Most people think of the tropics as a huge and forbidding tropical rain forest through which every step taken must be hacked out, and where every inch of the way is crawling with danger. Actually, over half of the land in the tropics is cultivated in some way.
A knowledge of field skills, the ability to improvise, and the application of the principles of survival will increase the prospects of survival. Do not be afraid of being alone in the jungle; fear will lead to panic. Panic will lead to exhaustion and decrease your chance of survival.
Everything in the jungle thrives, including disease germs and parasites that breed at an alarming rate. Nature will
provide water, food, and plenty of materials to build shelters. Indigenous peoples have lived for millennia by hunting and gathering. However, it will take an outsider some time to get used to the conditions and the nonstop activity of tropical survival.
High temperatures, heavy rainfall, and oppressive humidity characterize equatorial and subtropical regions, except at high altitudes. At low altitudes, temperature variation is seldom less than 10 degrees C and is often more than 35 degrees C. At altitudes over 1,500 meters, ice often forms at night. The rain has a cooling effect, but when it stops, the temperature soars.
Rainfall is heavy, often with thunder and lightning. Sudden rain beats on the tree canopy, turning trickles into raging torrents and causing rivers to rise. Just as suddenly, the rain stops. Violent storms may occur, usually toward the end of the summer months.
Hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons develop over the sea and rush inland, causing tidal waves and devastation ashore. In choosing campsites, make sure you are above any potential flooding. Prevailing winds vary between winter and summer. The dry season has rain once a day and the monsoon has continuous rain. In Southeast Asia, winds from the Indian Ocean bring the monsoon, but it is dry when the wind blows from the landmass of China.
Tropical day and night are of equal length. Darkness falls quickly and daybreak is just as sudden.
There is no standard jungle. The tropical area may be any of the following: Rain forests.
Semievergreen seasonal and monsoon forests.
Scrub and thorn forests.
Tropical Rain Forests
The climate varies little in rain forests. You find these forests across the equator in the Amazon and Congo basins, parts of Indonesia, and several Pacific islands. Up to 3.5 meters of rain fall evenly throughout the year. Temperatures range from about 32 degrees C in the day to
21 degrees C at night.
There are five layers of vegetation in this jungle (Figure 14-1). Where untouched by man, jungle trees rise from buttress roots to heights of
60 meters. Below them, smaller trees produce a canopy so thick that little light reaches the jungle floor. Seedlings struggle beneath them to reach light, and masses of vines and lianas twine up to the sun. Ferns, mosses, and herbaceous plants push through a thick carpet of leaves, and a great variety of fungi grow on leaves and fallen tree trunks.
Because of the lack of light on the jungle floor, there is little undergrowth to hamper movement, but dense growth limits visibility to about
50 meters. You can easily lose your sense of direction in this jungle, and it is extremely hard for aircraft to see you.
Secondary jungle is very similar to rain forest. Prolific growth, where sunlight penetrates to the jungle floor, typifies this type of forest. Such growth happens mainly along river banks, on jungle fringes, and where man has cleared rain forest. When abandoned, tangled masses of vegetation quickly reclaim these cultivated areas. You can often find cultivated food plants among this vegetation.
Semievergreen Seasonal and Monsoon Forests
The characteristics of the American and African semievergreen