Never Eat Shredded Wheat”

junglescapeMost people who go into the jungle simply don’t navigate at all and most of the time there is no need to…you will be following a trail that, more often than not, runs parallel to a river, or there will be a guide who knows the way.  Most of the time this works out fine, however, sooner or later something happens that throws a spanner in the works and you find yourself ‘turned around‘ in the jungle with no obvious landmarks to guide you.  It’s not a good feeling.

This happens more easily than people might think: you could be following a river but, as the banks steepen, you head inland to find an easier route….you try to return to the river but find it’s not where you thought it was and, after more trekking, begin to wonder whether you’re walking towards the river or away from it.

A couple I know had to be rescued from the jungle near here after getting hopelessly lost on a ridge-line.  They knew that if they walked down from the ridgeline heading north they’d quickly hit a road….and that’s what they did…except they went 180 degrees in the wrong direction; descending the southern slope by mistake.

If I get lost in the jungle near where I live, I know that I only need to head north or north-east and, within a few hours, I’ll hit the main Karak highway (which runs roughly east west to the north of me).  However, if I should go south-east by accident I will have a 2-3 day trek before get out of the jungle.

Easy!….but I need to know which way is North first.

psk_compassI suspect a lot of people are put off navigation techniques because they can appear to be quite complex…even something as simple as whether the sun rises in the east is not the hard and fast rule that we’d like it to be (it only rises true east twice a year on an equinox),  the north direction indicated by a compass is not the same as true north and the difference (magnetic declination) depends on where you are and also changes over time.  Add to this the fact that (in Malaysia at least) maps are not available (restricted for some archaic and bizarre reason) for many parts of the country (and not that accurate even when they are available) and a lot of people simply give up trying.

emergency_compassHowever, this is a mistake as even having a very basic navigational map (e.g. a print out of a Google map showing where the main roads are) and a rough idea of where north is, is usually enough to enable you to navigate your way out of the jungle.

Take the example of the couple lost on the ridge line.  They started their descent at around 5pm….a quick check on the position of the sun would have immediately alerted them to the fact that they were going due south instead of north.  Now, I’m sure they knew that the sun sets in the west, so why didn’t they check the position of the sun before descending?  I suspect that there were two reasons 1) because they were convinced they were going the right way and 2) because they’d never got accustomed to double checking their direction against the sun (it was simply something they’d never done before).

Safe travel through the jungle requires awareness: awareness of what’s around you, any dangers that are in front of you and awareness of where you’re going…if you ever want to see two extreme examples of this, watch an Orang Asli walk through the jungle and you’ll soon notice how much they are taking in as they go, how ‘in the moment’ they are …compare that to  a city raised child visiting the jungle who will, more often than not, either walk along staring at their feet or, more probably, have their gaze locked on their mobile phone or some other electronic distraction from real life.

So even the most basic jungle navigation is a habit well worth getting into; learn to deduce the position of the sun from the shadows as you walk along (rather than searching the sky for the sun) and your brain will begin to subconsciously make a road map  of where you’re going.

Hand in hand with directional navigation goes landmark recognition.  In the jungle the landmarks are the trees, plants and rivers and, if you ask an Orang Asli to describe a route, chances are that this will be how they describe it: e.g. “follow the trail through a semaliang bamboo grove till you hit a river and then follow it upstream till you see a large kapok tree where the trail crosses the river etc” and again, awareness is the key.  Where newcomers to the jungle see only a mass of green, interchangeable plant life, the Orang Asli see a road-map, clearly sign-posted by the trees and plants around them.

But even the Orang Asli get lost from time to time and, of the ones I’ve talked to, all told me that to find their way out they simply used the  sun to guide them.