Part Two – The Gibbon Experience

We left the village and made our way over the river and across farm land. In front of us stood a domineering barrier of green as trees battled for space and sunlight. As we entered i was struck by just how congested the area was with vegetation. We trekked for several hours with a brief stop for lunch before we reached a hut where we were given harnesses and told to put them on like we would a dipper. Helpful.

The guides then placed us into groups and allocated tree-houses. There was one group of six already and a couple who had the ‘honeymoon’ house so it left me to join Joyce, Jill and Ki-Ki in tree house number three. At first I felt like I could have done with a bit of male company but it couldn’t have worked out better. The groups that knew each other had various tensions whilst i was fortunate to be in a group where everyone liked trekking, wanted to be up early to see wildlife and of course loved zip lining. Our two guides came over and introduced themselves as Ty Lee and Ty Shon. They were both from the local villages and spoke enough English to be able to converse. The Gibbon Experience is sometimes criticised for its guides but these two were superb. Enthusiastic and dedicated to their job they made the three days that much better!

We separated into our groups and left for our tree-houses. Within minutes we had our first zip line. Climbing a wooden platform I clipped my two carabiners in, heard the “OK” from the other side of the valley and tentatively walked over the edge. The feeling as the overgrowth was left behind and instead a huge drop down to the trees below and stunning views of the surrounding mountains reavealed itself. It was incredible. As i sped along with the wind across my face it truly felt like flying. The excitement only rescinded when I found myself coming to a halt ten meters from the end. Turning backwards and leaning back I clambered my way along the rope to the end, exhausted but buzzing. Failing to get to the end would become an all to common event. Surprisingly zip lining the sort of distances that we were doing is quite a skill!

The tree houses are only accessible by zip lining in. They are quite literally the stuff of dreams being around forty of so meters above the ground. From our tree house we had an unobstructed view across the jungle. With peaks in the distance and thousands of acres of trees it is one of the most dramatic and spectacular views I have ever seen. After ditching our stuff our guides drew us a map and told us to go and have fun! They would be back for tea at six. Three zip lines had qualified us to take care of ourselves. It is the sort of safety pre cautions that some would label as reckless but to me it was an ideal model of how health and safety should work. We had been shown how to do it and now it was down to us to take responsibility. That said it didn’t make the first line any less scary. Just how much trust do i have in myself? As it turns out enough. We zip lined for a couple of hours over one hundred meter drops admiring the breathtaking views. One of the nice touches of the experience is that you get to enjoy the jungle by trekking through it looking for the next line, rather than just having them all linked together. Tired and aching we returned, one minute late for tea, ate an impressive meal considering where we were, watched a beautiful sunset and then collapsed into bed. A full moon rose from behind the trees where i was sleeping. The animal, bird and insect noises went into absolute overdrive. At twelve i awoke and marvelled at the fog that clung to the valley below us whilst the stars shone above. At four am I awoke to the most pesky cat imaginable trying to climb onto my head. It lives in the tree house to scare away rats but come night it was an absolute nuisance. It was evicted the following day. Zip lined out it’s amazing how quickly a cat can learn to have the obedience of a dog when it is alone in the middle of the jungle! It followed us for half an hour rarely stopping.

On the second day we awoke at six in the morning and zip lined out with Ty Shon. We were going on a gibbon hunt! He listened intently to the noises echoing around the trees. Eventually Ty Shon led us down a path and deeper into the overgrowth. With the rain that had fallen the previous few days, the ground was difficult to say the least, as we slid all over the place gripping trees for dear life. It was great fun although seeing Ty Shon doing it in flip flops (he was still sliding thankfully) did put our troubles into slight proportion!

I’ve done a couple of animal hunts to date but nothing was as exciting as this, which was surprising considering a gibbon sighting was not very high on my must see animal list. As amazing as Yale was in Sri Lanka it is all based around luck. Here however we were with a tracker using the sounds of the jungle to guide him. After half an hour we paused and crouched down. “Monkey” he whispered, his face lighting up. And sure enough, a few minutes later, swinging from branch to branch above us flew one. It’s agility and rhythm left us all in awe as it came over our heads. It was a hairs on the back of your neck moment. “Lucky, lucky lucky” Ty Shon kept repeating as we headed back for breakfast. It wasn’t a gibbon but it was quite a spectacular sighting seeing it so close. And then just as we were nearing the tree house a noise, louder than the others started. Ty Shon turned around and started running back into the trees, we followed confused. The one sound turned into dozens. The gibbons were signing. It is a sound that will stay with me forever. Much like a series of broken police car sirens it’s volume and intensity set the heart rate pounding. Unfortunately we were not to see one in the flesh. The closest we got was a branch shaking and a streak of black disappearing. We were seconds to late. Being surrounded by the signing however made it all worth it. After a fifteen or so minute burst, the jungle returned to it’s normal noises, and we returned for breakfast.

After food we headed out with Ty Lee and buzzed around the zip lines up to tree house number five. It was here that I attempted my first videoed zip. It wasn’t the best idea considering it was by far the most nerve wrecking of all the lines. On most you have a little run off before the big drop happens. This gives you time to have confidence that your clips and ropes are all going to work for you. However on this one you stepped off the platform to one of the longest drops. With this in mind then my nerves hit home and I managed to get my hand stuck in the roller leaving me trapped ten meters or so from the start of the line. Dangling with the drop below and no sight on where I was heading, the video is that much more dramatic. Eventually I pulled myself back a bit and freed my hand before whizzing across the valley. Safe and with only a minor rope burn I was quite lucky as it could have been much worse. After lunch in tree house seven we spent the rest of the afternoon on the loop. A series of four dramatic and huge zip lines which take you around in a circle. It was great fun! By the end of the day I had successfully mastered how to zip line making the platforms nearly all of the time. Most of it was down to the reality that if I didn’t make it I wasn’t confident my arms would be able to pull me in!

The following day it was time to leave. We were up early again hunting gibbons but to no avail. There was no singing, which made us even more appreciative of the previous day. A couple more rounds of the loop was all we had time for which was quite fortunate really because I was starting to get a little to good. The final zip line I did had Ty Lee in stitches as even the break could not slow me down as I thundered into the platform trapping my fingers in the process. It’s a miracle I still have them in one piece! We then trekked back to the village, sad at having to finally leave.

All in all it was a superb three days although I will say for anyone considering doing it it is a project that fluctuates in terms of its quality. The other groups whilst overall enjoying it had more mixed reactions to the experience. It showed me just how lucky I was to not just get the weather right but also the group, the tree house and the guides. It made for an unforgettable experience.


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