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The Gibbon Experience

LAOS | Saturday, 10 June 2017 | Views [287]

The Gibbon Experience, Laos

I read about the Gibbon Experience on an online travel blog and further investigated the website for what I assumed to be a trekking company visiting monkeys in the jungle. The company had two trips to choose from: The Classic Experience (three days, two nights), or the Express (two days, one night). I chose the Classic experience as it advertised the most likely way to encounter the Black Crested Gibbons. Just a little aside on these arboreal mammals, gibbons are actually apes not monkeys. They have long gestational times producing few offspring in their 40-50 year lifespan. Gibbons display sexual dimorphism (females and males are different colors) and they are monogamous with their mate. Most interestingly, their long arms and perfected acrobatic movement allow them to swing from tree branches with an airborne distance of 50 ft at up to 35 mph. Wow, impressive!
The trip required the participants to be "physically fit", more like professional mountain hiker. And "comfortable with heights" was required since the accommodations were in tree houses at canopy height (>100 ft) connected only by zip lines. Got it, let's do this. I arrived prior to the 9 am departure time only to find I was one of 12 people headed out, a little larger group than I had expected. Most of the group loaded up into the back of a truck and myself, a couple, and the crew in another truck. We started off in a downpour of rain with the prediction of more rain to come. The trucks took us on an hour long ride through paved mountain roads and another 40 minutes on muddy carved out paths wide enough for a truck, a rough ride. About half way along the dirt road our truck broke down while the other truck sped ahead not knowing of our predicament. At that point walking to the village was our only option, also the starting point for an additional 1 hour hike just to base camp. To make a long story short we made it to the village given the help of another rescue vehicle, then walked through a few small rivers, up slippery muddy trails, arriving drenched, tired, hungry, and knowing we still had another thirty minutes to go. Now came the tantrum which led to my few days of solitude. The woman of the couple I was traveling with found out that most of our group would be staying together in one treehouse and the three of us would be in a smaller tree house. Her goal was not only to zip line and see gibbons but stay up late having bonding sessions with the others. She demanded to be with the other group leaving me the odd man out since the tree houses were now at capacity, except one. I now had my own private guide, private treehouse, and still daily meet-ups with the group. I was thrilled! Treehouse number three had by far the best panoramic view of the mountains where every morning and evening I watched the low lying clouds drift in, nestling in the valleys. The sunset always said goodnight leaving me with the sounds of the toads grunting, the night birds singing, and the bats squeaking as they hunted my predators, the mosquitos.
Everyday I woke up with the sunrise. Time did not exist; I had left my phone with my belongs in the office in Huay Xi. Within an hour the chorus began, the gibbons started their calls. Apparently they call out for a couple of reasons: to have a duet with their lifelong mate thus strengthening their bond, for territory disputes, and mating of course. It's difficult to describe the sound but one lone gibbon usually starts things off then a few others chime in. The calls begins as a deep, long siren increasing in pitch. After a few rounds, one gibbon will change the tune. The only way I can think to describe it is similar to a ray gun used in the 1950s alien movies, sort of a rapid fire staccato sound. You know the sound, your probably doing it in your head right now. The gibbons carry on for 5-10 minutes. The experience is moving, a reminder of the beauty in your infinite connection with life. I live for this.
I did actually see the Gibbons. My guide took me on a tour of all the tree houses and I was lucky enough to watch a small family goofing off in the trees. Being quiet and still was the best way to find and observe them. This was one benefit of being separate from the group. The others didn't see the gibbons on the trip.
As for the rest of the trip, we did fight another short rain storm which led to the pleasure of pulling leaches off my socks and shoes. We did have an hour and a half each day cruising the zip lines that formed a circuit you could traverse (approximately 23 cables total in the camp). We all became experts at setting up our gear on ourselves and the line. Accurately judging the landing platform was a small challenge but the view in and above the canopy provided a rush of endorphins that quickly made us junkies, repeating to circuit never got old.
At last we had to return, if not due to the end of our stay then definitely due to the need for a shower. Although the tree houses provided a shower, toilets, and clean drinking water, the humidity and mud never seemed to let up. So away I went, on the bumpy road, window down, breeze through my hair, sun on my arm, and countryside to view.

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