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Into the Jungle: Part Three

by Tara

Arriving at an intersection, at what we hope is the top, we're unsure of which way to go. Just then, a man in a truck pulls up to see if we are lost. We ask him about accommodation, and he tells us there's a campsite about four kilometers up the side road to the right (reason #347 we wish we'd brought our tent to Southeast Asia), or a few bungalows another three down the left.

Three kilometers may as well be three hundred. I silently wish the man will offer to give us a lift, but he doesn't, and we don't ask.

At last, through the mist, we see the yellow lights of some sort of checkpoint. Is this it?! The visitor's center? I pull up to a group of people hanging out on their motorbikes. They obviously haven't just climbed a thousand meters on half-empty stomachs, and they obviously have a place to sleep tonight. Their ease is somewhat irritating to me, for I feel like a starving, drowned rat.

When I ask about accommodation, they point us further down the road; two giant hills later, we finally pull up to the visitor's center. While Tyler heads in to ask about a place to sleep, I summon the energy to run across the street to get dinner. Our guidebook says the food court should be closing at any moment.

Sitting on a park bench, watching the rain and the yellow headlights of trucks heading off on nighttime safaris, we ravenously inhale our food. The roasted chicken is torn apart with bare hands, dunked in chili sauce, and devoured. I don't care that it has been sitting out all day, or that it cost way more than it should have, or that there are little black bugs floating in the chili sauce.

We've finished the chicken and are moving on to banana bread as consciousness slowly returns. Now that we can think, it is time to talk about what we want to do for the night. The park doesn't appear to be busy, but supposedly all of the accommodations are booked for the night, except an eight-person bungalow just 100 meters away, or a five-person bungalow 4 kilometers away.

It's dark. It's raining. We're in the mountains. We're exhausted. I'm putting my foot down. I'm not riding anywhere else tonight. We've climbed a thousand meters on one smallish breakfast. I can hardly walk across the street, let alone pedal over more hills. We don't want to spend $80 on a flipping eight-person bungalow, but we admit defeat and pay the small fortune.

We're given our key, and then the man tells us we have to bike around the hill for a kilometer to the entrance. Or, upon seeing our bikes, says we can just push them. Steep, rocky stairs (in reality, a hill with stones scattered over it for footing) behind the visitor's center lead up to the bungalow.

Tyler says he'll heave both bikes home, that way I can go inside and take a shower now. What a guy! Unfortunately, the rocky outcroppings prove too difficult to ascend alone. It's pitch black now, so I fish out our headlamps, and together we muscle our bikes up the muddy, slippery steps. At the top, we find our eight-person bungalow, unlock and open the door, and flip on the lights to reveal a dingy, dirty room.

So here we are. This place is expensive and gross, and a cursory glance leaves me wondering if they even wash the sheets or towels. But at least the day is over, right? As I remove my sandals and toss them to the corner of the room, I notice a small leech curled up on my ankle, sucking my blood. I glance at my other foot and notice a fat purple one crawling on me, hunting.

The leeches in the rainforest are particularly "vicious" and really blood-thirsty. As you make your way in the wet rainforest trail, you will realise and learn how just how blood-thirsty they are. There are leeches just about everywhere, somersaulting and quivering in all direction. Leeches have heat-seeking sensors that are pretty perked up and sensitive to human body heat. If you are standing still to take a breather, you would find at least two or three leeches somersaulting up your pants, or dropping themselves from the overhanging leaves…

Endemic Guides

Some part of me knows rationally that the creatures are ultimately harmless, but it doesn't register. My recently regained sanity has been overwhelmed by their creepy crawliness, their zombie-like instinctual urge to suck blood no matter what, and the fact that my safe haven, hovel though it may be, has been infiltrated by my worst nightmare.

A wave of heat rushes through my body, and I'm suddenly in DEFCON 1 panic. Nothing is safe.

If you find a leech attached to your body the first thing to do is don't panic! The only thing a leech does is steal a tiny bit of your blood, look revolting and make a bit of a bloody mess.

Endemic Guides

I am a woman possessed, leaping and screaming and shaking my leg furiously, while Tyler watches in surprised shock. I brush off the inchworming one and it lands on the dark floor, now camouflaged against the wooden boards. Shit. Now it could be anywhere.

Adrenalin pumping furiously, I turn my attention to the one currently sucking my blood, trying to flick the vampire free of my ankle. GET OFF, GET OFF, GET THE FUCK OFF OF ME!!, I scream, scraping with nails so I won't have to feel the horrible beast.

Khao Yai National Park Leech

It won't budge. Panic mounts further as I fumble around unsuccessfully for our lighter. With crazy, desperate eyes, I spin to Tyler, who is calmly removing leeches of his own. I demand that he finds the lighter we use for our stove. He locates it quickly and tosses it in my direction. Armed, I mercilessly extinguish the hideous writhing creature's life, kicking it away in disgust.

You can simply wait till it drops off, thereby avoiding touching the slimy thing. After all, once it is attached it makes no difference when you remove it. You can just physically pull it off but then it may leave its mouthparts embedded in the skin potentially leading to infection. (Although this can happen anyway.)

Endemic Guides

A steady stream of crimson blood pours from my pinprick wounds as I bend over the wood floor, intent on finding and killing any tiger leeches that are still alive. Inches away from me, I find one wriggling in the air, attracted by the warmth of my body, coming back for more. I burn it alive. As I'm crouched on the floor, I notice even more, sliming around. I am officially in my own personal hell.

Bloody Leech Removal

Tyler goes on a killing spree for me (stopping to take photos along the way) until every last creature is dead. It takes awhile, because, like the Terminator, some of them just won't die. When at last, they are all confirmed deceased, he squishes the remains into a kleenex, and tosses them into the trash can.

Khao Yai National Park Leech

Now, time for bed. Uncomfortable, on dirty sheets, imagination on overdrive, I'm picturing tiger leeches crawling through the sheets, their ugly heads pausing when they sense my body heat, then inching along to find a good spot at which to suck my blood.

I lie awake for hours, watching the fan spin overhead.



How horrifying! Tara, although I have always admired your courage and tenacity, you just moved up three notches on my deesse scale-- that is to say the "I could never be like her" scale. You are one brave lady!
Posted by Debbie on December 1st, 2010 at 1:40 PM
Oi! I didn't predict leeches!! That sounds terrible - but I'm happy you found some accomodations, even if not ideal. With so many of your posts I can put myself in your shoes, and see my boyfriend acting the exact same way - always calm, cool, collected, eternally optimistic, while I'm left to worry, get emotional, and really feel the stress of the day! When we were touring in Germany he decided we should go up this *rediculously steep* mountain because there was some positive word in a guidebook about the campsite at the top... halfway up my tears started flowing.... and though there was a nice view over the Rhine from up there, the campsite was definitely nothing to brag about!

As always thanks for sharing your travels!! My 9-5 is infinitely better because of it.
Posted by Jackie on December 1st, 2010 at 3:11 PM
PS - at least you got to see monkeys on this tough day!! I love the monkey photos!!
Posted by Jackie on December 1st, 2010 at 3:12 PM
Leeches! Oh man, that sucks. I had a similar experience with ticks as a little girl. My mom, baby brother and I came home from Girl Scout camp, stripped down out of our dirty clothes and we all had 30+ ticks in our legs. I was only seven but the image of seeing them, especially in my little 2-year old brother is burned in my psyche. The three of us have a special bond though, because of it as I'm sure you two will now because of this. Very disgusting pics, btw. I almost felt like I was there. As usual, your pictures and writing are exquisite. Best blog on the web, hands down.
Posted by Sara Day on December 1st, 2010 at 6:18 PM
Posted by sarah on December 2nd, 2010 at 3:57 AM
If you ever watch "The African Queen," I recommend fast-forwarding past the Leech Scene. (GREAT movie, by the way!)

"One thing in the world I hate: leeches. Filthy little devils..." - Charlie Alnut

While filming the scene where Charlie finds his body covered with leeches, Humphrey Bogart insisted on using rubber leeches. John Huston refused, and brought a leech-breeder to the London studio with a tank full of them. It made Bogart queasy and nervous, qualities Huston wanted for his close-ups. Ultimately, rubber leeches were placed on Bogart, and a close-up of a real leech was shot on the breeder's chest.

I sympathize with ya, Tara. Filty little devils...
Posted by Mary on December 2nd, 2010 at 1:09 PM
Oh my, that's just freaking horrible. I hate them too, but finding them on the floor of the room would have driven me mad!
Posted by Magalie on December 3rd, 2010 at 9:55 AM
Tara- Although horrible and I am certain I would have acted precisely as you did, reading this entry had me laughing so hard I had to stop and wipe a tear before I could finish. May the rest of your journey out of the jungle not include anymore run-ins with disgusting leeches!
Posted by Amanda on December 4th, 2010 at 7:40 PM
Ok, I totally agree with you, Tara! It reminds me of my own "freak-out" sessions demanding a hunt be mounted NOW to find the the giant centipedes that I could HEAR marching around on the bedroom floor when I lived in Arizona. (Yes, they are real...and really gross.) Leeches like that sound like something qualifying as demonic and totally gross, and I'd react roughly the same. In your shoes, I would be ranking it as the worst part of your entire trip, and you deserve a medal for merely surviving it.
Tyler-it sounds like you are a wise man since Tara never said you responded to her revulsion with ridicule.
Posted by Gia Scott on December 5th, 2010 at 11:27 AM