The group of 14 of us set off in the two trucks, after a quick stop to collect two toilets, as you do. After an hour or so we arrived at the first village for a quick break. When we get back in the trucks, instead of rejoining the main road, they randomly drive down a track and right into the river! This is the danger point for getting there and coming back, if it rains too much then the river is too high and the trucks can't get through, which means we need to walk all the rest of the way, the word on the street says it takes 8 hours
. Luckily ours get through ok and after another hour or so of seriously muddy and steep hilly mud roads we make it to the next village. This is the end of the road for the trucks, we're on foot from here. We all grab a bamboo walking stick and set off. The first half of the walk was great, along flat ground (we're thinking, what are they talking about, a mostly uphill climb??), the second half was much harder work as all uphill as promised. Just as I'm thinking I actually can't go any further we reach a ramshackle hut. This is the kitchen where all our food is going to come from, where we get harnessed up and where the baby bear lives! The baby bear (Paula) was rescued from poachers by the park staff and now lives under the floor in the kitchen and enjoys sucking on arms of Gibbon Xers passing through. Apparently the bear rescue place in Luang Prabang is going to take it before it gets any bigger and dangerous! And hopefully give it a happier place to live.
We all get harnessed up, very briefly checked by the guides then it was time for our first zip into treehouse 1. The equipment consists of a climbing type harness, a roller which is attached to the cable and a safety karabiner which also attaches to the cable. Which all attaches to the harness which made me very nervous, what if the harness wasn't on right?? After the first zip there was no safety help from the guides, it was all up to us so I made sure to check mine more than once
! The first zip was a short one and was over quite quickly and then we got to check out treehouse 1 (which we had already decided we wanted to stay in). We split up into groups between the 3 treehouses and after advice from people who had been before Chad and I secured the best place to sleep, the separate bedroom at the top. The first afternoon was spent zipping between the treehouses and generally messing about on the cables. Dinner was delivered to us by zip line that night and was pretty decent. There is no electricity in the treehouses so we passed the night playing cards by candle and torch light.
Next morning it's an early start as we're going gibbon hunting! Well not actual hunting in that sense of the word but looking for them. We were woken about 5am by the gibbons singing (a very beautiful sound I can't really begin to describe) and the guide arrived around half an hour later to force us all out of bed to try to see these gibbons. We walked a lot, slipped and slid, fell over, slid down hills on our backsides (and our frontsides in my case) and then by the time we got near the singing had stopped. Too late! So much tiredness and filth and sweat for nothing. Back to the house for breakfast then trekking time again. This time we were walking out to treehouse 3 and then onto treehouse 5 (the furthest away). The way there was mostly zipping so it wasn't too tough and we got a nice rest at number 5
. The way back was the tough bit as there are no zips on the way back, it was all on foot. It was very tough going and it ended with myself and 2 others bringing up the rear but we made it back in the end, totally exhausted! Today we were not only filthy from falling over in the mud but when the zip lines are wet, oil sprays from the cable as you zip covering your face and body in oil spray. Never been so filthy. It didn't help that I was wearing the same clothes as the day previous (well no point in ruining two sets of clothes!) which had also got damp over night. Not smelling exactly fresh. Dinner that night wasn't the best, sticky rice again (same for breakfast, lunch and dinner) but there was no meat so there was instead a selection of green mushy vegetables. Not exactly appetising but it did the job. There had been some swapping of sleeping places in the day (although we kept our superior bedroom!) so the evening was spent with a different crowd drinking the alcohol kindly provided (black ginger wine) and just having a laugh. A very pleasant evening.
Again it rained all night as it had the previous evening, this is very worrying as it's looking like the 8 hour walk out might become reality. Also because the night before treehouse 3 had an evacution due to the weather which was more than a bit distressing!
Next morning again we were awoken by gibbon song
. No one got up to look for them (too tired and resting in preparation for this 8 hour walk) but a few hardy types did get up earlyish for some last minute zipping. Breakfast of sticky rice then it was time to hit the road. Backpacks (just small ones) pathetically wrapped in ponchos to keep off the likely rain, we set off. The first half of the walk was great, all downhill then flat so no problem there. A quick rest when we got to the village then on the advice of the locals there who seemed pretty sure the trucks weren't going to make it, we set off. The road starts on a hill. One of those hills that you think must end round the next corner. Or the next corner. Or the next. No, it was one of those neverending hills that I actually thought was going to be the end of me! A few of the guys, Chad included had disappeared ahead while I lagged behind with the rest of the group. After about an hour of walking with many rest stops when I was starting to panic that I was running out of water, the most welcome sight ever appears, a truck!!! Full of new Gibbon Xers all in their nice clean clothes wondering who these filthy people are sitting on the road (yip, still in the same clothes!). So we decide there's absolutely no point going on, we sit ourselves down and wait for them to drop off the new people and come back for us. What a welcome sight! We gradually pick up the guys up ahead and even when we get Chad who has made it the furthest (much further than the rest of us) we still have to drive for absolutely ages before we reach the village
. I think it really would have been an 8 hour walk, what a nightmare!
Lunch is at the village at the river along with a very much needed BeerLao and then it's another hour or so til we're back in town, with a small breakdown of the way which was surprisingly quickly fixed with a quick tinker under the bonnet with a spanner. Getting back to town at a decent time meant we could get a bus back to Thailand that night instead of having to waste another night in Huay Xai. It was a go go go day and bus tickets were secured, much needed showers were had (kindly provided by the travel agency!) and then it was through Laos immigration, where the man wanted an extra 50 cents because after 4pm was overtime and we had to pay the extra, on the boat and acrss the Mekhong and through Thai immigration before it closed. All managed successfully and as it turned out the mini van had only us 7 Gibbon Xers which was fun.
We made it to Chiang Mai in record time for some sleep after a bit of a marathon hunt for a guesthouse.
Gibbon Day! This morning it's up early for an emergency dash to the money changer. I had to change traveller's cheques to come up with the 150 dollars required due to the lack of ATMs in Laos but the booth (open til 4pm) had mysteriously closed at 3pm the day before and I had missed it. This left me in a panic thinking I would miss the experience but currency was duly obtained at 8am and all was well.