Monday, July 30, 2007

The One with the Zip Lines

After two days full travel via Bangkok, I finally find myself in Laos, and become an instant multi millionaire (there are 20,000 kip to the pound!)

Having not had quite enough jungle time already, Sam and I head off to the highly recommended Gibbon Experience for 3 days zipping in the jungle.

We climb in a hardy land rover which takes us over a muddy river and promptly gets stuck in the mud. If we can not get it out we face a 7 hour muddy hike over the hills to get to the jungle. With this incentive, the team pitches together, and after nearly an hour of retrieving stones from the river to fill the muddy ruts, the van eventually makes it up the first incline. We are already covered in thick red mud and dripping with sweat... this makes Map's hiking in Chiang Mai child's play!

After stopping to push our van a couple more times, we eventually reach the village and begin our 1 hour hike into the jungle, over rivers and up through Bamboo Groves, to where we receive our harnesses and marvel at a little black Asiatic Bear nosing in the undergrowth. (He's an orphan who's been rescued).

The Gibbon Experience is only 2 years old, although the french owner Geoff has been doing conservation work in the Laos National parks for 10 years - and it works totally on word of mouth. Geoff has asked for it not to be put in the guidebooks. It's success speaks for itself... it's full everyday and you have to book in advance. We were very jammy to get a last minute cancellation.

They help the local communities by doing things like ploughing their fields, and hence stop the Slash and Burn practices in the area. The Treehouses and zip lines themselves are unbelievable. It's one thing to even imagine such a place, but a total other to try and put it into practice, and the result just takes your breath away... even more so as it would seem so impossible to achieve.

We walk the 10 minutes or so up to Treehouse One (our home for the night) and attach our zip lines for the first time. It's a whole world of trust stepping into the void for the first time, but an exhilariting feeling, and the view from our treehouse is magnificient (as is the construction itself!)

Four of our party will be staying inTreehouse 3, so along with our guides we zip out over 4 or 5 more ziplines. Some 100-150m high above the canopy. I did have a wobbly tummy and legs on several occasions, but the feeling, the view, and everything about it is totally indescribable.

At Treehouse 2 we leave the guys to make their way down to their home for the night, and we head back, and have a cold shower (with views down to the ground below!) and then dinner which is prepared for us.

I don't like talking about toilet activities, but there is something very rewarding about doing a number 2 from such a height. That's all i'm going to say!

The next day we awake early to the most amazing sound - the gibbons singing. We Zip off in search of them but they do a runner (probably because we have the loudest dutch guy in the world in our party "WHERE ARE THE GIBBONS... WHY DO THEY GO AWAY?!")

We chill until 10am, have a second breakfast (mmm sticky rice and cabbage for breakfast), and then head off for a mammoth walk - zip - walk to treehouse 5 the most isolated treehouse. The view as we come through the undergrowth on the zip line and see treehouse 5 for the first time will take some beating! Luckily Sam got a little video of it!. Check out the view from the Number 5 loo (above!)

We have lunch here (I feel a bit bad relaxing while our guide dashes off to retrieve a big kettle of hot water and a fully cooked dinner from somewhere!) and then we have a 2 -3 hour hike back. which is mainly "up up up" is totally muddy, and very precarious. I am a whole new colour of muddy brown by the time we get home, and have had to remove a few leeches (Tiger Balm is wonderful stuff) on the way.

This evening, completely shattered, we concoct a chocolate fondue by mixing ovaltine with condensed milk and heating it over a candle before dipping fresh pineapple in it. Ingenious (and a welcome change from the sticky rice!)

Day three, and I'm awoken by the little guide say "you wanna go walk?" - the gibbons are singing again, and today we can see them from our treehouse in the trees in the distance. Fabulous.

We zip closer, but they move on again, but we are happy that we've seen them.

Rather then rest up for our potential 7 hour hike, Carrie, Vicky Sam and I decide to go on one last 40 minute circuit on the zip lines, and come back covered in mud and oil from the lines, but totally exhilarated, and disappointed about leaving. Every inch of my body aches... especially my stomach muscles (which i worked out was caused trying to stop myself falling every five seconds!), but every bit of the pain is worth it.

We head out back to the road and start the walk. I am slow, full of cold, and not 100% sure that I would make the 7 hour hike, so imagine my pleasure at the sound of upcoming engines!!! The jeeps had made it through! So now we could enjoy the adventure of jeeps on off roading style mud all the way back to Houay Xai.

Possibly the best experience of my trip so far.

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