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'Parasites, that's what worries you'


The hardships of jungle life
Redmond O'Hanlon Writer
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You have two sets of clothes. One set is dry. You get into your dry clothes at night. Now, that's easy, get into a hammock and you've got your mosquito net round you, absolutely everything is trying to get in. You don't want the tiniest little hole. Just the noise [mosquito sound] is amazing. And you're greased with Vaseline. You've greased your hammock ropes, otherwise these bloody great... they're always big, the first ants, an inch long, come. They're after you. And they're pretty simple: they just want to bite chunks out of you. But if you don't want them to do that, then they sting you, and that can knock you out, with the Venti Quatro in South America, and these elephant ants in Borneo. Enormous things. And you don't want them marching along... I mean, you very soon learn to put Vaseline over everything, and redo it. And then, in the morning, bad time in the morning, really, because you've got to get out, take off your nice warm clothes, in your... well, the nylon wraparound bashers, and get into the very, very cold, sopping wet clothes from the day before, because there's nothing you can do. You can't dry wet clothes. You know, you've been in the river. They're dripping. You can wring them out, but there's no point, because it's going to happen again. And put those on. And also, yes, you're very sore on the crotch and everywhere. And then the best thing is: go straight down to the river in your wet clothes and get into the river. Now in Borneo, it's alright, you don't have to watch out for other things I'll tell you about. You do in South America. But in Borneo, you get... it just takes some getting used to. You go into the river and you drop your trousers and you realise that you are very, very popular. You know, some people can't bear to talk about this kind of thing. They don't like it at all. All the fish in Borneo, in every Bornean river, they are so pleased to see you. They're saying, 'Come on', and you're being nibbled by catfish. And whiskered. So everywhere. Until you produce their breakfast. The seeds is what they're after. And then, there's a big problem. You really don't know... which I never really solved. I went in a whirlpool and the whirlpools are everywhere along the shore. Do you duck or jump as everything is swirling around? And then, just downriver from the men's area, where they're defecating, the women are gathering the water. So it's not surprising that there are more species of parasitic bloodworm and gut worms. So you can get very ill.

British author Redmond O’Hanlon writes about his journeys into some of the wildest places in the world. His travels have taken him into the jungles of the Congo and the Amazon, he has faced some of the toughest tribes alive today, and has sailed in the hurricane season on a trawler in the North Atlantic. In all of this, he explores the extremes of human existence with passion, wit and erudition.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: Borneo, South America, Radcliffe Infirmary, John MacKinnon, Charles Darwin

Duration: 3 minutes, 16 seconds

Date story recorded: July - September 2008

Date story went live: 11 August 2009