Sunday, 16 March 2008

Why did the monkey get lost?

Sorry we haven't blogged for a bit. Hope you haven't missed us, but we've literally been having the time of our lives in Laos. Wow! We took a VIP bus (dontcha know) to Chiang Khong and made a remarkably easy border crossing into Huay Xai, Laos where we had an appointment with some gibbons.

Where to start with the report on the next few days at The Gibbon Experience?! We first heard about it from some guys in a campsite in Byron Bay, Australia, and now know how lucky we were, since it's only advertised by word of mouth and not in any of the guide books (yet - a documentary crew was arriving to make a film about it as we left).

The place was set up by a French guy, who we were lucky enough to meet when we invited some "fellow zippers" up to our tree house for a cup of tea, who claimed he came up with the idea whilst "on dope". Makes sense, The place is a triumph - an eco-project set up in the middle of Bokeo Nature Reserve which aims to provide the locals with a sustainable level of income for years to come, and farangs (foreigners) with a whole lot of fun by buiding tree houses accessible primarily via zip lines. So much fun!

We slept in the love shack - a 2 person bungalow, which was mercifully free of rats and mice for 2 nights, and spent 2 days sweating profusely whilst climbing up to the zip lines where we zoomed up to 150m above the forest floor, for distances of 500m at a time.

Initially terrifying, this soon became an awe-inspiring if exhausting way of seeing the jungle. Setting off in the half light at 6am to try to see some gibbons was just a majestic sight - all mist rising off the trees and animals singing to the rising sun...

It was slightly disappointing to not actually see any gibbons, but the overall experience was worth every penny and more of the EUR 132 per person we paid.

We had several Health and Safety conversations with fellow gibboneers along the lines of "There is no way they'd be allowed to do this in England". There was a short video briefing about how to put on your harness, and how to safely attach the runner to the zip line... and that was pretty much it. The owner later explained that he deliberately left it that way to encourage a sense of personal responsibility - bravo! - rather than babying people into laziness and a cavalier attitude which would surely lead to more accidents.

...this is why we came away. An absolutely awesome, life-affirming thing to do, and an incredibly inspiring project to be able to support. We feel very lucky that we were able to do this now, before word really gets out and the tourists get in.

Debs and Ben

P.S. The answer to the question is: "Because jungle is massive!" but you probably only get this if you were between the ages of 15 and 25 in the early 90s...

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