Khao Yai National Park- Part II
Man, you guys
are going to hate me. This one is long too.
I forgot to mention before that I would like to thank you for your
positive feedback on my stories. It really means a lot that you've been
following my journey and that I have been a source of entertainment for
you. Thanks for keeping me company. I must admit that the first couple
of weeks was kinda rough being on my own.
Thanks for all your support.
About Khao Yai National Park (in Isaan State; northeast Thailand):
Khao Yai National Park
On the ride
over to the park he informed me that tonight’s scheduled
We moved on to get to the first trail of the day, but along the way we stopped because M heard and spotted a troop of white-handed gibbons in the trees. They were really high up in the trees, but you could see them swinging from tree to tree using their long arms. They are quite beautiful with their black bodies, white face and hands and have a haunting whooping call. It was great! In Taman Negara I could only hear them, but here I could actually see them. Here we met up with the same girls (2 Americans and a Canadian) with the leech socks on the road and their female guide. One of them spotted a rhinoceros beetle walking on the road. It was shiny jet black, about 3 inches long and had a "horn" that extended up and curved back behind its head. When insects get that big, they are just so cute. I could’ve stayed and watched the beetle crawl on my arms and hands for hours…but wait a minute I was forgetting my mission. Right, the leeches.
We carried on and stopped on the road near the start of the trail. As we walked along the road towards the trail, M spots a pair of great hornbills high up in the trees. We were standing on the grassy side of the road watching the birds, when all of a sudden M stops talking. He then says, “I think I have a leech.” He bends down and opens up his boot to show me a leech happily feeding on his ankle. He plucks the leech off and hands it over to me. I inspected it and saw that it was a different species from what I collected in Malaysia. I know this isn’t a big deal or a big surprise, but after the luck I had in Malaysia this really made me happy. Also, I didn’t seem to be having good luck with the weather. I kept on telling myself that I was blessed with good weather. Did I mention that it was a beautiful day? There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and it hadn’t rained in a few days. What luck!
So at this
point, without the rains I would be happier with few samples but with
a diverse representation of species from Thailand. So we started our trek.
Along the way we spotted beautiful and colorful bugs (true bugs), frogs,
slugs, moths, soft-shelled snails, large squirrels and lizards. I should
mention that trekking guides have a trained eye in spotting things that
one would never be able to see on their own. Some of the frogs and lizards
that M spotted were so well camouflaged against their surroundings that
I was amazed at how quickly and easily he could pick them out before they
ran away. Along the way he picked up a honeycomb from the ground and started
to pick bee larvae out and started to eat them (apparently a delicacy).
He then passed one my way. I took the larvae with hesitation, but put
it in my mouth and started chewing. It was pretty small, but it was squishy
and had a bit of a sweetness to it.
All the while the awesome animal spotting and larvae eating was going on, leeches were attacking us. Thankfully, because it hadn’t rained that much, the number of leeches weren’t that bad. It could have been much worse. I had to stop walking to reach into my pants and to pick out one leech that had found its way all the way up to my right butt cheek. Nice right. Can you just picture that? Get a life! M thought it would be hilarious to pluck the leeches off of him and put them on me. At one point things got little bloody (what a bloody mess!), as there were clusters of leeches on my legs and inside my boots. It was easier to let them do their thing than to battle with them.
M took me off-trail so we could get access to more leeches, then he tells me to stop and to climb up onto this huge fallen tree. He then tells me to be quiet for a moment. I heard something in the distance, something that was moving in our direction. I thought it was monkeys or something cool like that. Instead what was trampling through the forest was the same tour group of girls from before. M wanted to scare them and thought it would be funny to yell at them from behind the bushes. After he succeeded we walked onto the trail and horrified the girls with my bloody legs. In passing, the female guide mentions to me that she had seen green leeches in the north, but that they were rare. I made a mental note. We bid our farewells and headed back towards the car. It was time for lunch. But, before we could go, I need to remove the leeches feeding from my leg through my socks (which were now bloody) and those trapped inside my boots and clean my war wounds.
After lunch, we got back on the park road and we went to visit Haew Suwat Falls. We entered the parking lot, which was packed with cars and buses. This was obvious a hot tourist spot. As we walked towards the trail, I was amused by some of the tourist walking around in high heels (females, of course) and couldn’t imagine walking around this place in heels. Humans are strange creatures. M tells me that trekking is not a thing that Thais do. Haew Suwat Falls was packed with people, so M suggested that we head over to see another waterfall. Less touristy. So we began our trek away from Haew Suwat along a trail following the river. On this trail we found elephant footprints and was excited to see a big pile of elephant shit. I was amazed at how these huge animals get through some of these trails. We reached the second waterfall, which was twice as wide but not as high as Haew Suwat Falls (25 m). It was quite peaceful. I didn’t have the courage to take a swim because the current was a bit rough. We took a rest and hung out for a while before it was time to turn back.
We hurried back as soon as the sky started to cloud over and heard thunder in the distance. To my surprise, there were no leeches on this trail (maybe a good thing after this morning’s adventure). The last thing on today’s itinerary was to visit one last lookout point of the Phanom Dangkrek Mountains, but this time from an elevation of 1200 m. As we drove up, the temperature began to drop and I had to put my rain jacket on to keep warm. We got to this viewpoint where there was a military station. Here I was amazed not only by the view, but by the number of moth species found in this one place. They were just on the ground or on a wall. The larger ones you could just pick up and they would just hang out on your hands. They wouldn’t try to fly away. One moth had a wingspan of about 8 or 9 inches. Beautiful!
My tour of Khao Yai had come to an end. It was time to head back to the lodge. On the way back we passed a stretch of cornfields where we spotted a film shoot going on. There was a Thai dude dressed in a white Elvis jumpsuit (that was opened in the front down to his navel) and I was told that he was a famous actor. Now that's something you don’t see every day.
We got back to the Garden lodge and realized I had a lot of work to do. Yes, I am here to do work. I know until now it’s been about sightseeing, eating, hiking and finding the occasional leech…..now I had to do actually do something with them. As I dragged my feet towards my room I passed one of the drivers who was sitting down and having a beer (Chang, to be exact). He must have seen my face because he instantly offered me a glass. It didn’t take much arm-twisting before I was sitting and trying to have conversation that involved sign language, Thai and broken English. The “security guard” who was also there was completely wasted at the start of his shift of 6 pm. He was the most entertaining. I couldn’t believe he was so hammered. I kept on telling him to drink water, but he just laughed at me until he needed to hurl. So I sat and enjoyed my beer and was visited by the female employees who asked me questions about my life and I about theirs. Thais are always curious about your age. Of course they asked me and were surprised when I told them I was 29. They had guessed 24 or 25. Not bad, huh.
After grabbing some dinner it was time to lock myself up in my room and process my critters. Not before being paid a visit by M’s pet scorpion, Female. He didn't give her an actual name, just Female. I have no idea what kind it is, but this thing was big, black and mean looking. The body about 6 inches in length, with large pincers, plus 4 inches for the tail with a large stinger. M had just fed her a gecko, so she was very tame. He told me to pick her up and I was like "No!" He showed me how to do it, so I picked her up by the joint between her scary looking stinger and the tail and lifted. She struggled for just a second then I placed here on my hand.
Done. I did it, I lived, and I don't think I'll do it again. Who knows.
It's been fun, but it was time to go to my room and process my specimens. I said good night and went to my room.
Dealing with terrestrial leeches is quite the challenge. As soon as you pick up the tube or container they are in, they start moving around. When you open the tube or container, they try to climb out. So as several little leech heads are stretching out of the tube opening, I'm busy trying to keep them from escaping by poking their heads back in and trying to prevent closing the lid and squishing their bodies. So I have to quickly open the lid, squirt some water in the tube (about half way) and close the lid. Then using a pipette to take up some ethanol, I quickly open the lid and squirt some ethanol into the water. I do this in increments of 5 minutes depending on how they are reacting to their new environment. They don't like the ethanol and probably don't like being fully submerged in water. So it's not a pretty sight watching them squirming and writhing. Why do I do this? Because they are soft-bodied animals, I can't just plunk them straight into alcohol. The result is a contorted specimen that will be nearly impossible to identify. What you need is a specimen that is nice and straight and the only way to achieve this is by the first getting the leeches drunk. You get them a little hammered and they become relaxed. You add a little more alcohol and they get a little more relaxed and you do this until they are basically knocked out. Once they are fully relaxed, you take the specimen and you lay them straight. To do the final fixation you add ethanol directly to the specimen, which will then stiffen the specimen. The result: a perfectly straight specimen ready for identification and for DNA extraction. I'll spare you the remaining details. Unfortunately, this is the least enjoyable part of what I do. I don't like killing the leeches (I know it's for science) and it takes a damn long time. So a lot of patience is needed. It could take anywhere from 2 to 3 hours (depending on the number of specimens), which sucks if you're doing this alone. So typically, while the leeches are being relaxed, you can also relax with some alcohol of your own, to pass the time.
6 - 12 OCTOBER