From Jo: Postcard from Borneo

Welcome to the Jungle

I have decided to embark on a jungle tour. On foot. Through the jungle. Alone.

I set out with my trusty backpack and a bottle of water.

Thesongs of a thousand insects echo throughout the jungle. Underfootbrown leaves fan out on the trail before me. Butterflies dartplayfully through the undergrowth.

I walk along, blissfully ignorant of where I am going and how I will get there.

I try not to think about jungle warfare or the other perils that might be found in the jungle.

Ithink about my friend, 'Pirate Charlie' and his collection of survivalmagazines and how they would probably come in handy right now. I thinkabout how ill-equipped I am to take this trek. I think about all thethings that I don't have with me. A Swiss army knife, a mag-lite, acigarette lighter, insect repellent, sunscreen, a hat, hiking boots, amap…sanity.

I think about the fact that sometimes I really don't think (about what I'm doing) at all.

I meet a woman walkingthe other way who is wearing thongs. Thongs! Madness. I decide thatat least I'm not that ill prepared.

Ireach a sign which says that there is a rhino breeding program takingplace nearby. There are rhinos in the jungle? Whoever knew? Certainly not me. Now every sound in the undergrowth becomes a rhinocharging at me.

Rhinosaside, my single greatest fear about trekking through the jungleis leeches. I am completely and utterly terrified of them. Any animalthat is shaped like a fish hook and sucks your blood in order tosurvive is, let's not put too fine a point on it – evil incarnate. Iam a “live and let live” kind of a girl, but when it comes to leeches,I think that this is one creature where I could be drawn to take firstblood.

I like to think that my fear of leeches is not entirely unfounded.

Irecall the story of a friend who awoke once while camping to find aleech on his eyeball. It crawled under his eyelid while he wassleeping. I asked how you get a leech off your eyeball. He advised methat the best thing for it was Vegemite. I remember thinking at thetime that if Vegemite could be used to repel leeches, then it reallywas the most foul substance on the face of the earth.

Ihave been warned that leeches are one of the best hunters in theworld. I am told that they lie in the forest canopy, sleeping, andthey wake as soon as they feel movement. Then they latch on. Theworst thing that I have been told is that when it rains leeches canfall upon you, as they are washed out of trees by the rain.

I hear a thunder clap and see lightning flash. Darkened clouds roll by.

Itrundle along, mesmerised by the jungle canopy. There is a set offungi growing from a fallen tree stump, which have rings just like thetree on which they are growing. I wonder if the rings depict their age.

I reach a bridge which is dedicated to an English woman who died trekking in the jungle. Apparently she would
havebeen proud to be a part of the bridge project. I'm thinking that shewould probably be a lot more proud if she hadn't died trekking in thejungle. The odds of completing this trek alive have increased. Now mypride is at stake, as well as my life.

I am engrossed in my walk, I have passed the half way mark and I'm making good time.

And then, when I least expect it, it happens. I see the flicker of a tail under the strap of my sports watch.

There is a leech on me!

I react quickly. Without even thinking…

I freak out.

Completely, totally and utterly freak out.

Itreminds me of the Southpark episode where the boys all join the GleeClub to raise money to save the Brazilian rainforest. They go on atour of the jungle with their music teacher. She comes face to facewith an insect in the forest and runs out screaming that they shouldburn the whole thing down.

I pull the cap off my water bottle and use the lip to prize the leech from my arm. I decide that I am resourceful.

In the same instant, I decide that there are leeches all over me.

I try to reason with myself, but there is something about fear that is all consuming.

I make my way along the trail, which eventually opens out at the entrance to the park.

Back at the parkentrance, I enter a souvenir shop. The girl behind the counter sellsme some postcards without realising my ulterior motive.

I ask her verypolitely if she will look at my leg, as I think that I may have beenbitten by a leech. I lift my trouser leg slowly, as she confirms mydarkest fears. Yes, it wasn't just my primordial imagination. I'mright. There are leeches on me and they are having a Jo-smorgie.

I am advised to go tothe Cafe, where I am told, I will be given some salt to remove them. This was not part of my plan. Well, the salt was, but where is the bitwhere someone else removes them for me?

I am duly given a napkin full of salt and directed to the women's toilets.

Once within, withheart pounding, I lift my trouser leg and liberally apply salt in everydirection. The leeches drop to the floor instantly.

Backat my hotel, I reflect on my experience. I decide that no matter whoyou are, no matter what your fear, whether it is deep in the heart ofthe jungle or closer to home, you have to face it head on – byyourself. No one else can do it for you. Sure, you might freak out atfirst. You might freak out more than once. But, slowly, overtime, with patience, you can overcome it. And when you do, it will fallfrom you like a leech covered in salt.

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