Tuesday 22nd March

At daybreak I knew that I must stay put and wait to be rescued.  I just had to suppress my "I can get out of here myself" attitude; after all, a few days ago, that way of looking at the situation had got me into this trouble! Despite my lack of food and the huge amount of energy that I must have expended to reach "Jungle John's Island" I wasn't actually very hungry.  This surprised me a great deal as I had thought that I'd be driven to despair by hunger, being very much a three meals per day person.  But it was good that it was so.  I determined that I would set some objectives for the day:

        Improve my bed because I would be here for a couple of more nights at least
        Try to make a fire both to warm and cheer me up at night and help my rescuers to locate me
        Have a look in the nearby forest for something to eat
        Clear some of the ground on the "island" to make it easier to get around - it was strewn with small rocks up to 50 cms in size
        Put some stepping stones out to the large rock in the centre of the stream so that I could put my red sweatshirt on it to attract my rescuers
        Shout "HELP" as loudly as possible in each direction every half hour from 07:00 until 19:00 each day
        Try my mobile phone every hour (I had some fanciful idea that they might have been able to boost the power of the mobile phone transmitters to help - well, you never know!)
        Try to ascertain my bearings (this was relatively easy as I was able to track the sun from east to west: my island was facing east)

For the first time I felt a "certain stirring" and located a boulder on a very small, nearby, down wind, sand bar where I proceeded to utilise Morrison’s finest white tissue for its intended purpose for the first time in about four days (I knew you'd be glad to hear that)!  I tried my camera again but it still wouldn't work and I noticed that the screen and inside of the lens was misted up from its drenching on Sunday.  So I removed it from its case and laid it on my “sitting rock” in the sun, hoping that it would dry.

I tried and tried and tried to make a fire by rubbing two sticks together, but the best I could achieve, before my aching arm muscles gave out, was a faint smell of wood getting warmer.  I'd already torn a couple of pieces of toilet paper into fine shreds to catch the first smoulderings but it wasn't to be.  For the next two days I tried to make a fire in every way possible.  I even considered breaking my glasses in two and using the two lenses together to try to get more heat from the sun, but thought that that would give me other problems, so I didn't.  I attempted the stick rubbing way, time and again but to no avail.  Is it really possible, unless you can make a bow or have a piece of dry flat wood to rub another piece of wood onto between your palms?

View upstreamI wasn't going to venture far into the forest in search of food.  With my sense of direction it would be too easy to get lost, so I concentrated on finding something nearby.  I found some small red berries which I tasted but they were disgustingly bitter, I was worried in case they were poisonous and, in any case, there would never have been enough to make a meal from anyway.  I tried bamboo shoots and there were quite a few of these.  They were quite sweet, very chewy but, again, I'd have had gather armfuls to sustain me.  In any case I'm not a bloody Giant Panda, am I?  I looked for a banana tree because I had heard that even very small, immature bananas can be nutritious, but there were none that I could see.  After a couple of hours I ate the few remaining crumbs of the last shortbread biscuit and resigned myself to being hungry until I was rescued.  Although, to be honest, I didn’t really feel as hungry as I thought I should.

The previous evening I'd heard thunder and the sky had clouded over for a while.  Having lived in Malaysia and visited it often, I know how quickly and violently the tropical rain storms can blow in.  I was determined to avoid getting wet as that would make my nights even colder and more uncomfortable.  In any case, my bed was only about 5 cms above the level of the river and I didn't fancy being forced to sleep in the forest itself if the water rose much.  I saw a very large plant with enormous leaves, about 2 m x 1 m in size, with a very shiny upper surface.  I thought that I might be able to build some sort of shelter out of them and certainly make my bed a little dried (the water from the sand had seeped through the previously night's leaves and I had awoken not only stiff but damp).  So, with a great struggle, including having to partially bite through the thick stems, I gathered several of these monsters, formed a small shelter between one of my rocks and the sand and lay the rest down over my existing bedding for the night ahead.

My drying rock!I started to put stepping stones in the stream so that I could more easily reach the large boulder in the centre of the water course without getting my boots wet again.  This was very therapeutic: I could build something.  From stepping stones it became a small causeway against which I put sand, turning it into a partial dam and altering the water flow.  I used most of the rocks and stones that I had wanted to clear from my island to do this and after a few hours I was satisfied.

Every time I completed a task, no matter how small, I would take a two minute rest and “treat myself” to a drink of water.  By keeping physically active I was trying to avoid thinking too much about my situation because I knew that would bring on depression, something that I’m fortunately not too familiar with and therefore not too well equipped to cope with.

In between these jobs I never stopped trying to make fire, shouted "HELP ME" in all directions every half hour and checked for a mobile phone signal.  None of these three activities seemed to make much sense any more and I wondered whether or not I should stop them, but I didn't.

By about three o’clock in the afternoon I had done just about all I could for the day and I sat on my log for a while, knapping occasionally with my elbows on my knees.  I daydreamed and Noelene and the girls were there with me, only to be snatched away as my elbow slipped from my knee and I jerked suddenly awake.

I’m not a religious person at all.  In fact I detest religion as the cause of most of the wars and troubles the world has had to endure throughout its history.  I guess that, for most of my life, I’ve described myself as an agnostic (i.e. I couldn’t really make up my mind!) but latterly I’ve described myself as an atheist; strange then that my thoughts should turn to spirituality.  I prayed to be rescued, prayed to be reunited with Noelene, the girls, family and friends, prayed that I would get out alive and well.  I didn’t pray to any particular god and, as the Malaysian press loved to misquote later, I didn’t “find god in the jungle”.  I didn’t become a Christian, Jew, Moslem, Hindu, Buddhist or anything else but I did develop a faith in a “higher spirit”, one that can be for good or evil.  Perhaps it’s the combined spiritual energy of humankind; maybe I discovered humanism within myself.

I thought long and hard about the last 50 years of my life, especially about the bad things I’d done, those actions that I’m still ashamed of and asked to be forgiven for each of them.  Maybe it’s wrong of me to say so but, with a few exceptions, I didn’t consider that I’d been a “too bad” guy most of the time.

Self portraitThis sort of spiritual confrontation was something I had earlier realised I would have to go through if I was lost for long and if I had time on my hands.  It was uncomfortable to me but something I had to face, albeit reluctantly.  To avoid further thoughts like this I tried to busy myself, redoubling my efforts to make a fire, making the causeway to the boulder in the middle of the stream bigger and wider, unnecessarily gathering more leaves for my bedding and any other tiny job I could think of.  I considered taking a bath in the stream and realised that although I’d be cleanish the clothes that I’d have to put back on would still stink revoltingly and I thought that maybe I should do some washing tomorrow if rescue didn’t come.

Eventually the light began to fade behind me, but as it did so I could hear the rumble of thunder and the sky above clouded over quite alarmingly.  I made sure all my essential items, and there weren’t many of them – the toilet roll (no. 1 important item!), mobile phone with its battery now down to 10%, glasses, camera and rucksack were under the shelter I’d made earlier and sat on my bed waiting for the rain.  I knew there would be no way to keep the bed itself dry but I would myself join my belongings when the deluge came.  But it didn’t: the sky cleared, the moon came out and I was obviously in for another balmy night!

The noise the previous night had been horrendous and the “night chorus” started up again.  I tore up a couple of pieces of precious toilet paper and stuffed one in each ear as makeshift earplugs and that deadened the sound quite a bit.  In contrast with the previous night my feet were dry and relatively warm, even without my boots on, although the rest of my body shivered and shaked on and off all night.  My main problem in getting comfortable was that my weight loss had made me even bonier than usual and whether I lay on my back or my sides my hips and back bones settled very uncomfortably in the sand.  I had a spare one of the very large leaves and, in the cold, I pulled it over me hoping that it would provide some insulation.  Well, I don’t think it really helped at all and it was cumbersome to keep in place.  But I persisted, believing that if I could trap a layer of “body warm” air between me and the leaf I would be warmer.  In reality, all I think that happened was that a layer of cold condensation formed on the leaf and I ended the night damper than I had started.

©John Gillatt, 2005