A natural rope hammock, high on the wooden porch of a treehouse eco-lodge, overlooking a lush green valley and the mountains beyond…

A morning mist blanketing the tropical forest terrain…The sounds of birds and insects, and the occasional call of a chimpanzee…Fresh air without the slightest trace of exhaust fumes or burning garbage or the various other smells of urban centres…

Could I really be just 20 minutes from Freetown? Yes…

I was at the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, a beautiful and restful reserve just beyond the city limits which seeks to rescue and rehabilitate captive chimps for a life as close as possible to that of the wild. After an entertaining afternoon tour by the Sanctuary’s knowledgeable guides – I never cease to be amazed by the chimps’ human-like qualities, nor their nimbleness and dexterity, nor their sheer size and strength – I’d spent the night in one of the Sanctuary’s beautiful eco-lodges.

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We stayed in one of the two smaller lodges: single-story, thatch-roofed structures with soft pink exteriors ringed with vines. They reminded me of fairy tales from my childhood, and I almost expected a hobbit to wander out and offer us a cup of tea. Inside, sunny walls and artistic detail created a simple but welcoming space, complete with carved candle-holders, an electric burner, and tea and instant coffee. From one wall stared a smiling chimpanzee mask, carved from dark wood and framed in an enormous wicker frame.

The room’s only shortcoming was a very soft bed that left my back a bit sore the next morning, but the simple fresh breakfast awaiting us, and the beautiful view and relaxing stillness, more than made up for it.

After a lazy morning (a July rain kept us indoors for awhile) we made our way over to the third and most impressive lodges. Added in 2008, the “treehouse” lodge is a gorgeous two-story structure that blends seamlessly into the forests surrounding it. On the ground floor is a small kitchen and bath, and then a ladder up to the bedroom above, a tremendously open, light-filled room with homey touches – purple pillows, board games, a guestbook.

But it is the treehouse’s balcony that deserves the highest praise: a tremendous view, fresh breeze, and all the spectacle of nature. And all just a short drive from Freetown through Regent and up the mountains.

It’s well worth the journey.

For more information on arranging a trip to the Sanctuary contact Visit Sierra Leone.

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