“For the first time I realized the terrifying vastness of the Malayan Jungle. In every direction there were tree-clad hills, peak after peak and ridge after ridge, purple at first, then violet and blue, fading at last into the paler blue of the distance.” – F. Spencer Chapman D.S.O, The Jungle Is Neutral, 1949.
Location: Borneo, standing at the head of a great fallen tree which hung out over the gully and offered a rare view out over the canopy we traveled beneath.
‘The Jungle Is Neutral’ by Spencer Chapman is required reading for anyone embarking on a jungle expedition, the following extract of which will illicit knowing nods from those who have tried to navigate the deep trackless jungle.
“I was to learn that navigation in thick mountainous jungle is the most difficult in the world – and I had always rather fancied myself at map reading and finding my way in all types of country from Greenland to Australia. In the first place it is quite impossible to find out where you are on the map: the limit of your visibility is fifty to a hundred yards, and even if you are on some steep hill-side, where a small landslide has opened up a window through which you can catch a glimpse of another steep blue tree-clad hill-side, you are none the wiser, as one hill is exactly like another. There are no landmarks – and if there were, you could not see them. Another difficulty is that there is no way of judging distance: it took us more than a week to realize we were taking eight hours to travel one mile on the map instead of the three or four miles we we imagined, judging by the amount of energy we were expending. Perhaps the greatest impediment to navigation is that, having decided to move in a certain direction, you are quite unable to do so owing to the difficulties of the terrain; we were continually forced off our course by swamps, thickets, precipices, outcrops of rock, and rivers. its was impossible even to follow a ridge unless it was very steep and clearly marked. With such limited visibility it was seldom clear which was the main ridge and we soon found ourselves down in the valley bottom, having inadvertently followed a subsidiary spur. In the end I found it best to follow the line of least resistance as long as we worked steadily westward; but we very soon had absolutely no idea where we were on the map.”