Battling leeches in the planet’s oldest jungle (Day 184)

Your favourite traveller here, writing you from Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia.  In this post I tell tall tales of leech-infested jungles and lazy days on tropical islands, topped off with another “How To” video.  Put aside that spreadsheet you were working on, cancel that meeting you were supposed to attend, unplug your work phone, and read on…

It all starts with a flight into Kuala Lumpur (KL).  KL is yet another large Asian capital city.  By now, I have a good feel for these.  KL is very easy to get around thanks to an excellent public transit system.  I have been to many big cities over the world, and I think that a fundamental key to their success is an efficient way to move people around the city.  In my mind, that inevitably means some kind of rail system:  monorail/sky-train, subway/metro, whatever.  Buses simply don’t scale.  You need to move the people in a manner that avoids road traffic, which will suck the life out of transport system.  I prefer a subway/metro over the monorail/sky-train because the former is underground and less aesthetically destructive to the city, but either works just fine.  Anyway, there are some “big city” thoughts from a “small town” guy.  Not sure where this paragraph came from…

I travelled to Taman Negara National Park, home of the oldest rainforest on the planet (“rainforest” is the official term, but everybody says “jungle”).  One can travel the last 2 hours there by a fun boat ride.  The boat navigates a big, brown, lazy river that cuts through the jungle — exactly what you think a jungle river would look like.  I did a 2-day trek, along with 3 guys I met the day before, out to an animal hide.  Of course, we did it “sans-guide” (because if we had a guide, we wouldn’t get lost in the jungle, and how much fun would that be??).  The animal hide is a structure built about 10 metres above the jungle floor.  It has a few bunks (no mattresses, just wood) and a window that allows a good view of the clearing below.  We didn’t see any wildlife, but it was a cool place to spend the night.

The boat ride to Taman Negara National Park.  Next stop:  jungle and leeches

The hiking to/from the animal hide was interesting.  First, it *poured* rain.  It does not drizzle here.  Second, the jungle is infested with leeches.  We found them all over us!!  Every 10 minutes or so we would stop to pick them off.  Picture 4 guys at the animal hide, stripped down to our underwear, inspecting each other for leeches and trying to remove them.  I shone a flash light down my underwear trying to find any leeches that may be in some, uh, sensitive areas.  Luckily, I don’t not find any.  My friend Tom, from Wales, was not so lucky.  I will never forget the moment when I saw him reach down the front of his pants and come out with bloody hands.  Yuck.  I’m feeling a bit squirmish as a type this.  Haha, oh man, leeches are nasty creatures (but quite impressive, in their own way).

On the trail, Tom demonstrates his leech-defense strategies

At the hide, Tom’s blood-stained socks show the failure of his technique.  I could almost hear the leeches laughing.

One of my favourite pics.  Tom, with his pants around his ankles, shows the signs of his blood donation to the leech species.  I’m not sure why they like this guy so much… maybe it was the Welsh blood.  Sorry about all the leech pics, but I find them amusing.

I want to make a few more comments about the *feel* of being in the jungle.  It is very different from the forests back home.  I’ve commented on this in earlier blogs about other places, but I’m not doing it justice.  It’s not something I can take a picture of.  It is so wet and humid in there!  Even when it is not raining, my clothes are wet with sweat that will never dry in this place.  The trails are swampy.  It is ALIVE.  You can feel it.  You can hear it.  There is constant noise in it, especially at night, coming from odd creatures that you cannot see.  The ants are monstrous and have pincers.  Some trees have huge spikes coming out from them; probably poisonous.  The canopy above is so dense no sunlight gets through.  Also, the brush is so think you can only see about 2 metres on either side of you (if that).  Who knows what kind of lizard/snake is lurking nearby, unseen?  To be honest, I still don’t understand the jungle and the place makes me a bit uncomfortable.  But, I will continue to trek in it until it feels like a home-away-from-home.  Also, the jungle has its own smell that contaminates everything.  I have finally come across a smell that is more powerful than my rotting hockey equipment.  This stench has gotten into the fabric of my backpack.  I have washed the pack twice, but the smell still lingers.  Incredible.

After this trekking, I moved to the Perhentian Islands, a group of tropical islands off the east coast of Malaysia.  It’s amazing how much beach time I can justify after a 2-day jungle trek.  These islands are beautiful with great beaches.  Very Thailand-ish, but without the nightlife.  I met some fun people here and had a blast.  As I always say, it’s not where you go, but who you meet.  Side note:  I played some ultimate frisbee on the beach, with its soft and heavy sand, against some 18-year-old guys.  I got reminded that I’m not 18 anymore.  I ran my ass off, tried not to let it show during the game, then discreetly went back to my bungalow for a nap :)

Long Beach on the Small Island of the Perhentians

My next-door-neighbor’s roommate.  We found this big guy in the bathroom.  Not sure if you can tell from this photo, but the lizard is pretty damn big.  I’m going to say the body (no tail) is at least a foot long, probably more.  On the Perhentian Islands, you don’t have to pay extra for this lizard, he comes with the room, free of charge.

One thing you need to know about Malaysia is that it’s a Muslim country.  This can manifest itself to you in many ways, but the most obvious is the lack of and expensiveness (is this a word?) of alcohol.  It’s a bit tragic, really, but beneficial to my bank account.  It acts as a beer-drinking deterrent.  In most places, you can still find alcohol, but it’ll cost you a kidney to afford it (oohhh, good pun here).  A beer on the Perhentian Islands is about $3.  This does not seem like a lot given the cost where you live, but I’m use to paying about 50 cents :)

Next up on my travels is the island of Borneo.  I am excited.

Lastly:  I’ve been getting a lot of good feedback about my “How To” video series on The Unique Art of World Travel.  Thanks.  I sometimes think I should stop typing this blog and just do “How To” videos :)   My only regret is that I started these so late in my travels.  I missed so many video opportunities:  trekking in the Himalayas, riding the roof of buses in Nepal, elephant riding and swimming, hiking through head-high grasses in search of one-horned rhinos, etc.  Oh, well.

Anyway, in installment #4, three friends and I demonstrate how to cross this river in Taman Negara.  If you plan to do any trekking in the jungles of SE Asia, this skill might come in handy.  Now, this river is not terribly full or fast, so it could have been worse.  Morris (USA) leads the way.  This surprises me because he had just told us a story about some flesh-eating fish he had encountered in a river Laos.  Brave man.  Luckily, no such fish were present here.  Anyway, one funny part is that I almost fall in the river while trying to improve my camera angle.  Other than that, the whole crossing goes pretty smoothly.  Happy river-crossings.

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