A bit of a departure for this months blog.
Earlier this month I chaired the Tropical Forests planning panel at the Royal Geographical Society’s annual Explore Conference.
Explore is a great event for anyone interested in, or involved in expeditions, scientific research or exploration, it is a chance to access information, advice, guidance and resources for planning your own expedition or adventures.
My panel, made up of a team of field scientists,researchers, logistics specialists, safety experts and a doctor, with many years of combined experience operating in all types of jungle and tropical forests across the globe, gave presentations and answered participants questions about anti venom’s, best clothing, research techniques, safety in the Democratic Republic of Congo (by the way…its not safe.. don’t go!!), looking after your feet and what to do if you encounter a snake in Africa!
The seminar seemed to go by so quickly and left me thinking about what it is that people planning jungle expeditions need to know, to help them plan?
Jungles are brutally beautiful places the world closes in on you as soon as you enter the jungle, you only see 10-15 meters into the undergrowth, the impending sense that everything around can see you way before you can see it creeps its way from the pit of your stomach up to your rational brain! You have to fight the heat, the sweat, the dehydration, mud, tangled, thorny plants, and a myriad of biting insects, all of which require you to face your fears and push down that urge to run as fast as possible to the nearest open space, so you can see the sky!
Once you become accustomed to the environment it feels less daunting and stomach gripping, you learn to work with it, to open your peripheral vision, get your personal equipment and administration sorted and become tuned in to the noise, the heat, the constant hum of insects and the gloom of the canopy. You become able to survive and thrive, your eyes lift from the fear of things hiding in the leaf litter and you begin to look around and see the most amazing of all environments, not just the big ticket wildlife like the mammals, but the smallest creatures of all, full of amazing adaptions to live in this environments, the constant battle between the creatures that prey or parasite each other, the flora trying constantly to reach the tiny amounts of light that filters through the canopy, everything has to fight to survive in the jungle, and everything has to co exist. The jungle is one of the only environments along with the oceans where you can see all the strata of existence on a daily basis,and become part of it.
If you are thinking about a jungle expedition, you will need some key bits of equipment to ensure that you can create a shelter, move around easily and to find direction, making your life easier and enabling you to explore and enjoy this environment.
- A Hammock- there is no better way to sleep in the jungle than in a hammock, swinging between the trees you can actually become part of the jungle! my personal recommendation is a Hennessy Hammock https://hennessyhammock.com/. This inovative hammock is an integrated system with hammock, tarp and mosi net all built in, this makes them easy to rig, a nice easy system and big enough to turn around in (I am a bit of a wriggler at night!). Though some people still like to have the 3 elements separate and build their own system.
- Machete- the best tool to use for clearing paths, campsites, making things, and keeping the nasties at arms length!! A machete is key kit, all the locals use them for every job, so why shouldn’t we! To keep it working for you at its best it needs to be kept sharp, so carrying a sharpening stone is important as most machetes you buy locally are of poor steel and need to be cleaned and sharpened regularly. It is also important that you carry a First Aid Kit with you whenever you are using a machete.. just in case (where there’s a blade, there’s a first aid kit!)
- Compass- Maps are either poor or no existent in jungle areas, and if they do exist then they are hard to use in heavily canopied areas, you can’t see very far, so you have to use the contours and landscape features, along with rivers and other permanent features. A good compass will enable you to keep direction, help map routes and keep you orientated. I always attach my compass to my shirt, so it is attached to me at all times rather than in a pocket, where it can fall out or a bag that can get lost.
- Boots- Wellies or Jungle boots? This is a regular question I get from participants, both have merits, wellies are cheap and can be bought easily in country usually, they are waterproof, high legged and can protect against most snake bites, but they can be sweaty if in them for a long time. Though I have used them on multi day treks, you have to ensure that you properly dry your feet every night and let to boots dry out overnight. I also use a set of cheap inner soles from Sports Direct or Decathalon, cut to shape in the bottom of the boots to make the trekking easier, again letting them dry over night. Specially made Jungle Boots such as the Altburg ones are great, purposely designed to be quick drying while wearing, they are comfortable and very protective, though can be expensive and need to be looked after, polished and cleaned regularly so that they continue to work well. On big trips which have base camps or if i’m working out of a field research base I use wellies, but for long trips with treks and fly camps I prefer to use boots. Dont go for cheap jungle boots though as they do not offer the same protection or last as long as the more expensive ones!
These 4 items are in my mind key bits of kit, along side these I would recommend lots of dry bags, both commercial ones for expensive bits of kit that needs protecting, along with Ziplock style ones for books, diaries and other items, to keep them protected and safe in your kit. I feel that a head torch is crucial in all environments, but in the jungle it is needed so that you can keep safe when the sun goes down early, and darkness sets in under the canopy, you can find your way about and work on tasks easily and they are also really useful to find and view wildlife at night!
I mentioned the importance of foot care earlier, this is crucial to ensure that you can keep going in jungle environments. Time spent in the evenings inspecting, cleaning and drying your feet properly will ensure that they keep working for you, bacteria can’t get in and cause infections and the wet environment cannot cause fungal or painful problems that ruin your experience. I use Dactarin, antibacterial foot powder, and keep it in a large drawstring bag, either a pillowcase with a drawstring fitted or I personally use a drawstring sports style bag that I got my Mum to amend for me!!
I hope this blog is useful if your thinking about planning a trip to tropical forests or jungle environments, let me know what you think!
If you want to learn more about jungle skills and gain confidence in operating and exploring tropical forests, I am running a Jungle Skills course in the Amazon jungle of Southern Peru in October 2019, so email me to find out more about this exciting course. https://www.james-dyer.org/expedition-opportunities/