On Friday 5th December I hauled out from the lodge, packing my still-wet belongings into my still-damp pack, squelching into my still-sodden boots and starting off down the still-drenched track. The trek back to Bumbun Kumbang was distinctly easier the second time round; it always goes more smoothly when you're fitter, have a lighter pack and know the route, and this time I didn't bother to explore the ancient limestone caves I'd checked out on the way in, so I arrived at the hide with plenty of daylight to spare. This was fortuitous; the leeches had obviously learned a few new tricks, because when I took off my socks, there were maybe five on each foot, merrily sucking away. During the trek I'd had the usual problems, and one had even managed to climb up my leg and suck where the sun doesn't shine1. I needed the extra time to burn them off and tend to my wounds.
There was one more thing that drove me mad, though, mad enough to make me stick my earplugs in when I arrived at the hide. All day – I swear, there was no break – I had something buzzing round my left ear. I have no idea why my left ear was singled out for such attention, or what kind of buzzing insect it was, but however energetically I waved my arms around and swatted the air, I couldn't connect with anything, and instead developed a sympathetic buzzing in my brain that kept going well after the walking had stopped. The earplugs helped, but I couldn't help being reminded of a particularly persistent blowfly that did the same thing as I hauled my way up Katherine Gorge in Australia's Northern Territory. My left side must smell more divine than my right... or is it the other way around for flies? Not surprisingly, the resident cat was no help at all; all he did was look me up and down, sneer and tell me, in no uncertain terms, to buzz off.
1 A bit higher up and he'd have been performing a service that desperate men pay for. Walking can be such a thrill!