What’s scarier: A visit to the rainforest or a bunch of school kids?

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My big mouth, I’ve gone and landed myself in trouble haven’t I? I really should learn when to keep it closed.

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Emerald Bay on the island of Pangkor Laut in Malaysia. This is where I first experienced rainforest and my daughter’s school friends will shortly hear all about it.

Helen, you see, is learning all about the rainforest this term at school. After weeks of her coming home and regaling me with facts and nuggets of information, I just had to go and pose the question didn’t I?

“Hey Helen, do you think your teacher would like me to come to school and tell your class all about my experiences in the rainforest?” Of course, once you say such a thing it can’t be unsaid.

You can guess what I’m doing later this week, can’t you? Yup, I shall be telling a group of year three and year four kids about the various visits I made to rainforests in different parts of the world in my younger days when I was both a travel journalist and an enthusiastic backpacker.

On the one hand I’m looking forward to it. I’ve given it some thought and come up with a couple of good tales to share that I hope they’ll find impressive.

I think the best story is the time I found myself travelling down a tributary of the Amazon late at night, in a heavily-laden, tiny rowing boat watching ball-lightening flashing across the sky. It was only once we were well into the journey, water lapping at the gunnels, that our guide casually, and I mean casually, mentioned the river was teeming with crocodiles.

I think that’s probably a good story, considering the audience. The thing I shall have to remember is no swearing. That, I hope, will be straightforward.

I shall also avoid my nasty experience with DEET in the Malaysian rainforest. I had covered myself with the stuff to ensure I didn’t get bitten by insects but my group got caught out in a very heavy storm.

After a short while, I began to feel a very strange feeling in my, ahem, manly areas and was very concerned that a jungle creature of some kind had made its way up my trouser legs and was feasting upon me. While my concerns were understandable, they were entirely misplaced.

It wasn’t what had travelled up my trouser legs, but what had travelled down that was the source of my discomfort. The heavy rain had washed the DEET off my skin and into my underwear. The sensitive skin between my legs was merely objecting to the DEET, but I could at least rest easy knowing that, for a short while at least, I had the most insect-proof genitals in all of Malaysia.

As I say though, I don’t think that story is suitable for school kids. I’ll keep it on file, should I ever find myself addressing the local Women’s Institute or Mother’s Union.

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As luck would have it, this unflattering photograph was taken during THE heavy storm that washed all the DEET into my underwear. You can possibly tell by the look on my face.

Joking aside, I’m hoping that I can say something inspiring to these kids. The school seems to have done a very good job of making the kids aware of the environmental and conservation issues. I hope I can build on that and, through my stories, make the rainforest real for them.

I’m not going to deny it though, I’m more than a little terrified. In the rainforest I’ve had crazy insects spray me with chemicals that burned my skin, had the whites of my eyes attacked by flying insects, had to run away from an invasion of vicious leaf cutter ants in addition to dodging crocodiles.

Talking about this to a group of seven and eight-year-old’s? That’s considerably scarier than actually being in the rainforest. Wish me luck!


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