10 realistic dangers in the jungle
We have made a list of what we find to be 10 realistic dangers in the jungle. It is a subjective list, but made from experiences and knowledge collected from being in the business of expedition tours. This list is balanced between likeliness to happen and danger. Of same reason you will find things that might seem less dangerous ranking higher simply because it is more likely to happen.
The perception of danger
The list is made to break down some of the many perceptions of the jungle. Generally speaking a lot of people have the perception that the jungle is so dangerous, that they would never even consider going there. Let’s start by putting things straight. The jungle is filled with potential dangers, but most of these happen because people do not pay the right respect, take the right precautions or use the right team to go there. The fact is that most perceptions about the jungle is driven by emotions and not a sense of reality, a good is example is when people are paying more attention to “the jaguar will eat you” than things less dramatic but more likely to happen. As a colleague once described it: Feelings aren’t facts and in the jungle we deal with facts.
Being in a new and unfamiliar environment takes up a whole lot of energy. Alone to digest some of the many impressions the place will give you can be massive. There is nothing wrong with this, actually it is absolutely normal. Like being a kid returning home from a whole day in the park with your parents. The problem with tiredness is that you lose focus and this is a danger to you. First of all, almost all moments in the jungle demands focus. You are likely to trip over a vine lying on the ground, get a branch in to your eye or grab a palm full of spikes. Then comes the fact that you are being tired and physically exhausted, which makes you a whole lot more dissectible to diseases and other stuff. We will tell more about this further down.
9# Getting lost
If you are dealing with professional people should this be impossible (at least if you are not proactively helping yourself to get lost). You of course listen carefully to the rules and regulations given by the tour leader and guides. BUT! If you do get lost it would actually be a “real survival situation”, funny or terrible as it might sound. I will not get further in to, how to avoid it and what to do since it deserves its own post. Briefly though I will say that if it does happen then STOP, sit down and think very carefully about what your next step will be. One thing is for sure, be calm because if you let your emotions and fear run the game, you will very likely make wrong and in worst case fatal decision.
8# Dangerous driving
We operate in South America and it can be hard to say if the situation is the same worldwide. Driving with people “in the bush” is always something that makes me very alert.
They are often quite capable drivers and very experienced, but far too often they “know the place too well”, drive too fast and put no thoughts in to what would happen if a serious impact would occur. Remember you are the one paying for an excursion and of same reason you are always allowed to speak your mind. Say to the driver if you feel unsafe and tell them that you want them to slow down. If an accident does happen you could be many hours away from proper hospital and healthcare facilities.
7# Athletes Feet
We have many times seen the initial stages of this situation. It happens when your feet are exposed to water and humid conditions over a period of time. A fungal infection will start in the upper layer of the skin of the foot and it can if not treated spread up the body. This is best avoided by wearing jungle boots with drainage; you can read more about them in our post about jungle boots. Another good advice is that every night you shift to sandals or crocs and dry out your feet as good as possible and just before going to bed you wipe your feet with a towel and give them antifungal powder. The anti-fungal powder not only kills the fungi it helps dry up the feet. In rainy season and with as an example gore-tex boots, athletes feet can happen within hours, so be very cautious and consider buying yourself a pair of proper jungle boots. It can in extreme cases be fatal if not treated, but what would likely happen is that you before this stage would be in such pain you would have to leave for medical help and ultimately stop the tour.
6# Allergic reactions
You will be exposed to a whole lot of new stuff and your body is likely to react more or less. Some plants are mildly poisonous, small poisonous caterpillars can have walked over your shirt that was drying, too many mosquito bites and much else. Our best advice is to take some anti-allergy pills which you can easily get from a doctor. If you have experienced strong allergic reactions (or want to be on the safe side), you should consider bringing some Epi-pens. This can stop many reactions fast and effective. Have a talk with your doctor, he can give you some good advice. You might not find this to be an immediate danger, but I can guarantee that everybody who have ever experienced or seen a serious allergic reaction would tell it is. Fatality can occur rapidly from anaphylactic shock, and is extremely dangerous when being far away from medical help.
Infections can come in many varieties but specifically the jungle is known to cause rapid infections to wounds. The place is full of spikes, razor grass and sharp edged leafs, but the biggest source of wounds is actually self-inflicted. You will very likely be bitten by mosquitos and tics which all of them cause the terrorizing itchy feeling. No matter what you do, NEVER SCRATCH THEM! Your nails will scratch up or damage your skin which is your body’s normal wall of protection against infections from external sources. When the skin is broken everything can get in to the wound and infect it. Often you will have to wear clothes on top of it, it gets exposed to the environment and it hurts and swells. Worst case scenario will be a blood poisoning which can be fatal if not treated. BUT! The normal scenario is small wounds with a little infection that can easily be controlled. Make sure to clean them well with soap every day, clean with iodine, keep as dry as possible and expose the infected areas to sunlight if possible. The best protection against this scenario is to use long pants, longs sleeved shirt and boots which make it possible to stuff in your pants and use DEET based mosquito repellent. I will get back to this in a later post.
It spreads like a savannah fire and can send you and your team into such a state of agony that you almost wish you was dead. Typically it is due to bad hygiene when preparing food, sharing utensils or not cleaning kitchen equipment well enough and the combination with tiredness makes you an easy target for a bug in the stomach. We have as well seen it being brought from the city and out to the jungle where it within a day can spread to a whole camp.
A normal traveller’s diarrhea will disappear again after “flushing out” the body, but in some cases it will be necessary to take some Ciprofloxacin or other medicine to stop it. It can become quite dangerous if not controlled correctly due to dehydration and loss of appetite. Rehydration sachets can be very helpful in restoring the body’s fluid and mineral balance. We will get back to this in another post about general hygiene when being in a camp, but when it starts to spread in the camp there needs to be some tight rules of hygiene and division between the healthy and sick persons to control it. Again this deserves its own post.
3# cutting yourself with a machete or knife
You probably see yourself as being quite capable with sharp tools, but we far too often see people cut them self with a machete or knife(We do it ourselves as well). The knife is often small cuts, while the machete has a tendency of doing the job a bit too good and cause serious injuries. When people cut them self it is in 9 out 10 cases because of lack of focus or tiredness. People have this perception about the jungle that you just cut your way through it like a spoon in gravy. This is not true! Using the machete in the jungle is a hard job and people who are not used to this will go tired after 30 minutes of cutting through thick jungle. Actually the idea of cutting lines in the jungle is to avoid using the machete and find alternative routes instead, maybe going around or jumping over a log, but it often saves you more energy than going all “I am a man!”.
To get back to the subject tiredness and working with sharp tools is a really bad combination and the worst of it is that you cannot avoid it in the jungle, so it is important to force yourself to keep the focus when working and if you get so tired you can’t, then take a break. Many serious cuts cannot be treated in basic facilities like areas with jungle and the result is ugly scars, loss of sensation in limbs and reduction in ability to use the affected body parts. Worst case scenario is cutting a major vein and potentially dying from blood loss. So especially for all your men out there! Use your head and stay focused, your jungle trip could very fast turn in to a not so comfortable experience at a hospital.
I guess most people tried to be dehydrated to some degree. The jungle especially makes people sweat and you need to consume a whole lot of water and preferable plenty with added sugar like cool aid etc. The best way to avoid dehydration is to monitor your urine, dark yellow and strong odor means you are getting to little water. People in the jungle will almost always at some point feel slightly nausea and while we have never experienced anybody fainting during our tours we do quite frequently here stories about people passing out or feeling uncomfortable from nausea and headache. Drink plenty of water and always have enough with you. A good combination is a camelbak and a drinking bottle. Have cool aid in the bottle and water in the hydration system. If you are not used to the climate then set in fixed times where you have to drink water like once every 45 min or how it fits.
Yes you heard me! Almost all cases of dangers, injuries or accidents happens because you are making mistakes. You are the one cutting with the machete, you forget to drink water, you scratch your mosquito bites and so on. You can even go to the extremes and say that being bit by a venomous snake in many cases are self-inflicted because you are not being alert about them and look before you step. Of course there will be cases of pure bad luck but we do believe that most things can be avoided by being probably educated about the environment. Many places the jungle is seen as being a hostile environment, but not because the “the jungle is out to get you” mostly because we do not belong there. All the animals are specialized in the place and we are not. If you took a Jaguar and dropped it in downtown London or New York I am quite sure it would find itself in some trouble pretty fast. To get back to the point, you are the no. 1 source of problems in the jungle and this means you need to stay sharp out there. Be focused and monitor your body and its needs. Be sure to watch out for each other and a good way of doing this is making buddy systems where people are attending each other. After 7 days of trekking through mountain covered jungle you will inevitably have some off days so make sure to keep an eye out for those being under pressure and maybe more likely of making mistakes.