Dom Joly: Bitten by the travel bug
PUBLISHED: 16:17 22 April 2016 | UPDATED: 16:18 22 April 2016
I feel like someone who has just exited the heart of darkness having been eaten alive, psychologically tortured and severely traumatised
“How do you feel?” The doctor looked at me in a mildly quizzical but essentially casual manner. I got the distinct feeling that he didn’t really care about the answer. I most certainly did care and let him have both barrels.
“Feel? I feel like someone who has just exited the heart of darkness having been eaten alive, psychologically tortured and severely traumatised. Feel? I feel bloody awful and would like you to cure me as soon as possible rather than asking dumb questions…”
That’s what I felt like saying. I actually just said – “OK” and started to take all my clothes off before the inevitable moment arrived when he demanded it.
I would not recommend the jungles of Panama for a holiday. In fact, I would not recommend them for anything except, perhaps, a honeymoon for Ray Mears. I am still recovering from the effects of the invisible enemy – the Sand Fly. I’d love to be able to tell you what this hellish beast looks like but I have no idea. For all I know it could live in my imagination, save for the fact that my entire body is covered in incredibly itchy and painful bites. There is a Maori myth about sand flies – it claims that God had just finished creating the fjord landscapes around Milford Sound. It was absolutely stunning… so stunning that it stopped people from working. They just stood around gazing at the beauty instead. God became so angry at these unproductive people that she created the Sand Fly to bite them and get them moving. I can tell you from grim experience that this does not work. Once the sand flies have done their business, it is very difficult to get anything done except grumble and scratch. I took lots of Deet with me – the horrible insect repellant that burns plastic but is supposed to be OK to put on your skin is surely some sick local joke? The more I put on, the more sand flies swarmed around me in invisible attack squadrons. I think the locals know that sand flies love Deet and promote its use among visitors so that we become mobile fly traps, leaving the Panamanians to go about their business of siestas and cigar smoking untroubled.
I was exploring a relatively unvisited area and purchased a handsome-looking machete before my departure into the backwoods. I must admit to having very little machete experience save for a brief couple of days in deepest, darkest Congo when I was hunting the Mokele Mbembe (Blocker Of Rivers), a monster that is supposed to inhabit Lake Tele. On that occasion I was attacked by a porter (driven mad, no doubt by sand flies) with a machete but fortunately escaped unscathed. For the record, I inquired in several local supermarkets as to whether they stocked Um-Bongo?” They didn’t – it turns out the ad was a lie. They do not “drink it in the Congo.” But I digress.
A machete is an exciting thing to wear on your belt. It makes you feel like an explorer, a ‘real’ man. This lasts until you first try to use it and you realise that it is an incredibly potent self-mutilation instrument. In your mind you hack through vines and bushes with one simple swipe of a muscly arm. The reality is that you take about 20 sweaty and exhausting goes to cut anything. You subsequently become so tired that you get careless and can’t stop the machete swing when it does eventually sever something. Suddenly you have a one-foot piece of sharp steel rocketing towards your body. If you cut the inside of either of your thighs, you risk severing large arteries there that would make you bleed out within half an hour. I suffered innumerable near misses until exertion and madness began to make me long for the sweet release of a machete hit.
Now back in the UK I am incredibly tempted to swagger about Cheltenham with a machete in my belt. Unfortunately Stacey tells me this might be illegal. This is probably for the best; I am home from the heart of darkness and Cotswold drizzle never felt so good.
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