At first the singing didn’t sound much different than a birdcall, but it rose in intensity and became something unique, almost like a laser battle in a sci-fi movie. I filmed a short video that caught some of the initial whistling but unfortunately I cut it off before the lasers started firing. The gibbons were so far away that even with a 300mm lens I couldn’t see anything more than dark shapes moving through the branches.
I asked to go first on one of the zip-lines so that I could take photos of the rest of the group. Mark said he’d shoot a video of me zipping away, so I planned to take an impressive-looking running start. Instead I lifted up my feet too early and basically planted my ass in the mud before bouncing into the air. Awesome… Even more awkward than one of my typical wipeouts.
I hadn’t talked much with the Dutch girl so I asked her name. “Bregje,” she said, pronouncing the “gj” with some kind of guttural hacking noise, like she was preparing to spit. I made my best effort to say her name but totally butchered it, earning a withering look of disdain from Bregje. Yikes.
“OK, nice to meet you Becky,” I said with a smile. Another stern look.
Nobody would describe me as a people person. When I meet someone random in everyday life, odds are I won’t be a big fan. Traveling is different. I genuinely like most of the fellow travelers I meet. Becky was the one exception in the Gibbon Experience group. The Australian kids told us later that Becky was unhappy with their group and kept badgering the guides to let her switch to our group. Later that day the guides, unfortunately, accommodated her.
The three German girls, on the other hand, were a delight. Maria, Annalee, and Otte, all in their early 20s, spoke excellent English and were amused by everything. It took very little to make them giggle like schoolgirls. If one of them had a close encounter with a bug at night, we’d hear a quick scream followed by a long round of laughter. One of Otte’s toes looked pretty nasty by day two, but – after shaking off an initial scare that some kind of jungle worm had burrowed underneath her skin – she just giggled and never mentioned it again.
I didn’t get to know the Canadian girl very well, but I really liked the Australian teenagers, who were far more mature than I was at that age. And everyone was impressed with Lindsey and Graham for their gutsy performance on the first day – powering up the final ascent after dark in the pouring rain. I got a kick out of their accent, which sounded almost Scottish – “my mom” was “me moom” and “mud” was “mood.” They both work for a big retail company in Kuwait and told interesting stories about what it’s like to live there.
Before lunch the guides spotted another group of gibbons, still far away but a little easier to see. Earlier Jeff had mentioned that in the treehouse he kept a powerful Canon lens (a 300mm f/2.8 L IS USM with a 2x extender) and that I was free to use it. So I switched to that lens, which helped me get a few photos that at least show the wild gibbons, although the images are very low-resolution thanks to a heavy crop. The guides explained the counter-intuitive coloring – Black Gibbon males have black hair but the females are orange-brown.
In the morning we mentally prepared ourselves for the worst. From Treehouse #5 we hiked and zipped for an hour or two before reaching the harness-storage huts, where we turned in our equipment. From that point we had to rely only on our feet.
Very near the main road we came to a small river. On the way in we’d used a footbridge to cross the river, so I assumed the truck would drop us off there. Nope, the driver decided to plunge in. We made it, but I think it was close – at the midway point a few inches of water rushed into the cab.