Battling bloodsuckers

Battling bloodsuckers

Along with my best friend from schooldays and my reluctant husband, I decided to try out a resort. This, then, is the story of that adventure...

Both Usha and I were bird lovers, and we enjoyed, with binoculars in hand, our morning walks through deserted roads and misty trails. Spider webs glistened silver with dew, drongos chased each other, squabbling like noisy children darting and weaving in front of us.

The highlight of our trip was the trek through forest. We did not intend to climb all the way as it had rained the previous night, and the slopes were slithery with wet leaves.

It was idyllic in many ways. Bright butterflies hovered around us; streams gurgled and flowed beside us and tall trees stood like sentinels.

However, we had forgotten to put on our gumboots that were coated with repellents. Never having encountered leeches, we had no idea what to expect. After a sumptuous breakfast we set off with our loquacious guide up the slippery slope.

Suddenly, Usha pointed to my jeans and asked: “What is that stain on your knee?” I looked down, saw a moist patch on my right knee, and said: “Maybe I spilt some coffee at breakfast.”

We continued for about half an hour when Usha again said with a troubled face: “Maya, your coffee stain is growing. I looked down, and sure enough, it was a big patch now, visibly enlarged. I lifted my leg to see what it was, and a huge fat creature dropped off. The guide remarked with astonishing calm: “It is a leech, madam. I stared at him horrified and croaked: “You mean that is blood, and it is all mine?!”

“Yes, madam.”

I was appalled. Did I have so much blood in my knee? I thought it was made of bone or something. But why did I not feel anything while it was feeding off me?

The clever creature apparently first anaesthetises us with an ingredient in its saliva, and when the area is numbed, it bites and then gorges itself on our blood.

From then on it was nightmarish. Usha and I would stop at every available opportunity and do a weird war dance to check out if there were fresh leeches on us, and most of the time there were. And we, of course, itched a lot on arms and legs; I even found one on my waist! Our guide said that he had never seen so many on one person — he meant me.

My husband gloated that it must be all that snacking in the middle of the night that leads to rich tempting blood. He spoke too soon, for he discovered them too — but nowhere in the vicinity of the numbers that dropped off me. The guide muttered to himself every now and then looking at me with wonderment. And because we itched so much, and we attempted to pull them out, we suffered for almost a week after we returned, discovering angry red patches on our bodies.

We did not receive any empathy from the resort owner. She just went into raptures over leeches and talked about the efficacy of those creatures in medicine. In retrospect, there has to be a first time for everything, and how many of us city slickers have had an encounter with leeches?

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