Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Max Capacity

We arrived in San Marcos, Guatemala, a small town* on the gorgeous Lago de Atitlan (Lake Atitlan) after being in transit for almost 24 hours from Tikal, Guatemala. We had been in three shuttles, an overnight bus, and a boat by the time we put down our bags at a tiny budget hotel. We immediately went in search of food and, after dinner, headed back to the room to collapse from complete exhaustion. It was around 7:30 pm and dark. We were using our headlamp to light the path in front of us and saw several fairly sizeable spiders on walls along the way. I began to acquiant myself with the realization that there would probably be spiders in our room when we returned.

I should pause for a moment to address spiders in general. I don´t like them. I´m scared of them - maybe irrationally. I know they do good things like eat mosquitos and bugs, but I really don´t want them close to me. And I don´t think they belong indoors. They totally gross me out.

But - here´s the rub - I don´t like to kill them. I´d like to say it´s because I feel some gratitude for their spiderly services or apprecation for their worth as God´s creatures. But that´s not it. Killing them requires me to get close to them. So coming upon a spider always presents me with an immediate uncomfortable dilemma. I want the spider gone. Now. But I don´t want to kill it.

Even my family´s penchant for camping didn´t make a difference. I remember once when I was about 13 standing in a campground bathhouse and realizing that a spider was sitting on my shoulder. Flicking it off, while maybe the easiest and quickest response, would have involved touching it. What I clearly deemed the more appropriate response was to scream and hop around wildly while trying to take my sweatshirt off without touching any part of myself with the spider-infested shoulder. Of course, when I got the shirt off, the spider was no long on it, meaning that it could be anywhere. Thus more hopping around and screaming, shaking out my hair, writhing around in the hopes that anything on me would fall off. Ridiculous behavior. But the truth.

Over the years I learned - out of necessity - to kill spiders. Like when I´d find a spider in my room at night while my parents were asleep and would have the good sense not to go wake them up. And then living in my own dorm room and then apartment and having to fend for myself.

But I hate it. I always hate it. I scream and gasp and jump around. My heart beats like crazy. I get hot and flustered and when it´s over, I have to sit and recover myself.

So back to our room in San Marcos.

I entered with resolve. I knew what I had to do - look around, locate the offenders, kill them. Quick and dirty, stiff upper lip and all that.

First one spotted - bigger and closer to the bed than I would´ve liked, but forge ahead I must. Shoe in hand I went towards it. Fast little bugger. it. Maybe. Where did it go?!

Ack! Did it come back to life?! No - that´s another one! Got it!

Breathing.....oh holy lord.

I spotted a big one in the corner by the ceiling. Big. This one would require a chair. And no room for errors. A missed whack could result in a giant spider crawling directly above my head or worse - falling into my hair. Dear God in Heaven, give me strength.

My resolve started to weaken.

I spotted another one close by and killed it. The babe looked concerned. She would just as soon close her eyes and leave the spiders be, but even she had never seen this many in one place. They just kept coming.

Melt. Down.

I stood in the middle of the room holding the killing shoe and a wad of paper and cried. The babe held me and said we could find another place to stay in the morning. I cried harder. How did everyone else staying here deal with this? What was wrong with me? Why did they bother me so much? The babe soothed me as best she could.

I ended up killing 4. The babe killed one. Four others got away, left to roam around the room unchecked. But there was nothing to do. We had to stay the night at least. So, after checking all of the sheets and pillows and blankets, we climbed into the bed. I had a headlamp wrapped around my wrist in case I needed to get up or check anything out. (Turning on the table lamp would have involved groping in the dark for the switch - unacceptable.) We tucked the covers around ourselves and pulled them over our heads as I cried into the babe´s neck. She rubbed my back and told me everything would be okay, and in the midst of my semi-panic, I was grateful to be with someone so understanding.

We slept horribly - both of us. It´s difficult to sleep pressed up against another person with covers tucked all around you. And that doesn´t even take into account the barking dogs or the rooster or the evangelical sermon over loud speaker at 7 am.

But we made it through the night. With some of the previous day´s exhaustion quelled, things looked a bit better in the morning. We decided to stay - mainly because we were in the jungle and were pretty sure that every other place would be the same. But we changed tactics. For the next two nights, we stayed out late - til after 9 - to allow the spiders time to find their evening resting spots. Then we came back and made a bee-line for the bed. No looking around. Just brush the teeth, shake out the pajamas, put them on, and get into bed. Tuck the covers. Fall asleep.

It worked, for the most part. I only had to kill one other spider. But we were glad to leave, glad to get a good night of sleep without fear of spiders. But I also felt sort of proud of myself for pushing through, for going out of my comfort zone. So proud, in fact, that a few nights later in the cloud forest, I happily walked up to one of the guys running our hostel and said, "There´s a really big spider in our room. Would you be willing to come take care of it?"

*I use the term "town" loosely. It´s basically a few hotels and restaurants at a dock.


Anonymous said...

hahaha. I enjoyed your post. It's written with such animation. see what vacation does for you!

Roosters, dogs, and little firecrackers (I've never heard sermons!) accompanied me during all of my time in Guatemala and were peppered with a few other things loud things in Ecuador.

Your post reminded me of the time I slept horribly worried of small creatures and was dependent upon Pablo (whom I barely knew at that point) and the little key chain light I had. We were in Tena, Ecuador 2006 (Amazon region). Terrible teeny hotel that did not have electricity at night so the one fan to keep us cool in the thick, humid night shut off...and then we heard the scampering around of mice/rats. The bed was my island and that keychain light was my weapon because I was NOT putting my foot on the ground. The animals found our scraps of snacks for the bus--meaning they were IN our bags at some point. The funniest part was in our efforts to scare them off and not sweat to death (no window to open) P even tried "meowing" at them. That is the funniest memory of it all!

Traveling and staying in plush hotels really doesn't offer this kind of entertainment. In all honesty, in order to see some of the most beautiful places it takes getting off of the beaten path and enduring spiders or rats or what have you. At least that's my take on it.

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