Surely you jest! – three days at Jungle Environment Survival Training (JEST) Subic, Philippines
“At 3 o’clock we go and set up a trap for a chicken. You girls stay here”, said Edwardo our experienced guide. Usually a champion for equality, I’m actually pretty relieved at being excused from catching dinner duty. However squeamish I may be about actually catching my own food, it is all part of the survival bootcamp experience that our family of four is doing as part of our month-long odyssey in the Philippines. I should have known right from the start that this was going to be a different kind of trip when within minutes of deciding on the Philippines as a travel destination my husband had found and emailed JEST.
Started in 1992 as a commercial enterprise following the departure of the American Navy from their base at Subic Bay, the former military camp was converted to a provide a range of different jungle experiences. These range from corporate team bonding events, a bird show, and short displays about jungle survival to the 3-day course we have opted for.
The training itself however goes back much further to the Vietnam War. Americans preparing to go on tour in Vietnam required jungle training and this is where they came to get it. These days the centre still provides training for military schools and personnel.
The survival bootcamp is promoted on their website as: “…Extreme Jungle Survival. It is the toughest and longest survival course offered in the Philippines…”
Lucky I didn’t read their website before we arrived!
Our Philippine jungle adventure begins with an introductory talk and lots of signing of waivers, so far so good. We then clamber on board the back of a truck for a short drive to the start of our walk into the jungle. I soon find out that I’ve drastically over-packed; a point that becomes painfully evident as I make my way down the track to where we will make our camp for the next two nights. Turns out all you really need to survive is a very sharp machete (bolo), knowledge of local flora and fauna, and lots and lots of bamboo.
Edwardo expertly cuts down a vine and we quench our thirst from its’ contents. Next up comes the task of clearing enough space for our two tents (Edwardo will just sling a hammock), a table, and a fire pit. As the emphasis is on respecting the environment removal of plants is kept to a minimum. Tent sites have to be laboriously cleared of dead leaves and twigs to make sure there are no colonies of red ants around – a very unwelcome visitor in the middle of the night. Then with just a few expert whacks of the bolo bamboo poles are prepared and we are set to work constructing a table. Within a short space of time a sturdy, functional and actually quite stylish table is made from bamboo lashed together with vines.
No matches or lighters are allowed so fire making ensues followed by the construction of a rice cooker, cups, and sporks from you guessed it, bamboo. We eat a dinner of provisions we brought cooked in bamboo over the fire. As yet no chickens have wandered into the trap.
As dusk arrives husband, son and Edwardo head down to the nearby river to go frog hunting. Again I am thankful to be excused from this task and take the opportunity to look out for scorpions coming out of the wood we have gathered for the fire.
Night falls quickly in the jungle and after the others return we swap stories around the fire accompanied by the sounds of wild chickens and road runner birds calling as they settle for the night.
Jungle adventure – day two
Day two begins with preparing the frogs caught (by sneaking up behind them, and placing your hand in front for them to hop into) the night before. Boiled in bamboo and served with a fern like plant called pako they are actually very tasty (like chicken).
After breakfast we head down to nearby Boton falls for a refreshing swim and some butterfly spotting while Edwardo prepares a surprise. On returning Edwardo demonstrates the noise making booby trap he has made from bamboo and vines, a device that would have been useful on the perimeter of any war time camp. For lunch we sample the delicate inside of the fish tail palm.
The afternoon is spent creating rope bracelets from vines, learning about the soap plant, and constructing a protective roof for the fire that has been skillfully kept glowing for the entirety of our stay.
As I lie awake that night, I ponder why we surround ourselves with so many seeming “essentials” that we don’t really need. It seems there are still plenty of frogs left in the stream and eventually their steady croaking lulls me to sleep.
Our jungle experience ends the next morning with us hauling our gear back up to the road. En-route we learn more about the medicinal properties of some of the plants first hand as my daughter’s raw heel gets some treatment from a plant used to stop bleeding and then an iodine plant to prevent infection.
As we scrub off the smell of the campfire smoke back at the centre it’s time to reflect on the lessons our jungle survival bootcamp has delivered.
Philippine jungle skills
Survival in the jungle is not about having all the flash outdoor gear. Rather it’s about having a detailed knowledge of the particular surrounding environment. Knowing which plants and animals are safe to eat, and how best to obtain them.
The whole Philippine jungle adventure was definitely a unique break from the outside world and a chance for our family to enjoy each other’s company away from ringing phones and work pressures, while appreciating a different kind of knowledge and a culture we knew nothing about. It was an opportunity to learn new skills and step outside of our comfort zone.
We also found out not only how versatile bamboo is, but that wild chickens are pretty smart. The trap remained empty and the chickens lived to squawk another day.
If you are looking for an adventure that can include mountains, jungle, and stunning beaches and snorkelling, then the Philippines are for you. The people are extremely friendly and helpful and Michelle can help with everything you need.
A massive thanks to Michelle and the team at Bucket List Travel for organising our flights, and Edwardo for giving us such a memorable jungle experience.