some of the activities they offered included a village tour, cooking classes, and a market tour. That really appealed to me because it gives tourists a chance to learn more about the local culture.
That sounds incredible. What foods did you love or hate while you were there?
We loved eating the local dishes. Sumatran cuisine uses a lot of fresh vegetables, so I was really impressed with how balanced and varied each dish was.
What were your favorite activities while you were there?
We loved all the activities that we did in Bukit Lawang. Of course, our favorite was the jungle trek. It ended up being a four-hour trek into Gunung Leuser National Park, led by two very knowledgeable local guides. We not only saw orangutans during our trek, but we also saw long-tailed macaques and Thomas leaf monkeys.
Another activity we enjoyed was the village tour, which we did during our second full day in Bukit Lawang. During our tour, we visited an eco-farm, saw how bamboo tiles were made, watched how tofu was made, and learned about the agricultural activities that take place in the area. Palm oil is a pretty big industry in Sumatra, and our guide told us that since it uses up a lot of water to grow, it has actually caused a lot of change in the climate of that area. We were pretty shocked when we learned that, and it made us think about all the products we buy that use palm oil.
What surprised you most about your trip?
I was mostly surprised at how much my kids enjoyed the experience. Our guest house was pretty rustic, it had only the basic amenities such as beds, some tables and a fan, and even had a bucket flush toilet! But they completely loved it. To them, it was like staying in a giant treehouse. Our room had a balcony with a hammock that overlooked the jungle and the river, and in the afternoons, we would just spend an hour or so lounging on the balcony and relaxing before dinner time.
What was the most fun part of the trip?
The most fun part of our trip was being able to see monkeys from right outside our balconies. Since Bukit Lawang is right on the edge of Gunung Leuser National Park, the monkeys who normally live in the park will sometimes venture out into the nearby villages.
We also loved being able to see orangutans in the wild during our jungle trek. We had an amazing guide, who knew how to listen for the different animals, and he was so knowledgeable about the various plants and wildlife in the park. Both my kids loved watching the baby orangutans playing up in the trees.
It was definitely a memorable trip for our family.