A Month in the Jungle, Part 2: What to Bring and Expect

by Nora on July 20, 2015

In June, I spent a month in the jungle of Peru, doing an ayahuasca retreat and plant diet (more on that process in Part 4 of this series). This being my first time visiting the jungle in this fashion, I can only speak for my own experience; here are some recommendations for what to bring and expect if you’re planning a similar trip to the jungle yourself.

 

WHAT TO EXPECT – Accommodation

I stayed at Sachamama; a jungle retreat centre run by don Francisco Montes, a shaman, ayahuascero, and perfumero (one who makes perfumes and works with plants for healing). Guests of Sachamama generally stay at least a couple of weeks, and are all participating in plant diets and ceremonies; a process requiring isolation, a basic diet, and a degree of supervision. (More on this later in the series).

You can find a wide range of accommodation options in the jungle, depending on your price range and desired activities. But at Sachamama (and likely many other similar retreat centres in the area), here’s what to expect:

Bucket Showers

There’s no electricity, and thus no running water. Sachamama (as with many jungle retreats) is way off the grid, a good 30-minute trek off the road.

Sachamama, like many jungle retreats, involves some work to get there

There was a large garbage pail-sized container of water (refilled regularly by a staff member who carries buckets of it by hand from a nearby stream) and a small bowl for pouring the water over my body, sitting prominently in front of my “tambo”.

Although rustic, with the heat of the jungle I never missed having hot showers, and bathing by pouring bowls of water over me was easy and refreshing. And showering outdoors in nature is as romantic and charming as you might imagine.

Another large container of water sat next to the toilet, which was flushed by (strategically) pouring bowls of water into the toilet bowl.

 

Don’t Bring (too Many) Electronics

With no power, your computer won’t do you much good. Thus I severed my umbilical cord to my laptop and left it behind in Pisac, which I was grateful for on many levels. If you bring a solar panel, you can charge small USB-powered electronics like phones, e-readers, etc.

But one of the first things you’ll discover (something I learned when living sustainably in Hawaii in 2007) is how to conserve your use of power, because even with a solar panel, the sun doesn’t always shine. I rarely listened to music on my phone, and there was no cellular service so I had it in flight mode the whole time. And certainly, there was no playing games or other erroneous power-eating activities going on.

Another good reason not to bring precious electronics to the jungle is the humidity and critters, which have a way of getting into every nook and cranny and eating/corroding/growing mould in the most inconvenient spots. My e-reader started acting up in the jungle for some unknown reason, and hasn’t worked properly since.

 

You’re Out in the Elements

Although I had few expectations before travelling to the jungle, even what few I had were shattered adjusted when I arrived. I was simultaneously delighted and a little bit worried when I first saw my tambo. It consisted of a raised wooden platform about 8×10 feet in size, with a corrugated tin roof. Inside was a small bed with a mosquito net, a hammock, and a wooden stool and small table.

And no walls.

My cozy tambo

The bathroom was an alcove with a toilet (and bucket of water for flushing), made private by a four-foot high “wall” of palm fronds.

Despite its small size, my tambo was comfortable, and with open-air access to the jungle all around me, it even felt expansive at times. There was nothing sweeter than lying in bed and seeing, hearing – even smelling – the jungle all around me.

The view from my bed, through my purple mosquito net

The view from my bed, through my purple mosquito net

 

WHAT TO BRING

Having described the basic living situation, I’ll elaborate through the following list of things to bring and why:

Sturdy Bag (Waterproof if Possible)

The closest thing to a closet I had in my tambo was some string across the sides on which to drape things, which was good for hanging my towel and a few miscellaneous items and not much more. And if I hung anything out for too long, it usually grew mould.

Instead, my worldly jungle possessions lived in my bag, which was the best place for them as protection against the elements, critters, mould, etc.

I was lucky to have borrowed a friend’s North Face Base Camp duffel bag with backpack straps, which was the best possible bag for the jungle that I could have imagined. (When I returned from the jungle, I ordered an identical bag of my own). It was light, had easy access to the contents, and plenty of protection from the jungle elements (and critters, which tried their best – more on that saga in Part 3).

 

Rubber Boots

Even in the dry season (June – September), rain is frequent in the Amazonian jungle, and the terrain ranges from damp to muddy to full-on underwater. With rubber boots I could navigate the property with ease and without concern.

 

Flip Flops (and/or Crocs)

I brought both. My flip flops were for showering, and my Crocs (or rather, a cheap knock-off version thereof) were for pottering in and around my tambo.

 

Water Bottle(s)

The hike up to the main house was uphill (both ways), and that was where I could refill my water bottle with drinking water. Thus, in addition to my regular water bottle of awesomeness, I brought a couple of plastic “disposable” water bottles so I wasn’t constantly having to make the trek to refill.

 

Solar Charger

If you have things that need recharging and there’s no power where you’re staying, a solar charger is invaluable. I also brought a couple of portable chargers in case I needed a boost of power and there was no sun (as did happen a couple of times). Portable chargers are often easier to charge with a solar charger since the sun doesn’t always shine and they don’t need as strong/constant a stream of power to charge as a phone and other electronics do. So I usually ended up only using the solar charger for my portable chargers, which I then used to charge my phone.

 

Bug Spray

“Get the strongest DEET you can find,” advised a friend when I was headed to Colorado earlier this year, knowing I’d be going to the jungle in a few months and could stock up on some supplies that aren’t available in our area of Peru.

I don’t like bug spray and I can’t stand DEET, nor do mosquitoes bother me much usually, so I was ambivalent while in standing in front of rows of bug spray with various concentrations of DEET. Each bottle carried graver and more verbose warnings with incrementally higher concentrations, so it was with much hesitation/trepidation that I picked up the 100% DEET anyway, trusting my friend’s strong advice.

After almost two weeks of using a natural bug spray and being obliterated by mosquitoes and other biting creatures (creating a map of scars all over my body), I gave up and unceremoniously slathered myself in DEET thereafter, with much gratitude for my friend’s advice.

 

After-Bite Cream

Again, get the best you can find. I was stunned at my body’s reaction to bites in the jungle, and spent a few sleepless nights desperately trying not to scratch and make them even worse. This was with the help of a local skin cream that was the best available but sill not incredibly helpful.

Good after-bite cream is an investment you won’t regret.

 

Quick-Dry Clothing

Leave the jeans at home; nothing dries in the jungle unless it’s in the direct sun, and even so, mould can still attack. The lighter your layers, the better off you’ll be. Besides which, with the hot temperatures heavy clothing is useless.

 

Long Sleeves/Pants

Despite the perceived jungle heat, it gets cool at night, and with the pervasive bugs coming out in force, I always wore a light long-sleeved layer in the evenings and overnight. And I consistently wore pants (day and night) as an extra layer of protection against mosquitoes. Having survived both dengue fever and chikungunya, I know that mosquitoes are no laughing matter, and in the Amazonian jungle they can carry other more serious diseases as well.

 

Microfiber Towel

My travel towel is an old faithful that I’ve had since I started travelling in 2006, and it was especially handy in the jungle, with its quick-dry properties and easy packability.

 

Rain Jacket

Despite the fact that June should be a solid start to the dry season in the Peruvian jungle, it rained every day when I was there, from a five-minute sprinkle to entire days of it.

Although this year saw an apparently atrocious (even disastrous) amount of rain through the unseasonably long wet season, I’m led to believe that even under normal circumstances, there’s no real such thing as “dry”, even in the dry season.

 

Headlamp

With no power (nor ambient light other than the moon) and 6pm sunsets, your headlamp will be your nighttime buddy. Bring some extra batteries while you’re at it; a few hours of reading each night ate through more batteries than I had expected.

 

Ziplock Bags

Ziplock bags are invaluable for travel in general, and even more so in the jungle. I brought a bunch and used them to organize toiletries, protect electronics, and even to wash my undies.

 

WHAT TO LEAVE AT HOME

Prior to establishing a home base in Peru’s Sacred Valley, I used to bring my entire full-time travel entourage everywhere I went. Man, am I ever glad I didn’t haul all that crap into the jungle! If you’re travelling long-term or full-time, I highly advise you find somewhere to leave your main pack and just bring what you need to the jungle. Here are a few things you don’t need:

Jeans or Sweaters

They’re too heavy and hot, they won’t ever dry, and they’re begging for mould to grow on them. ‘Nuff said. Sweaters and anything made of wool are also a hot commodity for creatures that like to eat such things (of which there are many).

 

Favourite Clothes/Shoes

Mould, ants, termites, dirt/mud, and other unknown forces of nature can destroy just about anything you bring. So leave the Prada behind as well. A fellow who was staying in a nearby tambo to me showed me the tattered remains of his favourite belt, which ants managed to devour in less than a day.

 

Laptop/Expensive Electronics

A friend warned me that he brought his laptop to the jungle once, and after some tiny bugs (possibly ants) had their way with it, it never worked the same again. Even my e-reader mysteriously stopped working properly after a couple of weeks of jungle humidity.

Besides which, if there’s no power where you’re staying, you’ll be hard-pressed to charge large electronics, so leave them at home.

 

With these expectations and recommendations at hand, hopefully your trip to the jungle will be as comfortable and (generally) successful as mine was.

Stay tuned for my experiences (for better and worse) with the creatures of the jungle (Part 3), what it’s like to do a plant diet and ayahuasca retreat (Part 4), and excerpts from my jungle diary (Part 5).

And if you missed it, check out Part 1 – about Iquitos.

 

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dick July 20, 2015 at 8:40 pm

Hi Nora,

Wonderful right ? I had the same experience when I trekked through the Omani desert for a w eek . It’s not for the faint hearted but you’ll never be the same again afterwards. If only for the nightly Milky Way show.

Cheers,
Dick

Reply

2 Nora Dunn July 21, 2015 at 9:23 am

Hey Dick,
Yep – Wonderful! Your Omani desert trek must have been epic! These experiences – just like travel in general – are a great way to take us out of our comfort zones and teach us something new.

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3 Dick July 21, 2015 at 10:32 am

Hi Nora,

Did you also have people who came unprepared or who couldn’t stand the isolation or surroundings and had to leave ?

On my trek in the end, I was the only one left, the rest couldn’t stand the heat or the isolation. Just me ,my camel and the guide and his son, who were still living in the desert.

After a while, you get to know them a little bit, and the son had seen a picture of a girl with blond hair. So one evening he came to me all shy and wanted to know how much one of them cost. I told him you couldn’t buy them , They are free ?! No, not really.. But how can you make sure that they don’t run away then? You can’t , you just hope for the best and do your best.

And I had to explain how it ‘worked ‘ in our ‘world’ . He wasn’t very keen afterwards, he just had this look of amazement and disappointment on his face. One disappointed boy in the glow of the campfire , in the warm wind, underneath the crystal clear Milky Way.

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4 Nora Dunn July 24, 2015 at 5:25 pm

Hi Dick,
Great story – ha ha! I didn’t meet anybody personally on my trip to the jungle who couldn’t hack the elements and isolation, but that’s not to say it was entirely easy (for any of us…) 😉

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5 Izy Berry July 24, 2015 at 5:44 pm

thanks for this information!!! Is very important to have the idea on what you have to put in your bag when you are making a trip like this

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6 Nora Dunn July 24, 2015 at 5:54 pm

Thanks, Izy! Glad you enjoyed my tips. 🙂

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7 Travis Longmore July 25, 2015 at 6:04 am

This is awesome and perfect timing. I wonder if a DSLR will survive very long? I have about 8 batteries for it that last around 48 hours so that should work for a while. Not sure I can do without my camera!

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8 Nora Dunn July 25, 2015 at 1:16 pm

Hi Travis,
Yes, I think you’d be fine with your DSLR, as long as you have a good case for it. Given the beauty of the jungle, I’m sure you’d miss it if you didn’t have it! Where in the jungle are you headed?

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9 Stephen July 27, 2015 at 1:34 am

A little more rustic than I’d prefer, but sounds like a great way to REALLY escape and relax.

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10 Nora Dunn July 27, 2015 at 12:40 pm

Hi Stephen,
Yes, it was super rustic, but that in itself was an interesting experience. It was a great way to really get in touch with the jungle and ALL its elements! 😉

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11 Vincent Croos July 28, 2015 at 2:23 pm

Hi Nora,

I saw the comment by Travis and the DSLR. I have a follow-up question. Did you bring your own camera into the jungle? Looks like you did with the photos. Did/does the humidity damage the metal or any parts of a camera. I am concerned to bring my DSLR camera into very humid places even though mine is weather-resistant.

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12 Nora Dunn July 29, 2015 at 12:07 pm

Hi Vincent,
A few years ago, I threw away my “professional camera” and instead got a smartphone with a top-of-the-line camera. So yes – I did bring my camera – which was also my phone, alarm clock, etc. It withstood the rigours of the jungle very gracefully, but seeing how my Kindle didn’t fare as well (some of the buttons don’t seem to work any more), it makes me worry a wee bit.
Having said that, if your DSLR is weather-resistant, I wouldn’t worry about bringing it, especially if it has a good case. Hope this helps!

More info on my camera/phone:
http://www.theprofessionalhobo.com/2014/03/smartphone-camera-showdown-part-3-nokia-lumia-1020-vs-samsung-galaxy-s4-zoom/

Reply

13 Bob Weisenberg July 29, 2015 at 4:45 pm

Great article. This confirms that the jungle is not for me.

But that just increases my profound imagination for the truly adventurous people like you who enjoy the challenge and the experience.

Thanks for allowing me to experience it vicariously!

Bob

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14 Nora Dunn July 30, 2015 at 11:55 am

Bob,
Ha ha – Glad I’ve helped you narrow your destination choices just a bit! 😉

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15 Dan Corby August 18, 2015 at 11:10 am

Many thanks for the valuable info on what to bring to the jungle…or not…hopefully will make it to Peru this summer to scratch off one of my bucket list items..any recommendations on video equipment? I want to document my experience…

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16 Nora Dunn August 18, 2015 at 3:17 pm

Hi Dan,
I don’t have any video equipment myself, but I know many people who swear by using the GoPro, and it’s waterproof as well – which is great for the jungle. Enjoy!

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