Gibbon Experience (11.1.11 – 11.3.11)

I tried to wake myself up at 5AM on Tuesday in order to get a good, early start to the day in hopes that I could make it into Laos in good time, because as I mentioned in a previous entry, I needed to be in Huay Xai by 8:30AM. Why did I need to be there by that time, you ask? I had a reservation with the Gibbon Experience and needed to be there by 8:30AM to leave for the Bokeo Nature Reserve. I didn’t actually get up until about 6. I showered, packed, and left at about 7AM for the border, at which I arrived at about 7:30AM. It didn’t open until 8AM, but as I’d hoped, I was the first in line. It took only a minute to get my exit stamp, but then I had to get a boat across the border, because Laos and Thailand are separated by the Mekong. So, even though I was ready to cross the river, I had to wait for enough passengers to fill the boat. After a few endless minutes, the boat was full enough, and we crossed the river. I hopped off the boat, ran up to the visa office, and hurriedly filled out the paperwork. I passed my passport and paperwork to an official and cringed as I watched him leisurely flip through a magazine. After another excruciating few minutes, I had my passport and hurried to the street to find the Gibbon Experience, which took another five minutes. Out of breath, I fell into the office at 8:25AM, meaning that I passed immigration on both sides, paperwork, visa, customs and all in twenty minutes. That has got to be some sort of record. Once there, I was glad when it was announced that only one truck would depart at 8:30AM, and everyone else would have to wait until about 9:00AM. This was relieving, and gave me time to catch my breath, lock up my bag in the storage area, sign my life away, and watch the safety video.

At 9:00AM, with seven in our truck and ten in the other, we were off. Everyone in our group was there for the three day, two night option. The last hour we drove along a bumpy and muddy road. At one point, the road was so muddy and slick that it was nearly impassable. We all had to get out, and the two guides dug up the road to create better traction. We had to trudge through the mud and wait on the other side for the truck to join us. We drove until we reached a small village which marked the beginning of our hike into the rainforest. We hiked uphill for about an hour and a half, stopping at some cabins on the way to get our ziplining gear. After a bit more hiking, we reached our first zipline, and then the fun really began. There were a network of cables over which we then had free reign. The guides were in specific spots to help as needed and call to us to let us know when it was safe to proceed. We were able to zip until we could zip no more, and it was incredible. We soared over endless rainforest canopy; it was exhilarating and breathtaking. Once we’d all gotten to a point where we were exhausted and had huge smiles plastered on our faces, we hiked to our treehouse… into which we had to zipline, because that was quite literally the only way to access it. We each showered… which was an experience, because the bathroom area, while totally safe from prying eyes, had an open view of the rainforest. It was an odd feeling to strip down and take a shower with a view like that. We then had a fantastic meal, which was of course, hand delivered by zipline. We played cards by flashlight, and enjoyed a bottle of Lao wine that our guide brought for us, then called it an early night. Oh, let me just mention that everyone in the treehouse was wonderful! There were seven of us total in our group, excluding the guides. There were two Australian girls: Jo and Kerri, a Dutch couple: Tim and Willeke, a French guy: Arthur, an Australian guy: Fred, and myself.

On Wednesday, we got up, had breakfast, and did it all again. We hiked an ziplined all day, and it was glorious. This company is called “The Gibbon Experience” because its aim is to preserve the habitat of the gibbons in the Bokeo Nature Reserve. We hoped to see some, but were not so lucky. However, we had headed them singing to each other that morning, which was wonderful.

Later in the day, I had a bit of an incident. After the first few lines, I kept falling short, slowing to a halt well before the platforms at the end of the lines. I thought that I was doing something wrong, but when I ziplined into a treehouse on a cable that was probably a good 200m (about 650 ft) long, and stopped in the middle, I knew that there was something very wrong, and it was not my fault. I was easily 150-200m above the ground, and after looking down, I luckily did not find myself immobilized with fear, but I was pretty frightened. I began to pull myself in, trying to keep my eyes level to avoid looking below me, and counted each move forward I made as I pulled myself into the tree house. “1. 2. 3. 4.” Over and over again. After a few minutes, I called to the treehouse “Can you tell the guide to come and get me, please??” He came to my rescue, clipped me securely to him, and we continued to pull ourselves into the treehouse. Once inside, I sat, tried to calm down, and we took a look at my zip mechanism. The mechanism consists of two wheels that experience little friction as they spin, so rotate freely for a long time… I’m sure you all know how friction works. Well. Only one of my wheels spun correctly, and the other… didn’t. So while it should have been helping my swift travel on the cables, all it did was hinder it. The guide left and returned minutes later with a new, functioning mechanism for me. The first few cables were still a bit harrowing as I was nervous after my incident. I was happy that the fear dissipated quickly, and I was able to enjoy the rest of the day; I just checked my gear obsessively from that point on. Other than that, the rest of the day was glorious. We got to visit a few of the other treehouses, and zip until we could zip no more. It was another superb day. That night we’d paid the guide to bring us in some beer, so we had dinner, beer, another bottle of wine, and played cards. It was another fun night with excellent people.

On Thursday, we packed up and left our treehouse. We zipped out, hiked some more, and then were given one last opportunity to zip around for fun, making use of one of the areas of ziplines. After that, we hiked the rest of the way out into the village. We left promptly, stopped for lunch, and were taken back to the office in Huay Xai. The whole thing was such an incredible experience, and something I would highly recommend if you ever find yourself in Laos.

Once in town, we all said our goodbyes and parted ways. I headed for the bus station and caught an overnight bus to Luang Prabang.

This trip helped to close my favorite week of my trip. I got to go to the Lantern Festival, play with tigers, and then zip through the rainforest for three days… all total highlights of my trip.

Hiking into the rainforest

Kerri clipping onto one of the lines

Jo taking off!

Kerri on one of the platforms, getting ready to go

Kerri

Clipped in and ready to go!

Willeke, arriving at the end of one of the cables

Thuy Shon, one of our guides

From left to right: Pomoau, one of our guides, Tim, Willeke, Kerri, and Arthur

The view from our treehouse 🙂

Another view from our treehouse

The view from our bathroom!

The morning mist

Home!

Jo ziplining

This is  a video of one of the longer zips we got to do. Some of them were as long as 500m (that’s about 1650 feet). This video shows some of the magnificent view we had. Let me just state that it’s difficult to use a camera while ziplining.

This one’s a little embarrassing, but I’m going to show it to you anyway. I hadn’t braked hard enough, and came in way too fast. I had to kick the tree to avoid crashing into it with my whole body, and consequently rebound. It’s still pretty awesome though.

The view from another of the treehouses that we visited

Sweaty and gross, but hey! Here’s me in a treehouse! With some rainforest in the background!

Fred zipping into one of the treehouses

Oh I forgot to mention the leeches. We had to be careful of leeches. I sprayed my shoes with deet, which I think helped, but Willeke did not survive unscathed.

This is the zipline into our treehouse! It’s shaky, but I wanted to show you anyway.

Pomoau and Thuy Shon

Our group! Please ignore my funny face.

Me. Treehouse. Rainforest. Awesome.

Jo and me

This is a picture I snagged from Jo. This is on the second day where my equipment started to fail and I started falling short on the lines. At this point I just thought I was doing it wrong. Pomoau came to help me. 🙂

Jo, myself, and Kerri

Tim and Willeke

Hiking out!

This is another picture of Jo’s. Here we all are, having fun and playing cards. Such a good time!

So there you have it! An amazing end to a spectacular week. I got to spend three days with some wonderful individuals, some of whom I definitely foresee myself keeping in touch with for a long time. Now, onwards!

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