Over the course of our trip we spend about three days sleeping in the jungle and five days hiking in the middle of it. This is the exact amount of time for me to decide that it is a great place to experience but not to live in. It is extreme and loud and mysterious and all-together out of a dream. Giant ferns, massive leaves, big twisting roots, vines shooting up and around tree trunks, winding streams of reddish-brown water. Loud and mixed noises—hisses and croaks and ca-ca-cas and the sucking-squishing of rubber shoes in too many inches of mud. Wet heat and steam and a smell which in intensity and odor matches, in my opinion, a poorly-cared for pit toilet. Shiny and bright bugs, geckos, tiny twisted snakes on leaves.
And things that look like slugs that suck your blood.
I find my first, firmly planted on my collarbone, our first night in the jungle. I go to tuck a piece of hair behind my ear and my hand brushes against something raised and wet. The rational part of me—the part that was listening when I was told that they are normal, harmless, and don’t cause any pain—quickly dissolves. There is a leech on my neck. A large one, actually, getting larger off of my blood.
“Aaron.” I find my brother quickly. “Aaron, get this off of me. It needs to come off now. ”
Ever a good brother, Aaron does not ask why I don’t pull it off myself. He just remarks at its size and does his best to detach it. Its grip is strong, though, and it’s not coming off.
Our guide is close by. My voice is clipped and strained. “Ihavealeechcouldyoupleasegetitoffme.”
He pulls out a pocketknife and some salve, and soon the leech is gone.
It leaves a small red bite. It bleeds a little, swells, and over the course of a week fades to a tiny pale pinprick. You can’t see it. It doesn't hurt. It didn't pass on a disease. Getting one leech, though, has made me paranoid that there are others. Suddenly I’m convinced they are on my neck, climbing up my legs, in the toe of my boots, under my shirt. They are there when I sleep. They are there when I’m talking with other people on our tour and they are there when I am watching monkeys and macaus. Throughout our trip I’m constantly smearing on mosquito repellant, which supposedly deters leeches as well, and manically running my hands over my skin. I did not realize I could be this vigilant.