This week I have already killed one enormous cockroach (outside my home) and the other one managed to escape.
I live in an affluent neighborhood in Colima; my neighbors are all professionals. For the most part, homes are impeccably maintained. Armies of domestics arrive each morning and clean, clean, clean throughout the day. Housewives ordinarily spend their mornings exercising; later in the day, they may take painting lessons or English classes;they frequently shop at the local mall and in the afternoons they take the SUV to pick up the children from school.
These are the rhythms of life in my colonia. My husband and I could afford to pay the 20 dollars a week for a maid, but the very thought insults me.
I am a devotee of cleanliness and order; a modern day version of Vermeer’s paintings of the well-ordered Dutch household. To me, an untidy home is akin to Satan and tends to lend itself to an untidy life. I have an arsenal of cleaning supplies and tools;I pride myself on the sheen of our tile floors and the spotlessness of our windows. All of this is with one principal purpose in mind:insect deterrence. Unfortunately, life in the tropics comes with a price – insects.
I hate bugs.
Most people hate bugs, but my level of hatred (and fear) is off the charts. I cringe to the point of nearly vomiting when I think about one of my college apartments – Cockroach Arms.
One morning I awoke to find a cockroach crawling in my armpit. I actually levitated that day. My body jerked and heaved into the air. It was the worst experience of my life. To this day it ranks as one of my most horrifying experiences. My good friend Teri says bugs are simply a part of life in fun and sun Miami, “That’s the one thing you have to get used to in the tropics – critters. It’s hot here and they’re everywhere – it’s a fact of life.”
Paradise always comes with a price tag – insects are part of the cost.
Colima is the Valhalla of insects – in particular the insects I dread the most: cockroaches, scorpions and tarantulas.
My husband has a small, classic Colima bungalow in one of the growing middle class developments in Villa de Alvarez. The first time I stayed in his home, I think I had a bug related nervous breakdown. Most homes do not have central air conditioning so consequently we spent a considerable amount of time on the cochera (a combination driveway, garage and patio).
The insects, clearly well aware of my disgust, organized a reception to welcome me. First in the procession? Hideous leaf cutter ants. I had only seen them on National Geographic specials and in the encyclopedia. I thought for sure they only existed in the Amazon.
Did something move?
Out of the corner of my eye I could see a single file line of leaves going up and down a tree. Carlos was oblivious; I was horrified.
“What the hell is that?” I ask.
He shrugs, “Hormigas (ants).”
In Chicago, ants are tiny and black. These ants were giant and red. There were small giant ants and giant giants ants. I could clearly see the legs and giant head. Absolutely hideous.
“Do you have any insecticide?” I ask.
“No,” he says, “Just ignore them.”
Ignore them? I could not. I had visions of ants the size of Godzilla. “Could we go to the store and buy some insecticide?” I ask.
He sighs, “Yes, let me get the keys and we’ll go to the store.” It was his first taste of my entomophobia – fear of insects.
War has been declared!
I purchased $50 worth of chemicals that afternoon. I know it sounds perverse, but I delighted in killing those ant monsters.
It was a battle royal. I’d spray insecticide on the tree trunk and the ant line would detour around it. I’d douse the detoured ant line with spray; the other ants would scram and then reassemble later.
I felt like Carl Spackler (Bill Murray) in the movie “Caddyshack.” He fought the gophers and I fought the ants! Those filthy bastards!
After a half a day of chemical warfare, the ants relented and disappeared. I was certain that I had killed the little tree – but such is life. In every war there would be collateral damage; it had to be sacrificed for the greater good.
The next day the << expletive deleted >> ants returned as if nothing had occurred. Malditos. Thus began the trench warfare phase; ant death and destruction, ant retreat and ant re-mobilization – day after day. During the ant wars, I happened upon a creature known as the besucona (the common house gecko).
Not done yet.
As we prepared for bed, Carlos said, “If you need to use the bathroom at night be careful there might be a scorpion on the floor.”
He never mentioned scorpions when he invited me to spend the week.
Perhaps it was for the best because if I had known; I would have never step foot in his house. Even then he knew me well. During that first night, I heard a loud weird noise coming from the front door. It wasn’t a cricket; it sounded like a squeegee and a tap against the window. I nudged Carlos, who was nodding off by then
“I think there is someone at the door, listen” I say.
The noise repeated, but it was louder this time.
“Did you hear it?” I ask.
“It’s a besucona,” he replies.
The horror, the horror.
What the hell is that? At that time my Spanish was rusty. “Sounds like besa mi cula – kiss my ass,” I thought. I dismissed his response a nonsense.
However, I needed verification.
“No, Carlos, I think someone is at the door,” I say.
He knew that I would not relent. He threw off the sheets and sighed and started towards the front door. I wanted to go with him, but I was worried about the scorpions on floor.
“Could you turn on the light, and I’ll go with you,” I say.
If he turned the lights on I could see any scorpions on the floor. Lights on. Good. No scorpions -all clear. I picked up my sneakers off of the bureau where I had placed them there to avoid scorpions.
Slowly I crawled to the end of the bed; leaned over to pick up my sneakers and shook them vigorously. I did this to dislodge any particularly ambitious scorpions that could be hiding in my shoe. Knowing Carlos was watching me, I moved cautiously across the bed. I must have appeared odd to him. I didn’t care. Better to be odd than to be attacked by a vicious scorpion.
Shoes on – check; lights on – check and floor clear – check; I was ready to go forth. Carlos turned on the light in the front room, “Look, it is a besucona, just like I told you,” he pointed to a gecko in the corner of the front room, “its normal here.”
It still was disturbing to me. How could a little lizard make such a loud creepy noise?
Carlos turned and headed towards the bedroom; just to be sure there were no kidnappers outside; I parted the front window curtains and looked onto the cochera. Nothing but plants and moonlight. I turned back to offer my confirmation, but Carlos had disappeared into the bedroom.
“Crap, I better go now before the scorpions come back” I thought.
Insect Post Mortem.
It took four years before I had a scorpion encounter. We had returned to his home and while walking out of the bathroom Carlos yells, “Amorcito, stop! Don’t move!”
“What?” I yell.
I looked down and I saw a black scorpion inches away from my heel. Oh, I forgot to mention, my exposed heel in sandals. I shuddered, convulsed and froze with fear…I couldn’t breathe or speak. Carlos slammed his shoe on the scorpion and it went splat.
I shrieked. I must have looked like a fat-assed Baryshnikov when I leapt across the living room. As I recall the house was full of family and everyone was staring at me.
“What the <<expletive deleted>> was that a <<expletive deleted>> scorpion?”
“Yes,” Carlos said, “Take it easy.”
“What the f***!” I shout.
Yes, I was aware that there were children in the room, but who cares. At that moment I could have departed Colima forever. Carlos said, “Calm down, it was a black one; they are not as deadly as the brown ones,” he said.