12 tips to fully enjoy the rainforest

Bridge in Rainforest - Costa Rica - Monteverde
Bridge in Rainforest - Costa Rica - Monteverde. Photo: Shutterstock

 

Rainforest. Quite a word. If you are a bit like me, it will make you shiver with excitement. Rainforest sounds like adventure, thrill, joy…freedom! And to some extent, magic.

And then, there comes the day when you are in the rainforest for the first time, and you finally see the opening of your first trail. This is usually a dark entrance filled with wonder and mystery. You get in and, at first, the impression might simply be plants and trees. All over, it might be a rather muddy trail (or, in some places, they may be wooden or even totally paved). Not many flowers, not visible at least, and certainly not many animals. You might pick up on certain movements of leaf-cutter ants. Here and there, maybe a chirp of a bird. (And not even a colorful one!) So, this is the jungle, eh? Some may find it a bit of a let down if you're used to the Rainforest Café and Animal Planet documentaries.

The place is actually dark, quite silent, and quite immobile. And probably the first thing you notice in it is not nice…mosquitoes!  (So many mosquitoes.)

The rainforest actually turns out to be a gloomy, rather dark, chaotic and somewhat boring place. But, is it really?

When I was a tour guide, I was amazed at how many people simply walked through the forest, fast paced, like they were going somewhere. I've got news for you - this is the wrong way to do it.

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Bird watching tours. Photo: Shutterstock

So, let me tell you some insider tips. Here are some secrets to fully enjoy the amazing life system you are visiting:

Prepare well: Repellent, sun screen, a lot of fresh water, some candy, good hiking boots with some good thick socks, and definitely comfortable, dark and fresh clothes. (No jeans! They are dreadful in the humid heat of the jungle.) Repellent has to be put on before getting dressed, as well as over the clothes. Carry some in oil or cream/ointment form so you can also use it inside the forest. (Spraying around is not nice to other walking companions, the forest, or any of its creatures)

Aromas: Don’t use any perfume or aromatic shampoo/conditioner before getting in the jungle. You will attract all the insects that pollinate smelly flowers, and this includes wasps and bees. Not fun!

Take your time: You must be attentive; really attentive.  When I used to walk by myself, I would almost walk a step and look around, one more step, and look around. Sometimes if you are part of a group, you can’t do that, but keep your eyes, ears and nose open Your senses were made for places like this.

Listen to your guide: A good naturalist guide knows what he or she is talking about. There are many class hours and dozens of books behind each remark a guide makes in the forest, and usually they are quite passionate about the subject. And, if you pay attention to what they say, you will find that they turn the forest into a fantastic realm just by telling you what’s underneath this calm landscape.

Local guide in rainforest. Photo: Shutterstock

Do not underestimate what you are seeing: Actually the rainforest is a magnificent and quite organized life system. Everything is connected in ways we can’t even imagine, and it's always a surprise. It is interesting to the very last detail. But even more than all of that, it is amazingly intelligent and creative. When you enter a rainforest with your mind open, your vision of life on the planet changes forever.

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Do your homework: Before you travel, get into books. (I especially recommend “A Neotropical Companion” by John Kricher and “Life above the Jungle Floor” by Donald Perry.) Documentaries and anything else you can use to learn about the forest, its creatures, and amazing organization are also useful. It will make your experience unforgettable.

Open your heart: You know those “tree huggers,” right? Well, they just might be onto something. There is a feeling that catches us when you open your heart  in the forest. Something unfathomable that will sometimes make your sensations even overwhelming.  There are studies now that say that biochemistry in the human body changes when you are in contact with nature.  I actually cannot tell you an expert, acurate answer, but the beat of your heart, your breathing, and your sensations change when you let your mind open to the wonder around.

Close your mouth: Never ever look up with your mouth open. (I mean it!) You simply don’t know what’s up there, and monkeys love to pee on invaders of their territory. So…looking up? Keep your mouth closed.

Respect: You are the visitor, and as human beings we have this tendency to think that we own nature and can do anything to it. Newsflash: We don’t! There are things that you cannot do in the forest: The evident, of course; no smoking, no spraying, no shouting, no littering. But then there are some not as evident: No breaking of leaves, no flash when taking pictures, no picking flowers or fruits just for the heck of it. Everything here has its purpose.

Emperor boa (Boa constrictor imperator) hanging in a tree, Tortuguero, Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock

Don’t touch: Things are made to be invisible here. Spiders, ants, frogs and snakes. They are meant not to be seen, and that is simple survival. We have the size of a big predator and they won’t mess around with us… Unless we step on them and they feel at risk. So, please, avoid touching anything. And if you must, please look carefully before putting your hand on a tree or plant.

Silence: Shhhh! Listen.There are a zillion sounds there. The birds, maybe howler monkeys…but then there are the others; the tiny poison dart frogs, the insects, the fluttering of wings…life is all around you. Every now and then, close your eyes and listen to it!

Be present: Yes, it sounds like one of those new-age statements. But if your mind is drifting in the rainforest, you may easily lose sight of an amazing animal, butterfly or bird that simply passed before your eyes when you were not “watching.” Be here now.


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