Dom and his marvelous tent"Crabs. They're definitely crabs. Shit, I've got crabs."

Early morning alarm call. Second day alone in the forest, picking teeny creatures from my groin at six in the morning.

How d'you get crabs anyway? I could vaguely remember my brother suffering from something similar. But I had the nagging feeling that was scabies, not crabs.

"It's sexually transmitted, isn't it?" I asked the reticent forest, while plucking the tenth creature from my nether regions.

My nocturnal ramblings had come home to roost. Oops. But did it have to happen struggling to weave my way through the forest on my own, about as far from a doctor as could be imagined?

"It'll probably decide to piss down with rain too," I grumbled.

I started a little fire, fetched some water and put the pan on to boil. "I'll feel better after a coffee. I always do."

I settled back on my mat to eat the remains of last night's supper. Tuna mash-something. With mayonnaise.

Searing bites of warning had sounded the night before as I dozed to sleep in my tent, absorbing the vocal machinations of the forest night. My torch had decided not to work, and I didn't like using candles inside the tent, so I hadn't investigated what exactly was nipping me with considerable force 'down there'. I'd settled for lots of scratching and hope for the best.

But as I sat and forked down my cold breakfast, I became aware of tens of little beasties. Dozens of them, small as pin-pricks, cramponed on to my legs. "Little bastards". I put my pan down and started plucking another handful off. They were everywhere, in every nook, crevice and cranny of my anatomy.

You have to kill them too, oh yes. You have to pinch them between your nails until you reckon you've extinguished their alpine penchant. Otherwise, with a hop, skip and a jump, they'll be right back after the break.

Having plucked a frighteningly large specimen from my back after a brief mental and physical struggle, I realised the symptoms of whatever I had didn't coincide with my admittedly vague knowledge of what crabs were. I was too preoccupied with removing the Klingon invasion to be much relieved however.

I later learnt the bigguns leave their jaws behind, become infected, and effectively leave holes worthy of adding to your passport's Distinguishing Marks section. Garrapatas they're called. "Grab-legs". It's hard to believe something so small can cause so much pain. You'll be walking along, following a path in the undergrowth, when all of a sudden Tchang, you drop everything and plunge your hand down your trousers to seek the rottweiler jawed to your groin. Maybe it was better I was on my own afterall.

You become paranoid too, passing any idle moment, and most active ones for that matter, scratching and plucking and searching for microcrabs that might have escaped your scrutiny.

"Then there are the akuri," tutts Ismael my Indian friend as he inspects my back, his repeatedly mended glasses perched precariously on his nose. "Akuri are tiny red-striped spiders, and their bite is worse than any snake's. You're dead within hours, believe me."

"I believe you, but you could have told me that before you sent me off into the forest with a friendly handshake two days ago," I thought.

"But they nest in the tall grass. You won't find them in the forest," he adds, as if reading my mind. "That's why the Indians burn, to clear the paths of snakes and spiders. Unfortunately fire doesn't affect garrapatas. Unless you burn the forest down."

I turn my head and he smiles. I laugh, then wince pathetically as he plucks another Spiderman impersonator from my back.

For the next three days, I continued to find die-hards clamped to my legs, hanging on for dear life. And scratched and searched and destroyed. I think I'll settle for crabs next time. At least you know where to look for crabs.



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Travels in the Lost World -- © Dominic Hamilton 2002-7