We wanted to do a zip line back home, my secret plan was to propose there. It’s the longest in the Northern Hemisphere, and fastest in the world, your meant to go over one hundred mile an hour, head fucking first. CJ the Don Det river wash mate got it as a surprise for him and his mrs’s anniversary, reckons it’s awesome. Check it out here www.zipworld.co.uk
THE Question was popped elsewhere in God’s country, Pen-Y-Fan, the highest point in the South back in July. The surrounding area is where they train the SAS, the British special forces, at 886 metres at the summit it’s a nice Sunday morning walk. There are other more challenging ascents which the army use no doubt, my sister has done one of them, reckons the stroll is harder as it drags on a bit. Not forgetting you got the black mountains close by where it would be easy to get lost. Lots of people are testament to this, helicopter rescue is quite common on the Brecon Beacons, not everyone gets that lucky tho’.
So we get to go zip-lining at last, I’m sure we’ll do the one in Wales another time, I advertise it enough over the next two days so it’s only fair we visit also. There’s a mixed group of us on the bus and we are heading back up the Bolaven Plateau about 30Km outside a town called Paksong, which is 50Km from Pakse. Passing the waterfall turn-offs of yesterday we continue onwards. The bunch is mixed, a couple from Scotland, known affectionately as the Jockaniese. A family from Oz, the four kids of which, if they keep growing will soon be part of the tallest family in history :-), their average height is already about 6 foot, the oldest maybe sixteen. Making up the rest of the crew – there’s a guy from Hong Kong and a girl from Germany, both travelling on their todd, ohhh and finally a couple from Israel. The Jockaniese and the Israelite’s are on a 3 day adventure. The rest of us on a 2 day, one night, test of metal. In my opinion we are a good group – a mix of age, sex and nationalities.
Soon the road is reminding the KP of home as the ride becomes bumpy, the road heavily rutted. Other members of the group comment on the quality. Me I think it’s quite good as we are in the middle of fucking nowhere. The roads of similar quality back home for the KP (so my home also 😉 ) link the city with the border and Ruskie airport beyond, I kid you not.
We arrive and shortly after a background speech of the tree top explorer venture and excitement that awaits, we are donning our life saving equipment – namely a harness, pair of carabiner’s, zip trolley & helmet. The gear is reassuringly internationally recognised. Tho’ the ‘Made in France’ stamp doesn’t over fill me with confidence, as I cast my mind back to their hair brained idea on the Mekong at Si Pan Don. Anyways again ‘doing our bit’ as we are Eco-tourists once more, as the tree top set up has government approval. The dense forest area is protected (one of twenty in Laos) from hunting and destruction mainly by logging, some illegal and development which includes roads and coffee plantations. They also provides jobs for the local the community which includes our guides, all whom are friendly and some a right laugh.
We start with a 20 trek, walking up the mountain we used to call it in my youth. Then first up a single wire bridge, myself and the KP are towards the rear, myself last. It’s a double wire actually, one for your feet and the other for you hands, It’s a little more difficult than it looks, especially without gloves. I’m surprised they weren’t an essential piece of equipment as suggested when booking, along with a torch & flip flops? The flip flops are suggested in addition to sensible trekking footwear of course, which saves me the need to convince the KP that proper daps are necessary.
With the first challenge complete, which set the tone for the day – If there was any doubt we all now know the adventure is going to be active. We enjoy a simple but very tasty lunch, a picnic presented on freshly gathered banana leaves. There’s sticky rice, dried beef, fish cakes, hard boiled eggs, vegetables, spicy salsa and fish, it’s all very good.
More walking up the mountain 😉 and it’s the toughest we’ve experience to date! It’s mainly downhill, but there’s plenty of obstacles to clamber over and duck under. I’m always careful to check the branch, bamboo or rock needed to grab is free of……..no not spiders but those bastard ants, usually fucking everywhere they are! (I’m proud tho’ that it’s the ginger ones that are the most troublesome!) The KP is behind the Aussie mum who with much longer legs is taking different steps than the KP who has to find her own path, which she does so with ease, just needs quite a few more steps 🙂 luv her.
We arrive at the first tree platform, the zip line is there. It’s similar cable to that used for lifting heavy loads, a helix of intertwined wires with a steel core, overall about 12mm in diameter. It’s lifting load is about 5 metric tonne, the bending stress we’ll be inducing well within it’s capacity. It’s been tensioned and clamped to the tree with u-bolts, how they got the wire form point A to point B I’m not yet sure. The lead guide with an acceptable level of English gives a very informative, clear safety demonstration. Basically you always need to be clipped on. We all have two spring loaded carabiner’s attached to our harness, so when you move you clip off then clip on, before clipping off the second. In fairness the guides do a lot of the clipping for you to help speed up the day and primarily ensure safety. The four boys are away first, their youth I suppose giving them the balls to be upfront. Myself and the KP are not so keen but there’s no turning back even if we wanted it. Soon I’m on the platform, zip trolley clipped on and the words “ok to go”. There’s a slight hesitance and then I’m flying freely through the air, weightless, yippppppeeeeee! The first zip to get us in the swing of things is about 30m long, just at the end the camera on my helmet comes off. I always knew it’d be possible, ohh well shit happens.
To my amazement one of the guides recover it from the slope as we were not so high, but it’s still a good find, nice one 🙂 The KP follows me and on arrival just like myself looks happy. Our initial apprehension maybe not removed altogether, but reduced to a level where we can now enjoy ourselves.
A series of zips follow, one past a super waterfall – I can’t believe my eyes, it’s fucking awesome, plus we are so fucking high up. The scenery is fantastic all around, a bit like Wales on good day. To be honest it’s a challenge to be able to take it all in, especially at the pace we’re going on lines 200-300 metres in length and fuck knows how high??!! It’s super fun but you also need your wits about you. There’s an additional piece of equipment I’m yet to mention, a simple piece of wood whittled into a shape like an upside down tick. Simple, essential and effective – it’s the brake and boy do you need it. It’s to be pulled down onto the wire behind the zip trolley. The skill is to give the right pressure at the right moment so you glide onto the awaiting tree platform. Not enough results in a potential collision, too much and you stop short, which then requires Tarzan or Spiderman type movement (depending on your age) along the line to safety. On about the third zip I get the braking all wrong, too late I am and it jars on the line bouncing along and I fuck up my middle finger, it’s not broken or even dislocated just a bit fucked up, like mistiming a basketball catch but worse, nothing to be crying about anyways so I’ll move on (it’s still playing me up now tho’). All too soon we’re at the last zip and trekking back to base. The KP thought is was “friggin awesome” and in all honesty was much more comfortable and acrobatic than myself, the advantage of youth i suppose? Or maybe I was more of a pussy than I should have been! Back at base it’s a relief to see Beer, I’m initially disappointed when I retrieve one, sensibly, they are the small girly cans, but Beer Laos all the same 🙂
All the group is together for the evening meal including the Jockaniese and Israelites. It’s enjoyable to chat, everyone is friendly, the “I’m from Kazakhstan” line always creates interest. Much more so that when I was in Lloret, Spain with parents in the 80’s. No fucker knew where Wales was, or that we were even an actual country! Not much has changed with the general populous thirty or so years on. Apart from those properly educated and the others I’ve met in my path. They know, admittedly with a bit of help from Tom Jones where God’s country is. Borat has done for KZ what Tom did for Wales, it just wasn’t as stylish. We swap travel tales and even a bit of British politics in relation to the recent vote in Scotland, following that I’m keen to understand if Tel-Aviv is safe to visit this coming March? It’s Wales next game in the Euro’s and there’s been a lot of unrest there. The advice from the Israeli guy was not to go to Bethlehem but “Tel-Aviv is ok”. It’s hard to fathom, a place Christians have been taught to believe is the most holy on earth? Yet there’s always conflict and unrest associated with it, bonkers! The Scottish lady explains that there’s unrest back home between the yes and no brigade, even some family ties, severed for ever. I suppose I’ve said too much already so in the words of Urban Species – “religion and politics is the cause of all wars” religion and politics
The most interesting tale is from the Israelites as they visited Nepal for a month which included a fourteen day trek, it sounds fantastic fair play, climbing into the mountains with the altitude increase limited daily. We are not fit enough at present, but it could be one for the future if a Kazakh passport is good to go we’ll let you know with another blog. The beer cans were of a sensible size as we need to zip to our tree top accommodation, the six or so I’ve had makes me pay more attention when donning my harness. There are two single beds each with a sleeping bag and mosquito net. There’s also a toilet and a few chairs. It’s better than expected and we crash together in one of the beds all snug for the night ahead in our superman hoodies.
The next morning following a group brekkie we are away having said our good byes to the Jockaniese and Israelites. It’s a pleasure to leave our rucksacks till lunch, stupidly I’ve brought the mac thinking we might take a load of photos. Our flash packs are back at the village but even the smaller ones have been a pain in the arse. Yesterday we didn’t take many shots, too concerned with staying alive. HK was more adventurous taking many shots mid-zip, on his fancy camera hopefully he’s got shots of the fall as I ain’t, It’s possible as he’s the groups ninja and most acrobatic, Today hopefully we’d do more of the same, the action cam transferred to it’s stick, the K7 out of the bag. The lines are longer, higher & faster than the previous day. The longest of which is just below half a click so a fair length glide, the wires themselves have been walked through the forest and secured, racketed and clamped to the trees. It was one of the four boys that asked the question that solved my curiosity.
It was a very good professionally run, safety conscious, value for money set up and highly recommended, check it here www.treetoplaos.com we had a scream. Both day’s were superbly designed. The right amount of walking, climbing, clambering and zipping where the challenge continually became more tasking. My least favourite was the hooped rope bridge, didn’t like that one at all. Some of the other bridges were cool, the KP running across one prompting the big Aussies words “look she’s loving it!” quality!
I say the right amount of each aspect just a little too soon tho’. After lunch where neither of us properly chilled out we head off upwards. Very soon I’m like fatties leg having a right good wheeze, legs also knackered from taking in the pitch of the mountains slope.
We finally get there! There is where the toughest part of the adventure awaits. We are at the foot of the cliff where you ascend to do a verbratta (something new everyday). The route has been installed using 8mm diameter reinforcing bars. Before i’m even ready the KP is off, she wants a quick start and finish. Shitting them tho’ she tells me later, not that it looked it, she was flat out! I’m about to follow her but the German also makes a move, I allow her to go ahead of me. It was a mistake as she’s not comfortable (she’s not the only one I might add), don’t like heights we later discover. It means I can’t go at my own pace, a guide passes me to assist the damsel in distress, she’s also encouraged by the Aussie mum, giving great verbal support and advice all wrapped in one, her experience as an outdoor pursuits instructor coming to the fore. The hardest bit is clipping on and off as the safety line is split into sections to ensure there is a support close by to reduce your fall if you did come a cropper.
The path 🙂 is both vertical & horizontal, at one point while traversing it pitches towards you, not a great deal but the sensation is there. This is when my arms start getting tired and when next going vertical I fuck up clipping off, and need to go back 3 steps, I unclip and ascend once more. Fucked it again didn’t I, wrapped it arounds itself or something in my haste to move on. I’m almost to embarrassed to admit i needed to return THREE times to set myself free. Now there was a brief amount of fear or something as my tired hands started to tremble. Time to focus! It taught me that holding on for your life if ever necessary is bloody hard. Our idea that rock climbing could be fun is blown out of the water.
We get there, not quite there but at least at the top of the fall having started way down below, I high five the youngest of the four boys, whilst swearing in Russian, they are the only words I have. The KP was scared during the ascent, if anything this made her move too fast. Our legs are like jelly but relieved to have made it, we enjoy the view. Beyonf the fall the ascent continues and is becoming tedious, on and on we go, eventually it levels out and we pass plantations of coffee, the trees about three years old.
After collecting our bags from the village we are on our way to get dropped off at Paksong, hoping to get a local bus from there to our destination of a coffee shop in the hills. Having said our good byes to all we are left at the edge of town. No bus transpires and after close to an hour and a few beers later. I ask a well to do local for a lift. The fare is agreed and we’re on our way in a nice new pick up with rear seats, with two guys upfront.The journey seems to be going on and on I estimated it to be about half an hours drive, but we’ve been hitting a ton and now 40mins in. The mood in the car is uneasy and I’m wondering if we are being taken for a ride, literally! The KP was thinking worse than myself so it’s just in time when we arrive. The two upfront not a pair of crazy mad men after all. We’re happy but it was a mistake to stay here as it’s already dark when we arrive, our room is set in a lovely southern american style dwelling. Fuck it is Bastard Freezing ! Super cold – the bathroom floor is like ice. No heating and the air-con without a warm setting. The guy running the place is overly friendly, too concerned if we are having a good time. We don’t have the heart to complain. At least we finally get a decent Laos cappuccino.
The next day following a feed we travel by mini bus, unusually we are the only two passengers so we take a row each 🙂 our destination is the airport with $170 one way tickets to Luang Prabang, which is meant to be the dogs bollocks. Let’s hope so, we may stay a week.