I’ve talked before about how smell is an important often overlooked sense, but even more so in the jungle. Between the blooming flowers, ripening fruit, decomposing organic matter, and sweating human bodies, the experience just isn’t the same without it.
Which means that most of my stories and photos lack a certain essential element. A particular context. So to remedy that, I’m going to provide the next set of photos with instructions on how to fully experience them, nasally. And I’ve gone through my last trip’s album to pick out ones that are especially memorable.
The Rainforests of Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast–what remains of them–are one of the few places left to see White-lipped peccary, a kind of wild pig. Known as “javelina” in the Southern US, here they are called “Saino” and used to run in herds of up to a hundred. Now, due to habitat loss and overhunting, there are few left and they are very skittish. The best way to see them is to track them, following your nose until you get close enough to hear the clacking of their tusks. Or stake out one of their mud wallows, as I did.
To fully experience a peccary trail, wear the same shorts to the gym every day for a week. Then, stick them in a bucket, add a couple dozen bad eggs, pour in a gallon of gasoline, and let that sit for about a month. Then uncover and inhale deeply. That, my friends, is what peccaries smell like.
Millipedes are a common sight in the Tropics, and they can get rather large. Don’t worry–they’re harmless. It’s only centipedes that sting. Millipedes just eat decaying organic matter and when threatened, curl into a ball and release a distinct smell.
Millipedes smell like almonds. Seriously, just like almonds. Just like an amaretto latte in some species. The reason is cyanide: almonds contain trace amounts of cyanide, which is what millipedes release as a defense. Oh, did I say they were harmless? I meant they’re harmless to touch. Yeah, don’t eat them. Because, y’know, cyanide.
Finally, something that is not native to Costa Rica, but has been naturalized and now flourishes: ylang-ylang. This fragrant tree releases its scent mainly at night to attract nocturnal pollinators. In many parts of the world, including its original home of Southeast Asia, it is made into fancy perfumes and used for aromatherapy.
Ylang-ylang smells wonderful. There is no way to fully describe the sensation of sitting below a ylang-ylang tree in full bloom, or to properly explain the associated feelings of enchantment, decadence, and pure joy. It’s just too rich. It feels almost wrong, somehow, or self-indulgent. It’s a guilty pleasure. It should be a sin to smell something this good. To experience this, to go to a fancy perfume store, find the most expensive bottle, and just smash that sucker on the floor. The resulting smell, as well as the perversely gleeful guilt at your transgression, just might suffice. Next, eat a chocolate chip cookie. Now you’re getting it.
Smell ya later.