Jungle Kit- top tips!

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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!

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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.

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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.

  1. 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.DSCF7840
  2. 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!)
  3. 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.DSCF7986
  4. 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!DSCF7887

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/

 

Inclusion in Adventure

I read a lot about inclusion in the outdoors these days, and sometimes I find that it is not presented in the most positive or even inclusive way.
I just wanted to champion some people and projects that are doing amazing work (https://womensadventureexpo.co.uk/ https://www.loveherwild.com/ http://www.equaladventure.org/ http://outdoorafro.com/) to name a few, and to add my 5 pence worth to this wide debate.

 

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The adventure challenge today is not so much about climbing the highest mountain or the physical exploits of personal endeavor and hardship by super fit individuals but much more it is starting to challenge the status quo of “who” is being included in this!
The need for “adventure” and exploration to become more inclusive is paramount.
As a broad  society , made up of all types of people and cultures the challenge to adventurers, organisations and those that follow is to become more diverse in outlook, thinking and practically.
The challenges may be culturally, accessibility, social or even prejudice, but the sector and those of us in it must try to understand the “why” and well as the “who” and work really hard and a broadly as possible to understand the “how”, to ensure that the outdoor sector, how ever broad it is, is as inclusive as possible.
We need to explore and break down how other cultures see the outdoors, as well as looking critically at all our relationships with it, this needs to be historically, culturally and practically, we need to understand how all cultures and groups of people see the outdoors.
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In modern Britain we see the outdoors as a good place to go, a place to explore and be adventurous, to challenge ourselves physically and that it is acceptable to go into the outdoors and gain some positive benefits from it, educationally or personally.  But this wasn’t always the case. In Victorian times the mountains were seen as evil places, where dragons and demons live. One of my favorite mountains is the Cader Idris in North Wales, even here mythology from the 1700’s said that its is where the devil played cards with sabbath breakers on Sundays! This was how the Victorians saw the world, and it wasn’t till later when a few drug- addled poets and early botanists started to describe the mountains differently, and change people perceptions of them did they become more acceptable places.
But how do other cultures explain their relationship with the wider environment, and if they are then part of a migrant diaspora, how do they relate that to their new environments?
We need to understand what the barriers are or have been to people to access or go into the outdoors, disabled people have potentially avoided places due to rough surfaces or an in- ability to engage with the environment from a mobility perspective, people on low incomes cannot get to remote or outdoor places, some people view of the outdoors is that it is “NOT” for certain types of people (LGBTQ/ Transgender). But what other barriers exist for people that stops them engaging, is it attitudes, cost of clothing and equipment or not seeing enough people “like them” in the outdoor literature or on the media?
Even I’m not that sure I relate to Ben Fogle, Ran Fiennes or Ray Mears, and I am a white (nearly) middle aged male!!!!
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 We need real change drivers, adventurers, leaders in the industry, communities and through our media to change and develop our thinking of inclusion in the outdoors.
The western, white, middle class male-centric approach, with all its history, culture, outlooks and educational approaches must be challenged to find out ways to make the outdoor and adventure relevant, welcoming and open to change so that all can be represented at its broad church!

Through a Child’s eyes… Summer 2018

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The taxi pulled up at 2am and a bleary eye bunch of expeditioners piled in.

The journey to Gatwick was quiet, a strange silence almost tinged with trepidation, we had already lost 1 of our number to a family emergency, so the remaining 4 set out to complete the planned expedition.

We were heading to Northern Sweden to canoe a section of the River Harkan, we didn’t know what to expect, the pre expedition nerves seemed to punctuate the silence of that short taxi ride.

For me the trepidation was exaggerated as one of the party was my 15 year old son, Robert, heading of with us on his first overseas expedition.

What was he feeling, what thoughts and excitement was running through his mind as he awaited this experience, were his nerves anything like mine?

I have never been one to force my life and career choices onto my children, the option has always been there and at this point this growing young adult wanted to be part of this expedition. He is an experienced canoeist with an easy but level headed persona, someone who is calm and inquisitive, yet knowledgeable  for his age. A product of  his time, but starting to take those bigger steps as he develops into an adult, pushing his physical and mental boundaries.

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I work a lot with young people and I love being part of educational and developmental expeditions, but this was going to be a little different, Robert is part of this team, he has worked his apprenticeship, learnt how to navigate, and canoe, completed his Duke of Edinburgh Award, roughed it in tents and developed his Camp craft, he will have to fit in and earn his place on this team. Already, as we make out way North through Sweden he has shown how he can make decisions, share the load and join the conversations of those older and more experienced than him.

This summer I have had the opportunity to take all my children off on overseas trips, my youngest had spent two weeks travelling with my wife and I through France, learning about the Normandy landings, even camping on the cliffs above Omaha Beach, then on to the Bayeux Tapestry, before heading South to enjoy the sun and rest on the beaches and by the pools of an amazing little island called Ill de Re, just off the coast of La Rochelle. We finished our French sojourn in Paris, introducing them to the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triumph!

Watching my children exploring the world has really opened my eyes this year, I have seen them attempt to speak in another language, look in awe at an osprey catching a fish, enjoy French crepes, Swedish meatballs and the infamous Orangina! They grew in confidence, made new friends, visited unique places and challenged themselves outside their comfort zones!!

After all these years travelling and exploring, introducing hundreds of others to the world, truly believing that outdoor learning, expeditions and travel can make life changing impressions on people, I have finally started my own children’s journey.

 

Education or Travel?

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Counting down the last few days before the next expedition!

The living room is filling with stuff sacs and kit again.

And the list of jobs in my diary are gradually getting ticked off!

Its that time again to be heading off on the next expedition.

This time I head to the mountain kingdom of Nepal, the home of the highest mountains on Earth, and some of it friendliest people.

Nearly 20 years ago I led my first overseas expedition, this first expedition leadership job was for a group of 16 young people, it was a development expedition, aimed at building teamwork and leadership, as well as personal and social skills amongst the group.

Since 2000 I have led many expeditions like this, expeditions that I refer to a “Educational Expeditions”, and although I think that every expedition has a developmental purpose, I really feel that leading these style of expeditions for young people have many important outcomes and potential for change.

Young people having an opportunity to travel in this way can achieve so much, they embark on a journey that allows them to recognize their strengths, find out who they want to be, to touch the world, find out first hand what it is about, how it works, and develop their own ideas about a changing and often confusing world.

They develop their confidence, build resilience and motivation through engaging with physical and mental tasks, working in local communities, trekking in remote landscaped or undertaking scientific studies.

Personally, they get to find out who they are, what they like,what their views or values are and to have first hand experiences of the world. This important educational experience can lead to live changing decisions or to confirm the choices that these participants have made. Directing their futures and possibly influencing the future of their communities and the wider world.

This is education not just travel!

In the current world, where a new nationalistic politics is emerging, where neo-liberal policies are seriously impacting on the planet, the ongoing search for corporate profit and weakening governments which lead to environmental degradation, increased poverty and more conflicts , it is more important than ever to introduce Young people to both themselves and the world, these young people will be the future decision makers and voters, and the more they understand about the world and have personal contact with it, I hope will help them become better global citizens with more personal investment in helping create a better future.

So, in my mind my job on these ” Educational Expeditions” is to facilitate this experience, challenge and push the young people to look at themselves and the world differently. It is a crucial role to play and one I feel really privileged to undertake.

Over the next 3 weeks my team of 16 year old will go on a personal and social journey, immersing themselves in the communities they will travel through, but also challenging themselves to find out who they are, their values and their interests, with the hope that they will return home different, having been through a unique experience.

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Some of my teams initial thoughts about what they want to see and achieve on their expedition!

We arrive in Kathmandu on Sunday after a pretty long flight, and after a day or so in the City we travel to a village, where we will be based for a while, undertaking vital projects, both construction and educational where we will be actively involved with the school.  We will be delivering purposeful projects that benefit the local community (by improving their educational facilities) as well as the young people on the expedition themselves, through their engagement with the remote community and the projects that they will plan and deliver themselves.

Ill post again about the trip later in July…..

 

 

 

A 1000 miles or a Book?

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Over the last weekend I have been delivering a Bushcraft Course for a group of expedition leaders, and it has led me to reflect on a few things.

Bushcraft has become a contentious subject over the last few years, with every man and his dog having a say on what they believe it is about! A quick google search found  16,800,000 sites on the subject??

One of the subjects that came up regularly this weekend has been about where the participants can find more information about the subject, so i sign posted them to a few classics and a few of my favorites, but I am reflecting on the main thrust of my thoughts on bush craft, which is that is is about your journey and your interests and I wonder if books are useful, or if experience of traveling the world and finding your own path is better?

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There is an old Chinese proverb that states that ” travelling a thousand miles, is better than reading a thousand books”, initially as a bibliophile (an incessant reader, buyer and   collector of books, much to my long suffering wife’s chagrin) I read this and thought no way! I’ve learnt more knowledge from books than travel!  or have I?

As a youngster and into my adult life I have consumed knowledge from books, my         earliest memories are of encyclopedias, atlases and maps, sitting for hours soaking up  images and text on things that caught my attention or imagination. Maps drew me in to their patterns and to try and  wonder what mountains in the Himalayas looked like, so then I read climbing books,  reading about jungle animals led me to learn about jungle survival or about the lives and plight of  indigenous people.  For my chaotic brain it made sense to bounce around like this, to  acquire knowledge from many sources and devour inspirational words and language.

For me this was how I have and still do acquire my knowledge I’ll always have at least 3-4 books on the go at a time, one fiction, one biography,  one technical, one personal development, etc.

And so in my life these words created dreams in my mind, dreams of far off places,       animals and people, so when I travel I feel real privilege in seeing these places and       living those dreams.

But does this prove that travel is better than reading?

My travelling has inspired me further, sometimes to read new books!!!

But generally it has helped me learn about different people, just talking-to and sharing stories with people from all over the world, including those indigenous peoples I read about, I’ve learnt first-hand about cultures- mine and others.

I’ve seen global issues first hand, poverty, civil unrest, the aftermath of conflict, as well as the pressures of globalization. This has directed my political thinking and outlook, that has led to changes in my actions and behaviors.

I have felt the snow of the high mountains and struggled to feel oxygen getting into my lungs, I have slept under stars in deserts, and the canopy of jungles, and shivered away nights in arctic storms, just as I imagined after reading about Captain Oates and Scott.

All the time recognizing elements I have read about or imagined from reading, seeing and feeling first hand.

Travel and reading has formed me as a whole person, they have fed each other, and in reflection on the proverb I don’t think either could have done this on their own.

Reading provides imagination, knowledge and creates dreams from language, travel allows it to become real, to experience the world in all its beauty and horror, to meet people, share ideas and shape personality, but the two together, feeding off each other, wow, is that powerful, I know, I’ve felt it, the fact I can write this article is testament to that, not only has reading allowed me to deal with issues in my life- personal issues,  divorce, separation from my children, failures, successes, travel has allowed me a voice, a way of expressing my dreams and keeping me moving towards my goals.

So even if I read another thousand books, I’ll still need to travel another 1000 miles!

Into the Depths of the Amazon 2018-Expedition Return

Wow!

Just arrived home to the UK and now sitting in my car outside Plas Y Brenin, the National Mountaineering Centre on a misty Saturday morning, looking towards a hidden Snowdon.

Just starting to process the last few weeks on expedition.

The aim of the “Into the Depths of the Amazon 2018” expedition was to take “normal” people with an interest in expeditions; science and being part of a research expedition. These “citizen scientists” came together as a group to work together, alongside expedition professionals and zoologists to travel to a remote part of the Peruvian jungle to study the biodiversity , and in particular the weird and wonderful world of the insects, sometimes overlooked for more “gucci” wildlife.

After 2 weeks of living in our remote base camp the team left the jungle and returned to Cusco.

2 weeks of building the temporary camp, helping to do all the cooking, carry water from the water point, traveling out every day to monitor insect traps, camera traps and our survey sites.

Using all the skills in the group this group of people worked really well together and threw themselves into all aspects of the expedition. Meaning that they transitioned from individuals with different motivations and aims, into a functioning team collaborating and buying in to supporting each other and the expeditions vision.

And this is part of what expeditions do, they are about the participation of the people. And it’s the people who are the real success story of this expedition.

During our time in the field we have collected thousands of samples of bugs, beetles ( there is a difference!!) And flies. All of these will be sent to the Natural History Museum in London, where it is hoped that they will be studied and possibly we will find that some are exciting new species, or help us understand the range of other species, this is the legacy of the expedition and it is exciting to think that the work our participants undertook over the last few weeks will lead to broadening and widening our knowledge of the world!

In my slightly tired coffee addled brain this morning writing this post has made me realise how proud and excited I am by what we have achieved on this expedition, even before we have started the work of sifting through the collection from a scientific perspective, or reviewing our performance and logistics.

I am very proud that the idea that we proposed 18 months ago to engage a broad group of people who want to do something important and different in an expedition perspective, has proved successful.

And I am excited about the next steps, both the science findings, as well as the possibility of future expeditions in this style!! So stand by on both fronts.