Talk about jumping from one extreme to the other! We left the rest and relaxation of the Malaysian islands to rough it in one of the oldest jungles in the world. Taman Negara is a thick, green mass of trees and plants that stretches on forever in the heart of Malaysia. It is the kind of jungle conjured up in the minds of movie-goers. It is humid, dark, wet, thick, scary at times, full of strange sounds uttered by unseen animals, and prone to sudden storms that bring torrential rain and awesome shows of lightning and thunder, yet most importantly, at least to us, it seethes with leeches. The reason we mention these blood suckers is because they ruled our thoughts and actions during our three day of trekking.
After enjoying a motorized canoe ride into the jungle's interior, we teamed up with two other travelers, Adam from Sweden and Simon from New Zealand, and decided to enjoy the treetops. For $1.50 we were able to walk across wooden bridges suspended 400 meters above the jungle floor. This canopy walk yielded great views of the surrounding jungle and was fun in its own right. We next climbed to the local viewpoint, which is no easy matter when the heat is suffocating and the flies maddening. After a group picture, we left. The flies were swarming about our heads in much the same way as the Peanut's character Pigpen. It was during our descent towards the swimming hole that the leeches first attacked. We don't know who noticed the inch long pink tubules first, but once alerted, we each spotted several of the disgusting creatures stealthily making their way up our legs, through our socks, and into our shoes. With a mixture of disgust and fear, we picked and flicked the leeches from ourselves, which is no easy matter. If you manage to get a hold of them, they tend to stretch as you pull. Once they choose a host, they are very stubborn piggybackers. Luckily, during the first wave of this onslaught, none of us were bitten, but that luck would not hold. During the remainder of our walk (1 hour), we focused only on the ground where the waiting leeches stretched out to their full length and waited for their prey, US. Through constant preening, we were able to get back to our hostel without much damage, but the fear had been instilled in us. We can tell you now from experience that having your blood sucked by a leech doesn't hurt at all, but it is a completely vile experience, which we wouldn't wish on our worst enemy. Leeches start out about the diameter of a toothpick, but once they've filled up on your blood, they can quite easily within a matter of minutes, attain the size of your pinky finger. Finding these gorged parasites in your socks after a day of walking is gross, but what is worst is the wound they make. The wounds bleed for 3 - 4 hours afterwards, since the leeches secrete anticoagulants into your blood, preventing you from clotting. We were brave enough to trek for another two days (22 km in total) to reach the furthest hide in the park(an elevated tree house situated above a salt lick) deep in the jungle in hopes of spotting wild animals at night just like David Attenborough. Unfortunately for us, the river was high, and the normal "easier" route was flooded. We had no choice but to make our way across the much more difficult route, full of ups and downs, even having to climb and descend with the aid of ropes since some areas were so steep. Despite the difficulty of the hike itself, it wasn't nearly as bad as the hundreds, yes we mean HUNDREDS, of leeches we had to pull off each of us. At the end of the day, our socks were literally soaked with blood. In fact, the bloodstains were often the only way we discovered that the leeches had somehow managed to avoid our defenses of tobacco and salt we sprinkled all over our shoes and socks. But, we did punish severly the ones that managed to get us with a huge sprinkling of salt directly on their overgorged bodies. This special treatment makes them squirm around and spew all the blood they sucked from us back out. Quite disgusting but kinda amusing to watch. All of this suffering and we didn't even manage to see a single animal at the hide, except oversized rats the size of cats that stole our food and cool fireflies that blinked on and off all night. In fact, we started seeing creatures again when we returned from the jungle...snakes, huge monitor lizards that were 5 feet long, and even a wild pig.