I've been thinking a lot recently about the blissful 10 days I spent last December exploring the mountains and forests of Sumatra, from north to west, which culminated in a remote beach side week of disconnection from the world. Simple huts on a deserted white sand beach backed by jungle clad mountains. When it comes to South East Asia, so far so.. predictable? Perhaps. The difference with this place, I've since realised, is that Rimba Ecolodge was probably the most authentically eco-conscious “resort” I'd stayed at. In every sense. So many places purport to have an eco conscious ethos, while simultaneously chewing through electricity running air con units in every room and wasting water with daily towel changes. (but they might use glass bottles instead of plastic in the mini bar). “Sustainable” is an on trend label, but one that often means very little in my experience.
But beautiful Rimba is the real deal. The owners Nad and Reno warmly welcome everyone as guests, but also as guests of the place itself. Much care has been taken to have as little impact on the local environment as possible, from the simple huts built of coconut wood and other local materials, to the cold water showers and natural air-conditioning given by the constant sea breeze. There is very little here, but that's the point. I always felt comfortable and acutely aware of the beauty of the place (thanks to the absence of a reliable internet connection). And that is really all you need. I stayed over Christmas when the communal eating and general hang out area was decorated with local vines and leaves. Reno told me that everything would be returned to where he found it, which to me summed up their mindset.
The eco lodge is just one part of the Rimba non profit organisation founded by French born Nad and her Indonesian husband Reno back in 2012, with a goal of protecting Sumatra's fragile environment and wildlife, and creating a more positive future different to one of gradual degradation and exploitation. The involvement of local communities whose livelihoods depend on the natural environment, is crucial. Through the creation of jobs, education and school assistance programmes which focus on educating students about their local flora and fauna (and ensuring they can actually reach the schools themselves) the non profit is already vastly improving the prospects of this beautiful place. Nad recently told me about two new machines brought in to turn plastic generated by the local community (tourists and all) into fuel, which is then sold back to locals to run motorbikes. The plastic is purchased for recycling, which by default encourages everyone to keep hold of their waste thus preventing the plastic from ending up in the sea. They have also made great gains protecting the reef that lines the shore of the lodge, while enduring threats and criticism from (some) local fisherman along the way.
But perhaps Rimba's biggest asset is its sheer isolation. More and more of Sumatra's land is falling foul of large scale development, but this small part of the coast was the exception. As we sped through the waves to the lodge I noticed a couple of settlements, but mostly just a whole lot of wilderness. And that's how it should be, more trees than people and more fish than plastic. It's a tough road, but it's good to know some people are fighting the good fight when it comes to our ever depleting resources.