Short days, endless nights, mountainous snow abounds. Hark. A golden beam of hope appears, an invitation: "Do you want to go to Borneo?” Warm, exotic, saying goodbye to this tundra, sign me up. Friends and co-workers sputter: “Why Borneo?” My answer, “Because, it’s there," sounds hollow but it wields the necessary power to short-circuit most of these unwelcomed inquisitors. As always, a few hardy souls persist, like Ed, who has the audacity to utter: “Why not Hawaii? It’s closer and they have beautiful beaches.” No thanks, Mr. Wizard. I want a memorable adventure and unbeknownst to me, this wish is about to be granted ten-fold.
We're here. Operation Borneo is in full play. At the Wilderness Lodge, we’re unceremoniously saturated by a torrential downpour. I’m hoping somebody flips the switch and turns off this automatic carwash but apparently this isn’t a Disney ride.
After dropping off our gear, we're consuming Malaysian delicacies on the covered patio. Things are on the upswing until I notice that the “lowland setting “mentioned on the website is code for our soon-to-be underwater cocoon. Riverlets gain momentum, jump steps, and bathe our feet. Creatures, great, small and just plain scary like poisonous snakes ride the current onto the deck. Four-inch long rhinoceros bugs loiter on the wooden rails, waiting to join the party. The website somehow neglects to mention these unwanted jungle companions.
There’s our guide. He says: “Since we’re having heavy rain, we could wait and see if it lifts”. Someone interjects: “This is a Rainforest, not a sun forest. Let’s go.“ The guide half-smiles at the rookie (okay that be me) and off we go on our escapade.
Belatedly, I understand the guide’s hesitation. With sheets of rain encapsulating your body, it gets icy cold and the visibility drops. No, we probably won’t be seeing any orangutans today, no, not unless, Alf, the ‘80’s sitcom orangutan makes a cameo appearance but it's more likely that Alf is back at the lodge having a cup of hot chocolate to ward off the chill.
Sloshing along, the guide nonchalantly mentions if we're lucky or, perhaps, unlucky, we may spot the Brown Leeches or maybe the Tiger Leeches which are about 4 centimeters or 1½ inches long. My well-rehearsed mantra: “No worries,” the magical incantation I’ve heard in Australia, resonates within my mind. Besides, how much harm could a small thing like that do?
We expend no effort in catching a glimpse of these buggers. Leeches have a built-in advantage called, thermoreception, which loosely translated means radar for fresh, warm meat. Dinner is now served and we are the main entrée.
In an organized leech assault, instant intimacy occurs. No bodily area is off limits for leeches or your hiking buddies. Within a five-minute period, I flick fourteen leeches off my new pal, Richard.
Fortunately, my body is draped å la Ninja warrior but leapin’ leeches don’t care. These Houdini-like creatures mean business. Like pre-programmed grenades, they try to burrow in and hotwire my blood. Luckily, Jean, who walks behind me, grooms me like the orangutan she still has hopes of seeing on this hike.
The rain lessens. I can see without flapping my hands like windshield wipers. The bad news is the commandos are now popping out in full force from the trees and the ground. As I wear an external tiara of leeches, I take solace in my belief; no leeches have breached my security barrier.
Eureka, the lodge is in sight but instead of stopping for a cocktail our next task is to de-leech each other. Richard, bitten five times already, is an obvious leech magnet. As he takes off his shirt I spot an intruder freeloading in his armpit. Reaching over, I yank the leech off.
It looks good. I believe I'm “leech-less.” Back in my room, I take my gloves off. I see a streak of blood. “Jaws” has gotten in. He's having a feast. I fling the little guy into the sink and set my camera on movie mode. Thermoreception ensues when I place my finger like a wand over the star of my video and we do a dancing duet. Finishing the choreography, I gracefully transport the leech back out into the pouring rain.
It’s time for a friendly face. Alf, where are you?
Movie Disclaimer Rights:
No leeches were harmed in the making of this film, only humans, and yes, Ed, I’m interested in perusing your Hawaiian travel guide.