This is story #3 in my Short Stories from the Road series. Introduction found here
The sign stood looming before us.
“BEYOND THIS POINT YOU SHOULD ENGAGE A GUIDE”
I wouldn’t have used the word “engage,” but I think they got their point across regardless. After a quick glance at each other, Austin and I determined that we did not need a guide, or at the very least, that we would not be engaging one. This jungle only had tigers, elephants, monkeys and rhinos right? Nbd. We pressed on, setting out into Taman Negara, supposedly the world’s oldest tropical rainforest, which is a pretty solid tagline if you ask me. Preparing for the worst, we’d brought the fixings for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to quench any possible hungry beyond the guideless boundary.
The ground was slick and muddy. It had poured the night before in true rainforest fashion, leaving everything dripping and soaked. We’d set out early but as we marched on, the temperature steadily rose and the air grew sticky and moist. Leaves the size of our torsos blocked most every potential view along the trail. This tunnel-like feeling mixed with the humidity to give off a suffocating, almost claustrophobic effect. It made me long for the wide open and dry landscapes of the American Southwest, but I’d have to leave that adventure for another day.
Today, we were headed to a small cabin, which doubled as an animal hide, from which we hoped to spot some large fauna. The wildlife here was supposed to be amazingly diverse, but while we could hear birds and the occasional monkey, spotting them was an entirely different story. All we’d come across so far were a few butterflies (moths?) and a whole crap ton of fungus. Just loads of the stuff. They came with the rain, and stayed for the after party. Mushrooms are quite interesting in their own right but they’re pretty stationary. You might say we were looking for a little more life? Be careful what you wish for.
Austin suddenly stopped in his tracks, bending over inspecting his leg. “Do you know what a leech looks like?” Having never seen one in my life, I replied in the negatory. He then proceeded to rip a thick, solid black, slug-sized leech off his leg and chuck it into the bushes. How did we know it was a leech? It left a nice bloody circle slightly smaller than a dime in its wake. Frantically we started the boogie dance, ripping off our clothes and searching our bodies for more of the little vampires.
Tearing a leech off is an odd sensation. They suction on real good, so one really has to get a good grip on the guy, squeezing, twisting, pulling and finally tearing, until you think you’ve squashed the life out of it. Nope, that’s just your blood oozing out. And once you’ve got him off, it isn’t over. They emit some sort of blood thinner that prevents your wound from closing so it continues to seep blood leaving nice stains on your stylish backpacker attire.
By the time we were ready to continue, I’d torn leeches from all parts of my body. They had been on my ankles, along my waistline and they’d even succeeded in getting inside my shoes and down near my toes. Proceeding along the trail, we realized that they were everywhere. The overnight rain had brought them out in force and they were positioning themselves on the tippy top of every branch or plant limp conveniently hanging across the trail. Standing on their hindquarters, they wiggled about searchingly until our pant legs brushed by close enough for them to cling on and begin their search for warmth and eventually, flesh. Stopping every few hundreds yards to flick leeches wasn’t what we thought we’d signed up for. Perhaps we should have engaged a guide.