Survivors Part 3: A leech on my bum

[This is a multi-part series describing in gory detail my 10km race through the treacherous mountains of Padawan, Sarawak.]

Borneo Highlands

See previous chapters:
Part 1: Crossing the chasm of death
Part 2: We were stung by bees

Disturbing content, coarse language

The Leech

It was around the halfway point of our 10km trek when I was suddenly aware of a cold wetness at the curvy bottom of my right butt cheek.

I thought I had maybe picked up some mud from climbing over giant fallen tree trunks, so I ignored it. My hands and feet were by then already muddied beyond recognition, so what was a little bit of butt dirt?

Butt cold

But, 15 or 20 minutes later, the cold wetness was still there, which was uncharacteristic of mud or dirty water, which should have dried up by then.

It finally bothered me enough to want to take action, although on a largely subconscious level. I was still more or less on auto-pilot when I reached down to rub the wetness away.

When my hand touched the spot, a piercing shriek escaped my throat even as icy cold slivers tore out my heart.

There was a cold, slimy, rubbery thing stuck on my butt! Reflexively, before I could think, my fingers plucked the offensive parasite out and flung it behind me as quickly as possibly.

“FUCK THIS FUCKING SHIT!” I cried hysterically, shivering with disgust.

Leech trauma

The Butt Exam

Nanny Wen was about 10 metres in front of me. She turned back in alarm and said, “What? What?!”


“Where? Where!”

“I dunno! I threw it away!”

“WHAT? You’re not supposed to pull out a leech like that!”


“Lemme see!” she said worriedly.

I trotted up to her and stuck my butt in her face while she bent down to examine my traumatised behind.

The butt exam

“Nothing,” she said. “No scratch, no blood.”

“IT ATE MY BUTT FOR 20 MINUTES!!!” I cried miserably.

“Nothing leh,” Nanny Wen double checked.

That didn’t make me feel any better. I was very grossed out and had to employ some mind tricks on myself to prevent hysteria.

My skin always crawls whenever I watch movies where people get sucked by leeches and, there I was, a victim myself.

I have no idea now whether it was a leech or something else since I had tossed it away without looking at it. It was shaped like one, anyway. Or it could have been a slug. It was about 2.5 inches long, from what my right hand could tell.

I told Wen that the thing felt like a silicone bra insert, except colder and slimier, and slug-shaped.

It took me the rest of the day to get over it and stop feeling grossed out.

Confounding Obstacles


We continued on our journey. Sometimes Nanny Wen took the lead. Sometimes I took the lead. We were rarely able to trek side by side because most of the climbs or descents only had enough footholds for one person at a time.

The entire journey was made of either climbs or descents. The jungle undulated cruelly. There was hardly any flat ground.

Our trail was marked by red paint on tree trunks to ensure that participants wouldn’t get lost. The trail went left and right and up and down like a maze. After each obstacle, we would have to look around for more red paint to guide our way.

Painted tree trunks

Sometimes we couldn’t see any red tree trunks and for one chilling moment, we would panic and assume that we had gotten lost and would have to backtrack, which was an inconceivable horror because we were dying of exhaustion and hunger, and couldn’t wait to finish the race.

And then we would look up and see the paint 50 metres directly above us.

And I would go, “WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT?”

Which was my way of saying, “How the hell are we supposed to get up there?”

Impossible trail

It was almost like a computer game quest, Nanny Wen observed. We had to constantly search for objects in the environment to help us get to where we needed to get.

For example, sometimes we would find hidden roots that could hold our weight as we hoisted ourselves up to the next foothold. Even footholds were hard to find, many having been washed flat by the rain, becoming muddy death traps.

But every obstacle looked more impossible than the last, and my heart would first drop to the pit of my stomach before it started beating furiously as I attempted the challenge.

Nanny Wen is a Monkey

I made very slow progress because I didn’t want to gamble with life. I would double test every foothold and supporting branch, root and rock for its hold strength. Only when I was satisfied that it wouldn’t give way would I trust my weight on it.

Nanny Wen, on the other hand, was a monkey. She bounced over obstacles recklessly and went faster than me, always having to stop to wait for me.

But she also met with accidents a lot more. She slipped and fell countless times because she kept trusting her weight on the wrong things, ending up with a lot more scratches and wounds.

Three of us

But she was also more adept at finding stuff to grab onto and places to put our feet. She was more fearless. And she would scramble through obstacles and offer me a helping hand.

The times when I led, because I was more careful with finding the right places to hang on to, I like to think I saved her from some falls because she could follow the path I took.

We then understood why we were required to register for the challenge as teams of two. It helped immensely to have a partner. The unsaid reason was that, if one person fell and broke a leg or died, at least there would be a witness.

A casualty

We were mostly alone in the jungle because most of the other participants had long surpassed us. There were a few teams behind us (according to our checkpoint guides) but they were so far behind we never saw them.

Death Is All Around

More than once during our trek, my mind would involuntarily conjure up vivid images of me losing my grip on slippery rocks, or of half-rotten branches giving way, after which I would slide down a steep muddy slope, continuing to tumble through thorny jungle foliage, finally to stop at the bottom with 20 broken bones and deadly larcerations all over my face and body.

If I was lucky, I might die instantly.

I was often angry with the terrain and bewildered by the thought that people actually did this for fun.

You are all insane

The obstacles came one after another, never letting up. They got harder and harder.

On top of having to deal with thrist, hunger and painful muscles after hours of nonstop trekking, we had to navigate obstacles with surgical precision to avoid accidents.

It had become standard procedure for me to swear before each impossible obstacle.

“What the fuck is that?!” was my favourite.

“How the fuck are we supposed to get up there / get down there?!”



I know my swear vocabularly is quite limited.

A casualty

Once, during the last quarter of our trek, we came upon a crazy rock face. It was a slippery vertical wall with virtually no footholds and we had to climb it sort of diagonally to reach the top.

But, even if it hadn’t been muddy, how the hell does one climb a wall with no footholds?

To compound matters, there was no ground beneath the wall we had to traverse. Below our obstacle was a terrifying 3,000-metre drop to the ends of the earth.

(To be continued…)

Part 4: I thought I was gonna die

17 thoughts on “Survivors Part 3: A leech on my bum

  1. Avatar

    I’m really scared of leeches as well. Not that I’ve ever had an encounter with one, but I have a friend who used to keep leeches and he’d let them suck on his blood to feed his leeches lor.


  2. Avatar

    chak: Erm… if by cool you mean hell-raising, then yes. :P

    Dahlia: Eew WTF indeed!!! He must be one of those who believe in the healing properties of leeching. In fact, doctors still use leeches today in their practices. But it’s still gross for a regular person to keep them. O_o

  3. Avatar

    What a deadly track!!! I wonder if there was any people who lost their grip and tumbles down or suffer as much terrifying moments as u n nanny wen.

  4. Avatar

    Share your sentiments about those people being insane.

    Btw, you were quite lucky cause the leech was on your bum because it didn’t manage to leech you through your pants. Cause if you just plucked and threw it away like that, the wound would just keep bleeding for erm.. quite a number of minutes. Anti-cogulants and all that.

    That might have freaked you out even more. A wound that won’t stop bleeding when you’re in the middle of nowhere.

  5. Avatar

    When I saw the title, I thought I would see a photo of the leech on your bum. So disappointed that an illustration took its place. :(

  6. Avatar

    Now that you’ve braved the jungles and have identified a monkey friend… you should try this :

    Think its open to public this week ( i went with some friends on a group booking previously)

    Its great fun, and i guarantee tons of screaming. :)

    Have some photos up on my facebook for it too!

  7. Avatar

    tvbaddict: Eh, stop looking at my butt!

    Girard: Do you mean the King Kong with Naomi Watts and Jack Black? I did watch it… don’t remember the leeches much. But then, I never remember movies I watch after a while. :P I can watch a movie and, one year later, if you show it to me again, I’ll swear I’ve never watched it, lol. I’m sure I must have been really grossed out.

    abraxis: Eh… that’s just bad drawing lah! :P

    Precish: Hmm… I don’t know. But I would hope not. Because if people really died from the track, how could they allow anyone else to take it? But I do think they should have prepared us better by telling us the right shoes and clothes to wear, etc.

    Mince Pye: Okay, I’ll tell them to kiss your ass.

    Kim: Huh? I don’t get what you mean. The leech was on my skin, not my shorts. That’s why I couldn’t be sure it was a leech since I didn’t bleed. Maybe I was lucky and plucked it out just at the right time, when it had finished feeding. :P

    chris: Erm… sorry lah. I try very hard not to swear in the first place. Haha.

    ZQ: The leech sat on my bum for 15-20 minutes lah. Maybe, like I said to Kim, I pulled it out at just the right time!

    AvatarStormBringer: Hmm… don’t spirits exist everywhere around us and not just in jungles?

    tiger4: Eh… you know I didn’t bring a camera with me. How to have a real photo?

    Rykarx: No thanks, I still don’t like heights. :P I’d climb more mountains, but I refuse to go anywhere with a few hundred metres of nothingness below my feet. :P

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