When leeches attack

I remember the scene from “Stand By Me” so vividly. My childhood crush, Wil Wheaton, is stomach-deep in water and emerges with big, fat, juicy, blood-filled leeches on his skinny frame. Frantic, he and his cohorts rush to pull the vampire insects from their bodies. Then, the worst possible thing happens: there is a leech. In that private spot no one EVER wants to have violated by said grossness. Cue faint.

Yeah, that is the only memory I have from the movie.

I think it is pretty easy to say the leeches made quite the impression on my young, easily-influenced brain.

So, when we go to Sri Lanka for a little elephant/human conflict exploration and monks whisk us from Colombo to land owned by one of the largest temples in the country, I am delighted. We pile into 4x4s with them so they can guide us on a tour of the mountainous region, namely the highest peak in the area. We hit switck-back after switch-back, wind whipping in our faces as we go (a little bit too fast) around the sharp curves.

Then, it happens.

Photo courtesy Flickr Creative Commons: Daecon

We get stuck going up a mud road en route to the peak. For about 10 minutes, we reverse, shift into drive, reverse, shift into drive, simply spraying a layer of thick brown dirt onto the truck, and sometimes coming dangerously close to ending up off of the mud road and into the thicket of jungle.

When we are directed to exit the vehicle, I don’t think twice about stepping out of the safe confines of our ride and out onto the floor of the jungle.

That is … until my boss spins me into a panic.

“Oh, Diana. Leeches. Leeches.”

Hello, “Stand By Me.”

I immediately drop my gaze to the ground. No puddles. Just dirt and fallen leaves.

“Where? Where?” I ask, frantic. I see nothing.

“On you! On your legs!”

My world nearly goes black as I think back to poor Wil Wheaton and his unfortunately placed invader.

“Oh my god! Get! It! Off!” I scream.

My boss laughs at my Western Freak Out and without hesitation plucks the tiniest brown worm from my black pant leg.

“I thought they only live in water,” I explain, trying to calm myself down … to convince myself perhaps she is wrong, and these aren’t leeches, but adorable little brown worms who simply want to hang out on my leg.

“Noooo, Diana. Leeches.”

“But … why …” I stammer, my brain working overtime to come to terms with the difference between Sri Lankan leeches and the leeches in Hollywood.

And, that is when things go to insect hell.

Suddenly, everyone is squealing and jumping. Leeches are everywhere.

I don’t want to move. I don’t want to do anything but get back into the safe, leech-free confines of our truck. But, that isn’t happening. Instead, our group of 10, including two monks, has to hike it back down the mountain.

Through the land of these grotesque things.

“I don’t understand,” I keep saying, kind of like the way a cat purrs to calm itself down. “I don’t even see them.”

“They are everywhere!” My boss says as we begin to wind our way down, down, down the mountain.

Every few feet, I spy the jerks climbing up my legs. Then, I feel it. A tiny, sting-like thing piercing the top of my ankle.

Oh my god. I’ve been leeched.

I stop on the path — in the heart of leech territory — and pull up my pant leg. There the little asshole is. Ugly brown against my white sock. My fingers fly to my ankle and pluck it off, instantly causing crimson blood to seep through the fabric.

“I’ve been bitten!” I laugh-scream.

I mean … really? Me and leeches? In Sri Lanka? Come on.

Then, I start to notice leeches all over me. Crawling under my socks. Crawling up my legs. Crawling into the lacings of my hiking shoes.

Then, the laugh turns into sheer terror.

“They’re everywhere!”

My boss laughs again at my panic, which immediately reminds me of the ridiculousness my Drama Queen antics.

“Be careful … Diana … they like to crawl into your belly button.”

Oh, for fucks sake.

I hate belly buttons. Despise them. They freak the crap out of me like no other. About 10 years ago, a popular jeans company did a commercial with belly buttons singing “I’m Coming Out.” I could barely watch a snippet of it without being sickened. And now? Leeches setting up shop in my belly button?

I will either puke or faint. Or possibly both.

I’m pretty sure my face goes nearly ghost white.

“They’re everywhere,” I repeat, coming to terms with the fact.

This time, one of the monk stops and comes to my aid. In his bright orange robe, he bends down and begins removing them from my shoes as I tear them off of my skin.

“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” I repeat, knowing damn well he shouldn’t even be touching me, let alone grabbing them off of my feet.

“Do it like this,” my boss says, beginning to march down the dirt path. Knee-to-chest, knee-to-chest. “They won’t get you like this.”

So, I begin to do the same. Then, I begin to actually see them on the path. It’s as if they can sense my footsteps. Like little mini “Tremor” worms. They stick straight up in the air, then jump. Yes, jump, onto the body.

We continue down the path and every few minutes someone else shrieks at discovering a leech on their body. Finally, we make it to stone steps, and about 30 minutes later, we make it down to our meeting point where we are once again loaded into trucks and brought back down the mountain.

I emerge from the truck blessedly leech-free. And ready to get on with the Sri Lankan adventure … so long as there will be no more leech encounters.


Published by dtravelsround

Awakening the soul while traveling ... a story of being on the cusp of adulthood.

26 thoughts on “When leeches attack

  1. Yeah, they *do* leap out & ambush you!

    I’ve had two leech encounters; one like yours but in Nepal on a path through wet grass. Despite sealed boots and trouser bottoms, they still managed to leap aboard and get through the defences. I rather admire them.

    The other was while planting rice in a paddy field in Malaysia. When I climbed out of the warm gloopy water my legs were covered with them.

    I didn’t mind them too much. In those days, like most people, I used to smoke, and the standard way to get rid of them was to just burn them off, but I understand that is now frowned on because they are prone to vomiting or shitting in the wound (lovely!) so I don’t think I’d be so casual about it these days!


  2. Oh my god, this is terrifying!

    Seriously. I have no idea how you didn’t have a complete breakdown! I’m so grateful I’ve never seen a leech before…


  3. That’s a little daunting. Between the leeches and the painful reports from climbing Adam’s Peak, I’m becoming a little nervous (I leave in 5 days). Looking forward to your future Sri Lanka reports.

    — Esme


    1. It is OK. I don’t think it is rainy season … if you have questions about Sri Lanka, shoot me a message. I can say that Pinawella Elephant Orphanage is crap. Stick to the real wildlife safaris where you can hire a jeep and explore.


  4. Hi i am srilanken some leeches here in srilanka are belongs to Hirudo medicinalis also know as medical leaches.their saliva containing chemicals & proteins which can help for treating abscesses, painful joints, glaucoma, myasthenia,venous diseases ,thrombosis and for curing infertility etc.

    it seems they gave u free generous medical treatement may be you are so pretty and gorgeous. i feel the same.may be with bit of a luck i can see you when you revisit srilanka again.happy & safe travelling.


  5. D! What a terrifying experience! I totally smiled and laughed through this while being so frightened for you. I could totally hear and picture you screaming. Love reading about your life as an expat, leaches and all. Love and miss you.


  6. Hi Diana,

    I am a Sri Lankan, wildlife lover and a serious hiker… a small advice on people who goes hiking on leeches infected areas… use a leech protecting socks(take an old used cotton trouser cut off the two lower parts of the legs about 2 feet and stich one end and wear those as socks, leeches cant panitrate thick cotton cloths),
    Use reppelent such as soap, lime juice and balm but the best reppelent for leeches are a chemical substant which use to water purification by the name of ALUM (you can buy this in chemical stores) dissolve it in water until you get a dirty white non tranceparent solution and then applied it in your leg as well as on your boot…100% guaranteed ..Lol!!!
    Sri Lankan land leeches are known as the most notorious leeches (Haemadipsa zeylenica also known as Ceylon Leeches from Sri Lanka).
    Please check our forum article about leech protection http://www.lakdasun.org/forum/index.php?topic=2759.15
    Tony Lantra


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