Photo by Earthwise Valley
Visiting a rainforest can be one of the purest and most intense travel experiences possible. Stripped away are the comforts of air-conditioning, mosquito nets and antiperspirants that actually work. Enter the rainforest environment and you will face exhausting heat, extreme humidity and creatures that will consistently bite you in places least expected.
That said it is worth any discomfort when you’re experiencing the greatest nature show on earth.
Rainforests exist on the world’s equatorial continents – think of the Amazon jungle, tropical northern Australia or the wilds of Madagascar. It is believed that half the world’s species live in the rainforests.
These areas are dwindling at an alarming rate however. Eco-tourism, where the rainforest is a tourist attraction rather than a finite resource, is a key factor in their survival.
1. Mosquitoes – There’s Nowhere To Hide
The mosquitoes can be particularly persistent – ensure that you are protected by using effective repellents that contain DEET. It is also worth considering dabbing the stuff on your clothes as well as any exposed skin as I have even been bitten through my shirt on occasions.
Appropriate malaria medication is also a must and, as a course of tablets normally starts before your trip begins, you should consult a doctor at least three weeks before you leave.
2. Watch Out For Leeches
Another pest to look out for is the tenacious leech. On a night walk in Taman Negara (the rainforest national park of peninsular Malaysia), our guide made us spray our boots with an insecticide of some kind. Whatever it was, it certainly worked: my boots started to look like a leechy graveyard come the end of the walk.
If your defences are breached and you fall foul of a bloodsucking attack, don’t be concerned if you find a shocking amount of blood covering your sock. The most advisable method of removing them once attached is to use your fingernail to break the seal from the sucker. Squeezing the leech or burning it with a cigarette or lighter will cause the leech to disgorge the contents of its stomach into the wound. Definitely not advised.
3. Hire A Local Guide – Being Lost In The Jungle Is No Fun
For all but the easiest of jungle walks I would recommend the hiring of a guide. In doing so you will be supporting the local economy and you will also receive a much greater insight into life in the rainforest. Your guide will often make sure you have sturdy boots for walking in the rainforest, but will themselves wear only flip-flops.
You would be advised to listen to them – their feet are used to the jungle, yours are not. Don’t ever be tempted to wander through the undergrowth wearing a pair of sandals, as this would probably curtail any further expeditions you may be planning (painful blisters and twisted ankles don’t mix with forest floors covered in snaking tree roots and slippery wet leaves).
4. Maximize your experience by searching for specific flora and fauna
Travel to Borneo to see the dwindling numbers of orangutans, uncannily human-like in behaviour. Venture to South America to see vivid tree frogs, poisonous yet beautiful.
I haven’t yet been fortunate enough to spot a hornbill, a large tropical bird native to both Africa and Asia, but the almost deafening noise of one taking off directly above us from the thick canopy was incredible in itself.
Searching for lemurs at night in Madagascar was great fun, especially the way their orange eyes would just appear in the torch beam of our guide, who seemed to instinctively know where to look.
It is incredible what you can learn from someone whose job it is to search for wildlife and the knowledgeable Julien was no exception (he was able to name around 50 possible types of lemur we could potentially see on our quest).
5. Staying Calm Is Often The Best Policy
On one trip we stayed with a friendly Dutchman named Rob who lived on the edge of the Australian rainforest in Queensland. He regaled us with tales of having to share his home with a large number of insects and animals and the time that he came face-to-face with a very large cassowary bird (upwards of 6ft in height) in his back garden.
He courageously did what he had been told to do in such a situation – stare directly at the very colourful but menacing-looking bird. After a nerve-wracking few moments where he tried desperately hard not to blink, the bird turned away and stamped off into the bush, Rob having successfully protected his territory.
6. The Rainforests Are Endangered – Appreciate Them While You Still Can
There isn’t a place in the world so far removed from the hustle and bustle of modern life as the rainforest. Taking a boat ride, walking across rope-bridge or stopping by a cascade – these are all things that are good for the spirit. After a day walking in the jungle, when you are sipping a cold beer listening to the cacophony of noise from the wildlife around you, there isn’t a better place to be.
The rainforests of the world are rewarding and enchanting places to visit but they are under threat from the onward march of the human race. The deforestation and subsequent loss of habitat for many species is occurring at a devastating rate.
Eco-tourism and volunteering are the key their preservation and continued survival and I urge you to consider making the journey to see one for yourself. Get there while you can!
Various members of the matador community have lived in the rainforest for extended periods of time. Check out Mei-Ling McNamara’s feature on one group doing incredible conservation work in Madagascar.
Ross Borden has recently returned from Colombia: check out his blog for a sweet account of hiking through coastal rainforest.
Most importantly, connect with these organizations doing conservation work in the rainforest:
Amazon Conservation Association
Flor de la Amazonía Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Center
Iracambi Atlantic Rainforest Research & Conservation Center