Welcome to our first THRIVEtech post! I left you hangin’ with So, You Want to be John Rambo? Part I back in May. Sorry for the wait; The paradox of having a blog like this is that you have to be outside to create the tales, but inside to turn them into electrons for you to enjoy. If you haven’t checked out Part I yet, now is a perfect time! It will “set the stage.” –Queue eery foggy fade in…
Where I left off, my crew is at the Jungle Environment Survival Training camp near Subic Bay, Philippines being shown some jungle-ninja skills by one of the best around. That night, we eagerly make plans to meet in the foggy morning light to make the trek into camp a cool one. We gather at the front gate of the JEST compound and begin shifting gear around, tightening boots, and making wagers on the first deadly creature encounter…
First things first. We can’t possibly feel very isolated there on the road, just minutes from a cold San Miguel. Time to TRAVEL:
The decision to travel should not be taken lightly in a life threatening jungle environment. There are plenty of hazards aside from just getting disoriented (see: lost). Many jungles grow over extremely steep and varied terrain. In some areas, thick undergrowth can create a “false floor” over a cliff that drops to unknown depths below. Careful observation and a walking/prodding staff can help with this (as well as knocking away spider webs). Always choose a staff that is taller than yourself so as not to trip and impale yourself on declines. Also, do not use bamboo. Though light and strong, if it breaks it will splinter into hundreds of tiny knife blades.
On the other hand, the level of risk you accept must be elevated if you are unable to meet your other needs, or if the threat at your current location increases. For example: Knowing that you can only survive a few days without adequate water intake, you may decide to travel to find that resource. Or if you find that your current location is next to a jaguar’s den- maybe it’s time to move.
We are already drenched in sweat upon our arrival at one of Ed’s campsites. He looks at us with a dry smirk. “What’s first?” he asks. This would be a great time to prioritize our needs, and decide which tasks to accomplish first. Our answers are a mumbled mix of sleep, beer, and food. “OK. Shelters. Then that,” Ed says.
There are 3 things to remember when you’ve made the decision to stop for the night, and need a SHELTER.
- It’s going to rain. Soon. So make your shelter waterproof
- There are plenty of bugs that would enjoy you or your food stash for dinner, so make it bug-proof
- The jungle floor is anything but flat and dry, and that’s where the creepy crawlies hang out. Get you shelter off the ground.
Sticking to those 3 principles will stave off most midnight “adventures.” The amount of time and effort you expend to meet those principles should be directly related to the amount of time you plan to stay. Spending all day building an elevated platform shelter that would make Robinson Crusoe drool may not be smart if you are on the move, or need to meet other needs. Nothing beats a hammock with integrated bug net for an easy, comfortable 5 minute shelter. This one is made by Hennessy Hammocks. Highly recommended!
That being said, you don’t always have the luxury of a bag full of gear. This shelter in Florida took a couple hours, but is made entirely of natural materials (minus the bug net). Notice how I used tree branch Y’s to hold the platform poles up. Vines lash the roof frame, and stems from the palm shingles form the bed-springs.
Now the benevolent Ed decides it’s time to find SUSTENANCE. My eyes light up. Everyone, including our leader, subconsciously feels for his hip to ensure that a Bolo still hangs there. We leave our packs behind and venture into the jungle.
Interesting place, the jungle. There are things growing there that can make your skin blister. That same tree (one is the fire tree) may contain the relief for the wound in it’s sap. There are also plenty of edible, nutritious, and even medicinal plants growing in abundance. Though not as fun, or masculine as catching food that moves; plants are really the most efficient means of calories. One very common, and easy-to-identify variety is Cassava. Dig out the long tubers and boil for a starchy tapioca. The best compliment to this side dish? Bat. (I saw it on Emeril). Bamboo bats are surprisingly easy to procure. The trick is not getting tagged in the face by a baby tree viper. Yeah. Kinda sketchy. Bamboo naturally cracks and creates small holes in lower sections. Bamboo bats like to crawl in these cracks and hang out in groups. You may find 2-4 in one section of bamboo. To see if anyone’s home, tap your bolo near a crack and see what peeps out. If you see a tiny pink tongue and black nose, you are in business. Quickly cut above and below the section, cover the opening with a leaf, and you will create a ready made live trap. Break it open at dinner time. Here’s where to watch out: Baby tree vipers can sometimes squeeze inside these sections looking for the same tender morsel that you are. If they eat a bat, and become too big to crawl back out… Well, you get the picture. Bright green, claustrophobic, pissed off– viper. Ed tells us this happened to him last week… After we have each procured a couple sections, and had our noses inches from those cracks.
Water is inherently an abundant resource in the tropics. It’s a big part of what makes them “tropical.” Collecting it is not difficult, but there are some considerations. Maybe you have heard that precipitation does not need purification. This is, in essence, a true statement. Consider where the precipitation has been before you guzzle it down, though. Water coming straight from the gods into your clean vessel is likely safe. Water that has dripped through a triple canopy jungle picking up bits of monkey feces, bird feathers, and slug trails obviously needs some preparation. Boiling is, and always has been, the most effective way to purify water for drinking. A rolling boil for about 2 minutes will kill 99.9% of protozoa, bacteria, and virus. Other efficient options include iodine tabs, or bleach. When collecting water, don’t just look on the ground for open sources. Many tree vines hold enough water to quench. How do you know if it is a water vine? Cut the vine high first, then low (so the water doesn’t siphon back up into the tree). If water starts to drip out- you found a water vine. Be wary of spines, milky sap, or extreme bitterness. Water bamboo is another option. It is split into cells like other types of bamboo, but is thin and each cell is bent slightly at a different angle. Water trees like the Imet and Taboui are an excellent source of pure water as well. Tap the tree in the afternoon so it is ready when all the water is flowing back to the roots at night. A large tree could fill a 50 gallon drum by morning! Wait for the milky sap to run out and turn to clear water before collection. Make sure the water collected is not cloudy to avoid painful problems with your urinary tract.
We now have our vittles for the night. It’s back to the camp for FIRECRAFT and cooking. Not a minute too soon. My blood sugar must be low because these spiny vines and slippery rocks seem a bit harder to navigate now.
The graphic below shows the basic process for making a fire using a bamboo fire saw. This is one of the simpler primitive fire methods I have come across. All you need is a nice section of dry bamboo, and a solid fixed-blade knife or bolo. Cut a canoe shape into one cell of bamboo. The piece that is removed will serve as your crosspiece/tinder boat. Cut a small perpendicular notch in the bottom of the crosspiece (1, 5). The small hole created will allow an ember to be pushed into the tinder. Wedge the long section of bamboo into your waist and scrape your knife back and forth at a 90 degree angle to create tinder shavings (2, 3). Use a sharp section of the blade to shave some feather sticks (4). Roll the tinder into 2 balls and place them in the tinder boat on each side of the small notch (6). Use a chopstick sized strip of bamboo to hold the tinder as you begin to scrape the crosspiece back and forth along cutout in the long section (7). When you have built up a large amount of smoke, carefully turn the crosspiece over and poke the ember into the tinder (8). Use a couple breaths and a swooping figure 8 motion to give the ember air, and build it into a flame. FIRE!
We’ve nearly made it through a whole day without any major injury. Quite the accomplishment for our motley bunch. As the sun dips behind the trees, some begin to wonder what the night will bring…
As it turns out, most hazards to you physical or psychological HEALTH will be self inflicted. Properly protecting yourself is a huge step. If you are using a big sharp blade- wear gloves! If there are thousands of mozzies- roll your sleeves down! “Common sense”right? One hazard is a waterborne parasite called Leptospirosis. This protozoa can enter your body through your mouth, or an open wound. It will then work its way to your liver, and latch on causing dysentery like symptoms. The prevention: Purify drinking water, and avoid swimming in stagnant bodies of water. Another possible hazard is the leech. These slimy critters can be found in or near water, but may sometimes be in trees, or piles of duff. These are really more of a mental threat as opposed to a physical one. Discovering anything feasting on your blood will certainly be unnerving. Leeches are not known to spread disease, and will generally drop off on their own when they are full. The biggest threat is when someone freaks out at the sight of a leech, the rips it off their skin in a panic. This can cause bit of the poor little sucker’s mouth to tear off and remain in your skin causing infection. If you really cant wait for the leech to finish its meal, slide a sharp
object or your fingernail under the head (skinny end) and carefully slide the mouth off your skin. Then, slide the rest of the body off in the same manner, being careful not to let it bite you again. Once removed, clean and bandage the wound. Other techniques include rubbing tobacco or salt on the leech, or burning the leech off. These techniques can work, but may cause the leech to regurgitate some of the blood back into your system causing infection.
I’d say one of the biggest threats to someone trying to thrive in the jungle is psychological. It would be easy to become overwhelmed and let the elements overtake you. Remember to keep a good sense of humor. Take every chance you can to build morale:
Our hike back to civilization has us thinking a little about our brief experience in this environment, but more of Coca-Cola, beer, and big Aussie steak dinner we have planned when we get back. At dinner, I think about getting out there for longer. Really testing some skills, and getting scared. But for now, I’ll enjoy the cold beer, and food that is prepared and brought to my table.
Well? What do you think? Ready to take on the Amazon?
Remember that this just scratches the surface of THRIVING in a jungle environment. I really had to hold back so this article would not be 3000 words long. Hopefully it gives you a baseline to learn from.
If you are still reading, you must have been pretty stoked. I’m stoked that you invested the time to check out my work. Comments, questions, and feedback are greatly appreciated!
Cheers to the new year,