The Gibbon Experience
Trip Start Oct 01, 2006
115Trip End Apr 06, 2007
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We checked in the Gibbon Experience office on Saturday morning and were shown a video that explained how we should use the zip wires and safety tips for our trip. We were driven about 3 hours north of Hauy Xai to the Bokeo nature reserve on the highway that is currently being built. This meant at times we were on gravel roads, sometimes on sealed roads and sometimes driving through the road construction! We stopped at a village with a road side shop/restaurant and picked up the tenth member of our group before driving down a dirtroad to a traditional village - all the houses made from wood and bamboo and on stilts, with dogs, chickens and pigs roaming around. We were clearly off the 'normal' tourist trail but whilst the villages were curious to see us we were not the first Falang they had seen thanks to the project.
We left the village heading towards the forest through corn fields (sweet corn no the other type) and after lunch by a river we treked for a couple of hours before coming across a small hut in the forest where we were briefed in broken English by our laos guide. The guy did try and finished every sentence with 'you know?', to which we replied 'we know' even though we didn't have a clue what he was saying. After a snack of fruit and coffee given our harnesses. Clearly after our fruit a couple of curious monkeys tried to get into the hut and when we eventually left they decided to hitch a ride, and if you had them out, run off with your glasses. Apparently they also like mobile phones, and if you ring them they run further into the forest with them. So I began the next leg of our trek with a monkey on my head and we eventually came to our first zip wire.
It was a bit scary jumping out into the forest canopy but once you were out there and zipping along above the tree tops great fun! On the first zip I rolled backwards to about 10 metres from the landing and had to pull myself back - exhausting. I am very feeble. About half way we split into two groups of five heading for two different tree houses. I have discovered quite how unfit I am with the Laos guides barely breaking ito a sweat as I huffed and puffed my way up the hills. We eventually came to the last long zip to our tree house - which was set high up in one of the trees in the forest, but had it's own bathroom and upstairs. A tree house straight out of the 'swiss family robinson' or maybe the jungle book.
We had the afternoon to enjoy our surroundings and the zip lines that connected it to the forest before dinner and desert of condensed milk and ovaltine powder (any port in a sweet tooth storm!). Our guide joined us at the dinner table and as coversation was limited by his lack of English and our lack of Laos. We did ask whether more women or men did the tour and after a pause we got the reply 'men black, women yellow'. Yes right...O.K. So we played a game that didn't require speaking! An early night forced on us by the darkness and the exhaution of walking! As our Laos guide said 'me sleep, everybody sleep now'!
The next morning we were woken early by the light and the fact we'd had loads of sleep for some bush walking to see animals. However given we were tramping through the forest like a heard of elephants it's not surprising that 'Gibbons no have'. We then had breakfast and left our tree house for the zip and hike to the other tree house, meanwhile the other group walked towards ours. After a lot more huffing and puffing (We westerners are "heavy women" because we have motorbikes and cars) we arrived at the 'waterfall tree house'. This one was not ensuite, except for a seat suspended over mid air for night time use only - or day time use if everybod overted their eyes! We had the afternoon here to zip around and swim and do laundry in the freezing cold water of the waterfall before yet another early night. Here we had no candles so a late night wasn't an option even if we wanted it! However our guide joined us for a bit more of a chat and we seemed to make a bit more progress tonight. He told us he was single and wanted to marry an American. Fortunately two Americans we had!
Today we had the option of a 2 hour or 6-7 hour walk back. Given I realised how unfit I was I decided to go for the 2 hour option so I had a solo walk back through the forest with a loas guide where we traded words for 'left', 'right', 'straight on', 'bamboo bridge', 'bamboo ladder', 'bamboo fence'. You get the idea! We arrived at the village ahead of schedule (maybe I'm not as unfit as I thought) and I got to watch village life for a bit before the truck dropped the next lot of people off and picked me up. A group of women from the village bundled in the back and we gave them a lift up to the nearest shop where we also stopped for lunch, before driving to pick the others up. This was a 2 hour drive, back over the highway that is being constructed as a trade route (and which will no doubt have a massive impact on the nature reserve and the villages that skirt it) and an hour or so wait for the others to reach the truck. The road was impassable at one point due to logging and so the driver went ahead and found the others who were waiting for us 15 minutes up the road. We then had to wait a couple of hours at a roadside shop (much to the bemusement of locals) whilst the truck took an unscheduled stop back up the road to collect one of the girls bags which had been left by my lunch stop before the trip. Eventually we made it back to Hauy Xai for a welcome pizza (hurray no rice!) and Lao Beer before a much needed bed!