Creepy Crawlies 1: The Enemy

Purple tree tarantula

We were having dinner on the outdoor patio of a monastery in Trinidad when a gigantic beetle came hurtling out of the darkness and crash-landed in the middle of the food and cutlery on our table. As it lay groggily on its back, waving its legs at us, Mark reached out and deftly allowed it to hook onto his arm, flipping it upright so we could admire it before he escorted it to the edge of the patio and sent it back to its family and friends.

Encounters with many-legged creatures are not unusual when you travel in the tropics and not all of those critters are as harmless as a beetle. There are, of course, mosquitos, flies, roaches, and other pesky things that are nothing more than The Enemy: the huge, inch-long Amazon equivalent of a horsefly that managed to bite Mark through his clothing, drawing blood and leaving a visible gash in his shoulder, or the tiny flies that swarmed our faces atop a 30-metre high viewing platform in the jungle. They crawled into our eyes, noses, mouths, ears. They roamed across the lens of my camera every time I tried to take a photo. “Sweat beasts,” the guide informed us grimly.

The Yemenese cockroaches that shared my family’s first house in that country were of epic size and prodigiously robust. I remember them as being at least 2 inches long in body with antennae extending 6 or 7 inches beyond that. To kill one, you first had to slow it down by showering it with highly toxic insecticide administered with a pumped spray gun. When it was literally swimming in a pool of deadly chemicals, you could then commence beating on it with any sturdy object to hand, e.g., hammer or crowbar. Often, it would still attempt to walk away. Cockroaches will inherit the Earth.

Spiny orb-weaver spider

I have an ambivalent relationship with spiders. They frighten me in a primal way (and I probably frighten them in an equally primal way), yet they are fascinating and can be beautiful. Outdoors, and safely poised in a web, they seem less threatening, and I can cautiously admire. But when found indoors, and most particularly ANYWHERE NEAR MY BED, the thin veil of scientific detachment is torn asunder and I run screaming in the opposite direction.

Tarantulas have crossed my path twice. On the British Virgin Island of Tortola, Mark and I were walking back to our hotel at night, strolling a few metres behind a young couple. Suddenly, the woman ahead gave a little shriek and jumped, and then quickly moved on. When we reached the same spot, we saw a big tarantula just beside the sidewalk, moving very slowly. I looked down at my sandaled toes and imagined accidentally stepping on the spider in the dark. Many years later, when we stayed at Sacha Lodge in the Amazon, there was a good-sized tarantula hanging out in a tree right next to the boardwalk between the dining hut and our room. The spider had no interest in us gawking at it with flashlight in hand. It merely crouched in the shelter of the tree’s loose bark, waiting….

The Caribbean islands have giant black millipedes that are harmless but quite startling when they erupt out of the leaf litter right next to where you’re snoozing on the sand.

In Costa Rica, we encountered a praying mantis with its eerie alien face. I’m sure it was just minding its own mantis business, but I had the urge to snarl: “Get away from her, you bitch!”*

Finally, there are ticks, which love to fall on you as you stroll down an overgrown jungle path, crawl under your clothes, and commence to suck your blood. Nice, eh? The icing on the cake is that they also carry lots of nasty diseases which they are more than happy to share with you. So when I found a tick on my arm in Mexico, we panicked and did exactly what you are not supposed to do, grabbing it with tweezers and ripping it out. We then raced to the grocery store and tried to find rubbing alcohol to sterilize the wound. (Probably we should have thought of that before we tore the creature in half.) Unfortunately, when we asked the pharmacist for alcohol (in very broken Spanish), he helpfully directed us to the extensive selection of liquor, wine, and beer. Clearly, we were tourists and tourists always want to buy liquor, right? We could not get across the idea of alcohol as anything other than booze. I would have resorted to buying vodka and pouring it over my arm, but in the end we did find rubbing alcohol by wandering around until we spotted it on the shelf.

But don’t get ticked off by this description of the scary creepy-crawlies. There are also the lovely and the intriguing, which I’ll cover in future posts.

*Aliens, 1986

Disgusting on all counts

The news broke yesterday that Air Canada is partnering with “social media influencers” to promote travelling now, despite the current federal advisory against non-essential travel outside the country.

This riles me.

First, because the whole idea of “social media influencers” makes me slightly sick to my stomach. There are some lovely definitions for the term on the Urban Dictionary, including this barb: “Someone with lack of intelligence and a lot of free time, followed by tons of idiots on some social network, usually Instagram….[T]heir opinion is worth something only to primates with an IQ lower than the room temperature.”

Do we really need camera-pretty people to tell us what to do, say, wear, eat, etc.? Keep in mind that these people generally have no particular expertise or knowledge. They may be glib and cute, but their main claim to fame is that they chose to make fame their aim. [Am I rapping?]

Why should you or I care if @chelseaBotox-lips is “Having a great time in Cancun!”?

Sadly, some people do care. Which brings me to my second gripe.

Parading tanned and blissful “influencers” in exotic locales before responsible Canadians* who are doing their best to get through this winter at home, masked, and socially distanced, many struggling with financial woes, fears for their elders or their children, or anxiety about vaccines, is at best cruel, and at worst, evil. You can probably think of better words to describe those who deliberately make others crave something they can’t—in good conscience—have.

Come on, Air Canada. You can do better than this. Use all that money and brainpower to find ways to help us through this instead of trying to “influence” us into disobeying health directives that are designed to protect us and everyone around us.

The Canadian government advisory states that those who choose to travel now “may have difficulty returning to Canada or may have to remain abroad for an indeterminate period….The governments of those destinations that have opened their borders to tourists could impose strict travel restrictions suddenly….International transportation options could be reduced significantly, making it difficult…to return to Canada.” It ends with this warning: “If you choose to travel despite these advisories:

  • you may have difficulty obtaining essential products and services
  • you may have limited access to timely and appropriate health care
  • you may suddenly face strict movement restrictions and quarantines at designated facilities and at your own cost
  • your insurance may not cover your travel or medical expenses
  • we may have limited capacity to offer you consular services.”

*Clearly, this does not include politicians who feel official government guidelines don’t apply to them.