[words & photograph © Mark Eveleigh]
The following advice may not instil in you all the mental philosophies of jungle survival – it will certainly not instruct you in the preferred design of the pungi-traps that will be necessary to eliminate blood-thirsty pursuers.
It will, however, guide you past some of the preliminary pit-falls on the root-strewn trail towards that first unforgettable tangle with ‘the heart of darkness.’
Hiring a Guide:
Behind the success of every jungle trip into remote territory (i.e. more than a day’s walk from the nearest Coca Cola chiller) is a bona fide jungle survival expert… and who knows better about the local environment than the locals themselves? As long as you are well equipped and not over ambitious in your objectives, most problems that you are likely to encounter can be overcome by the presence of a local who is at home in the jungle.
Often your best bet is to get a village headman to recommend someone for you so that your gut-feeling of trust will be bolstered by the most efficient policing system in the world – community honour. If someone has come on the recommendation of the headman, it’s extremely unlikely that this trust will be abused.
Find out the local daily rate for a skilled labourer and offer slightly more depending upon whether you wish to hire guides or porters. Your hard-earned sterling can seem to go an awfully long way after it’s been converted into the local currency – but resist the temptation to refer to exchange rates and, by doing, so setting up an unrealistic tourist economy. Instead, haggle to get a fair price but also promise an unspecified bonus to be paid “if you are happy when you arrive at your destination”. That’s the time to be generous and you’ll also be able to give away all the equipment that you don’t want to carry back to ‘civilisation’.
Whether you agree to pay your guides by the day or for the entire journey is a decision that can have far-reaching consequences on the nature of your expedition. If you want to take time to watch the wildlife and explore at leisure, arrange to pay your guides by the day; hold back some funds in case you’ve run out of time before they have though and you need to pay them a little extra to encourage them to return home!
If however your challenge is to cross a specific area in a relatively limited time period, agree to pay for the entire trip. You may regret this option, however, when you see just how fast the locals can travel through dense jungle. Pay half before departure (hopefully the guides will leave at least part of that with their families) and the other half on arrival at your destination.
I’ve sometimes found that guides will, in their misguided enthusiasm, try to prove their worth by galloping along at breakneck speed, leaving me to stumble along in their footsteps, wishing that I had a few moments to glimpse at the forest that I travelled halfway around the world to check out.