See the little scar on my ankle, the purplish one. I was walking through the jungle and caught my leg on low branch. It stuck into my leg. A pretty common incident if you are living in the jungle. When I got home I rinsed it, probed the wound with my tweezers and scalpel and plastered the whole thing with antiseptic cream. A few days later I was at the doctor’s having a local anaesthetic whilst he cut the wound open, drained it and then removed the small piece of wood that was lodged there.
Not significant if you can visit a local doctor
I visited a friend yesterday. He’s in hospital with the same sort of injury that I had. He was a muppet and ignored the infection. His leg is black to almost the knee. In areas it looks like the skin is sloughing off. Giant deflated blisters. There are red streaks running upwards. He’s been in hospital for 5 days now. The Doctor reckons that it will take another 5–10 days for him to be released. (The above picture is not of him. I really couldn’t find any publicly available photos on google that showed the blackness.)
Of course I had another friend, a hasher, who ran with a foot infection. His toes turned black but he delayed going to hospital. Work trip. He had multiple amputations of his leg as they tried to stop the spread of the septicaemia. I should have gone to his funeral.
(Look up limb gangrene images if you want. It’s not nice)
Why is this relevant to Living in the Jungle?
I spend 5 – 10 hours running in the Jungle/Rainforest each week. I’ve mapped in detail about 600km2 of the Titiwangsa range in Malaysia. I am one of the fastest mountain runners in Malaysia. That experience really means squat when it comes to surviving in the jungle with nothing.
EVERY time I go into the jungle I carry a knife, first aid kit, rations for a day and a small survival kit. With this I may be able to survive up to a week. I even carry morphine because out of phone coverage and by myself I have to self rescue. 20km with a broken leg is a shitty thing to cope with if no one comes to rescue you.
From what I can see, and have been taught by the indigenous inhabitants, most of the great food is up in the canopy. At the right time of year. At the wrong time of the year even the monkeys can’t get food. They migrate to the forest edge and steal trash to survive.
I am white guy who’s only been doing this for a few years.
Would I do any better if I had grown up in the jungle?
Most inhabitants, called Orang Asli in Malaysia, live in small villages. These are surrounded by concentric rings of fruit trees, banana, durian, rambutan, guava, jackfruit and more. That’s because a hunter gatherer existence in the forest is too hard. Limited farming plus hunter gathering is ok.
However, many of the skills required for living in the jungle take a LONG time to acquire.
A few years ago, 7 small children ran away from their boarding school. They were Orang Asli, aged between 7 and 11. The children and their parents lived in the jungle. They survived for 46 days. Well, 2 did.
The others died from starvation, impalement on bamboo stakes, drowning and being eaten by a monitor lizard.
It’s tough. The jungle is neutral. If you treat it with respect then likely enough you will be treated with respect. If you don’t then you will have a terrible time.
Going in with nothing is rank stupidity.
Paul Theroux, in his book “Mosquito Coast”, had this idea. The reality was that he traded off white privilege and took enough goods with him to replicate a planter lifestyle. That ended with failure as well.
If you do it I hope that after a few hours you realise how uncomfortable and dangerous it is and take steps to save yourself. If not then you will be lucky to be found. The kids mentioned in the article above were less than 2km from home and were only found after 46 days because someone saw one of their corpses floating in the river.
If you throw everything away you can spend the rest of your life in the rainforest.
Personally I would like nothing better. That’s why I spend so much time there.
The harsh reality is that, like me, you will get infected wounds but with no modern medicine you will soon die.
What is important to most people is quality of life. You cannot have that in the jungle, with just the clothes on your back, without losing most of the benefits of 20,000 years of human development.
This post originally appeared on Quora