Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Leech Trek

If you grew up in the US in the eighties, your likely only experience with leeches is the scene from "Stand By Me" when the boys swim across a water hole and find, upon exiting, huge leeches covering their bodies, including one in a not so awesome spot for Gordo. Trekking in lush south Asian locations can reintroduce you to these little bloodsuckers. Truth be told, if anything good can be said about leeches in the wild, that they're much smaller in real life than on the big screen.

I've had three experiences. In 2005 when trekking in at the Periyar Wildlife Reserve in Thekkady, India (was wearing leech socks so no damage), at Christmas in Bali (didn't realize it was on me until I saw a moving glob of mud on my leg in the shower), and most recently near Munnar, India.
Note to trekkers, leeches like lush, damp environments
In Munnar, after two experiences in a similar climate and even after having told people that "there will likely be leechese," that I would have done something relatively smart like wear long socks to provide some level of protection. Nope. I wore my regular thin, barely-covering-your-ankles running socks. Dumb decision number one. Not exactly a great decision. In a group of six people, as soon as people started seeing and feeling the leeches, I pulled the "these guys can't hurt me" routine and blindly headed up the hill without checking myself. Dumb decision number two.

By the time we stopped for a quick lunch (which is an entirely different story, but the guide had been carrying packages of a watery curry stored in paper bags with chipati in his backpack, an odd trekking lunch selection, to say the least) on the way down, I decided to check my ankles. Sure enough, the cuffs of both pant legs were stained with blood and I had more than one slimy little buggers attached to me.
Lindsay = Smart
A few facts you might not know about leeches: (1) they attach themselves to you in two places, so each leech actually creates two "bites," (2) they're difficult to remove by hand, and (3) when you try and remove them by hand, you might pull it in half where the other half stays attached to your body.
John = Dumb
Clean from leeches, my ankles continued to bleed. And bleed. And bleed. And bleed. Either I had turned into a hemophiliac or some combination of altitude and leech bite kept me from clotting. It was weird. In the shower, my ankles that appeared to have stop bleeding, started without warning. After elevating and bandaging my feet for thirty minutes, my feet stopped bleeding and again started without warning. I re-bandaged but had the same result but had the same result. After a night's sleep, the base of the bed looked like a crime scene. Gil Grissom would have been disgusted. Thankfully, by morning, I had finally achieved full clottage; however, it's safe to assume the leech suckages (they're not really bites, I guess) had caused 12+ hours of unclotted joy.

Should I have been worried? Probably. However, the prospect of driving in the mountains in the dark in India to seek whatever medical attention may have been available seemed more dangerous than whatever damage the leech may have inflicted.


  1. After reading this post, I'm firmly turning down any and every offer that has the words 'trekking' and 'Kerala' in the same sentence. And yes, I'm from Kerala :(

  2. Shilpa, it really was a great time and a lot of fun to climb up through the clouds....though I must admit the sheer quantity of leeches was a little unexpected!

  3. Hi Shilpa, You can keep yourself protected with Anti Leech Socks. One option in India to buy them is at http://www.naturelounge.in/store/anti-leech-socks/

  4. I also bought these leech socks from naturelounge. The new ones in brown colour are nice.

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