Oooh ooh ooh the funky gibbon

Trip Start Jan 19, 2006
Trip End Jan 19, 2007

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Thursday, March 23, 2006

(firstly I must disassociate myself from this heading - it was Dave's idea.)

Met outside The Gibbon Experience office at 7am this morning in preparation for our trip and hoping that pulling us off our sick beds was worth it. The Gibbon Experience is an eco-tourism project in the Bokeo Nature Reserve which has been built to protect the Gibbons who are very rare by preserving their rainforest and having wardens protect the land from poachers. We were going to be staying in the reserve for 2 nights in a tree house high above the forest and travelling via foot and zip wire!! It was set up by a French guy about a year or so ago and the plan is whilst it is being supported by him and foreign staff/volunteers at present that it will be handed over completely to the locals once they are fully up to speed.

Our adventure started by taking a songthaew (open backed van) for about 3 hours via a v dodgy road which is being constructed to link Thailand with China (a huge project which I dread to think how much has cost monetary and environmentally). We then arrived in a small village beginning with B (great memory eh?) and had a hike for about an hour (fortunately only had v small rucksack with us for this) to the first treehouse. Before we got to the treehouse we were harnessed up (technical term) and taught how to use the zip wire which basically involved holding onto the 'tyre' part of the harness (which also acts as your brake) for dear life. Think we were both a bit nervous on our first zip wire which went very fast straight into treehouse one (straight being the operative word for me as I forgot about the brake) where we had a briefing session and snacks with one of the foreign volunteers who are here to support the locals who are the guides, cooks, etc. We then zipped over the valley on a very long and quite daunting zip, with a wonderful, view to the path which we would be walking on for the next hour or so to our resting place this evening, Treehouse 3. We were doing Option 2 - the Waterfall experience which involved a lot more walking and going to the waterfall than option 1 - basically staying at the first 2 treehouses. I have to admit the prospect of walking was not one that we were relishing but the walk was very beautiful through the jungle with the sights and sounds of wildlife around you but it was very humid. We zipped into treehouse 2 at about 16.00 and relaxed.

Our group was only 3 (usually 4 but 1 had swopped to stay with some others) Dave and I and Sarah - a girl from Canada. As most of you know Dave and I are pretty easy going but Sarah really tested our patience at times! Although she was probably mid-twenties she could have been about 8 and was pretty selfish - "look at the beautiful butterfly. Come here butterfly sit on my hand" (in whiny Canadian accent) - followed by much flailing of arms. She also asked to use some of our insect repellant (lots of bugs here) and then proceeded to tell us it was no good as the bugs would still come near here so she would decide to use her own. She then had the gall to ask to use it again the next day. I really wish I had had a word with her now but as I didn't you are now getting the brunt of it - apologies!

We sat in our treehouse - with two double mattresses with mossie nets over them and a separate very cold shower/toilet room (see photo) overlooking the forest, cup of (green) tea in hand and saw the sunset around us. Absolutely phenomenal. The crickets came out, birds singing and god knows what else out there but we miraculously felt safe in our wooden perch in the sky. One of our guides bought us our dinner which we had by candle light at what seemed about 9pm but was about 6.30pm! Sticky rice, chilli beef and veggies - very nice food. After listening to the sounds of the forest and watching a very green bug (see photo) for a bit we decided to hit the sack ready for sunrise tomorrow. Sarah wasn't very happy at us for this but hey?!

6.15am woke up to the forest waking around us and the most amazing music coming from the other side of our mattress! It is very difficult to describe but almost sounded like a stylophone with the notes going up and down and piercing throughout the forest. It turns out they were gibbons singing. Sadly we didn't see them though! Watched the sun rise over the forest, again beautiful, and then spent a while zipping back and forth between the mountain and our treehouse (these zip wires you didnt have to pull yourself onto the platform at all which was very hard work and a bit scary stopping part way over a valley with only a bit of rope to support you!). Breakfast was sticky rice and veg with tea and we eventually set off for our day's hike.

Firstly we had to walk back to treehouse 2 to get to the path we needed and couldn't resist going on the long zip wire there and back before we left. We then had a walk which we thought would be about 2.5 hours to treehouse 4, our home for this evening. It started ok with a lot of downhill and then we went through the forest on ok paths clambering over fallen trees, through clearings where corn fields had been burnt and passed the odd family home, we eventually reached the river bed. I thought we might nearly be there at this point but no such luck. We bumped into a local H'mong family who were fishing for the day (mum, dad, 3/4 kids, harpoon gun) who gave our guide some fish for our dinner. We then followed the river bed for ages climbing over rocks and walking through streams. At this point we were all just dreaming about reaching the waterfall at the end and going for a well-deserved swim. Our guide seemed to enjoy winding us up and whenever we asked how long to go he said " 1 hour" (there was still about 2 to go) or "5 minutes" (at least 45 mins away). I suspect you can sense our pain at this point especially in the afternoon heat. We did eventually arrive about 3.5 hours later at about 15.00 and had a lovely swim in the pool and a quick pummel from the waterfall. The water was lovely and cold and clear and you could also drink from it. It was worth it!

After lunch of fish, veg and sticky rice we walked up to our treehouse. This one was virtually a single tree on its own high above the forest overlooking the water and trees below. It was smaller than the others and had no bathroom facilities at all just an emergency toilet. We all promptly drifted off for a couple of hours and woke as it was getting dark to be joined by "Tua", our guide with our dinner. He also tried to get us to drink some Lao Lao (Lao whisky) but our stomachs are still far too fragile at this stage! After dinner and an Ovaltine I managed to stay awake a while to keep Sarah company before I had to go to bed (she couldn't get her head round the fact we still felt ill and tired). I managed to sleep despite my fears that we were falling out of the tree and we woke again next morning for sunrise by no gibbon singing. After brekkie we had another hike to look forward to out of the valley and back to the village to be taken back to Huay Xai. This hike had a long uphill walk at the start through the jungle and was often quite slippery and we then had to descend the other side through the bambook, ducking end branches and making sure we didn't trip over tree stumps or roots. We then reached a flat path and came out of the jungle through fields of grasses and corn. We were then told we were not far (wasn't sure whether to believe him or not at this point though!!). We crossed a few rivers either by bamboo poles over them, stones or taking our shoes off. The last big river Tua offered to piggy back us all over which we thought was a joke as he was quite slight and we obviously aren't! Anyway he did (see photo) much to my embarassment. After about a 2 hour walk we arrived back at the village very relieved to have made it after all our walking over the last few days and also to be told we were the first to arrive back although we had the furthest to travel! We were then joined by the folks from treehouse 1 including Kirsty and Hamish and we all headed back to Huay Xia via the dodgy road!

It was at this point Dave had his setback.

Having said all that we were tired but exilirated. This was likely to be one of the highlights of our trip so far and it certainly lived up to it. It was amazing and something we will never forget. Indulging in all your childhood fantasies whilst experiencing wildlife and protecting it - what a combination! If you ever have a chance to go and do this then do.
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