Jungle Survival Journal — Day 11: Isolation — Lost in the Jungle & Dining on Grubs

It is still raining. I am fervently hoping that when the sun rises, it will burn off the clouds and today will be sunny. After getting through the rainstorm, I have no doubt that I will get through the day and another night, but it would just be nice if it could be a sunny day instead of rain. Please?

Looks like the universe is cooperating. The sun is out and the sky looks bright. I still feel raindrops, but I think that’s from the canopy trees still dripping moisture. I can handle that!

It’s been a little over 24 hours since I ate. I wasn’t hungry all day yesterday, didn’t even think about food until sometime late at night. Not hungry now. But I do need water. I had a full bottle when the rain started and I have been drinking throughout the night, portioning out the water because there was no way I’d be able to get water from the river during the dark night. I go down to the muddy area right by my shelter and fill the bottle with supremely silty water. It actually sort of crunches as I drink it later, but whatever. When we were kids, my mom (who’s German) would always say “ein bisschen Dreck scheuert den Magen” (a little dirt will scrub your stomach), so no big deal.

 

My plan for today is to fix the shelter. If I do nothing else, I will have a functional shelter! I know I need to replace some of the sagging rafters, and the front of my roof is rickety. And, I will need a MAJOR improvement on my bench. Ian’s words “make your shelter as comfortable as possible; you will be spending long hours in it!” are so true.

So, I’ll chop a few more trees for the roof, then look for kukrit palm again. Re-thatch the roof, and build a much better bench. Collect more firewood, maybe dry some in the sun. And then, we’ll see. Maybe open a few kukrit nuts to eat. Take a bath in the river – didn’t do that yesterday, but I figure, the multiple rain drenchings make up for the missing bath. Not overly worried about hygiene right now.

Without the pressure to get the entire shelter built, today feels like a vacation day, and with the sun out, it is fun to explore. I choose my trees carefully, picking tall straight ones, in hopes that I can get a beam and maybe a rafter out of one single tree. Or a pole for the bench. I take down a few, and gather a little more firewood. The fallen tree in front of my shelter is now pretty much gone. I still maintain my fire, checking on it every so often, picking twigs and sticks to dry next to it and then saving them in my hat, to use tonight.

I make myself drink the rest of the water in the bottle, then go to the beach to fill it again. I see tracks in the dirt by the log and on the mud on the log itself. My mind wonders if they are jaguar tracks, but I can’t really tell. (I take a picture, but later on, I can barely even tell that there is a track in the picture.). I fill my bottle and drip 3 drops of iodine into it, then go explore the area to the left of the beach, going deeper into the forest. I can still see the river for a bit, then the area of open sky above the river.

I keep looking back so I can see what the area will look like when I come back, and I realize soon that there are other areas of open sky, not just over the river.

Whatever. I feel pretty confident that I know how to find my way back to where I came into the forest. I’ll make my way to this one really tall tree, and then from there will hang a right to check on the palm grove I see through the trees. From there, I can go back to the river and should come out close to the beach. All the while I look for kukrit palms: babies, adults or, most importantly, teenage plants. Nothing.

Sometimes I think I see leaves, and walk towards a tree, only to see that they are reef palms after all. I don’t even see heart of palm, the single trunk trees. All reef palm. Ian says they have heart of palm as well.

 

I pick out one reef palm tree to take down and try for heart of palm. And start chopping. Lots of little undergrowth at the base. I have to get rid of all that before I can attack the trunk properly. As I’m chopping, I remember the number of trees I still have to chop to fix my shelter, and I wonder if chopping this palm is the best use of my resources. It isn’t. So, I abandon the palm, with an apology for having maimed part of its trunk. 😊 .

I take lots of photos of the jungle vegetation and slowly wind my way back to the river.

 

I’m gratified when I finally see the river in front of me. I think I have walked in a semi-circle through the forest, so that I am on the other side of my camp now. I walk along the river and come across one viewpoint of the river that I am pretty sure I went by this morning, as I was exploring for kukrit and firewood in this direction.

But then I walk through a section that looks like nobody has ever walked here before, and I get a little nervous. What if I am wrong about the semi-circle and instead of doubling back and coming out on the other side of my camp, I actually walked AWAY from it? Yes, I’m on the river, but if I’m walking in the wrong direction, every step takes me further away from my camp.

I allow myself a brief moment of panic. Yes, I have a compass, but it’s set to get me back to the river. I’m already AT the river. The compass will not help me choose whether to walk left or right. I decide to walk another 10 minutes or so in the direction that I think I should go in and see if I see anything familiar. Then, I will evaluate again.

After a few minutes I have to cross a log that I am fairly sure I crossed this morning. Phew! Not too much longer now, and I should see my shelter. Just as I’m thinking that, I almost hit the shelter: it is so well camouflaged that I can barely see it in all the other green. — OKAY, then! I don’t think I’ll be wandering off like that again. From now on, I will restrict myself to short excursions and/or well-marked trails, like the one to the beach.

Since none of my kukrit finding excursions have yielded anything, I make the decision to give up on kukrit. Lionel said yesterday when I told him I had used banana leaves for my roof that he had forgotten to tell us about banana leaves and that they are actually the best material. So fine, I’ll use banana leaves! And I’ll just have to look for smooth straight trees for bench poles.

I chop. And chop. And chop some more. I take everything off the roof. I fix the roof frame. And the rafters. The whole thing now looks way sturdier, and better.

The roof is at an incline, and no longer saggy. It actually looks nice. And I have 8 good poles for my bench. The firewood pole from last night is gone – that will get burned tonight! And the thin bendy one is now a rafter.

I use Stevie Wonder bark to lash the poles on the right, bark I brought with me from our walkabout. I don’t have enough for the left side, and I want to get this done (the sky is clouding over again), so I use some of my paracord.

Looks nice. Even. Sturdy. Comfy. I test the bench. O.M.G. What a difference to last night!! Well, no time to try this for long right now; I still have a roof to thatch.

 

I cut banana leaves all around me, trying to leave a few leaves on each plant, so it can continue to live. I figure I need about 60 or so. The leaves are large and fit over maybe two rafters, but I have to overlap them like shingles, to make sure rain runs right off. I start on the lowest rafter, working my way left to right, then one rafter up, overlapping the lowest row of leaves with the next row up.

I bend and break the stems and stick them under the next rafter, or bend them and tuck them into the other leaves. Eventually the whole roof is done and I see very few open spots. I add another layer on those spots, then, for good measure, and for added weight, I throw some palm fronds on. It looks very nice, if I say so myself.

Yes, my bench poles aren’t all the same length, and could use a little shortening to make them look even, but my cutting ability is just about gone, and I decide it’s a survival shelter, not House Beautiful. With my leftover leaves, I make a pillow, and tie several palm fronds into grassy twists, that I then Stevie Wonder into a mattress of sorts. I have a HOME!

One more trip for firewood, then I need to go and get another bottle of water. I’m a little light-headed right now. Lots of walking and tree chopping after a virtually sleepless night, on an empty stomach and not enough water.

I think I need to sit and drink and take a break. So, I go to the beach, fill my bottle again, and lay out some wood to dry in the sun and then return to my shelter for a rest. I stretch out on my bench while the iodine works and just close my eyes for a minute. I wake up from the noise of a motor boat.

What now? I peer out through the bushes – I can see the river pretty well from my bench: a boat with 3 people in it passes me. After a little while, I hear it coming back. I’m curious to see if there are now 4 people.

I find it hard to believe that anyone would tap out now, on a sunny afternoon, after having survived the first tough night.

Again, the boat stops at my beach and this time, Roy and Derrick show up. They make a little small talk, then Roy asks, “Did you call?” Did I call? Nope. I emphatically tell them that I haven’t touched my radio; that I am doing well and have no reason to call anyone. I still have a fire! I proudly show off my shelter improvements to Derrick who saw my other shelter last night.

Roy finally explains that they had someone calling for help, by voice, not by radio, and they need to check who it is. Well, it wasn’t me! Hope everyone is ok.

I’m wide awake now, and ready for a little bite. I open my bamboo pot and grab a few kukrit nuts. One of my tree tops has a suitable piece of green wood to make a grabber, and I cut two groves in it. One is a little deeper than the other, so the grabber opens unevenly, but whatever, as long as it holds the nut! I push the grabber with the nut in it against a log I have on the ground, so the nut rests against a firm surface and I start chopping it with short machete chops.

The first day I sucked. The second day, after the bamboo pot, I was pretty good and actually got about 10 grubs myself. Today, I suck again. Maybe the angle with me kneeling on the ground isn’t great, or I have no chopping power left after all the chopping yesterday and today, but my chops aren’t accurate, and I waste a lot of chops by hitting more than one groove in the nut.

I open the first one: nut meat only. I dig a little with my knife and get a few morsels. Tastes dry and faintly coconutty. Yum. Appetizer!

I open another nut: another nutmeat-only one. Then I have two nuts I hammer for a while but which I cannot open. I set them aside. Then I get one that opens and I see a fat shiny grub through the hole. Bingo! But the hole is too small to get him out.

So, I hammer a bit more. The hole gets bigger. But the sucker crawls all the way back into the nut, where I cannot even get him with the tip of my knife.

Fine. I enlarge the hole with my knife. And he crawls back again. I’m sorry, Mr. Grub, but you are FOOD. I don’t care what I have to do, but you WILL come out and you WILL get eaten.

I put the nut in the grabber again and hammer it a few more times. Now the hole is big enough where I can get him with my knife. He gets a little squished, but I don’t care. I eat him anyway. Slowly, savoring the taste.

They really aren’t bad. Vaguely coconutty, with a little crunch when you bite down on the head, and the inside of the body is soft and liquidy, sort of custardy. That was good! Let’s get another one! I have a little more nut meat, then eat another grub. Delish!

 

Time for my bath! I walk back to the beach. After all the forced bathing and the stress of getting in and out of the river, this is so easy. I take my boots and socks off and then my clothes and get into the water naked. And swim around.

Here, the river feels benign, refreshing. It’s the same river, but today I’m not scared. (Yes, the same river that in Naked and Afraid was billed as “teeming with piranha, caiman, and electric eels”, LOL). I get dressed and take pictures of magic mushrooms on a log, and pictures of my bathing spot.

I’m almost sorry that I have to leave tomorrow. It is starting to feel relaxing being here, now that the shelter is done and I’ve had a little something to eat. Then, I take a look at the sun. It has just gone behind the tops of the trees. I probably have an hour or so of sunlight left. I should go and get my fire started. — After keeping the fire alive until early afternoon, I finally let it go out to give myself a break from the constant blowing. I can always make one again!

I still have a bunch of twigs in my firewood pile from last night, under the “fire roof”. I grab a few cotton balls and the rest of my shavings, and pull a few twigs from my pile. I get lots of sparks, but the cotton wool does not light.

I try again. Now it ignites, but smolders only. I put the shavings on and they sort of char, but don’t ignite. The cotton wool goes out. I try again. Pull another couple of cotton balls out. Just in case. Again, the cotton ball does not light. I could understand it yesterday, during the rainstorm, but today it’s sunny. What is the problem??

Eventually it lights, and then goes out again right away. On the third try, the shavings light, but the twigs don’t. I’m getting more and more frantic now. I am losing the light!! And I am NOT doing one of these fucking long nights without a fire. NOT happening!

I need to use better, drier twigs: I grab the twigs I dried by the fire this morning and put them close at hand. The fire goes out AGAIN. The twigs smoke, a lot. But these SHOULD be dry: I roasted them all by the fire this morning, for just this purpose! I’m close to tears now. It’s pretty dark, and I have no idea why my fire won’t light. I cannot do this long night without a fire. Please, please, please, light up!

Okay, time to pull myself together. I take a deep breath. I actually do know why the fire has not been working: I have been lazy, taking shortcuts and relying on my fire-making skills. But today, that is not working.

I figure I have time to make one more attempt, then it will be too dark to see. I need to make this one count. Everything has to be prepped and I cannot rush the process. So, despite the fact that the light is disappearing rapidly, I take the time to select a dry piece of wood, and baton it with my machete.

Then I featherstick the hell out of it, making 8 or 10 feathersticks and curls. I keep them off the wet ground on a fresh leaf. Then I force myself to do the usual collection of thin twigs, thicker twigs, thin sticks and thicker sticks, each in its own pile.

It’s so dark now I cannot really see, so I touch every twig and stick and feel if it feels dry. And then I break it to see if it sounds dry. I only take the driest ones. And then with another prayer, I try again. The cotton wool is slow to catch fire, but the featherstick I hold into the little flame that’s there, ignites. I keep holding it there, even though my fingers get a burn blister. Then I feed it another curl, and another featherstick. They all flame up. YES! I’m not home free yet, the twigs need to burn next.

One of the feathersticks falls off and goes out. I carefully hold another one into the little flames, until it lights, and grab a twig with my other hand, holding that until it lights, then another and another, and a few more curls from the feathersticks. Then some thicker twigs.

Finally, the twigs all catch and the immediate danger seems past. Thank you, God. Thank you, Universe. Thank you, Rainforest. I’m just really grateful. And humbled. I, who have been considering myself the queen of fire (my ONE good skill!), could not get a fire going on a sunny night! I got a little cocky. I had to step back and go back to basics. And that finally worked.

Lesson learned.

I keep feeding the fire. I have the same acrid smoke issue as yesterday. I guess my wood, even the wood that dried next to the fire all night, really is still wet. My eyes tear again, and my nose runs. And my throat burns. And the smoke makes me nauseous again.

I search my brain to remember if Ian said anything about a certain wood that burns with toxic smoke, but cannot recall anything. Finally, I decide it doesn’t matter. I have whatever wood I have and there is nothing I can do about it. I build the fire up some more and lie down on my bench. —  Ahhhh, heaven.

I am so tired. But I only allow myself to drift off for short periods of time: like yesterday, the fire burns down quickly and then it’s a pain to have to blow on it and revive it. I try feeding it with sticks while lying on my bench, but that doesn’t work too well. I actually have to get down off the bench and kneel on the ground.

As I’m kneeling, I see my friend, the bullet ant, again.  I first saw him and his cousin when I chopped down my first tree, yesterday morning: as I was chopping through the trunk, two huge black ants came crawling up the trunk. Shoot!

I didn’t check for a bullet ant nest at the base of the tree, but then I looked, and saw nothing. Nonetheless, I discarded the tree. I want nothing to do with bullet ants. Later in the day, I inspected the trunk and there was nothing on it, so I decided I will use the tree after all. I checked again during the day, still nothing. It wasn’t until I had my fire going last night that I saw a huge black ant come out from my firewood and walk around my fire ring. I tried to get him with my knife, and stabbed at him a few times, but he just disappeared under some leaf.

For the rest of the night, as I kept kneeling on the ground to resuscitate my fire, I was hoping he wouldn’t come back. – Well, he’s back again today, with a little spot of ash on his torso! I try to get him with my machete, but again he disappears before I can do any harm. I guess I have no issue with him escaping, as long as he doesn’t bite me. Mutual non-proliferation treaty??

Once again, I build the fire up, to more of a blazing fire than I’ve had before: I need to be able to sleep for a bit. I fall asleep quickly and wake up somewhat refreshed a while later, probably a couple of hours later. I turn my head to check on the fire and see nothing, no red glow, no embers. Damn!

I get off the bench and feel around where I think the fire was. The ash is warm, but not hot. I blow on the warm spot, expecting to see embers underneath. But nothing. No heat, no glow. Seriously? After the drama earlier this evening in getting the fire lit? Now I fall asleep and the fire goes out? I guess the universe has a sense of humor. And a plan. And the plan was to have me experience the long dark night. One way or the other.

Okay, then, I guess I will enjoy the night! Ian said the best way to pass the night is to sleep. So, I turn over on my side and sleep. Wake up and turn over to the other side. Sleep. Wake up, turn back on my back. Yes, this bench is way more comfortable than what I had yesterday, but it’s not exactly a memory foam mattress. And the palm leaves don’t do much. If I had to do this again, I’d have a palm leaf layer 5 inches thick!

Eventually I have to get up to pee. I step just outside the shelter. I can’t be more than a meter away from it (about 3 feet), but when I’m ready to go back in, I paw the air with my hands, looking for the shelter post. I got it! No, this is a tree. Where is that post?!

Finally, I touch the corner post and slowly make my way back into the shelter. Okay, lesson learned. We’re not doing that again. The next time I need to pee, I’m doing it on the other side, right off the bench. With one hand ON the bench! It really is pitch black.The sky, what little you can see of it through the tree tops, is a slightly less inky black than the trees, but the stars provide no light. And under the canopy it is truly so dark that I cannot see my hand in front of my eyes. Literally! I try it out. — Back to sleep then.

At some point, I hear noises in my shelter, some little furtive footsteps, rustling, more steps, more rustling. “Hey, nocturnal animal! Are you checking out my shelter?” I talk to whatever it is. And then it’s gone. I fall asleep again.

In the morning, at least I think that it’s morning, I hear more noises, howler monkeys, I think, and assume it must be dawn. But the sky really doesn’t look much lighter. I close my eyes again. Every once in a while, I peek, but it’s not really getting lighter, even though I hear more and more animals. Eventually, the sky changes color. The long ass night is finally over!!!

 

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