Let’s be frank; life in the jungle is no picnic. Whether it is the mosquitos, the heat, the rain, or suffering a last-minute defeat in the nightly card game, things can get you down. But there is one aspect of daily existence here at Jalova that is often over-looked prior to arrival, and that is the battle of keeping your clothes clean.
I will be the first to admit I had taken the existence of washing machines for granted. Little did I realise that this under-appreciated technological marvel was the sole dividing line between civilization and anarchy. It was a couple of days in to my Jalova experience when this reality came crashing down around me like a pile of smelly laundry. I had just completed a survey on the swampy backwater known locally as South Boundary, and as always happens on that infamous trail, I had breached, so my previously clean socks were now sodden with muddy swamp-water. I mused to myself “how to solve this rather inconvenient state of affairs?” The solution was crystal clear, a washing machine was required!
Then came the epiphany, the moment of clarity. I was in the jungle. There wasn’t a working washing machine within 15.3 miles. So it was time to get down and dirty and hand-wash the crap out of those socks.
Everyone has their own technique. For me, it is quite simple. Two separate buckets filled with rainwater. Add a wee splash of washing powder and some detergent to the first one, but keep that second bucket pure agua for rinsing purposes. The first bucket is where the hard-graft is done.
In go your clothes. At first it is rather shocking to see the amount of dirt and slime that instantly comes off your clothes (occasionally you even get a live spider/scorpion), but soon it almost becomes a challenge to see how quickly you can render your water unusable due to the amount of dirt dissolved in it. I generally follow a policy of “if you can no longer see the bottom of the tub due to mud, it’s time to renew that water.” But it is not a simple case of just letting the clothes soak. No, no, no, my friend. You have to get that hand-scrubber out, and go to town on those fabrics. This consists of the main staple of any jungle workout, and unnaturally developed forearms are a sure sign of a Jalova resident.
Once the mud is out, it is on to the rinse bucket to get any residual bits and bobs off the clothes. The job is not done yet though, because the most frustrating aspect of the process still awaits. The drying stage (cue dramatic music)!
There is always the optimism that living on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica will bless you with endless sunshine and ideal circumstances for clothes drying. But the jungle climate has something to say about that. Daily showers, regularly turning into considerable storms, push back D-day (AKA dry-day) by hours, occasionally weeks. My current personal best is 6 straight days of waiting for clothes to dry.
So my advice to any potential laundry hopefuls is simple. Always plan ahead. For if you find yourself waiting until the last possible moment to do laundry, and then the storms are a-coming, boy are you in for a rough couple of days. But it is all worth it when you pull on that first clean (clean purely in the jungle sense) t-shirt and stroll into the kitchen looking a million dollars, safe in the knowledge you have truly earned that cleanliness, with a sense of accomplishment that no washing machine could ever provide.