Saturday, September 14, 2013

A leechy jungle trek

To discover where baby Durian fruit come from

Knowing that we are from that rare breed of foreigner that enjoys durian fruit, our good friend and colleague had been suggesting for some time that maybe we would like to join him going up the hills into the jungle to pick up durian from his own trees. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

So on Friday afternoon (on the Friday-Saturday weekend that we have here) when he rang to say he would be going up into the hills at 5pm and would be glad for us to join him, we eagerly accepted. We weren't sure if any special preparations would be needed ... so we just went as we were. We noticed that there were storms in the distance pouring heavy rain onto the hills in question, but it would have passed by the time we got there.

We arrived at our friend's house, and met the folks, and enjoyed a delightful afternoon tea with them. Our friend put his shoes on - our first hint of foreboding! - and we set off with him in his Merc. The road off the main road into the hills was winding and very narrow, with vegetation rubbing against both sides of the car, and we were glad not to have met any other vehicles.

At the foot of the mountain we climbed out and, together with two of his boys, headed off up the muddy path at a brisk pace. Our friend made some brief mention of 'be careful of the leeches', so when we came to a puddle I tried hard to avoid it.

 Clearly not what all the best-dressed jungle-trekkers are wearing ... but the two boys were also wearing thongs/slippers.

It wasn't long before I felt thoroughly defeated by the humidity and the wetness. The slippers/thongs I was wearing not only slid on the muddy path, but I found it hard to stop my feet from sliding out, and walking barefoot did not look like a good option! After a steepish section we came to a flattish section with a big rock. I announced that I would wait there for the others to return - I was fairly certain there would not be any tigers jumping out at me. I plonked down on the rock, and in a few moments was completely engulfed by the stillness of the jungle. The only creatures we had seen so far had been a couple of squirrels running up and down tree-trunks. Suddenly there were dozens of squirrels, large and small, on every tree and branch doing that squirrelly thing that they do! I watched in fascination.

Suddenly I heard a voice calling my name. Our friend was just a little further up the track calling me. He told me I shouldn't have stopped as we were almost there, and that where he was now standing was almost where the trees were. So I got up off my rock and slithered and slid my way to where he was. As I was almost there he set off again, and called to me a little further along saying it was just near there. I was amazed that he kept doing this to me until we finally were at the spot!

By now I realised that the leeches had found me. I pulled one off my foot, and it attached to my finger ... and I tried not to feel panicky! I wondered whether if I had been wearing shoes they would have been getting down inside my shoes where I couldn't reach them - at least this way I could see them.

Finally we reached the appointed spot in the forest where our friend's family owned several trees. They had visited several times recently, were very familiar with their own trees and were aware which of the durian on the ground had recently fallen from their trees.

We all stopped and feasted on some of the freshly-fallen fruit - discovering how fresh fruit is so much more delicious (and not nearly as smelly!) than what you can buy in the market.

So then they gave each fruit a good whack with the side of the bush knife to flatten the sharp bits just a little, and tied them together with string for easier carrying.

So ... what am I up to? (Not picking up durian, you might notice!) Well, when I arrived at the assigned area, I chose a spot where no plants were actually touching me, and then I stood there watching these thin twig-like creatures wiggling along the ground making a bee-line (or a leech-line!) for my feet! I couldn't think of any way to stop them, stomping wouldn't make any difference! So I sprayed my feet with insect repellent (which they paid no attention to, but it kept most of the massive biting mosquitoes at bay) and then stood there with a tissue trying to grab each leech as it climbed up onto my foot ... Then I felt something tickling up my sleeve on the inside of my elbow - how did it get up there! I opened my hand, and there was one in the palm of my hand!

Heading back down the track I was more concerned about the large holes next to the track that I could fall into, and the slippery mud, trying to keep my slippers on. I only fell (very slowly and with remarkable dignity, I thought!) twice.

Back at the car, we all helped each other remove leeches from our feet and ankles. But back at home, sluicing off the mud and blood, we both found several more had made their way further up our legs. I found one near my armpit, and several on my shin that just would not stop bleeding - I had to bandage my leg to go to bed.

Was it all worth it?

When I was standing in the jungle staring at the leeches heading for my feet ... I did comment that maybe I shouldn't have got out of bed that morning. But ... by the time I had finished my shower at the end of the day, it was a good memory.

And the durian? Yes, they really are more delicious when they are fresh from the tree!

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