Tuesday, 20 March 2012

An intimate introduction to leeches by Luke Kessaram

“Ohh, ohh, sometimes I get a good leeching,” Alpha 7 sang to us as part of their spectacular skit during first changeover.

Before coming to Borneo, I scarcely knew what a leech was. “Do they hurt? How big are they?” I nervously enquired. Soon enough, I was all too familiar with them.

My first phase was the Biodiversity survey. In the remote area of the rainforest which we were situated, my Project Manager Tim Chapman and David Rendle boasted about the creation of a new sport; leech racing, it was eagerly explained, is a game that involves encouraging a leech to move about on the floor using the placement of your feet. It would seem leeches are attracted to bodily heat. As you move your feet around, the leech alters its course.
Alpha 6 - Biodviersity Team Phase I
I’m not entirely sure how a leech race is won, but it may involve whether or not the leech survives – they tire out after some time.

It was also on Phase I that I was introduced to two kinds of leeches. The regular leech is plain and black, and doesn’t hurt when it bites. These leeches contain local anesthetic so they can feed unnoticed by their prey. The second leech I was introduced to contains less local anesthetic thus has a harder time going unnoticed when biting: it is known as the tiger leech, either because of its fierce attack or it’s stripy orange colouring, I’m not sure which.
Leech attack in progress
We were advised to find a friend to check our hard to see places for stowaway leeches. It was also advised that we find a quiet corner and some alone time to check our no-no squares for some of the more adventurous little suckers. We’d all been told the horror stories of boys who have had to pry the little guys from their little guys, but fortunately we’d been able to avoid the most intimate of leeching.

That is until the fateful afternoon of 20th February. I was minding my own business, admiring our newly completed basher when all of the sudden I felt it: a sudden prick, the leech looking for the most appropriate of private places to sink into. Unfortunately for me, the leech found the most inappropriate of places. I exclaimed my concerns to the world, but I was afraid to check. Could I really have been leeched there? Surely not; this was the sort of thing legends were made of – I am no legend. I couldn’t hide from the truth though, and I promptly galloped off to a private patch of jungle to carry out a more thorough investigation. Sure enough, there the little tiger leech was, staking his claim in my most special of special places. I pulled up my shorts and brought the leech back to my group, a trophy to show everyone, before performing the roll and flick.

That’s how you get rid of leeches, the roll and flick. Well, that’s the nice way. It’s a technique I think all venturers are trained in during induction. Leeches are sticky creatures, so just trying to drop them won’t work. You need to roll them up in the palm of your hand to disorient them, and then flick them away. Many people new to leeches panic, and rush to flick them away. The leech ends up not going very far, landing on a boot or a fellow team member. The key is to remain calm, and always aim away from the group. It’s cruel not to. Venturer Beth Maton says “I’ve become so skilled at the roll and flick that I can do it while walking.” A useful skill indeed.

Of course, better than getting rid of leeches is to not get any leeches in the first place. Some people hike around in longs during the day, their trousers tucked into their socks. Others have claimed DEET will repel the little suckers.
Leech on a sock
One way to reduce leeching is to watch where you step. Be a weary trekker. It is said that when trekking in a line, the first person to walk past a leech wakes it up, the second excites it, and the third person gets leeched, unless the leech misses, then it has about 10 or 12 more chances to find a victim. Knowing this, the prudent venture would choose his or her place in the line wisely.

But perhaps the best way to deal with leeches is to not care about them. Project Manager Krystyna Kirkham adopts this attitude. “Below the knee, fair ground.” She says. “On my first day of trek, I took off my boot and there were 27 leeches on my foot and another 15 in my boot. Even the guides were disgusted.” However, there is a line to be drawn. Krystyna agrees: “above the knee is my personal space”. A thought many a PM and venturer alike share, Beth being one of them. Beth’s first leech experience crossed that line.
Leech expert Krystyna
“I ducked behind a tree, had a quick look, and there were not one, not two, but three leeches in my underwear! I felt violated. They hadn’t even asked me out for dinner first!” Well there’s a quick alternative for us lonely singletons out there.

And some people do in fact grow fond of leeches. “I actually have a fair amount of respect of leeches. They are the most determined creature without a brain out there,” Krystyna says.

Beth tells a story of a girl in her first Alpha group who started out absolutely terrified of leeches, but by the end of Phase I was putting baby ones on her arm so that they could grow strong.

Whatever your feelings about leeches, they’re here and they’re not going anywhere. They are as much a part of Raleigh as buggy long drops, bland porridge, and Mac’s frightening motivational speeches. They help make our Raleigh experience, shaping us into the people we will be for the rest of our lives.  So whether your pulling a leech off your left testicle, stepping around one on a jungle trail, or waiting for a well fed blood-sucker to pop in the fire, remember to be grateful for leeches, and the fleeting part they play in our short lives.


Adam Birch said...

Well written, Luke! I laughed out loud (hoping that was the intent) as I was educated. Fortunately I haven't had any leech run-ins.
Sounds like you guys are having a great time, all the best!

Carolyn & Allan said...

Hello Krystyna,
Leehes...ugh! Thanks so much for the descriptive information on the leeches Luke!! We are glad, we are here and they are there! Way to go Krystyna for not letting them get to you! Also...nice hat! Bet you're glad that you took your souwester!
Continue to have a wonderful and time and we'll ve anxious to hear more about your adventures. Thanks to everyone for being part of such a great project...even with the leeches!
Love, Mom, Dad & Brad

Kaaaaate said...

This is great, it's so accurate!

Hi to MEG
(and Mac, Sarah and Loli) That video to Jessie J is great, good work, it's amazing it was made in an hour!
Meg, I'm still so so jealous, hope you enjoyed the trek, and Dive Island! Hope you're wearing suncream because every time I went there I came back like a tomato...
So you probably won't get this till Endex now, but have a great time, and see you when you're back!

To Mac and Sarah - I just looked at my Facebook status from this time last year - "Hard day at the office tomorrow; leaving at 8am to catch a boat to Mamutik where I'll most likely have nothing to do all day and then will meet up with Alpha Eight and probably just chill on a beach before having to return on Wednesday, just in time for my day off on Thursday. It's gonna be tough." That was GREAT, totally different to things back in London! Hope the expedition is going well.

Kate (11B admin) xxx

Wieger van Rinkhuyzen said...

To Ghislaine De Maes Janssens


Van harte gefeliciteerd met je verjaardag! Heb even rondgekeken op het blog en het ziet er fantastisch uit daar! Zag dat je nu de trekking aan het doen bent, wat ontzettend gaaf. Dat duiken moet ook heel speciaal zijn! Hoop dat je nog een geweldige tijd hebt daar. Ook heel veel plezier met reizen! Geniet ervan! X Wieger

Anonymous said...

For Tim Chapman (aka leech trainer extrordinaire) Alpha 6.
Just read the blog on leeches,wonderful stuff, although I have a level of sympathy for this guy who had one where he ought not to have! Still I guess it's something you have to get used to.
It was good to speak to you recently, hope by now you have received my letter.
All ok here,cant wait to hear about your Raleigh experience.
See you in April

Much love C xxxxxxx

Caroline Henn said...

Never a truer word spoken on the subject, from one who also exprerienced that "intimate" moment herself.
Looking forward to working with you on A3, where I hear the little suckers hang around in local beauty spots waiting for unsuspecting victims - guess I haven't had my last leech experience of 12A yet..