Enormous trees with wide buttressed roots propped up the canopy: giants draped with vines, mosses and epiphytes which hung in tangled green confusion. All the way down to the impenetrable jungle floor, life grew upon life in one symbiotic Gordian Knot.
The forest floor absorbed our footfalls: mine and two Embera hunters from a tiny village deep in Panama’s Darién Gap. The jungle crouched around us in rain-deadened silence. We slipped through it like wraiths, ghosting around branches and drifting over logs in the gloomy green shadows, stopping to hold whispered conferences about the uses of some plant or the sighting of an animal. These stealthy excursions were our regular dawn ritual.
Back in the village, we greeted the sun with the sweet healing water of green coconuts as the village slowly came to life. Muted conversation and the crackle of twig fires drifted from nearby stilt houses, and the smell of wood smoke filled the air.
It was easy in Darién to see the influence that place has upon time. There’s something antediluvian about the jungle. Time becomes thick like the heat. It clings to the place. It doesn’t resist change but exerts a molasses quality that sludges it.
Other places have their own time-influence. Deserts bake in a strange absence of time: they’re rarefied, a place of mental journeys and memory-trips, a place of mad philosophies. A city like Tokyo accelerates time exponentially and leaves you haggard and exhausted, forever trying to catch up. Jungle time doesn’t foster metaphysical wanderings. It’s sticky, and it glues one entirely into the physical.
If you decide to venture into the world’s fetid tropical zones, there are a few things you should know. Jungle travel is wet and venomous. Seal up everything in zip lock bags. You’ll never manage to keep your clothes dry — best get used to everything being wet. But double bag your documents, journal, and papers.
Despite the heat, it’s smarter to cover up than to shed layers. The forest contains much that will sting, bite or otherwise try to poison you. Wear long sleeves and tuck your pant legs into your boots. Boots should be lightweight and drainable. Insect repellent and mosquito netting is a must.
When walking through the jungle, be aware of what you reach out to grab for support. Many plants can cause painful stings or burns. Insects, spiders and snakes may be hidden just out of sight. In a world that’s painted in shades of green, it takes a discerning eye to spot a cleverly camouflaged creature.
Extreme heat and humidity place the jungle traveler at great risk of dehydration and heat stroke. Travel slowly and irrigate often.
Get your shots and buy your prophylaxis before you go. Mosquito-borne diseases like malaria, yellow fever, and dengue are rife in the world’s tropical zones. Take a well-stocked first aid kit, which should include plenty of antibiotic ointment. Be vigilant about cuts and scrapes. Insignificant injuries turn septic almost immediately in jungle climates.
Finally, don’t let such warnings frighten you. The jungle simply has its own set of rules, just as deserts and mountains do. These habits will soon become second nature, and you’ll be free to focus your attentions on the incredibly vibrant world around you — for the jungle teems with fascinating and bizarre forms of life.