8/1 We wake up at 6.30, have a shower and go to the reception to have breakfast at 7. No breakfast yet, also at 7.10 still no food. Talitha decides to go find a small bag to keep her valuables on her during the Gibbon Experience and comes back with a bright pink fanny pack. I laugh, but hey, it’s actually a pretty damn practical thing while hanging between trees! Okay, I also get one… Tacky, but hey it’s very useful! We decide it’s very retro-eighties and therefor back to trendy, or so. We finally get breakfast and the lady of the hotel keeps on bringing us more and more food: well we won’t starve if we don’t get any food in the jungle again! At 8am we drop our back packs at the Gibbon Experience, we only have a daypack with us for the next few days, and watch two videos together with another 20 people. The first video is about the Experience and the second one about the safety procedures and use of the harness for the zip lining. We all get a can of Beer Lao and a small bottle of water. Together with the Australian Amy and the Swiss Andreas we get in a jeep. Amy is very chatty and soon we laugh a lot on the back seat. The first half of the drive is on normal road, but then the fun starts. We drive through a river to continue (it reminded me of a bike trip I did 7 years ago in Louang Nam That, Laos, where I had to walk through a river with my bike on my shoulder) on bumpy, muddy roads full of potholes and ditches to avoid. The driver knows what he’s doing and we’re dancing on the backseat with all the swings and bumps the car does. We get to a village from where the hike into the jungle starts. We again start through a creek, so we take off our shoes, walk through the water and put our shoes back on. As we see a group coming back going over some planks in the water, we decide to do that on the way back as well instead of the shoe-ritual. We hike for about an hour and get a nice sandwich with a chicken and coleslaw mix for lunch. After another half an hour we arrive at a hut where we get our harnesses on and had to divide into groups for the different tree huts, a group of 9, 11 and 2. We started to make a big group, but then Talitha realizes that nobody is taking the 2-person group yet. ‘We’ll take that one’, she says. Great, we have our own tree hut for the next 2 days! Then we walked to the first zip line. I saw about 9 people go first and then it was my turn. I was both nervous and excited at the same time, since I have a fear of heights. I yelled a bit as I took off. The zip line started between trees and just above shrubs, but soon I was high above the ground and above tree tops. IIIIIIIEEEEEEHHHHHH!!! I was glad I made it to the other side. Then we had another little hike and we got to zip line number 2 and 3, which followed one another immediately as number 2 ended high up a tree and number 3 started right there as well from a small platform. Especially number three was high above the trees and my thought, as I was zipping about 200 meter above the tree tops of trees that were also about 100 meter high: ‘Hooooooooooooly F*cking Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!!!’ (Pardon my French… but it’s really literally what I thought) Our last zip line was to our tree hut and our guide Peya went with us. In our tree hut he filled a kettle with water, and zipped off again to go to a small camp kitchen to heat the water for coffee and tea. We looked around our accommodation for the next two nights and we loved the view, as we are the highest tree hut. The little bathroom on the lower floor (accessible through a floor hatch from our ‘living room’) hasn’t got any walls, so when you squat on the toilet or have a shower or brush your teeth, you’re right between the trees of the jungle and have bird sounds in the background, love it! We’re about 50 meter above the ground. We drank a cup of Lao coffee with Peya and chatted a bit with him. Before he left for the day, he told us the plan for the next day, when we were going to see more of the park and the other tree huts. We relaxed in our hut and around 5pm another guide showed up with our dinner. Funny, it’s like having a food delivery service (hut delivery?) in the jungle. The sticky rice, vegetables and beef mix were very tasty. After dinner it was still light, so we decided to take the zip line out of our tree hut and go for a bit of a walk. We heard lots of animal sounds, probably gibbons too. We sat down on a little bench and kept quiet, but we didn’t see any animals. Around 7pm it was very dark and we decided to go to sleep. I couldn’t quite fall asleep as I was nervous for the next day’s zip lining. Today was about getting to our tree hut, so necessary, but tomorrow was just going to be zip lining for fun. Is it? Fun? *sigh*
9/1 We woke up around 6am. The water of the shower was very cold and the air very crisp, so I decided to just have a bit of a splishy-splashy shower (a splash here, some drops there). That would have to do. We made a nice warm cup of tea with the water we still had in a thermos from the previous night and loose tea leaves in a big socky-tea-net. We watched the morning sun arrive. The colors in the sky were beautiful, and there was still some fog between the lower mountains. Around 8am we got our breakfast delivered to our tree hut door step and got a strong Lao coffee with sweet condensed milk. Then we went out of our hut on our zip line. Talitha convinced me to go for it, since we are here now. I kept on thinking: ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’. I was scared, shaky and dizzy, but I also wanted to see the park a bit more. The only way to do that, would be via the zip lines. So I did go. The first zip line would just be to a tree and back again, and that felt so pointless to me, that I told Talitha to go, and I would film her departure and arrival. I rather do the ones with a purpose, to get somewhere, not just there and back. Talitha came back all excited, because she saw a big black squirrel. It looked like a squirrel, but the size of a small bear (overall length including tail can be up to 115 cm). Our guide told us to walk over to tree hut number 7 and wait for him over there. On the way down to tree hut 7, we saw 2 people, a European guy and a Lao woman. He told us he was staying in a camp kitchen, for a hobby project about nature and animals. The guy could tell us that Talitha must have seen the black giant squirrel, and that sounded about right. As we arrived at number seven, the group that stayed there was just leaving. We went into their hut to wait for our guide. Since we knew the other groups would / could be visiting our hut, we cleaned up after ourselves, did the dishes, and put our stuff aside. Group 7 didn’t see it that way. The breakfast was still on the table, with some flies over it and their stuff was also all over the place. Very messy. Another reason to be glad to have our own hut. We waited for half an hour in the hut, that had the best view from the bathroom, and then decided to go back on the zip line. Did we misunderstand the guide? We were supposed to wait here, right? As we walked a bit back up the path, we bumped into him and another group (with Amy and Andreas) and walked back to hut 7 again. We enjoyed the view a bit more, and the rest of the group also said it was messy, it was much cleaner in their hut. Haha. Then we walked over to hut number 3, where we were in the fast half of the group with the zip lines, the other half was very slow. As we arrived, Andreas was the first to spot movement in the jungle well below us. Yes, it were gibbons! We tried to take some photo’s, which wasn’t easy with the distance, and enjoyed seeing a black and a brown gibbon playing in the trees. I got a brown dot between green trees on a photo, and that’s proof enough for me! The second half of the group arrived too late to see any of the gibbons. We did another zip line and then it was time for the longest zip line. The guide told us not to use the brake. Amy, Talitha and I made a little game out of it to zip to the end as close as possible, without having to use your hands on backward climbing to get there. Andreas was almost always zipping all the way to the end, and Amy and I studied his tactics. He had the aerodynamics down with a bald head, and we suspected he pointed his toes too for more streamlining. And yesss, on the longest zip line I made it all the way to the end! That at least made me feel a bit better about hanging on a thread (what it felt like to me), hundreds of meters above tree tops. We then went to tree hut 5, where we had to use the brake to prevent from crashing into the tree. I timed that one well too. The exit of that one was the scariest, coming out of a window with no platform. Luckily I could stand one step inside the tree hut to clip on, but many others had to stand in the window, with a solid hundred meter drop in front of you. Pfff… But we did it! Then all the way back again, hiking and zip lining. It was getting later and later for lunch, and thankfully we got a big bag of peanuts to tide us over to lunch and to be able to hike up. On the last zip line before our tree hut – zip line, I landed on the platform with my feet, while still sliding forward, so I bumped up to the zip line with my shoulder. Ouchie. I got a bit of an abrasion / burn/ bruise on my shoulder from it, a nice memory of the frigging scary zip lining. As we said goodbye to the rest of the group under our tree hut, we saw a Lao guy waving at us from our tree hut, telling he had lunch ready for us. Great, we were very hungry! After lunch at 4pm and another quick and cold splishy-splashy shower, we relaxed some more between the trees and al the bird sounds. We carved our name (Talitha) and initials (MM) in a tree and with the last cut I felt the blade (at the end, closest to the handle) sliding past my finger: whoops, a little cut. Dinner came quite soon after lunch, so we let it stand for a while. Talitha was curious to see what dinner actually was, so we opened it up. It had rice (of course), veggies, a macaroni and some freshly friend crisps! Yeah, we decided to snack on the crisps. A bit later we had de macaroni and veggies for dinner and let the rice untouched. We had enough rice for a while. Another early night after this exciting day. I did it!
10/1 As we woke up from the sunlight, we had plenty of time before our breakfast arrived, so we had a cup of tea in the morning light. Then Pomoan came, our guide for the last day, together with a friend and also his 7-year old daughter. Pomoan’s daughter absolutely loved the zip lining, giggling and smiling all the way. As we ate breakfast I spotted a black giant squirrel in a tree right in front of me, about 50 meter away. So we got some photo’s as it was relaxing and sleeping on the tree. Even Pomoan and his daughter were excited to see it. Then we had to get ready to leave. We zip lined 4 times and hiked some and then it was time to get rid of the harness, the zip lining was done. I did it, I’m still so proud of myself. I felt the fear and did it anyway, whoohoo! Then we hiked all the way back to the village where the jeeps were going to pick us up and had to wait for the group with Andreas and Amy. The other pick up with the messy group left to go back to Houai Xai already, but we waited, and waited, and waited some more. We started to wonder what had happened, because it took so long. When they finally arrived we heard why they were so late: they saw another big group of gibbons, much closer and were watching them for about an hour. Okay, solid reason to be late. Lucky them! We drove back via the bumpy, muddy road, had a quick lunch break and then all the way back to Houai Xai again. We got our big back pack again and get on our van with driver and guide for the long windy drive to Louang Nam Tha. As we arrive at the resort around 6.30pm, we want to get some dinner and walk around the neighborhood a bit. It’s quite deserted, no restaurants and not many shops. The receptionist then shows us on a map where the city center is, about a 20 minute walk away. Hm, nah, we don’t feel like walking for 20 minutes on dark streets to get some food en decide to go to one of the small shops to get some chips or so. We see some noodle soup cups standing, and decide to ask the lady of the shop if she can put hot water in it so we can take a noodle soup with us. She asks her son to translate, because she doesn’t understand us, then laughs and puts hot water in it for us. We’re very thankful, got a Beer Lao with it and have a party meal to celebrate my sister Rosan’s birthday. After dinner a nice hot shower (finally again!) and I felt so tired I almost immediately fell asleep…
To be continued!