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Tag: Peru

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Cannibalising Stuff

Do you remember a few days ago I was ranting on why you should avoid all that stuff from fancy expedition shops? Well, it’s because that you’re in the jungle, you may have to start ripping stuff up, turning it into other stuff. You’ll soon see that you miscalculated with equipment and your own personal kit… that you left behind valuable things which would make life easier. But use your ingenuity. It’s much easier than you imagine to make stuff. Think of it like a battleship that’s out at sea… they learn to ‘refit at sea’. That means to make do with everything they have with them. We have all become very spoiled with equipment and general possessions. Whereas our forefathers knew that things had to be crafted from constituent parts, we have got so lazy we can’t imagine making anything that isn’t sold in the form we require. Again, it’s worth remembering to take lots of constituent parts along — twine, plastic sheeting, needles, tar, strong glue and so one. You can make just about anything from that stuff.



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Living off the Land

In the movies, the jungle expedition always gains plenty of food from hunting, fishing, and gathering wild berries. Well, in reality that doesn’t work so well. One problem is that it’s very very time-consuming… and if the team have been carrying 30 kilos each all day, or have been hauling rafts up river, they are too tired to hunt or gather berries. It does work to have one or two designated  hunters, who love to try their luck at night. And you will need at least one 20-gauge shotgun for this with ammo. You can cut down chonta palms for ‘heart of palm’ but it’s not very nutritious. Beware though of scurvy, which sets in much sooner than you might imagine. You must search for sources of natural vitamin C for this, and there are plenty, as such small quantities are needed. I have always found that you must take food with you, otherwise you proceed with crippling slowness. Or, if possible, get a couple of local Indians working with you, and they will have a good chance at hunting, or at least fishing with bow and arrows.



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Rafts and Zodiacs

I’ve taken a lot of rubber boats into the jungle. A well-known brand ifs the French Zodiac. They have advantages, namely that you can take them out of the water and carry them easily over land. They work pretty well over rapids too. The disadvantage is that they get holes, especially when you are dragging them up rapids, something which tends to be done frequently depending on the height of the water line. I’m a huge fan in building rafts, and have found that anyone living near a jungle knows almost instinctively how to do it. You find a grove of balsa trees, fell a few of them (always leaving many trees). While some of the guys strip the bark into strands for the lashing, others make chonta-palm nails. You can use river-stones as hammers, and knock together five or six tree trunks (about 10 inches in diameter), tapering the ends. A team of four men can make a raft in about 45 minutes. The huge advantage is that they can be slipped up rapids with enormous ease, they can also be used as windbreaks and seating, and can even be abandonned when necessary.



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Setting up the Camp

As I said yesterday, it’s good to give each man a chore. The most important is cook, and the cook should be compensated in other ways. He can be given one or two assistants who help preparing food, boiling water, washing up and all that. Usually one man will volunteer to cook, and the rest of the group will either support or refuse him. I’ve always been lucky to have good guys cooking, and nothing is so important as hot plentiful food. Give others the duty of setting up the tent etc. On most jungle journeys I have arranged all the men and myself sleep under a single canopy. We don’t take tents as they tend to isolate the men. I have found it’s better to set up a kind of football goal structure, and drape a long tarpaulin over it, tethered at an angle either end. The fire is also important, and the natural place where people accumulate. Most of all, it’s key to have the supplies arranged neatly in the camp, and accounted for before you move on.



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Camp Life

Spend weeks of months in the jungle, and camp life is something which is important in keeping morale high. You can’t ever expect the men to be fuelled with the zeal that stirs you, but you do need them to be on your side. Give specific men chores, but hold regular leisure activities. It was a good idea to buy a football, for instance, before leaving the town. Football helps the men to relax and to bond. It’s all about having fun. I’m a believer in giving small amounts of fire water each night, as well. It’s a perk which can later be removed if necessary. I understand completely why the navy always gave each man a nip of whisky. It’s something they look forward beyond all else.



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Leading

I could go on for days about the highs and lows of leadership, and the qualities necessary for the job. Something I have noticed as being especially important is to have some form of continuity and a strong chain of command. After numerous jungle journeys I have come to understand why the military is how it is. Every man answers to the one above him, and the officers give orders even without consulting others. The advantage of one man making the decisions is leadership continuity. By this I mean that even if the leader makes a less than perfect decision, against a backdrop of his other decisions, the general direction remains correct. From my point of view, the most important thing is to lead from the front. I would never, ever ask someone to do something which I wouldn’t be willing to do myself. I’m always there, at the front, trying to set an example, pitching-in… and I’ll never eat until my team has eaten all they can. They go first, always.



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First Days

On the first days you must step forward to the plate and exert yourself the most. It’s then that a sense of routine is developed, and then also that everyone tests those around them, not least the person who’s pushing them forwards. Try to get an idea of who is going to be faithful or trustworthy, and who’s going to give problems later on. In my experience, these first impressions are never entirely accurate, and people change — good become bad, and bad ease into good. Show that you are fair, but first, and that you won’t stand for anyone who deviates from the goal. You can demonstrate humility, and kindness, by bandaging the porter’s feet yourself, for instance, at the end of the day.



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Travel

I’m going to be travelling in Latin America these next few days and so the posts will be shorter than normal.



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Hiring a Team

The team are the make or break for your expedition. The key thing here is enthusiasm for the work. And it’s unlikely they will ever be quite as enthusiastic as you, but it’s key to find people who have a good attitude from day one. I remember one man we had with us in the Madre de Dios jungle… his name was Pedro, and he was always willing to help others and to carry the heaviest load. He never complained. I can’t stand complainers, whether in deep jungle or at home in a town. When searching for people, try to get a sense of motives. It’s not enough if someone is coming along merely for the pay. You need people who have a sense of adventure, who want to see stuff and do stuff that’s new. Of course you are looking for people who can carry heavy loads, but you also need people who can fulfill other tasks. For example, on one jungle journey I had a man called Giovanni who did the cooking as well as being a porter. He was an average cook but his strength was that he made the men laugh. He told them jokes in the evenings and they laughed until tears rolled down their cheeks. That made Giovanni irreplaceable. Try to spend as much time around the team before you get going. It’s never too late to lay someone off or rethink before going. On one trip I realised the guide was an extremely dodgy character and I cancelled the entire expedition and stopped dead in my tracks as we were leaving the base point. It cost time and money but I eventually found new people and was stronger for it. And another thing to bear in mind is that if you hire five or six friends from the same area, they will already have a pecking order and a relationship. This may be a good thing or a bad one. It could turn out that they turn against you, but in my experience it’s better to have friends, as when things get tough, they will look out for each other. This is contrary to the old idea of divide and rule, which also works. But that’s a whole different ball game.



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Local Purchases

These fall into three basic areas: food, camp equipment, expedition equipment.

Food: Think about weight, as in all likelihood the food’s going to be lugged forwards on backs at some point. Dried beans are good in protein and are light. Anything dehydrated is the best. Rice for instance is good as well, although quite heavy. Pasta is excellent although it’s key to select packaging that won’t split. Remember that in the jungle there’s water all around and a bag of pasta that’s open will rehydrate and be useless in seconds. You will always need much more food than you imagine, and the more food you have, the longer you can continue. Getting food locally out of the jungle is not easy, believe me. It is time consuming and hunting takes time. All the animals get scared away as a loud jungle expedition pushes forwards. The other key thing is, as I have said previously, to think quantity. You will never have extra food but if you did, you could share with locals. Food is currency. Also buy nuts, many kilos, mixed with raisins for small breaks. Coffee is a luxury, but one which goes down well, as is aguardiente, a potent fire water alcohol. You can never have too much. Spam, sardines, and some canned food is good to give taste. A single can of sardines will turn a huge pot of plain pasta into something pretty good. Sugar is used by porters in an enormous quantity. Also take a few bars of chocolate but never show them to the men and bring them out in times when morale is at rock bottom. Also, take a lot of spices and stock cubes… this is a way of turning river water into broth to warm cold men up after trudging all day through water. Hot sauce reduces the amount people eat if you REALLY spice up the food. A few bags of ultra cheap sweets are also good as hand-outs after a meal. If they give these after the main course, the porters will forget about going for seconds of meat and whatever savory dish you’re serving.
Camp equipment: You will need bowls, spoons, knives, tin cups, a lot of lighters, buckets, spades, tarpaulins of good quality, blankets. All this stuff can be Chinese-made and cheap.
Expedition equipment: this includes — rope, machetes (at least one for each man), sharpening stones, hammers, mallets, saws, shovels, parachute cord if you don’t have it, canvas, medical equipment (including morphine), a lot of plastic sheeting, candles, batteries and lamps, lanterns and fuel for them, more fuel. You will also need to buy rubber boots for the men. I always find that in Latin America a size 10 American will fit most men. You can buy socks as well, but rugged ones. And you can hand out sweaters. Remember that the jungle gets cold at night, and depending on where you are, it can be very chilly during the day as well. Cheap fleece sweaters are worth their weight in gold as they are easy to dry out and they don’t absorb water even when wading through rivers.
   All this may seem like a lot of stuff, but remember that once you get going you shouldn’t actually be spending much cash. You can get prices down, and if in doubt, buy the cheaper brand. Now you are ready to hire a team.


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