Costa Rica

Published on July 4th, 2011 | by Mark Chesnut

BOOK REVIEW: Tales from the Jungle — A Rainforest Reader


First published in 1995, Tales from the Jungle: A Rainforest Reader is an explorer’s diary. The book is a compilation of fiction and non-fiction, all set in the wilderness and artfully layered with sensory details that stimulate the reader’s mind.  

Thirty-five stories are divvied into five themes or chapters: Explorers, Observations, Adventure Gone Bad, Forests in Fiction, and Fate of the Forests. In publishing these pieces, editors Daniel Katz and Miles Chaplin represent a geographically wide range of jungles, from Brazil, Peru, and Costa Rica to Borneo, the Congo, and Ceylon.

Each story tackles life in the jungle differently.

Within this anthology, the literary lineup is stellar. Outside Magazine’s humorous Tim Cahill depicts his attempts to discover ancient Peruvian ruins, despite governmental constraints and local suspicions that he was a grave robber. Famed Latin American poet Pablo Neruda paints with words as he describes a tropical island in Ceylon.  

Among the superstars, American president Theodore Roosevelt journals about his trip down the Amazon River. With his son Kermit, Roosevelt filled his post-presidential time by collecting specimens for New York City’s American Museum of Natural History. Teddy’s descriptions of insects are jarring. Before his days in South America, bugs never bothered him. But in the jungle, these critters converged into massive clouds of little bees, stinging bees, polvora sand flies, and bloodsucking boroshuda bugs. They swarmed together, eating through canvas bags, head nets, and tent liners. At first, he thought himself too manly to use repellent called “fly dope.” But when the first mega-swarm attacked, the ointment was his closest companion.

Another lauded writer, Archie Carr is featured in the opening chapter. His article, Black Beach recounts his time on the then-deserted beaches of Tortuguero, Costa Rica. An American zoologist, Carr built his career and reputation on a love for conservation. In the mid-20th Century, he traveled to Tortuguero searching for turtle eggs and chronicling every detail. For this essay, he won the O’Henry Award, an accolade for fiction even though the piece is based on real life explorations.

I’d like to think he won the O’Henry for his story’s pseudo-romantic opening line:  

It was on the black beach that I met Mrs. Ybarra. It was the lonesome, log-strewn stretch from Tortuguero to Parismina. You don’t see many people on that beach. Perhaps the chances against our meeting reinforced the impression Mrs. Ybarra made on me and caused her to seem more noteworthy than she really was.

Of all the stories in Tales from the Jungle, Carr’s writing reads as smooth as the rising tide. Looking for trunkback turtle nests and surrounded by wild dogs, Carr was determined to be the first scientist to measure these rare eggs. Exhausted and losing hope, he stumbles upon Mrs. Ybarra, riding horseback and accompanied by her guard dog. She is a mystery, an independent woman on her way to collect a debt in town. He’s a sweaty foreigner looking for help. No, it’s not a Harlequin love story. Instead, Black Beach deftly portrays the intersection of two different lives along the wild shores of Tortuguero, Costa Rica.

This post sponsored by Aracari
If, like me, Tales From The Jungle gets you inspired and gives you itchy feet, contact a Peru travel agent for details on the variety of tailor-made Peru tours available.

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About the Author

The founder and editor of, Mark has more than 15 years of experience as a writer, editor and manager. He's worked with some of the biggest consumer, in-flight and travel trade publishers that cover Latin America.

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