On being ... a jungle

On being … a jungle

By Ingrid Sapona

We’ve all heard people say, “it’s a jungle out there” in relation to the business world. Usually the expression’s invoked as a kind of vague warning that things will be hard and that you have to be tough to deal with them.

Recently, friends invited me to go with them to Belize. They got a good deal on a package for four to a lodge, but since there were only three of them, they asked if I’d be interested in joining them. They were upfront about it, warning that August is hurricane season and that we’d be going to southern Belize, which is the rainiest part of the country.

I took a couple days to think about it and to do a little due diligence. My first order of business was finding Belize on a map. Then I visited the lodge’s web site. The guest rooms were thatched huts that had electricity (solar powered with generator back-up), running hot and cold water, and screens. The day trips sounded interesting too.

I also spent a couple hours in the travel section of a bookstore reading about Belize. I learned, for example, that the world’s second largest barrier reef is along the coast, so snorkeling and scuba are big there. The books didn’t say much about southern Belize, though they did confirm it’s the rainiest part of the country, year around.

So, the big question was what the odds were of there being a hurricane while we’re there. Because I didn’t know how to quantify the odds, I decided not to worry about it. So, I said yes to my friends.

Before leaving we attended to things like what shots we’d need, and what to do about bug protection. I was especially interested when the doctor at the travel medicine clinic said there were only two types of mosquito bites to worry about: those that you might get at dawn and dusk, since they were the ones likely to cause malaria, and those that you might get during the day, since those could bring dengue fever. Great, no need to worry about bites I might get while sleeping, since they’d only cause itching.

So, armed with DEET and anti-malaria pills, off we went. We flew to Punta Gorda, the southern-most city in Belize. Then we boarded the lodge’s water taxi for a 45-minute ride up the Moho River. En route our guide pointed out villages, turtles, and iguana. As we headed further up-river the brush became denser and my overactive imagination began to kick in. I noticed the guide didn’t mention (or point out) alligators, but that didn’t stop me from wondering if we should be on the lookout for them.

When we reached the lodge, the hostess welcomed us and said she hopes we’ll enjoy our stay in the jungle. I must say, till that point, it never occurred to me that we were in the jungle. When I read the tour books about southern Belize -- what with the rain and all -- I figured we’d be in the rain forest.

At that point I began wondering what the difference is between a jungle and a rain forest. One thing I had read about was that there are howler monkeys in the area. (They’re harmless and it’s unlikely you’ll see them -- you’ll just hear their howl.) So, I figured, maybe monkeys are the difference between a rain forest and a jungle. I could live with that.

Later that afternoon we met some guests who were leaving the next day. They were brimming with excitement about all the great things they had experienced there. Though they told us all sorts of stories, I really only remember hearing one thing they said: that the two tarantulas in their hut took some getting used to, but it helped that they named them! Needless-to-say, I was quite sure that coping mechanism wouldn’t work for me.

Later I asked our hostess about tarantulas and she confirmed they occasionally have them, adding, “What do you expect? We’re in the jungle. Of course, if you find anything in your hut, tell us and we’ll take care of it.” Hmm… so should I be looking for them, or do they just magically appear? Neither option was welcome.

The next day when we went into town and changed money, I noticed the “native animals of Belize” on the back of the bills. One of them was a jaguar. When we got back to the lodge I asked our hostess whether there are jaguars in the jungle. Well, as a matter of fact, a nearby village shot one the previous week. I was also told not to worry though, because they tend to come out at night and the lodge’s night watchman carries a rifle. I didn’t find that particularly reassuring, though it was meant to be.

It rained a lot the second day we were there. So much so that the lovely river we had arrived on rose so high that the lodge’s dock was under water. Later that afternoon I learned that one of the lodge-hands had caught and killed a “such-and-such” snake while trying to raise the boat that was tied to the submerged dock. I confessed that I wasn’t familiar with that type of snake. That’s when I was told that such snakes are highly poisonous.

A poisonous water snake? Thankfully, no -- Belize doesn’t have any poisonous water snakes -- only poisonous land snakes. Well, that would have been a relief except for the fact that the rain was flooding the areas in and around the huts, causing the snakes to come out of their preferred habitats. Great, just great...

In the end, I’m sure my earlier-than-originally-planned departure seemed abrupt. I suspect the lodge’s hostess (and maybe my friends too) chalked it up to the scorpion we found in our hut over the bed next to mine the night before. But my decision wasn’t really the result of any particular danger. It was the sum total of all of them and the constant dread of not knowing where the next danger was lurking that was just too much for me.

Mind you, I have no regrets about going (or leaving) -- and the trip certainly wasn’t for naught. After all, from now on, any time someone so much as mutters “it’s a jungle out there” in reference to anything other than the real jungle, I’ll be able to set them straight!

© 2007 Ingrid Sapona


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