THE BLOG
06/29/2012 10:19 am ET Updated Aug 26, 2012

What Is it Like Living in a Rainforest?

This question originally appeared on Quora.

2012-06-27-cmeyer.jpeg

By Chadwick Meyer, co-founder at Gutensite


I grew up in Papua New Guinea (that's me, the little one), and spent part of my childhood in a small village deep in the heart of one of the most untouched rainforests in the world, as well as other similar locations around the country. Experiences will vary too much to explain what it is "like living in a rainforest", but I'll list a few of the things that come to mind which may not be immediately obvious:

  • Hot. The heat and humidity, and lack of wind, can be oppressive. As a kid, I didn't question it, and we lived in nothing but shorts (no shirt, shoes, etc), and we regularly frequented the river to cool off, so it was tolerable. But there is no escape, day or night, from the oppressive heat.
  • Loud. The only sound you hear is the high pitched screech of a million bugs, which are sometimes so loud during the day you have to raise your voice to be heard. At night, the crickets and frogs can keep you awake with their squeals and croaking.
  • Sweet Rain. There is nothing like going to sleep at night with the sound of a tropical rainstorm pouring down huge drops of water on your tin or palm frond roof and filling up your tank with life giving water. After a hot day, the relative cool that accompanies the rain and the mesmerizing sound of the drops is a simple pleasure that cannot be compared, as you pull your thin sheet over you to fend off the damp cool that filters in through the screen windows.
  • Floods. The area we lived was prone to regular flooding throughout the year. The river would rise and fall twenty feet, and the village, airstrip, and surrounding jungle would regularly be submerged underwater. Sometimes, the water rose so high the homes would get flooded as well, even though everything is built on posts to try to keep it above the water line.
  • Simple Pleasures. Where I grew up there were no roads, no power lines, no fences, no strict rules. You survived, and you figured out how to make things work with what you had. As a kid, we figured out how to have fun, with what was at hand, be it sticks, stones, dirt, or whatever toys or scraps we could find. We spent our lives outdoors, climbing trees, scavenging for food, learning to hunt, swimming, hiking in the jungle, etc. We learned that life could be appreciated in it's simplest forms. A good birthday present was a can of Coke. A brilliant night was spent listening to dad read a book by lamp light as we sat on white sheets in the smoke of mosquito coils. Or gathering with visitors and listening to people play the guitar and sing. When you strip away all the modern conveniences, you get closer to the heart of life, and it's more pure. The joys are less cluttered, there is less distraction, and experiences are so much more poignant because of their unique intensity.
  • Hostile. The rainforest is always growing, and reclaiming it's own. My dad built a grass airstrip out of the jungle in 1978, which operated for several decades. It was mowed regularly, but we had to continually chop down trees that grew up at the ends at an alarming rate. It has now been reclaimed by the jungle (http://g.co/maps/r65hz). Around our house, our yard would shrink quickly without constant attention to push back the jungle. The forest is alive, and it grows at a rapid speed. It is a constant battle for a small group of people to maintain some breathing room. The natives maintain a small space for their village, through constant use of pathways and common areas, but nothing is permanent, their homes quickly rot and have to be rebuilt.
  • Illusion of Unlimited Resources. As a counterpoint to the previous point, the rainforest is not indestructible. On an industrial scale, forests can be exploited and destroyed, and mountains can be leveled and strip mined. So the illusion of its unlimited power does not stand up to the determined and collective assault of man and his machines. Many mountains have been leveled, rivers polluted with silt, hillsides scraped bare and eroded, all in the pursuit of resources with little care for the short term affects on the people who rely on the land, or the long term affects on the land itself.
  • Isolation. You feel you are at the end of the world, and if anything happens, you are on your own. Life is simple, but for any that are accustomed to the stimulation of civilization, the isolation can make you crazy if you don't have a clear reason to be there (assuming you live deep in the jungle).
  • Infection and Disease. The damp warm environment is friendly to diseases and infections. People that are not used to the unnamed tropical diseases that thrive in these conditions can easily get boils and infections from simple mosquito bites or scratches that fester and can endanger your life. Malaria is a constant threat, and without modern medicine, it can easily kill. And the medicine itself can be nearly as bad as the disease.
  • Bugs. The bugs are exotic and huge. They are beautiful, scary and deadly. What Papua New Guinea lacks in mammals, it makes up for in snakes, birds, and bugs.
  • Lush Desert. Despite the lush conditions in Papua New Guinea, there is a limited source of native food sources available in the jungle. The people survive on a starch paste made from the pith of pounding the trunks of 'sago' (swamp palm), squeezing dirty water through the shavings and boiling the dirty water until it congeals into a gray starchy glob. This is the primary source of carbohydrates, and is supplemented by some breadfruit, grub worms, fish, occassional pig, banana, and other odd fruits and roots. There is enough to survive, but not enough to build up a civilization, and not the type of food that stores well so it's definitely a sustenance lifestyle.
  • Humbling. All of these things combined make it a humbling place to live. You are reminded that you are not in control, and that is an important lesson that we often forget in the modern world.
That's me on the left, cooking breadfruit with my brother and friends, near the back 'baret' (creek) at the grass airstrip my dad built. More questions on travel:

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