In Borneo, there are leeches everywhere you go in the jungle. You'll be walking along and after even a few hundred feet, you'll be shocked to find that several may have hitched a ride from plants or whatnot and are now underneath your clothing, latched on and relocating your blood. In a village not too far from where I ended up staying, there was a young girl, around 12, who was down by the waters edge washing her families clothes. Unbeknownst to her, a river leech was making its way up her leg and found its merry way into her vagina. By the time she had felt something, it had all but disappeared. Not feeling any discomfort, she neglected to tell anyone about it. Fast forward an undisclosed time later and the said girl was the shame of the village as she sported an engorged stomach not unlike she was pregnant. Her parents took her angrily to the doctor who used an ultrasound and discovered hundreds of leeches inside her womb. Tragically, there was nothing they could do at that point and they literally ate her from the inside until she died shortly afterwards.
My plan was to head into the jungle on the homestay (I found one, recommended to me by my dorm mate, Robert) but before that I got to that I was going to hang out with a couple of folk in Kota Kinabalu, Sandra and her friend, Alex. Sandra is widely accredited with getting me my degree in University as she was responsible for writing notes for the dyslexic members of our course. I'm actually quite capable of writing them myself, but unfortunately i'm also struck down with a crippling laziness and it would mean I would have had to take time away from my real passion of that era, which was drawing awesome helicopters.
With a pretty fun week done and the women heading back home, I boarded the bus to a Homestay in Sukau. Its about 6 hours journey to the junction, which is surrounded by palm oil plantations literally as far as the eye can see. A twelve year old kid captains a seven foot craft that looks like he whittled himself and whisks you down the Kinabatangan River towards the house. It's a fairly basic place, elevated to avoid flooding, with holes in the floor and a toilet that during my whole time there, I never really figured out. With the river about 20 yards from the front veranda, the backyard is the rainforest with a variety of monkeys and enough elephant tracks and shit to suggest they are never far away. The wife of the main guide greeted me warmly at the front porch and as I dumped my bags off, I realised she is tirelessly running the business at the same time as looking after six kids.
All of us commented that the main guide (i'll call him Bob as I don't want their business affected) was inexplicably absent and we were instead being ferried around by his father-in-law. Regardless, the next two days were phenomenal. We saw literally everything there is to see, from monkeys to crocs and vast monitor lizards to snakes. The main draw for anyone visiting is the wild Pygmy Elephants (about 3/4's the size) and after almost two straight days of searching, we tracked them down. One of the perks of living with an independent homestay is the lack of safety procedeures that might go with more expensive lodges dotted along the river. This meant that we were the only ones of several boats (that eventually turned up) to get off and be within touching distance. One local guy made sure that we kept low, didn't make too much noise and weren't trampled to death.
This, we deduced, was Bob. Now, I'm a guy who appreciates bypassing small talk, but with new people I usually leave it twenty minutes before discussing the blood in my stool.
He continued, "You have ten thousand Ringgit? I can have someone killed for you with black magic. I hide in the jungle, many days. I pray that an aggressive animal come and kill me. The voices are talking to me. Voices all the time in my head. I feel if it doesn't stop I will kill myself, my family, kill a tourist."
There isn't a huge lot of places you can go conversationally from here, so we all just stood in silence, realised the remoteness of our location and kind of nodded contemplatively. This continued for a while with him explaining that he has been hiding in the rain forest for days, hasn't slept in weeks, suspects his wife has been having an affair with the next door neighbour, thinks only one of the six kids are his and reiterated that indeed, murders will be taking place.
The next morning when the families arrived, Bob was still around and suddenly acting like a kids TV presenter. The previous nights demeanor was completely gone and he spent the next week doing a pretty good job. As first impressions seem to stick, we didn't really get on that well and I was fairly wary of the guy.
And he is a crazy bastard. At one point as we were in the jungle and had tracked the elephants down, we all crouched low and took pictures from 100 yards away. Bob then got bored, turned to the both families (who were sporting kids of twelve and fourteen and mothers and fathers in sandals) said, "You want to see something?", before he started making barking noises.
The routine for the week consisted of camping in the garden, getting up at 6am and accompanying any guide who didn't speak much english for the safari. Lunch at one, followed by a jungle trek with the guests at 3pm followed by dinner where we all sat round Malaysian style on the living room floor and eat whatever Bob's wife put together, which was always delicious.
As I was leaving the next morning, Bob's wife got a call from Robert, my previous dorm-mate. I explained about Bob and how we didn't exactly get off on the right foot. He said, "Yeah, we think he's been spending all the families money on opium".
Well that made sense. A few of us headed to Sandakan and Bob ended up coming with us, curled up in the front seat and intending to see a doctor. I really hope for the family things work out, but if he's blaming his addiction on 'black magic' then who knows.