Post jungle melancholia

Day XII – March 30

Ouch, that was a little hard on all of us this morning after lasting so long last night.
When I was woken by the sound of the singing gibbons at 6.30am I turned over, knowing they wouldn’t be in sight for another while. When I did go out at 7am I only found Alex up and he’d seen nothing yet.

Yesterday we got really lucky just before dinner; one of the families was swinging around ‘our front yard’ and they came as close as 50 meters, which is about as close as they ever get. They were still hard to see with the naked eye, but we all focused real hard to make out the black (male) and brown (female) dots moving around the trees and just that was so tantelizing!

Today we’re treated on a continental breakfast; white bread of that odd structure, jam that is just a bit too sweet and scrambled egg – but to be honest I’m starting to prefer local breakfast and I’m getting good at it too.

We’ve only got until noon to zip around, and are free to go our own way as we’ve been well enough familiarized now.

When we get back to base camp: kitchen n°1, Dett and his buddies challenge the boys from our group to the promised game of ratball. It’s the local ball, woven of bamboo, and the game is a mixture of football and volleyball.
As this is where all groups come together again there’s quite an audience. The locals are confident enough to give their guests a 10-point head start, but regret that half an hour later when their asses have been publicly kicked by a bunch of white boys, and they lost a few beers.

Then it’s time to go back to the real world and leave this paradise to the next group, who are already waiting at ‘the last village’ asking us for tips, so we tell them to get some sodas, beer and salty bites and get prepared to be amazed.*
We trade rides and I end up in the back of a tuktruck. Being out in the open feels nice, that way leaving to our beloved jungle is less rigid.

We’re hardly back on the big road when the smell of traffic and the smog caused by the many controlled fires surround us. Farmers light those themselves, to clean their land before planting, and to gain new land. I somehow always had this notion it was all big bad companies doing that and hadn’t expected it to be the work of the little man; why don’t they want to preserve their beautiful forests? Well, they need to cultivete the land to survive…
It’s impossible to make out the mountains we got to meet and love anymore.
It’ll be a while now, if ever I go back. I’m considering a trekking in Vietnam, heard some good things about Sapa. And there must be a way in to the jungle of Indonesia. Just imagine how astonishing it must be after rainy season?!

The worries of a backpacker: I have practically no clean clothes left when we get back to Huay Xai and no time to wash, as my Stray bus leaves tomorrow morning.
Dan and I check back in with Friendship Guesthouse despite the weird treatment before we left – we could only leave our big backpacks in his storage if we’d book a bus or something with him, and he’d apparently been really rude to some others. I take a quick shower and check with the www. It tells me somehow I’m still ok budgetwise as long as I keep my cool.
The smell of the fires has made it’s way into the city, and I can detect quite a few from the rooftop. They help set the melancholic tone I’m in, adjusting to civilization again, feeling a bit numb after the majestic jungle.
But I am feeling more and more at home in the odd streets with their unformed curbs and funny little vehicles and happy little people always trying to sell you one thing or another, nevertheless joking.

* At the office they will tell you not to bring any extra weight in the form of drinks etc. “It’s all inclusive.” But you might like a drink and a bite at night, or after coming back from the tough walk. I would’ve, had I known.

[A hindsight note on The Gibbon Experience:
Even though this was a much more intense experience… Everyone being so much younger, including the guides; still really cool people I’m glad to have met – they were nowhere near as involved as Sit and Sami were.
Of course this one was more about the ziplines as well and thus more like an attraction, with more staff and them therefore being more distant. The Canadian house told us their guide didn’t even come over for a chat or anything. I guess the whole thing was just different from what I’d expected, and the trekking in Chiang Mai spoiled my idea of a group tour.
Doesn’t take away the fact that I just had 3 amazingly awesome days I wouldn’t have missed it for the world!
It truly is an experience I can recommend anyone! Yes it’s a expensive for Asian standards, but absolutely worth it!]

Have you been on The Gibbon Experience, Flyght of the Gibbon (Chiang Mai, Thailand) or any of the other jungle zipping trips? What did you think?

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Just another day in the jungle

Day XI – March 29

I wake up at 6am in my little penthouse – I got the one bed upstairs, on the tiny platform just above the roof, and I’m not even going to attempt a description of what it felt like when I opened my net. It was a little lonely up there though, and the smell of coffee was luring me downstairs, where together we sat at the railing, holding our breath as not to disturb anyone out there, taking in the wonder of just another day in the jungle.

At 7am it starts, suddenly, and so loud!
Dett told us a little bit about the Gibbons and their way of life, last night. How they live in families of 5 to 8, and that there are about 4 families in the area, so we’re bound to see and hear at least one, during their active hour, early in the day.
But when they actually do start singing this morning it sounds like there’re more than 30 of them! And it sounds nothing like you’d expect of monkeys. We all sit, captured by this wall of noise, focusing on the trees ahead, trying to spot any movement.
As suddenly as it begun it’s over just 5 minutes later.
Only after that is it that we see the trees swinging. They‘re too far to actually make them out, but it’s still exhilarating to know they’re there!

A short while later our breakfast is zipped in; about the same as we had for dinner last night; a big basket of rice, some omelets, a pan of tomato-peanut mash and two pans of different cabbage stews.
As soon as we have that down we put our harnasses back on and zip out for a morning swing and some heavy hiking as the sun steadily climbs over the hills.
Oh jungle how I love you so. You wear me out until every pore drips with sweat, my lungs are about to cave in and just at the point where I think I can’t take one more step up, I see a flat bit up ahead where I can level, where I can breathe your pure air and vicinity and all pain is forgiven and forgotten.

We do the full round today, zip the longest and highest and scariest of the 17 lines that are included in the Classic Experience – in total there are 25 lines, Waterfall Experience just uses 11 – and go all the way to the end where there is a treehouse that is entirely in the open and which you enter and leave through the window. Going in is not very different or especially scary exciting compared to the rest, but the drop out; just letting yourself glide out with a 50m freefall at your feet; this one is definitely unique.
Treehouse n°4 has a really nice view as well. We’re all staring ahead at the vastness of a megacosm we couldn’t have imagined before, when Dett points out what is right in front of us; it’s camouflage working perfectly so we didn’t even notice it in that tree no meter away from us, a bright green rattail snake slithers along. It didn’t notice us – or doesn’t care, and just keeps on moving tardily through the tree, making it’s way up to the roof.
We get a while to catch our breath and digest our lunch before we set out again. I’m feeling comfortable enough to bring my camera this time and will make a brave attempt at visualizing this intense experience. No promises they’ll be better shots than the ones that are already on youtube though.*

We spend our night sitting around the table playing this really fun cardgame golf and chatting.
Dett comes over again – guides stay in a different accommodation than the participants – and this time even brings a few friends who want to practice their English. They’re a bit to shy to actually talk to us, especially to the girls.
Dett more than makes up for them and tells us all sorts of stories, like the one of how he got lost in Thailand for two years, and the horrors of bandits beheading inocent travelers in the night by spanning a rope over the road, and about his tribe and his mums tribe and his dads tribe and how he speaks 15 (!) different languages – just a few sentences in most though. Eitherway, again a man who loves to play silly little jokes on us.
We’re having so much fun we don’t even notice the clock striking midnight before we go to bed.

* And I might say I failed. My cam’s too big to handle swifly enough when swinging from a cable. You’ll just have to go see for yourself… I still didn’t get around to editing

[this was day two of the amazing Gibbon Classic Experience, expensive at €220 for 3 days and 2 nights. But after careful consideration (believe me, I’ve had the question if it’s worth it asked so often, I am absolutely sure) I do have to recommand it to anyone who has the opportunity!]

Into the wild: the beautiful Bokeo Nam Kha National Park

Day X – March 28

After 1½ hour on a very steady and newly paved road, we just started offroading for the second half of the journey into the wild; the beautiful Bokeo Nam Kha National Park.

A first awkward situation occurred this morning at the Gibbon Experience office, when some loud American dude tried to get in to today’s Experience but was told off. However, he could join the one leaving tomorrow. But he had to make a scene about it; loser.
On their site they tell you to book at least two weeks in advance, so that we could get Dan a spot yesterday was already pretty exceptional.
A second was when a random local and his daughter ask for a ride. Our driver said ‘no’ as this is a tour thing, but the guy pushed his girl and himself in next to us anyway. After half an hour or so the driver stopped at his request, and the good man tried to pay for the ride. The driver wouldn’t take the money, but the man wouldn’t close the door without giving it. Tension’s rising… The man ended up throwing the money through the window just before we drove off. Anything-goes Asia?

The languages spoken in this car: Lao (between the driver, the guy next to him and another guy on the back seat – I suppose they’re our guides) French (between the couple in the front seat – yes, next to the other guy and the driver) Dutch (between that Dutch dude that persists on speaking Dutch to me and, well, me) and English in general conversation.

We arrive at the last village with 22 people, say ‘hi’ to the local kids, take our pictures, and start our hike up into the much greener and denser jungle. Very different from the trekking in Thailand, not just because the enviroment seems so much livelier but because of the huge number we walk with. And the conversation; instead of hushed words about all the beauty we see around us, it’s about how legendairy Barney Stinson is. I very much enjoy HIMYM, but it’s not on my mind when I’m in the freakin’ jungle?!
After half an hour we stop for a breath and a sandwich that the guides hand out to us. Benches are actually build at this spot, but of course – we’re in the jungle, people – they’re covered with ants etc. That makes a few girls and one or two guys scream a bit…
I’m starting to think I looked forward to this one way too much and haven’t enjoy the trek with Sit nearly enough.

Another half an hour and we get to the first kitchen, a small building on groundlevel, belonging to treehouse n°1. Here we get our zipping sets and are divided into smaller groups. Dan and I end up with the French couple, two Dutch girls, and a couple that looks german to me because of the moustache, but turn out to be Canadians.
Our guides Dett and Kamping take us up first. Detts English is quite good, Kamping not so much – or he’s just very very shy.
When we get to the platform Dett explains to us clearly, simply but quickly how to clip on and how to break “but you won’t really need that,” concluding with “OK, see you on the other side!” and he’s gone, disappeared though the trees.
That first one; I hate to admit it, but I was a little scared. And the second one; I didn’t make it all the way till the other end, so I had to haul myself in for more than 20 meters. And it’s about 50 meters to the ground, and I’m hanging from a 1-centimeter thick cable, with just two little cords to secure me to it. Yes, I almost panicked.
But it’s all so worth it!
Imagine this: You walk through an amazing jungle, all sorts and forms of life shouting in enthousiasm all around you. And then you see a wooden ramp, kind of shabby build, but it holds, so it’s absolutely charming. You climb up, clip on your safety and your roller to a thick cable, take a breath, and jump. A second later you swoosh through a bambooplant or something of the sort, and a valley opens up before you. Five layers of hill up far, every shade of green imaginable beneath you as far as the eye goes and even the highest tree can’t touch your feet. And you just hang there, taking it all in, as you glide to a platform in the highest tree on the side of the next hill, where you change line and let yourself fall into the next valley. No words can describe this!

Now that was the best shower ever! No, seriously! It’s at the back of the downstairs platform of our treehouse, and open so you have a view over the entire valley, facing west, which is perfect since these parts of the world ask for an afternoonshower rather than a morning shower. You hear the water clattering down on leaves about 30 meters underneath you – plus of course the never ending rumble of the jungle; birds, crickets, monkeys… I don’t know what else but they don’t call it rumble for nothing.
Treehouse n°7, remember that one.

We all get settled in around our little table on our little chairs sniffing in the fumes of what promises to be an amazing dinner of… can’t really tell what it is yet but it smells great, so I’ma dig in!

Anything-goes Asia: Where a platform 40 meter above groundlevel doesn’t need a railing or a net; you’ve got your safety clipped on most of the time anyway…

[this was day one of the amazing Gibbon Classic Experience, expensive at €220 for 3 days and 2 nights. But after careful consideration (believe me, I’ve had the question if it’s worth it asked so often, I am absolutely sure) I do have to recommand it to anyone who has the opportunity!]