The Gibbon Experience was many things. Sweeping views of the rain forest that seemed never ending. Lightening storms that turned the whole world purple. Zip lines that stretched for miles 25 feet over the canopy. A hike that was by no means the easy hour that was promised. (Proving that, the world over, from Horst Klemm to the average Laotion villager, hikers are all evil lying scum). Winds so fierce that we twice had to evacuate -- zip lining blind out into the pitch black night and dodging falling tree limbs in a mad dash through the jungle. But as I sit down to recount our story of playing George of the Jungle for 2 days nothing comes alive on the paper save the stories of giant insects and questionable trips to the toilet. So here you will find no gibbons (we didn't find any in the jungle either, though we woke each morning to their ambulance-like singing) for which I am sorry but my muses lead me only towards potty humor (at least I'm not the only one -- see here for one of our treehouse-mates more poetic account of his own adventures in the jungle loo).
I have never been able to sleep through the night. No matter how tired I am, no matter how many drinks I refuse after 9pm, I will invariably wake up in the wee hours having to wee. When my bladder rudely interrupted the dream I was having about a ring that played music, the jungle world was pitch black and noisy. Insects buzzed around and threw themselves in fits against the protective sheet hung like armour around the mats and blankets that made up our bed. Something of considerable heft was wiggling around in the palm leaves of the treehouse roof. I did not want to get up and make the long climb down 2 staircases into the open air bathroom where hornets congregated like the toilet was their office water cooler. I squeezed my eyes back closed, I crossed my legs and thought sleepy thoughts. But my bladder would not quiet: "Time to pee, time to pee, TIME TO PEE!" Left with no choice other than getting up or wetting the sheets (which I would have more seriously considered if I didn't think the urine smell would attract even more beasties bed-side) I crawled out of our cocoon and into the night.
I had to turn on my headlamp lest the boogie man get me, or I kill myself on the stairs but each flash of the light was a beacon alerting every bug in the jungle to attack my head. So I'd turn it on, quickly scan the ground for slippery steps, egg-sized beetles and monster paws, then plunge myself back into complete darkness, shuffle forward a few steps and repeat. I eventually reached the bathroom only to live out childhood nightmare #437.
I scanned the room with my headlamp shining it from the curtain that we called a door to the railing that we pretended was a wall and off the edge into the abyss of the jungle beyond. I entered after the all clear (or the mostly clear -- there were moths and other unidentifiable swarming around my head almost immediately but none seemed bigger than a quarter so I hoped that I could take them.). Before hitting the off button on the light and squatting I quickly illuminated the toilet where some leaf or twig was floating around in the bowl. Two or three thin black strands seemed to be reaching up from the depths to curl over the porcelain lip -- certainly animated only by the lapping of the water. Or, perhaps, more certainly a living creature intent on biting my behind. As I stood there with my light aimed into the pot and an army of insect friends installing a velvet rope in front of the dance club that had just opened on my forehead, the leaves or twigs in the toilet quickly came to life. Flicking up out of the water and trying to cling to the rim were at least 3 antenna or legs belonging to either a mutant lobster lost miles and miles from the ocean or a spider the size of my fist.
A brief aside: For a few years when I was in elementary school my family took off the month of April to go camping on the beach in Baja, Mexico. One year when I was 7 or 8 we rolled home from vacation after dark and as we pulled into our driveway my mom joked that we'd been gone so long that the house would be full of cobwebs and that (most hilarious of all) there might even be cobwebs IN THE TOILET! What the fuck was wrong with this woman I'll never know, but I easily made the leap from cobwebs to spiders to my naked butt and have been a little pee-shy ever since. I always check the pot for 8 legged friends before sitting down. I can't quite tell you what awful thing a spider might do to my butt but I'm certain it won't be inviting me into its home for fly wings and lemonade. My white ass descending on the spider's web would certainly be seen as an invasion and the spider would, almost understandably, retaliate in whatever way a spider can.
Back to the treehouse. Thank god I had the paranoid good sense to check the toilet for arachnids but now that this nightmare had come true I certainly couldn't pee. And, according to my bladder, I certainly couldn't *not* pee. An impasse. But worry not! Your quick thinking intrepid heroine had a bucket and a plan. I stuck the flush bucket under the facet of the sink filling it to brimming while keeping my eye on Daddy Super Long Legs over there and then bravely leaned towards the pot and dumped all of the water, then filled the bucket a second time and doused again. The toilet had a hose that snaked its way 50 feet from the treehouse platform down into the jungle floor and I figured that if I could wash the spider at least to ground level and then pee as quickly as possible he couldn't climb back up the hose fast enough to launch a counter attack. The plan was executed perfectly and my still spider bite free toucas scurried back up the steps and practically dove into bed. Pulling the blankets tightly around my neck I lay my head back down and again listened to the chirp, rattle, peep of the forest -- this time with the assurance that I was safe in my own burrow until morning.
At dawn, after an unsuccessful Gibbon tracking hike through a jungle filled with mist and a breakfast experiment of tomato omelet and sticky rice (marginally successful), I sat perched on the edge of our treehouse with a mug of bitter over-steeped tea. My gazing out over the canopy was interrupted by a tickling on my right foot which I reached down to scratch as I slowly pulled my gaze from the distracting beauty of the forest -- so my eyes and my fingers met their nightmare together. Perched on the arch of my foot just right of center where my white flip flop tan line extends over the top of a juicy green vein a blob of gray snot the size of a lima bean was perched. Oh, but it was worse then it sounds because even more terrifying than the thought that someone had shot a huge booger onto my foot was the reality that a leech was clamped into my bloodline sucking away. My mug of tea crashed onto the floor and of course I screamed as I performed the most violent hokey pokey with my foot, managing to successfully dislodge Nature's Vampire. A river of bright red blood poured from my vein as Geoff and my treemates danced around me looking for the evil leech and eventually forcing his blood fattened body through a seam between two of the floorboards. For the duration of our trip I couldn't walk more than 25 feet without pausing for a thorough leach check.
Night two in the jungle and again I'm awakened by the call of nature (and also, again, surrounded by the many calls of actual nature). This is surprising as we spent day two hiking up hills that no human should ascend and zipping across the jungle at speeds previously known only to gibbons and NASCAR drivers. I admired brown and white butterflies too big for jam jars proving that not all gigantic insects are evil. I should be too tired to pee. As I lie in bed, willing my bladder to shut the fuck up I could only think that last night's midnight jaunt into hell's bathroom was horribly dangerous and ill advised. The number of ways I could have died (not to mention accidentally eaten a bug) were myriad. Never mind the aquatic spider attack -- I could have stepped on a poisonous snake, I could have been attacked by Rodents of Unusual Size, I could have startled by a moth, slipped on a damp board and fell over the side of the treehouse! I cursed my bladder over and over again but as usual mentally willing oneself to an empty bladder was wholly ineffective. I cannot blame PMS or mommy brain or any of the other easy excuses for the following embarrassing situation -- perhaps it was the bit of sleep still clinging to my mind but most likely I'm just a much much bigger baby then I'd like to admit. As I sat up in our bed mulling over my options (1. Use the cup we brought up to brush our teeth as a makeshift upstairs toilet, 2. Get up, make it half way down the stairs, be attacked by some unknown creature and die, 3. Will myself not to pee and eventually lose control and turn our boudoir into a makeshift diaper) I began... to cry. I KNOW. At this Geoff woke up and was thankfully too annoyed to actively mock me. I couldn't will myself to rise and face the haunted treehouse alone and so eventually Geoff was forced to slip onto his white horse and escort his princess to the loo. Oh romance, will you ever die?
So, again, I lived. Despite the obvious threat of death I cannot recommend The Gibbon Experience enough. I have never felt smaller, or more alone that I did huddled in the copula of the treehouse surrounded by creepy crawlies and trees the size of skyscrapers. I have never felt adrenaline pump through my veins or stared in awe as acutely as I did soaring between treehouses on a metal cable high above the jungle. I have never known love as big as a man willing to rise from bed, brave a world of dangerous beasties and escort me to the potty.
(more stunning pictures here)