If my first three weeks in the Thai jungle taught me one thing, it was this: I was not prepared, mentally or emotionally, to be a guide. There was nothing I could really do about that, and while it’s never stopped me from doing anything before (and it certainly wasn’t going to stop me now), I figured the least I could do was be better equipped.
I combed the local markets, piecing together odds and ends for a survival kit: bandages, medicine for sunstroke, salt tablets, antibiotic cream, anything that might come in handy, at a reasonable price (the Jungle Adventure Tour Company did not share my sense of responsibility, or expenses, in these matters). Once I had the essentials, I shopped for something to complete my look, something to make up for my utter lack of experience and competence, something that said, “I’m not just another backpacker who’s taking a job away from the locals, I’m a Jungle Guide.”
The first thing I found was a machete, but I couldn’t quite work out how to hang it from my belt and walk without cutting chunks out of my leg. I searched for something a little safer; I wanted to cultivate a certain aura of danger without actually hurting myself. Eventually I found the perfect accessory: a classic Clark Gable Mogambo African Safari hat with the brim snapped up on one side. I tried it on and instantly became the Great White Hunter. The only things missing were the elephant gun and the team of porters, but I couldn’t afford them.
The morning after my purchase, I led a trek out in the jungle, proudly, no, shamelessly wearing my hat, forgetting the survival kit back at the compound. I swaggered down the trail, leading a tour package of Danish girls who put their young, nubile lives into my now oh-so-capable hands.
After about an hour on the trail, I heard a sound Tcht! off in the bush. I stopped dead in my tracks and held up my hand, the signal for the group to stop and be quiet. Then I explained to the girls that raising my hand was the signal to stop and be quiet. I wondered if the noise could be an animal. I looked, I listened, we waited…
Nothing. I lowered my hand. We moved on. A few minutes later, another Tcht! I stopped, my hand raised. What was out there? Again I looked. I listened. I sniffed for the scent of animals. After only a few weeks of being in the jungle, I noticed that all my senses were becoming more acute, alive, sharper than ever before. I could feel the jungle. I was the jungle.
The girls were getting antsy and chatty, but I just knew there was something out there. I whispered back to them, “Whatever you do, stay close and do not, I repeat, do not pick up any babies.”
“Babies? What are you talking about?” one of them asked.
“Ssh!” it wasn’t the time for questions.
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