Monday, March 15, 2010

27th February 2010 - 1st March 2010 - The Gibbon Experience (Laos)

Zipping, Bee Stings, & Singing

3 days is not a very long time to dedicate an entire blog entry to, however the Gibbon Experience deserves some special attention. For the name Gibbon Experience is very true, this little trip truly was an experience!

For those who do not know what it is, The Gibbon Experience involves staying for 3 days, 2 nights, in tree houses perched 30m+ above the ground in the beautiful Bokeo National Park in north eastern Laos. The organisation that runs the trip focuses on sustainable ecotourism with the main purpose to enable people to be immersed in the jungle with the added attraction of possibly getting to see the very rare Gibbon and hear their incredible song.

The Gibbon Experience covers a large area of the national park, and so as a means of getting around, one has to trek a fair amount, however there are also many zip lines which can be up to 400m long and up to 150m above the ground. These zips connect the tree houses to the hill sides or intermediate platforms perched well above the ground! These zip lines are what probably attracts most people to the trip, and to be honest it certainly played a part in our desire to spend $350 each!! It’s impossible to describe the feeling of attaching your harness to a cable, and then throwing yourself off a tree, seeing the valley disappear below you, flying over the tree tops in the middle of a jungle… it was simply breath taking and exhilarating. Any video cannot give it justice.

Zipping into our tree house

There are only a small number of tree houses and a small number of people accommodating them for the 3 days. We shared our tree house with 3 young Swedish travellers (2 boys and a girl) and another young male German rock climber, all of whom were very nice. Sheena and I were the oldest and were hence dubbed Grandma and Grandpa, which we think is a bit rough being only 26! However we did feel a bit old, as during the treks it was quite hard to keep up with 20 year old European giants with legs longer than Sheena herself. Besides young Europeans, we shared our tree house with some non human inhabitants. One being an adorable kitten who was the ruler of abode… she survived on our leftovers and the odd unlucky cicada (we found it a bit strange that an organisation that promotes sustaining the jungle would place cats in the tree houses???). Sheena hates cats… well at least she used to… this kitten won her over by coming into our mosquito net and snuggling between the two of us whilst we slept, and then if we needed to go to the toilet, the kitten would get up with us and escort us down the ladder to the loo, standing guard whilst we did our business and escorting us back up… very cute. The other inhabitants were much more native, but less cute and certainly more aggressive! Our tree was lucky enough to have several bee hives attached... Big bees too, some up to 2cm long. These bees were fairly angry and certainly didn’t like zip lines, chasing everyone down the cable as they went past. I was lucky enough to upset a bee enough for it to commit suicide by leaving his stinger in my ear whilst I was flying down a cable 30m above the ground. I can tell you that zipping is made far less fun if a bee is buzzing around your head and your ear is on fire. 1.5 hours later, the searing pain had subsided somewhat, but writing this blog 12 days after the event, I can still feel it in my ear. I have never been stung by something like that before!

About 3 seconds before being attacked by bees

After our first day, which was spent getting used to the zips and flying about as we pleased, we got up before dawn at 5:30 to embark on a trek with a guide to try and spot the elusive Gibbon. We started by literally running up a hill in the jungle trying to chase a sound that only the guide could hear. After an hour or so of not seeing much we went back to our tree for breakfast. After breakfast, more zipping and some long trekking… then more zipping…

More Zipping!

The next day, we decided to not bother running through the jungle as we thought we would have a better chance seeing the gibbons from our tree house if they were to appear. What a great move that turned out to be. At first we could hear them singing from a distance whilst still lying in bed and as the sound got louder and louder we could then eventually see them swinging from tree to tree on the ridge a few hundred metres away. As great as it was to see the gibbons, for me the true enjoyment came from their truly incredible song they sing together. There’s only one way I can really describe it (indulge me for a minute)… to me it sounded like a smooth high frequency sine wave note slowly having it’s cut off filter modulated by an LFO (low frequency oscillator) creating a gated effected that got louder and louder as more gibbons chimed in. So incredible that I’m sure The Chemical Brothers listened to some Gibbons before creating their electronic wonder pieces ;-). Probably a really unromantic way of describing such a sound, and most readers probably won’t understand it either hehe, but I’m sorry that’s the only way I know how. I suggest you come to Laos to hear it for yourself… if not that, I’m sure Wikipedia can enlighten you :p

So in the end, after 3 great days of zipping above the tree tops (which was just too much fun), the experience I will remember the most was listening to a bunch of primates sing their morning song. I never would have thought that be the case. Besides my bee sting to the ear, the only other incident involved Sheena zipping and deciding to use her forearm as a break, leaving a mighty impressive black and red cable mark on her skin, which apparently stung according to her, and I believe it.. See for yourself!

Nice scar

Our Tree House

We couldn’t have had a better way to introduce ourselves to Laos… not exactly authentic, however it left a smile on our face which hasn't left since arriving in this beautiful country. We have been here 10 days now and I have a lot more to write. That will have to be saved till next time.

So long!

Simon & Sheena

One of the smaller zips back home

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