Jungle Nightmares

I’m been watching (for my sins) the first episode of the new series of I’m a Celebrity on ITV, and it’s reminding me of the first night I spent in the Borneo jungle in 2011. Whilst I (fortunately) wasn’t required to lie in a Perspex box full of scorpions or spiders on that particular trip, I did have a terrifying experience that will stay with me forever.

Picture the scene: It’s getting late in the day when a group of weary trekkers decide to pitch camp for the night. The location – on the side of a steep hill dense with undergrowth – is far from ideal, but as the light is fading fast there’s little choice. The group divides into smaller sub-groups who scout out viable locations to put up their hammocks. Some are more capable than others, and it quickly becomes clear the weaker members of the group require assistance from the stronger ones (well, one of the stronger ones and their much weaker tag-along love interest – it should probably be noted at this point the latter two are also members of the volunteer staff team).

With due care and diligence the hammocks are erected – all but the final two staff members’. By this point darkness has fallen and all the reasonable locations have been exhausted. After much searching the strong staff member helps the weaker one to put up her hammock, several metres away from the rest of the group in a secluded spot. Once up the girl refuses to test the hammock, confident it will provide adequate comfort for the night ahead. They re-join the group for dinner.

Sometime later the girl returns to her secluded hammock and prepares for bed. She brushes her teeth and changes into her pyjamas. As she pulls back the cover and jumps up into the hammock, however, she clearly sees a pair of eyes illuminated in the light of her head torch. Panicking, she turns the light off and rolls into the hammock, hastily lowering the flap. It is at this point she becomes acutely aware that her hammock is anything but level, and the realisation she will spend the remainder of the night clinging precariously to its side hits home.

At some point and by some miracle, she sleeps and does not fall out of the hammock. When she awakes, however, it is not morning but the middle of the night, and the reason for her having woken becomes clear – something is prowling around beneath the hammock, cracking twigs and stepping on leaves as it goes. The girl is terrified but stays silent, and eventually the noise begins to fade.

At length she sleeps again, but is this time woken by another noise, closer this time, like someone breathing. She lifts the flap of her hammock to find another female staff member’s face directly beside hers, staring without seeing, like a zombie. The girl stifles a scream and retreats into her shelter, offering up a prayer to keep her safe from the hell she has unwittingly entered.

It is not until she wakes in the daylight that she realises the second horror was a nightmare. The first, however, was very much real.

With hindsight a Perspex box of scorpions might have been more pleasant…

The warped perceptions of time

In a moment of distraction from the task at hand (aka job searching) I watched this video from my expedition in Borneo at the start of 2011, all the while scarcely able to believe that it was two years ago, and all the while wishing (with every fibre of my being) I was back there.

In times of uncertainty and stress it’s only natural to look back at past experiences and wish we could re-live what we remember as being a joyful and uncomplicated existence. Back then, we tell ourselves, we are able to be fully present in the moment. We had no concerns about what lay ahead of us. Why can’t life be like that now?

But it’s all too easy to look back with rose-tinted glasses at times your brain perceives as ‘happier’ than the time you are currently experiencing. If you take a moment to fully re-live the past experience in question – rather than just skimming your memory for the highlights – you will often take a more ‘warts and all’ approach, acknowledging that there were difficulties then in just the same way as there are difficulties now.

The positive take out from this is that you overcame those previous difficulties and now reflect on them as minor – almost completely insignificant – blips in your life path. Surely this would, therefore, suggest that the difficulties you are facing now will be viewed by your future self in much the same way?

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I love this picture from Borneo, taken during my ten days in the Taliwas region with a group of venturers. We had to get two of these barrels up an enormous hill on physical strength (or lack thereof!) alone. A challenge to say the least! It was such a beautiful place and we lived in a camp beside the river, cooking over fires and sitting out at night under the stars. It was a really magical experience and one I’ll never forget.

The ones you meet along the way

I’ve talked before about the different types of friend we make on the journey of life, and how each type offers something different and complementary to help us feel complete. Well, last night I spent the evening with a group of people who I met two years ago whilst volunteering for Raleigh International in Borneo. In so many ways that was a pivotal time in my life. I had finally broken free of the emotional shackles of a previous relationship – four whole years after it ended – had quit my job and was at the start of a seven month adventure. I was, in short, feeling positive and excited about what the future held.

Not only did I meet the man who would become my boyfriend on that expedition, I also met a number of lovely people, all quite different to me, who I am still in touch with today. When we get together there’s a great feeling of nostalgia – we shared something so special during our time in Borneo. It wasn’t always plain sailing (far from it), but we made it through the ups and downs as a team, which is why I love getting together and catching up here in the ‘real’ world. It keeps me grounded, reminds me of how much we achieved and how sometimes strength of spirit really is enough to get you through the toughest of times – that and support from those around you.

So, last night a few of us met up in a quiet and unassuming pub in north London and had a proper catch up, some food, drinks and generally put the world to rights. It didn’t matter one bit that we’re all different ages and at different life stages, and that’s something I value about this type of friend – when you meet people travelling the only thing that matters is who you are, not how old you are, what you do or where you’re going. It’s all about you in that moment, and maybe that’s why this type of friendship, if you can sustain it after your travels have ended, is such a valuable thing to help you keep a sense of yourself long after you return. 

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This was taken right at the end of our expedition in Borneo, on an island called Pulao Tiga (where they film ‘Survivor,’ no less). In the pic are me, my boyfriend and four of the people I met up with last night. This brings back such happy memories 🙂