I’ve never been so excited to jump into questionable transport, we’re piled into the back of the tuk-tuk with the Swiss and we’re off. The English twins are venturing into a different section of the jungle for just one night leaving us to the three day option, just us, the Swiss machine (Fab, Dennis and Rino) and a Brazillian girl, Gabriele. Tourist families fluctuate so wildly with bonds so immediately strong for their too short lives. And so this adventure begins, we’re less than ten metres from the tuk-tuk and massive sweat patches are forming on all of us forcing an early farewell to comfort; we’re not even in the jungle yet but in this respect it’s reaching out to grab us, pulling us into its web. The jungle is breathing upon us we’re that close, a quick snack break calls a friendly cow over that rapidly turns into a frisky cow; best we move on to the ever calling green beast. This adventure is about to begin.
Sweat patches turn into pools, naive grins to stern cast facades and open space claws at us so suddenly from a forest that wont stay bound to a defeated cage. In truth our journey thus far is only a couple of hours, merely a few kilometres but civilisation already feels beyond reach such is the density and relentless of the jungle mass. Dark green comes in many shades and they’re all here, oversized foliage fans out at every space that an available drop of sunlight might hit, the competition is fierce and every plant has its go forming a dense blanket limiting our view to a matter of metres. We follow small but clearly worn tracks that channel us like docile animals to slaughter, we could not deviate from them if we tried. And just like docile animals we walk from safety and into a jungle that only gets deeper and deeper to wherever we’re led; and we follow.
The jungle is a benevolent soul: an oasis can exist outside of a desert it seems. before us lies a tranquil waterhole at the base of a small running waterfall, we can’t get anymore wet but we can get cool. We ring out our clothes leaving the pools of sweat to the jungle and jump in to dry off, we’re a few hours from the world but in this pool we could be days, no one can tell. As much as we want to we can’t sleep in this water, the stern faces of our march into nowhere are gone again as we get out of the water to re-saturate ourselves.
Nearing our stop for night one we haven’t seen any gibbons or monkeys but nor did we expect or hope to, that sort of sighting is not so easily granted, a further push into deeper jungle will be required for that gift. Crowded by the undergrowth we surge upward, our banished oceans of sweat so easily replaced in just a few minutes walk toward higher peaks and dancing light that now dares to pierce the canopy roof. Still we climb, the density relents to show us a perspective to replace the enclosed room that is the jungle depths; a narrow valley lies before us with an opposite slope hinting at no reprieve from the dense jungle march. Same same but different as they say here. The steep slope before us is mirrored by the opposite incline in a punishing climb down and up making the walk nothing but murder. So why walk? Lets just fly over to the other side; oh how many times have I said that on a hike?
A harness grabs tight on our hips and the cable sings, years of hiking wishes are granted as we launch ourselves on a leap of faith from the high slopes of the jungle. The cable screams into our ears still but the world is not dark anymore, in a blink we rocket through a tiny window from the depths of the jungle and into the bright world above the canopy at the speed of a bird in flight. So abruptly the world drops away, a hundred metres or so introduces us to a winding river so far below. We chase altitude, open spaces and grand views by instinct but so rarely are they found directly beneath our feet. As fast as a rocket takes off the leaps of the faithful are honoured and 12 feet lie safely on terra firma so magically on the other side of the valley. A short walk and it’s time to fly once more. We rise like birds and we dance from treetop to treetop on singing cables; the name of this adventure partially makes sense now, The Gibbon Experience by name but a Gibbon can’t fly like this.
Left to our own devices we can’t resist the temptation to fly, restrictions aren’t a favoured thing in Laos so we lock up and set the cables singing, bursting from canopy to canopy on leaps as long as 500m. The sun wanes indeterminably, it seems so long since we’ve seen it through the canopy but the darkness of the jungle crowds ever deeper as we venture to our nights rest. On the cable for the last time today we sing across a short gap to a tree that is to be our home tonight as childhood fantasy, natural wonder and tingling adventure collide. Here alone with hard timber below our feet and thatch above our heads we’re more than 40m above the ground, our imaginations were never able to create what this day has become. Safely in our new home we’re out of the harnesses but still the cables sing. Zipping by our home is a lady carrying our dinner, the best dinner delivery service ever just adds to the list of ‘best ever’s’ that this place rolls out with ease.
We tuck into dinner with gusto, tasty vegetables, chicken and sticky rice are followed by fresh fruit; Charlie and I even manage a beer to make perfection a little more perfect. Wide eyes and astonished exuberance are the standard fare here, possibly the best feature of this place is the bathroom; never thought I’d say that on this trip. On a lower platform a shower rains down overhead only to fall tumbling to the earth like rain below our feet. We cast our eyes out from the treetops that are our companions and stare down to the river running wild below us barely carving a path through a jungle that wants to clamber over it from both sides. There’s no window here, just a cool breeze while we shower floating above the jungle: it’s not just another best ever, there’s surely nothing the equal to this.
When the sun rises we will again sink below the canopy to escape its wrath venturing further and further into this surreal existence. After this day of layered disbelief a notion of tomorrow lies beyond grasp as today did this morning, jungle and sweat are about the only things of which we can be certain. They call this The Gibbon Experience and finally the name makes perfect sense, we live like the gibbons owning the world from our treetops. Well it would make perfect sense if it wasn’t a lie, a delicious beautiful lie. No gibbon lives this good.