The essence of packing for the jungle is to travel light. That is my theory and it seems a sound one. Packing has been planned, re-planned and honed down to the bare essentials and includes no more than three dry shirts, four pairs of socks and underwear for myself and my travelling companion.
The theory goes that we will be disciplined. We will wash clothes as we go and we will hang them to dry on the all-purpose, elastic travelling clothes line that no serious adventurer leaves home without.
This is a fine theory and one that goes wrong almost immediately.
The first problem is that we are consuming dry clothes at a far faster rate than we can replace them. Day long treks across the plains in the sweltering sun leave everything sweat sodden. And shin-deep mud pools and mountain streams in full flood reduce our sock supply to used rugger kit.
Secondly, and forgive me if this seems blindingly obvious, laundry facilities in the jungle are a tad sparse. Jungle streams turn out to be muddy, infrequent and, when you finally summon the energy to wash some stuff, inconveniently located. It dawns on us rather quickly that four pairs of socks are really not going to cut it.
Within a few short days, our clothing has been reduced to four piles. First there is ‘clean stuff’. This pile presents no storage problems because basically there is no clean stuff. Secondly, there is ‘clean-but-not-dry’ stuff. This is a growing pile – whilst we studiously take every opportunity to go down to the stream and bash our laundry on the rocks, drying it is a different matter altogether. For one thing, this requires that you remain in one place to hang stuff out during sunlight hours. However, in practice, this is generally the time when we are stalking through the jungle, making stuff filthy again.
When we finally do get to hang stuff out, the jungle atmosphere resembles a continental steam bath which adds more moisture than it takes out. The ‘clean-but-not-dry’ pile is therefore repeatedly repacked into plastic bags and hauled on to the next site and, in a few short days it has developed the unmistakeable odour of a swimming costume long-forgotten in a sports bag.
Lastly, there is ‘the-bag-into-which-we-no-longer-go’. It is an evil presence in our rucksacks. These are clothes that have been through the clean-wet-dry-dirty-semi clean- wet cycle at least three times and which are now beyond redemption.
These clothes are caked in mud, yellow sand, clay and grit that has been ground deeply into their fibres. Multiple applications of cold river water and shampoo have simply served to redistribute the sweat and the filth evenly throughout each garment. They look like flood damaged Oxfam stock and they smell like a donkey sanctuary in the rain. I would gladly dispose of their foul-smelling presence without hesitation except that I can think of no ecologically sound way of getting rid of them without creating some sort of fish-killing, bio-diversity-unbalancing eco-catastrophe.
At the end there are there are no more bags and no more piles. Clothes are designated as either ‘jungle clean’ (i.e. can be worn but not near people) or ‘iredeemable’.
On our return to civilisation we stop at a shop and buy new socks. We are reborn!
So, what have we learned from our stint in the jungle? Is it the glories of nature in all its forms? A greater appreciation for the lives of others or a better understanding of our true nature arising from our inner journeys.
No – it is this. Take more socks. Seriously take a lot more socks.