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54 Hours in the Jungle: Surviving the Gibbon's Experience

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Heading into the jungle with the Gibbon’s Experience was one of our most anticipated events on this trip – we had heard oodles of positive things about it and many people ranked it as their number one Southeast Asia experience. For us, it was definitely an experience – although whether positive or not, I’ll let you be the judge. I’m going to break it down into the events that transpired over our 54 hours of living in the jungle.

Hour 1: We check-in at the Gibbon’s office and watch a short video about zip-lining safety. We immediately discover that we would be spending the next few days with a VERY young group of six young males. We were slightly perturbed about this until we discovered they were Canadian. I didn’t pay much attention to the video since I have zip-lined many times and felt sure that our guides would keep us in check whilst on the course. I actually missed half the video because Aysha, our other Canadian friend that we had travelled with since our hill-tribe trek, popped by to say goodbye.

Hour 3: We arrive at the base village after a very arduous ride in a 4×4 over some pretty sketchy terrain. Laos has decided it is very practical to pave 50 meter sections of road, alternated by 50 meters of gravel road, which makes for an interesting sensation while packed into the back of a jeep with nine other people (namely, large sweaty boys).

Hour 4: The hike begins. The people just coming off the Experience, when asked what it was like, grumpily warned us about leeches and bees. They were bleeding everywhere and several had been stung. We assumed they were weaklings and embarked on our hike.

Crossing a very unstable bamboo bridge

Crossing a very unstable bamboo bridge

Hour 6: After a fairly challenging hike, mostly uphill, we arrive at the waterfall. (aside: the Gibbon’s Experience offers two experiences: the Classic, which involves only a small one-hour hike to one treehouse, where you reside for the full two days. The Waterfall version, takes you to a waterfall and swimming hole for the first night, and then you switch treehouses on the second day. We randomly ended up on the waterfall version because of the day we were leaving – they depart on alternate tours every other day.) We had experienced minimal leech attacks at this point – most had been averted by watching them before they crawled onto the sole of your shoe and into your sock to suck blood. The eight of us Canadians went for a swim and got to know each other a little better – our roommates for the next few days were 21-year old guys from the Toronto area who had all just graduated University from Western. We were getting along like peas in a pod. The swim was wonderful after the up-hill trek in 42 degree heat…we welcomed the cool feeling and resting our sore limbs.

Filling up our water from a pipe, filtered through a dirty coffee filter.  Who can spell Giardia?

Filling up our water from a pipe, filtered through a dirty coffee filter. Who can spell Giardia?

Hour 8: After collecting water from a very questionable source which involved putting a strainer over a tap outside (Giardia, here we come!), we embarked on another hike up to our first zip-line. Strangely enough, the company had only provided us with six harnesses for eight people – so we had to take turns getting the group across the canyon. The first zip-line was unreal: you basically strapped onto the rope (pretty much unassisted by any guide, since our guide, who hilariously resembled the little Chinese man from Ocean’s 11, barely spoke any English) and it appeared as though you were heading straight into the trees. Really though, you were going across a large valley into the side of a mountain, where you disembarked, walked a few meters, and went on another very short line which led you into our home for the night: a wicked tree house, perched 50 meters above the ground. The zip-line landed into the base of the house, where a toilet was also located. After climbing a short set of stairs, you were on the main floor, complete with beds and a small eating area. This was awesome, every dad’s dream for their back yard.

On of the tree houses (not the one we stayed in)

On of the tree houses (not the one we stayed in)

Hour 10: Only one person had suffered some leech damage and we were all feeling pretty good from the trek in – especially after the swim. Scott and a few other guys decided to go for a some zips across the canyon and back while the rest of us lounged and enjoyed some hot chocolate (bizarre to drink in 42 degree heat, I know, but it was delicious!). We hunkered down for our first canister dinner – a really interesting canister that consisted of four different compartments with various Lao dishes cooked inside and a bag of rice. Our guide left us for the night, which was a bit of a surprise – you mean, we were going to stay here without supervision for the night?! We are just Canadian man-children! We need a tough Lao guide to help us! Anyway, once we calmed down and began to enjoy our freedom, we cleaned up after ourselves just in time for the sunset. In a sign of things to come, we were bothered by a few bees, but with only one of getting stung.

Hour 12: We started playing a wicked game the Canadian boys taught us called “Rombus.” The tree house we were in for the night was pretty small, and without any electricity or running water – it was pretty rustic. Using headlamps and flashlights, we tried to play our game, but kept getting rudely interrupted by large bugs landing all over us every second or so. It got so bothersome that we quickly gave up our game and sought refuge in our “tents” – basically mats covered with a sheet hanging from a piece of rope. While we were getting ready to get in, “Spider Cove” (we all named our tents) discovered its namesake: a giant arachnid the size of my own hand. It had quickly scurried away, but left everyone in a small state of panic and fairly disturbed. We managed to get past it, and everyone headed inside their tents for the night.

A really grainy photo of the eggs on Kenna's shorts

A really grainy photo of the eggs on Kenna's shorts

Hour 13: Not quite tired, as it was only 8 p.m., I discovered what it must have been like to be at a boy’s slumber party. We talked between the tents and embarked on a jazzed-up version of the name-game which involved naming each of our tents (we were called Rexall Place) and telling some funny stories about ourselves. One of the guys was in the middle of a story, when Rexall Place had an emergency – I discovered a strange sensation in my shorts. We managed to get a flashlight on, and found that I had a really strange patch of what looked like – get this: EGGS, in my shorts. They glowed green in the light, and were formed in an almost rectangular shape. Possibly spider eggs? (author’s note: a thorough google search some days later has led us to believe they were moth eggs). But I had been wearing my shorts for several hours! How did something lay eggs in them?!?! All of the boys wanted to see what had transpired and it started a mass panic in the tree house. We all decided to head back to the table in the darkness and tell funny stories to ease our minds.

Hour 14: Our story telling kept getting interrupted by large bugs flying into us every few minutes. At one point, Mitch, one of the boys, felt something like a bird pooping on him. Upon turning on the light, he had been splattered with some sort of white substance. Shining our flashlights upward, we discovered the giant arachnid that had infiltrated “Spider Cove’s” tent. A slight move of the flashlight yielded yet another one…and another one…and in total, we found about 20 large spiders the size of my hand, the biggest spiders I’ve ever seen. Mitch had been shat on by a giant spider. This sent us all into another frenzy and we all retreated back into our tents where we thought we were safe. And we seemed to be – most of us fell asleep quite quickly.

All dressed up and ready for an evac!  Look at the fear in those eyes...

All dressed up and ready for an evac! Look at the fear in those eyes...

Hour 17: It’s 1:30 a.m. After a few hours of sleep, we were all rudely awoken by some very large thunder. Now, this isn’t wussy Canadian thunder I am talking about – this is full fledged, the earth is shaking and there is daytime at night thunder and lightening, so much lightening that there must have been a flash every half second. It started POURING, drenching our tents and our gear and the tree house started to shake…deep, terrifying rumbles. Now, I’ve felt like I was about to die many times this trip (jumping out of planes, off of cliffs, diving into the sea at night with sharks, riding on motorcycles without a helmet with a 15-year-old driver, simply crossing the street in Hanoi…etc…etc…), but at this moment, I legitimately felt like I might leave this earth. We were a very long zip across a giant canyon with an additional 20 minute hike from the nearest village (if you can call a single dwelling with one family living in it a village), perched up in a tree in a jungle storm. Still not convinced? Get this: remember that we only had six harnesses for eight people. If our tree house shook loose, or was struck by lightening, not all of us would be able to get out of there unscathed. The panic amongst our group (and keep in mind I was the only female) got so bad that the boys lined up all the harnesses, put their shoes on and got dressed, packed up all their gear, and waited to see how bad it got and if we would be rescued. The Toronto boys had met someone who, a few days ago, had had to be evacuated from the tree house, so this was a very real possibility. But how would we do that with only six harnesses?!?

Bob Marley dance party at 3 a.m.  How else do you celebrate surviving a hellish night?

Bob Marley dance party at 3 a.m. How else do you celebrate surviving a hellish night?

After about an hour of me shaking like a little leaf in Scott’s arms, the storm seemed to pass through the worst of it. One of our new friends exclaimed that he felt like he had been on a “roller coaster of emotions and that [he was] a shell of a man.” Somewhat relieved and euphoric, we decided the best way to celebrate living another day was to play some Bob Marley and have a little dance party.

Hour 20: It’s 4:00 a.m. We finally wound down enough to catch a few winks.

Day 2 / Hour 24: Wake up time. We had survived our first full-day in the jungle – bring it on. Our guide zips over at 8:00 a.m to wake us up. We ask him “Did you hear that storm last night?!” He replies “What storm? I was so tired, I was out at 6:30 and just woke up!” So if we should have been evacuated, he would have never come and got us. Real comforting. He hands us breakfast and leaves us, and tells us to meet him at the village in an hour or so.

Hour 25: Time to leave the tree-house. My first zip-line out of the day (and without any sight of a guide or experienced person around), I crashed into the landing zone and almost chopped my legs off below the knee – I hadn’t braked enough and was sent crashing into the VERY low landing platform. No one was there to help me, and so I had to pull myself up, crying, to stand up. I called for Scott to zip over from the tree-house to come inspect my damage – I was scraped on my shin and had two goose eggs, on each leg, the size of a grapefruit. I had done some serious damage to myself.

Hour 26: We eat a pretty gross breakfast that felt more like dinner (Pad Lao, rice, roast potatoes) down by the waterfall – this created some issues in that many of us required the use of a toilet without one being readily available. Many of us decided to go in the bush. Remember that the bush is leech infested.

Blood from one of Kenna's five leech wounds that wouldn't stop bleeding

Blood from one of Kenna's five leech wounds that wouldn't stop bleeding

Hour 28: After another two-hour hike, and for me, on semi-broken legs, we arrive at the base-camp of our second tree-house for the night. At first, I noticed a very fat, blood-filled leech on the ground. I wasn’t sure where it came from. I then looked down at my pant leg, near my crotch, and noticed some blood. Again, I thought, “oh, I must have rubbed myself a bit with the zip-line harness. No biggie.” About five minutes later, I patted the bloody area, and felt a large glob of something – oh shit, I think it’s a leech. I proceeded to take off my pants in front of the boys and the Lao guides (thank god I had my bikini bottoms underneath, in anticipation of perhaps another swim in a stream) and discovered that I was infiltrated. I had not one, not two, but FIVE leeches stuck to my legs at various points, two of which were located in my underpants. Likely from my little escapade in the bush. They had been on me for over two hours, which means they had taken a lot of blood. The worst part about leeches is that they insert an anti-coagulant into you before they start sucking, so your blood runs like a hemophiliac for about an hour after you pull the thing off. My legs looked the worse for wear with blood streaming everywhere (not to mention the large tennis sized swellings on both of my shins)….and I was pretty traumatized at seeing so much of my own blood running down me. But time was not to waste – we had to strap back into our harnesses and get to our second tree-house for the night. So, back into my pants I went (after ensuring they were leech-free) and zipped into our second abris, this one 62 meters off the ground. This one was niiiicceee – we had full electricity, plumbing, and even a second storey which the boys named the “honeymoon suite” and gave to Scott and I. We had really traded up for the night.

Zipping

Zipping

Hour 30: After some rest and relaxation, all of the boys decide it is time to do some zipping. My legs were in no condition to take me anywhere, so I decided to stay behind and have a shower and chill. Unfortunately, this second house was INFESTED with bees. I don’t just mean that there were a few here or there, there were hundreds of them. And I was the only warm-blooded, sweet smelling (ok, maybe not sweet by this point) creature in the tree-house. Not only this, but the boys had taken all the shoes and harnesses away – for some reason, these items were the favourite play-toys of the bees and kept them away from me. I decided to have a shower, but the bees were everywhere and I couldn’t get much accomplished. Not only that, but after about two minutes in the shower I heard the most massive crashing sound, accompanied by an intense vibration – it felt like the tree house was tumbling below me. I ran from the shower and looked over the balcony – two huge trees across from me were biffing it and crashing to the ground. I started to freak – it looked like a zip-line was attached to them and I got really worried about Scott and the rest of the guys. I managed to get dressed and sat down in the middle of the tree house, while every bee in the place seemed to try to land on me.

A kitchen in a tree house - so cool

A kitchen in a tree house - so cool

Now, if you know me very well at all, you will know that bees are pretty much the only thing in the world that I am deathly afraid of. When I was four years old, I watched my baby brother get stung by an entire swarm of bees and I cried with him while he writhed in pain on our kitchen table and my mother applied calamine lotion to him. Many of you will know that I will run inside screaming at the sight of a bee, and I’ve been known to spend entire dinners eating inside the house by myself while everyone eats leisurely on the patio. Not only this, but most of you will also know that I am allergic to almost everything on the planet (grass, pollen, cats, dogs, etc…) and that I’ve never been stung by a bee. Because I haven’t been stung, I don’t know if I’m allergic.

The treehouse had become my own personal hell. It was definitely NOT the aversion therapy I clearly need. I was certain I was going to get stung and that the gang was going to zip back, only to find me in serious anaphylactic shock on the floor. Fortunately, my lovely Scott was a bit worried about me and came back early. I was so unbelievably relieved. We tried to take a nap, but were so disturbed by the bees that we had to submerse ourselves in our full “tent” just to get away from them.

View of the tree house

View of the tree house

Hour 33: The rest of the boys finally come back after getting thoroughly lost in the forest and we all hung out. The bees got so bad that I had to go back to my tent. We decided it would be a bad move to eat with the bees as bad as they were, so we waited for sunset.

Hour 35: We finally eat another canister meal that had been zipped over to us, watched the sunset, and enjoyed our bee-free environment. After playing another round of “Rombus” we decided it was time for sleep. However, some serious lightening was rolling in and we figured we should be more prepared than the previous night. At least this time, we had eight harnesses (our little guide had brought us some more earlier in the day) and we knew what to expect. Watching the lightening come over the hills was like nothing I’ve ever seen – it was like watching a strobe-light illuminate the sky. There was no beginning or end to the light. The wind picked up, and it started to thunder and pour – drenching us under our thatch-roof. We packed up all our gear and lined up the harnesses, ready for an evacuation if it became necessary. Panic surged through the group as we became fearful again when the treehouse started to shake uncontrollably…but it passed only after a few shorts hours.

Hour 39: We all go to bed. The worst of the storm had passed. It was kind of surreal to go to sleep with the lightening illuminating the sky above our heads.

Zipping

Zipping

Day 3 / Hour 48: After a truly wonderful sleep due to our exhaustion from the day before, our wake up call comes in the form of one of our guides zipping into our tree-house, delivering us breakfast. We knew the bees would be bad, but nothing could prepare us for how bad they actually became. Not long after we awoke, another group of people, from the Classic Gibbon’s Experience, traipsed through our tree-house. This seemed to disturb the bees (I am wondering if it was the new scent?) which created a frenzy. Not only this, but these wonderful guests of ours (Europeans…Uggghhh…) left us a number of leeches from their clothes (and they did this purposefully, might I add, as one of them made a comment something to the effect of “haha, I am leaving you leeches!”) for us to contend this. We tried to eat our breakfast, but after two of the guys got stung and living in complete misery, we had had enough. It was time for an evac. I was freaking out like a small child and was sent to a “tent” to harness up while Scott quickly packed up our stuff, and all the boys and I got out of that tree-house as fast as possible. The exit of this tree-house was pretty crazy – it was essentially a free-fall onto the zip-line. I was so eager to get out of the bee hell that I almost jumped out of the tree without my gear on properly. Scott had to yell at me and tell me that a few bee stings were better than plummeting to my death from a tree house. I admittedly had to agree and let the boys do a buddy check on me before I literally went sailing out across the valley. I didn’t even hesitate to jump – I just needed to get out of the hell hole honey comb that our abris had become.

Hour 50: It was time to hike again. As our guide put it, we would be spending the rest of the morning “walking, zipping, walking walking, zipping, zipping, walking.” At this point, I was beginning to become VERY ready to get back to civilization. We did a few amazing zips, one 400m long and some more intense vertical trekking. I really wish I had had the mental capacity to enjoy zipping around more than I did.

Hour 53: We finally made it back to our starting point, at the local Laos village. Unfortunately, I had been attacked by several more leeches up my pants and at this point was starting to look like quite the scene. Blood stained pants, blood stained socks, blood running down my legs, sweat EVERYWHERE, I embraced the orange soft-drink that awaited me at the finish. I think I scared the new-comers embarking on the trip a bit (most were wondering – what the hell happened to that girl?) and another one of our boys got stung by a bee. It was time to leave.

The chicken on the bus.  He left a present for Kenna in her shoe.

The chicken on the bus. He left a present for Kenna in her shoe.

Hour 54: Our ride finally arrived. We had a 2.5 hour ride back to Huay Xai to endure. But get this. Who came into the jeep with us? A man with a live chicken. Which he stowed by my shoes, and which I now have the chicken poop stain to prove it with. A perfect end to a perfect trip. A ride in Asia is not complete without some form of foul riding next to you. No wonder avian flu was such a problem here. We parted adieu with our new Canadian friends and went for a shower.

Epilogue

Before I conclude with my thoughts on today’s saga on the Excellent Adventure, I want to thank the Canadian boys for being such awesome companions on this escapade. We truly couldn’t have asked for nicer, funner, or more awesome people to hang out with, and it truly speaks to what an amazing country Canada is to live in. So, to Team Hotel, Team Spider Cove, and Team Travel or Die (for some reason guys, I don’t think that is the right name, but I really can’t remember) – Team Rexall Place wishes you the most awesome of awesome time in Vang Vieng and we are hoping for a 100% success rate on your endeavours! :)

So, you’re now probably wondering, did I enjoy the Gibbon’s Experience (even though I did not see a Gibbon, let alone any other type of wild animal besides leeches and bees)? As I lay in my hotel bedroom, freshly showered and the litres of blood washed from my clothes (which really stunk, by the way. I can’t even put into words how horribly dirty and stinky we had become – we smelled like rotting cabbage), I will say yes. I think they could improve the experience by getting rid of the bee hives that clearly exist in the tree houses, and by providing “anti-leech” sticks. It really feels amazing to live in a gorgeous jungle, amidst the most incredible symphony of noises you have ever heard. I don’t think you’ve truly lived until you look a jungle storm in the eye 62 meters above ground and realize it could kill you in an instant with one swift gust of wind.

If you are planning on doing the Gibbon’s Experience, do not do it if you are the faint of heart. Or if you feel like an experience like mine, with a hefty price tag of 190 Euros, is not going to leave with you a sense of accomplishment for the wonderful lives that we truly do live. Do not go if you are allergic to bees, or if the sight of your own blood gushing down your legs will make you faint. Also do not go if you can’t hike on extremely swollen legs. Only go if you are tough, are ready for an experience that will move your world, and will give you an amazing story to tell at the end of it. If this describes you, then rock it out. Gibbon’s style.


14 comments to 54 Hours in the Jungle: Surviving the Gibbon’s Experience

  • Marc Chiswell

    WOW…

    Kenna, while reading this story it reminded me of the time you were seriously FREAKING out in Jasper when there were like flies around you. I couldn’t calm you down and then Scott came and 5 minutes later you were able to breath.

    I couldn’t imagine how you were with those bees and say you enjoyed yourself!

    Good for you

  • Niki

    The leech thing is seriously nasty.

  • Scott

    Kenna actually did really well with this whole bee thing – I think some of the guys were actually freaking out more than her. She lost it a bit the morning of the 3rd day with all the bees, but everybody did. She’s come a long way since that Jasper thing!

  • wow, that is some adventure….i love the story but it sounds terrifying…..we were supposed to do the gibbon experience and at the last moment they told us they were full…..and then we met some guys who booked the trip no problem the very same week….wasn’t meant to be as I am sure i would not have survived it….good on you and it sounds like you had a wonderful bunch of guys to survive it with…..enjoy thailand!!!

  • hello hello,
    we are gathered around a computer in cambodia and we just read your wildly impressive, virtually hour-by-hour recount of the gibbon experience. unbelievable. we can’t thank you both for being such wicked people and getting along with our gangs so well. it’s clear that canadians are the best travelers and you were both troopers on that crazy experience.

    now we are 5/6 and well on our way to a full 100% success rate. don’t act like your not impressed.

    thanks again guys.
    safe travels and stay in touch.

    -lucas, adam, daniel, mitch, jack, josh

  • Dan

    Hey Guys,

    Your blog is amazing! It was hilarious to recount our adventures and the pictures are great but don’t do it justice (the freaking out at night in the storm and the relief of Bob Marley’s tunes!).

    Luc and Josh’s tent was called “Trip or Die you Honky Bastards” hahaha. love it

    And we have never mobilized so quickly on our travels as fast as we did on day 3 breakfast! i consider it a mini-evac!

    cnt wait to read more about your previous adventures and those that will finish up your amazing trip!

    travel well!

  • Cheryl

    I laughed out loud through this entire post! Nicely done, you guys, nicely done.

  • Amanda

    This sounds like an INSANE adventure! I would have wanted to go home as soon as I found out about leeches! Congratulations on making it through!

  • Kim

    This is a hilarious post, but I can’t honestly say it makes me want to go. I think I’d prefer the humid jungles of Peru, even when I’m soaked. I can’t really recall many bugs there. However, I loved hearing your story, and no, I can’t quite picture you in this environment either!

  • I enjoyed reading this! Sorry about the traumatic parts tho!

  • [...] some cute gibbons. Check out Wandermom (here) and Scott & Kenna’s Excellent Adventure (here) for the good and the bad of the [...]

  • [...] nice things about it. Check out Wandermom (here) and Scott & Kenna’s Excellent Adventure (here) for the good and the bad of the [...]

  • [...] 54 Hours in the Jungle: Surviving the Gibbon’s Experience « Scott …May 21, 2010 … Heading into the jungle with the Gibbon’s Experience was one of our most anticipated events on this trip – we had heard oodles of positive … [...]

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