First of all, I hope that none of you reading this are intending on actually using this blog post as a guide to the jungle. I am not professing to have succeeded at life here, nor am I suggesting I have any great wisdom on the matter. This is more a collection of observations and lessons I have learnt so far in the 2 short months that I have been living in the Amazon rainforest.
Don’t complain about how much you sweat.
Complaining makes you frustrated, which causes your blood pressure to increase and your body to heat up, which causes more sweating. It’s a vicious, vicious cycle. There’s no escape or respite from it, there’s nothing you can do to prevent it, and it doesn’t get any easier. My advice is tranquillo, tranquillo. Being chill is synonymous with cold for a reason. Relax, be calm and slow, and the sweat is manageable.
Laugh a lot at how ridiculous life can be.
The best thing you can do when the jungle pushes you to the limit of your adaptability is to laugh. 3 new super itchy bites on your bum, an awkward and socially-unacceptable place to scratch? Have a giggle about it, then scratch it anyway. Droplets of sweat that have made it all the way from your under-boob down to your ankle? It’s okay, just wipe and laugh. A huge, scary looking scorpion thing sitting innocuously in the exact spot you were about to place your hand? It’s cool, you saw it just in time, scream a little bit, then laugh. When the local, wild, jungle dog has raided your kitchen, upturned all the bins and spilt gross, smelly liquid all over the floor, maybe don’t laugh right away, maybe clear it up asap and lock the doors. Yell ‘hijo de puta’ to the general surroundings… then laugh.
Make friends with the insect community.
Only the harmless ones though. Become one with nature and take on a Snow-Whitely demeanour as the butterflies and moths swirl around you, and weird and wonderful little creatures somehow end up on your body and you’re not quite sure how they got there. Smile at them warmly, sing a little song if you’re so inclined, then get them the hell off you just in case.
Be prepared for attack at all times
The silent, tiny enemies that cause an unbelievable amount of grief are the biting bugs. A sting, and a week-long, incessant itch are the least of your worries, some of these insects carry horrible diseases like Malaria and Leishmaniasis. The likelihood of us getting either of these is fairly slim, but I don’t want to take any chances. Along with deet and long clothing, Heather and I have developed a series of noises and phrases designed to scare off unwanted critters. They work with varying degrees of success. These usually explode out of us when we realise we’re being attacked and often come from the recesses of our subconscious. Heathers go-to insult is yelling “BIG HAIRY BEAST” at the offender. It seems to work. My expletives are usually a series of weird noises like ‘lblblblblbllb’ or ‘chchchchchhc’. Yesterday, a wasp was hanging round the spout of our lemon juice, and I politely turned to it and said ‘Go away! That is not your lemon juice!’ Needless to say the wasp didn’t listen.
Tiger balm, and lots of it.
The only successful minor relief from the stingy itchiness is our beloved tiger balm. We try to keep stocked up at all times and apply it so often that most of our clothes and bed sheets have a yellow-ish tinge. I feel like every time I kill a mosquito, I’m helping humankind, ridding the world of disease one bug at a time. You’re welcome.
Frequent showers – for clarity of mind
The water is pumped straight from the river and is dispensed into a concrete shower block from a medium-sized plastic tank, so it’s always cold and fresh and has to be topped up every couple of days. When I say shower block, I mean a very small concrete cubicle with only 3 walls and a shower curtain, and no ceiling. Sharing a shower with the outside world is not so bad although the unavoidable, clothe-less nature of a shower does increase skin surface area for flying insects to land on. An inevitability unfortunately. One time, when Heather was showering, glasses-less and vulnerable, a massive toad reduced to a blurry leaf due to lack of 20:20 vision leapt desperately on to her leg. Not the ideal shower companion. My favourite time to shower is just after the sun has set, there’s something quite magical about showering and staring up at the moon and the treetops, plus the water is usually not freezing as it’s been heating up all day!
A strong stomach
Because who knows how many ants have died a merciless death in your boiling soup after they’ve climbed into your saucepan, and how many bugs you’ve had to force down after they landed in your drink and you only realised when you felt them sliding down your throat.
You’ll need a good selection of offline films, series and books.
I have rediscovered my love of reading here. My absolute favourite, most perfect, peaceful time of day is the morning. We usually wake up as the sun rises and make the short journey from our mattresses and the protection of our mosquito nets to our hammocks on the porch between 7 and 8, then read for an hour or so as the day heats up. We take our kindles to breakfast with us and read whilst sipping coffee, eating and chatting. Our mornings are delicious. Then at night we usually watch something we have downloaded, swinging in our hammocks listening to the buzz of night life around the station. The other night we were watching Stranger Things during an intense thunder storm lighting up the sky with bolts of lightning striking the trees across the river, the atmosphere was incredible.
Take a breath and remember how lucky you are all the time.
Because it’s true. Heather and I often have beautiful moments where we become sort of meta-aware about our surroundings and it dawns on us how unlikely and wonderful it is that life has brought us to this magical place. Glorious sunshine and a swim in the river can quickly turn into a furious thunder and lightning storm, deafeningly loud and thrillingly close. The river can be serene and gentle one minute, then have turned into raging rapids and be transporting large trees the next.