Part 1 How to Travel Safely in Rainforests
When embarking on any adventure it is essential to have an awareness of the area you are travelling to and a backup plan in place in case things go wrong, which, more often than not, they can do.
Firstly, where are you going? What type of trip are you taking? What is the weather like there, the terrain, the wildlife to be aware of….. and the list goes on, however it is essential to have some of this knowledge before you embark on such a venture.
Lets look at Rainforests in this piece, the planet is a fascinating place to explore and Rainforests for me personally are the ultimate in looking for insects to photograph, which is one of my passions, however it is very wise to know where you are setting foot, so here are some notes that I hope will help.
Top Tips for visiting Rainforests
This advice is more for hiking through dense forest based on experience; however, I hope it will be valuable as a general guide also.
Monsoon Season – The word monsoon comes from the Arabic language “mausim”, meaning season, always research and find out when the rainy seasons are before you make any firm plans, here is a quick guide to some here:
South American Rainforests – The Amazon has two seasons consisting of the monsoon and the dry, the rainy season runs from December to June and it can rain for short bursts during April and May. The dry season runs from July through to November, there is less rain, although of course showers are still possible, which is why we refer to it as a rainforest.
Central American Rainforests – The Rainy season in Costa Rica runs from May through to November/December while the Dry season runs from December through to April. The hotter sunshiny months are from March to May and the cooler months of the year are from November through to January.
South East Asia – The Rainforests of Southeast Asian have four different seasons consisting of the winter northeast monsoon, the summer southwest monsoon and two inter monsoon seasons. The Northeast monsoon season runs from November to March with steady winds from the North and Northeast that blow from 10 to 30 knots. These winds originate all the way from Siberia creating severe weather such as Typhoons which are the Southern Hemisphere’s version of Hurricanes. The East coasts of the Southeast Asian islands get very heavy rainstorms during this time and the Southwest monsoon season is from late May to September where the winds do not blow as hard and the weather is a little drier. The seasons are continuously hot and humid with very little seasonal variation in temperature, it is really only the wind and the rains which are changeable.
Australias – There are four seasons in Australia with a main wet and dry season in the tropical north, the summer season runs from December to February, Autumn runs from March to May, Australia’s wintertime runs from June to August and Spring in Australia is from September to November.
In tropical Australia, the dry season is from May to October with clear blue skies daily and the wet season runs from December to March, which is hot and humid with daily rainstorms.
Vaccinations – Make sure that you see your GP and get updated on what innoculations you may need for the area you are going to be staying in, do not underestimate the wildlife and getting bitten either, I thought I would never get bitten until a Monkey jumped on me when I was in Cambodia and bit me 4 times, it happens, be prepared for any eventuality, better to be safe than sorry.
Dress – Cover up as much as possible, long sleeves, long trousers, wellingtons or good walking boots with long socks (over the trousers, sunhat, good quality sunglasses)
Hat – This is common sense but wearing a hat is essential to prevent sunstroke
Good walking boots or Wellingtons – Highly important as trails can get very slippery
The Colour Blue – Avoid the colour blue as much as possible as mosquitos are attracted to blue
Vitamin B12 – there is some suggestion that taking this supplement can act as a repellent to mosquitos, though I have not found this to be make any difference in the forest/swamp areas
Malarone tablets – Please be sure to take Malarone as this is a Malaria area and if you go into the forests near water you will bet bitten regardless of long sleeves and deet
Deet – If you take Deet be very careful around any photographic equipment as it is known to melt plastics, etc. it will also damage clothes, other things can be used such as citronella, marmite, though covering up clothes wise is also a good idea, beware though as mosquitos bite through clothing
Pain Killers – It is a good idea to take pain killers as headaches are common in some of the higher altitude areas (If you fly to Ecuador it is likely you may encounter some headaches so keep drinking plenty of water to keep hydrated – avoid alcohol in the daytime if hiking as it will dehydrate you)
Imodium melts – Essential for any stomach upsets, these are extremely fast working
Rehydration Sachets – I recommend adding a sachet daily to your water if you go trekking through the forests as you will lose a great deal of water through perspiration, drink as much water as you can.
Mosquito nets – These should be provided at any Jungle lodges, however it is a good idea to check with them and always take one if not, especially if you will be camping in the forests, your life will be hell without a net to protect you from Mosquitos, nets are also a handy deterrent in forming a barrier to prevent other unwanted imposters creeping in with you, such as scorpions and spiders, getting too close to you.
Anti-sickness tablets – Take the best you can find, sickness bugs can occur often in this area, dry biscuits help and keep hydrated with plenty of bottled water
Antihistamine cream for insect bites – When we get bitten, more often than not we get an allergic reaction which makes our skin itch like mad, this is due to our antibodies rushing in to protect us against insect saliva that has been injected into us. Histamine triggers an immune response to attack the insect saliva also encouraging white blood cells which can cause swelling and itchyness, Antihistermine cream for bites is essential in calming it down.
It is also a good idea to apply ice to the area and make sure it is kept clean and free of infection, try not to scratch the bites, hard though this is, calamine lotion will help to keep itching at bay also.
Anti-Bacterial hand gel – This is mighty useful when you are out and about, you will use it much more than you ever imagined that you would, small and easy to store in your backpack.
Binoculars – It is essential to take Binoculars if you want to see anything close up, for example monkeys and birds are often quite a distance away up in the canopy – keep an eye out for Sloths hanging from the treetops high in the canopy too.
Camera Equipment – If you can take an SLR camera with a good all round lens (18-200mm) for general walkabout ‘on the go’ shots, long zoom lens (highly recommend 300mm or 500mm) for monkeys, sloths, etc. and a good quality macro lens (recommend 105mm) for any insects, frogs, flowers, etc.
Camping – If camping out in hammocks, please ensure you are fully covered in mosquito netting firstly for protection against mosquitos and secondly to prevent Brazilian wandering spiders crawling in with you, these spiders are lethal capable of shutting down the nervous system in 4 hours only, so please always use netting if sleeping out.
Ants – These are not to be under-estimated, there are large armies of ants that can cover the ground (and your legs) very quickly, you can often hear a ‘hissing sound’ when they are on the move, if there is no other way around run through them quickly and then shake your legs! Always cover up as much as possible with long socks and at least ankle high boots, wellingtons are ideal or if you choose walking boots then try gaitors as well, though these are hot to wear, protection is good in these areas.
Bullet Ants – These large ants can often be found on branches and also on rope bridges, although it is tempting to grab hold of branches when hiking or the rope bridges when walking across, go careful as a sting from one of these ants is extremely painful and a similar pain level to being shot, hence the name
Stinging Plants – If trekking through forest try not to touch plants, there are stinging plants in the area and also be careful not to grab a branch as a bullet any may bite
Scorpions – Always cover wellington boots/any footwear with socks at night to prevent a scorpion crawling in (I got very a nasty sting for not doing this one day, they love dark, warm places)
Spiders – Most spiders you come across are totally harmless, there are many huge Orb weaver webs about, but these spiders are fine. Tarantulas tend to live in burrows or you can sometimes find them in upturned pitcher plants where they make little homes, they are fascinating to watch, to tempt one out of its burrow just use a stick and touch the end of the burrow, the spider should soon react and come out.
Hiking – It is a good idea to walk slowly or at a steady pace and wear boots at all times in the forest for protection against ants and also snakes, most snakes if startled will slither away, however the Fer de Lance will attack and has no fear
Snake Bites - Know your snakes, learn as many as you can, buy guides on them or check on the internet for snakes in the particular area you are visiting, you will see them, many are harmless but it is good to know which are which. Should you be unlucky enough to get a snake bite, try to take a photograph of the snake so that it can be identified for the correct antidote, be careful of Fer De Lance snakes as these have no fear of humans and rather than slipping away, will confront you. These snakes have a fatal bite that without an antidote will shut down your immune system and kill a human in just 4 hours.
Swimming – Always check before swimming, I have swam with piranhas and electric eels before however there were large caiman crocodiles in the water too, be very careful around these, I would recommend staying out of the water if you can unless there is no other way to cross it
Monkeys – Go careful when walking near monkeys, some will throw large branches, mangos and coconuts as you pass through their territory if on foot, warning signs are when they scream and bare their teeth, move away as quietly and quickly as you can if they show this behaviour, I have had some very narrow escapes from coconuts and large branches thrown at me when photographing Monkeys in the canopy, a blow to the skull with a coconut can kill.
Exploration – Try to use a local guide if you are walking through forest, if like me you prefer to go alone, always use the cross stick method (find sticks and leave them in little crosses on the trail – this has got me out of trouble many times, it is easy to get lost in the forests, even stepping two metres in thick forest can make you lose your way off an obscure trail.)
Insects – Metallic Beetles, Butterflies and Dragonflies are extraordinarily beautiful and you do not have to go far to see them, if you stop at one bush you will find an abundance of colourful insects, though many also use their camouflage to survive, as you walk through the forest hundreds of hidden eyes will be watching you
Tree Frogs – These brightly coloured little frogs can be found inside pitcher plants and also on damp bark, old logs on the forest floor and amongst leaf litter, if you use a long stick or branch you can gently disturb the leaf litter you will see them jump out
Canoes – Avoid putting your hands in the water when in a canoe, caiman crocs live in those waters! (I once stood up to take a photograph and a huge adult caiman leapt out of the water at me narrowly missing biting my elbow! This adult caiman had been following the canoe, I never stood up again after that)
ENJOY IT!!!– Despite all my words of warning the rainforest is a stunningly beautiful place, full of fauna and flora the like of which you will see nowhere else, do not be put off from all the warnings, if you can spend some quiet time in the forest you will see much more than you ever expected. Large touristy groups of people trudging through the forest will scare most of the wildlife away; whereas a quiet walk is always far more rewarding. As well as looking for things, ‘listen’ to all the sounds of the forest, birds, amphibians and insects…..at certain times especially dawn and dusk it is like being at a concert of natural sounds. Fireflies and glow worms can be seen at night in the forest and light it up like green fairies, you will also see ‘fluorescent fungi’ which lights up a darkened forest, in fact the fungi in general is all rather stunning so keep an eye out for that too. If you shine a torch over still water at night you should also see it light up with eye shine that looks like car headlights, these will be alligators and crocodiles in the water, if you get a large group of them it is very impressive to see. Good luck and enjoy your trip.