by Mihali Moore, Camera Assistant
I thought I had been to remote places in the past, but this trip proved that there is always somewhere further and more isolated than you think. Two flights, a long drive across politically unstable territory, a choice of a four hour trek through jungle or a three hour trip on a rickety truck. An experience that we were told (and can confirm) was like your shirt going through a tumble dryer with you still wearing it! Having trekked for a few hours, it was getting dark and the sound of the truck was music to our ears – or so we thought! After ten seconds of driving aboard, I instantly regretted it. It was terrifying. I lost count of the times I thought it was going to tip over. Perhaps the chap next to me had the right idea. Reeking of whiskey, I don’t think he was worried about anything. Luckily the truck got stuck near the camp and we gladly walked the last twenty minutes by foot. The truck would later be rescued by our pachyderm friends and brought to its final destination.
Nonetheless we arrived safe and sound in the evening to the camp that would be our home for the next two weeks. Our fixer had done an impressive job. We found a selection of individual tents with camp beds, cooking equipment, tables, lights and even power sockets in each one. Mod cons in the deep jungle. Not bad at all!
The next day we met some of the elephants for the first time and carried out a recce of the area for filming spots. I had never been this close to these animals before and was instantly struck by their majestic grace. Wary of our presence, you could tell they knew something was up. We also had the pleasure of meeting the elephant contractor. With his penchant for whiskey and the way the others behaved around him, it was clear he wanted to be perceived as the boss. During our numerous encounters with him, we would find ourselves having to respect his customs and offers of whiskey, whilst listening to his thoughts on what the world would be like without water?!? On the subject of water, it had started to rain. Monsoon season was round the corner and the chances of nicely backlit elephants working in harmony were looking slim.
It was amazing to see how these creatures worked. They can understand up to 65 commands and push heavy logs around as if they were twigs. Each elephant has its own mahout, a young man who perches atop the elephant and ‘drives’ him. Using commands and pressure with their feet, the mahout can direct, steer and command the elephant at a remarkable pace. Keeping up with them wasn’t easy and it’s clear that using the elephant is the only way to get the job done. Ramprashad was our main elephant and he was an impressive size. Whilst slightly apprehensive of us at first, he soon warmed to us and even let us ride him for a bit. In fact all the elephants seemed to accept us quite quickly. At one point I remember standing on a track in a melee of elephants that were trying to push a laden truck up a muddy slope. All I could see was wrinkly skin. I looked at Robin Cox, our cameraman, (to whom I was tethered). He was breathing in deeply and arching his back, desperately trying to fit into a gap between the dense jungle face and an elephant’s belly.
What I found remarkable is the mutual understanding between the mahout and elephant. The elephant will only work for a few hours and if it doesn’t want to do something it quite simply will not. The mahout diligently washes and feeds him each day, which strengthens the bond between the two of them. Each evening the elephant is released into the jungle to roam free. The next day the mahout must look for the animal, which, despite its freedom, won’t have gone far. The chains go on and the elephant knows it’s back to work, a true example of beast and man working in harmony. It was a real privilege to see this unique and rare tradition in action. You’ll get to get to see the reason why we were filming this partnership in 2011. Hopefully we provided a good story for the series!
She’ll be Wearing Pink Pyjamas When She Comes!
by Ben Southwell, Producer/Director, Jungles and
Jo Manley, Production Coordinator, Oceans & Jungles
I have never sweated so much in my life. Just sitting still I’d be dripping. Within minutes of leaving camp each day I’d be drenched as much as if I’d jumped in the river. It wasn’t the heat, it was the cloying humidity that made it so hard to move around.
We were filming the British Army Jungle Warfare Advisers’ Course in Brunei, one of the toughest courses the army runs. After a week of trekking after ‘students’ up and down steep tree-covered slopes, I fully understood why the army choose this terrain for their course. It doesn’t so much sap your energy as rip it out of you and stamp all over it. There were soldiers putting battered boots on over feet almost stripped of skin in order to complete this first stage of their training.
The Instructors on the course deserve immense credit. Many of them have spent years working in the jungle and their knowledge of this environment and their care for it was clear for all to see. The army have a no cutting policy here – they don’t want this primary forest becoming a wasteland because of their actions. They have a deep respect for the jungle.
For me the hardest thing was remembering to drink, drink again, and drink some more. We were advised that we would be sweating so much that we should be drinking 10 litres a day. This after leaving Britain in snow! Our production co-ordinator Jo Manley had never filmed in the jungle which presented her with a unique set of challenges…
…..and a ‘worry list’ as long as my arm!
Having been on Human Planet for over two years and sent off countless crews to all over the world, I had never actually been on a foreign trip myself. However, with the rest of the Jungle team filming in Brazil and Tom the Producer awaiting a new baby in Bristol, this time I was sent on location! I went with Ben the Director (my blog co-writer) , Toby the cameraman and Mihali sound/camera assistant to experience first hand the difficulties of operating in the field and how annoying it is trying to get Sat Phone reception from a Jungle!
I was quite nervous about a number of things before I left the UK. Ben joked that I would be transformed from pink-loving Jo to Rambette, the jungle ninja, never seen without a knife between her teeth! I wasn’t convinced.…
Before I left, my ‘worry list’ was pretty comprehensive: here’s a taster…
I had an irrational fear of moths and was told they would be every-where and as big as dinner plates (thanks for that Dale – Series Producer!)
I didn’t like the thought of bugs in my breakfast or bugs having me for breakfast including leeches sucking my blood
Getting out of my hammock for a wee in the night and not being able to find my way back (as it turns out this did happen to one of the students but thankfully not to me!)
Being the only girl amongst 60 men
Being told off by the Sergeant Major for not having the correct boots (I did have a few comments but it wasn’t my fault I couldn’t get Jungle boots in a size 3!!)
I could go on…
We flew in to the jungle by helicopter, which was amazing. I’d never been in a helicopter before and I loved it! I thought the jungle below looked just like broccoli, the tops of trees were packed together and looked totally impenetrable to anything, including light. I thought about how dark it would be under the canopy and it made me think about all the creepy crawlies hiding down there waiting to get me!
When we arrived at the LP (Landing point) we had to walk down a hill to our camp and my eyes were on constant bug watch looking out for leeches and anything else trying to crawl up my trouser leg! Brunei has a pristine primary jungle and I’d been told it was a ‘clean’ jungle but I still didn’t really appreciate how beautiful and bug free it would be until we got there. The longer I was there the shorter my worry list became and I started to really like being in the Jungle, sleeping in a hammock and being woken up by the gibbons singing to each other. I even let a moth land on my hand! The first night I had to get Mihali to escort me to the toilet but by the end of the week I was happily walking there on my own in the dark so I could see the glowing fungi. Rambette was in the making!
Towards the end of the week we went on the Close Target Recognisance (CTR) part of the course and we stayed in the enemy camp overnight whilst the students observed what was going on. The next morning Sally the tracker dog took us to find the students, who had spent a long night sitting on the jungle floor in the moonless night getting eaten alive by bugs and leeches. One of the students said to me ‘was it my imagination or were you walking around the enemy camp in a pair of pink pyjamas last night?’ it seems my transformation into Rambette was still a way off….
Jo rose to the occasion magnificently and I’m sure those pink pyjamas will become part of the course folklore for years to come.