Thursday, August 26, 2010

Jungle Rats

As it turned out, leeches weren't the problem on the trek. Sure there were some - unseeing, worm-like creatures cavorting up your leg in search of blood. I'd chosen not to wear the leech socks Steven had given me figuring that my trekking pants and socks would be protection enough. Not the way it turned out. Leeches can attach themselves to your socks and are more than capable of climbing inside your sock and attaching themselves to your ankle where they'll remain until discovered. And once discovered, they're hard shifted, clinging on for dear life as your blood oozes down your leg.
There isn't much to do in the jungle after dark and so it has to be an early night. It's difficult trying to describe the sound of the jungle at night. There's the white noise of the crickets, the burr of the cicadas and other innumerable other unidentifiable almost robotic-like sounds. Think of a million mobile phones each with a different ringtone and you're almost there. Really.
But if the sounds of the jungle are calming, helping to ease me off to sleep, there are other sounds which emerge in the night which are less reassuring. 'Bed' for the night is in a sleeping bag on the wooden floorboards of our shelter atop a plastic sheet. I take great care putting up my mosquito net but being bitten is inevitable.
And then it begins. Having slept well for the first few hours I'm woken by a scurrying noise close to me I can't identify. I try to ignore it at first but it's clear that we have company, and quite a lot of it. Jungle rats. Pretty large jungle rats and well fed they are too, feasting on our sticky rice which had been left on the floor inside the shelter. There were 10 of them before we went to sleep and in the morning, there's just two left. They also have a penchant for candles too and David recounts seeing one exit stage left with a candle in his mouth. There's nothing to do but lie there and hope they don't actually begin crawling over my supine figure. To avoid this, I occasionally stamp my floor on the floor which disperses our nocturnal companions briefly but never for long enough.
Strangely though I slept well, drifting off again having convinced myself that I wouldn't end up with the same fate as the candle. And we were squatters in the jungle rats terrain so it's only fair that they feasted on our food, if not on us. That day we trek back the same way we came making it back to the village of Pa' Lungan just after noon. When I say village, I should clarify - it's a collection of wooden houses built on poles with one church (always a church - religion is very important to the Kelabits) and no shop whatsoever. People don't generally buy food - they grow what they need. From time to time people trek to Bario for general supplies but remain largely self-sufficient. There's also a village leader - a figure of authority whose responsibility it is to resolve disputes. However it seems Pa' Lungan's leader's a bit of a lush and spends most of his time getting pissed in Bario and gambling the not ungenerous allowance he gets as village leader. And according to David there's a whiff of a coup in the air.

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