I don’t know about you all but I always thought leeches that sucked on your blood were a myth. I watched the film Stand by me with a fantastic leech scene…the kids are playing in the pond and suddenly gordy says…
“Yo vern there is something on your neck”
“ya right I’m not falling for that one!”
“No vern there is something on your neck!”
They run out of the pond…all four boys covered in slimy leeches. They scrape them off in a frenzy from their backs, necks, legs and arms eventually returning to calm until it slowly dawns upon Gordy he might have one more…He pulls open his underway band to look down…He reaches down and pulls out a bloody one. looks at it dripping with his blood and passes out. I honestly thought all that was a myth made up for a great film
Here’s my leech story…
Some Bhutan filmmakers I met while at the Asian Academy of Film and television in India invited me to visit them in their country, which is a Himalayan Buddhist kingdom full of massive mountains, glacial rivers, and high elevation jungle. They picked me up from the airport in their 1972 yellow toyota land cruiser and said “Hey man…your coming with us on our film shoot in the mountains about our country turning from a 100 year monarchy to a democracy.”.
We drove to our trail head…mounted up horses with our camera gear and headed up and out into the most remote mountain villages i’ve ever seen. No roads, no cars, no power. As we began our ascent through a village a cluster of elders were grinning ear to ear and laughing….at me of course as I was the only foreigner on the trip.I asked my buddies what they were laughing about..Sonam told me “they say that the leeches are going to eat the white boy alive!” “Ha thats pretty funny man…real funny..what a bunch of jokers” Like I said…up until that day I had always assumed leeches were a myth. I smiled back and waved as they continued laughing uncontrollable.
Up we went..the trail winded through the wet himalayan jungle mountains. some villagers passed us on the way down and i noticed they were all wearing knee high rubber boots. “hmmm…”. We stopped for lunch and when I looked down at my legs…what did I see? yup…you guessed it…about a dozen leeches glommed onto my legs,,,blood seeping through my socks.
I reached down to pull them off but they were suctioned on. I looked over at my buddies and they were scraping them off their own legs with machetes. Sonam passed me his blade and I did the same. The strange thing is…it didn’t hurt…in fact…I didn’t feel a thing! It turns out when leeches suck your blood, they grab a hold of your skin with a suction like mouth and spread a low dose of anesthetic so that you don’t even know they are there. How convenient. They suck your blood and you don’t even notice!!! after scraping off the dozen we each had…I thought that I could just keep my eyes peeled and could avoid them.
luckily we stopped off at villagers farms on the mountain hillsides along the way and had fresh goat cheese, meat and fresh homemade rice wine which makes you forget about anything that might be annoying you. We continued for five days up the trails interviewing villagers about what they thought about their kingdom becoming a democracy. The usual response was…”what does that mean? Does it mean roads and electricity? If so…we like it. If not…what do we care?” The village kids would walk 2 miles up and down mountains to get to their schools. These people were hardy survivors who grew their own rice, vegetables and drank their own fresh goat milk and rice wine. They were doing pretty good!
Back to the leeches…
I glanced up ahead and noticed that my friend Sonam had some blood trickling down from the top of his shorts. I hated to be rude but I had to tell him.. “uhh…Sonam…I think you have a leech in your buttcrack!” “ya right” he said but put his hand their anyway…sure enough! our other friends came around laughing furiously with a machete and sliced it off. problem solved and we continued on up the steep muddy trail. At one point I had to stop and use the bathroom. Number 2 unfortunately. I walked off the trail to a secluded spot and squatted down. I was unprepared for what I was about to see. An army of leeches were undulating in waves through the mud directly at me from every direction! How did they find me!!!?? Is this a nightmare?? I bolted up, pulled up my shorts and ran up the trail as fast as i could where my friends were laughing like crazy at me….it turns out that leeches have blood seeking homing devices built into their slimy bodies. And apparently anglo blood sends out a particularly tasty signal. To my terror…they even wait on branches and when you pass under…they sense blood and jump on you.
We had some more mountain rice wine and continued on our merry way up towards the hot springs destination where some village elders were waiting for us to be interviewed.As I climbed up and over the last rise to where my friends were waiting they were all staring at me. Sonam said, “Peter….there is something on your neck man”. “ya right…” just like from the Stand by movie scene I said “ I’m not falling for that trick” But just to be sure I put my hand on my kneck and indeed…there was a four inch plump leech having a feast on my jugular. My adrenaline spiked and I grabbed a hold of..ripped it off and threw it into the mountain jungle. Luckily they don’t rip huge holes when they suck on you. They make precision insisions so that when you cut them off you only have a small trickle of blood that continues dripping for about 4 hours. And again because of the anestethic that they so politely apply…you don’t feel a thing!
That night we got to a small home near the hot springs and were able to wash off the numerous leech incisions and change out of our bloody socks. The villagers could not stop laughing at me as they took off their knee high rubber boots for the day, showing fresh legs with no blood. My friends told me that other trick they used was tobacco sprinkled all over their skin. We drank warm rice wine with the village elders and all the memories of bloody leeches eased from my memories making it all seem like a dark comedy dream.