Where the Wild Things Are

First off, I want to pass along the sad news that our grandma, Evelyn Houle, passed away last Friday. By all accounts it happened relatively peacefully after a long battle with Alzheimer’s and the numerous complications that come along with it. She was an amazing woman and will be sorely missed by all of us. As for Guatemala, well, so far I have talked about Food (at length) and Activities (at length). This time around – the wildlife! At length, of course. This part of Guatemala, like most inhabited areas of Central America, is not exactly renowned for its untouched animal population. You have to dig pretty deep into the jungles and highlands to find any large mammals or more intriguing members of the reptilian family. What we do have, though, are a large variety of things that either fly or scurry. Plus, I suppose dogs qualify as large mammals, and, believe you me, there are plenty of those.

Now, I’ll start with one big bright side – basically no mosquitoes.

En garde!

En garde!

They do exist here, yet even though we keep the entire front of our place wide open day and night, over the course of 6 weeks I’ve only come across 2 or 3 mosquitoes. They look a little bit different, too, don’t seem too interested in biting anyone, and are really easy to kill, much like my grocery shopping ambitions on any given day. So that is good.

What is not as good is the abundance of flies. There are many different kinds but by far the most numerous and irritating are the regular house flies. So at least they don’t bite or anything. But they are still incredibly irritating and I would say that on an average day I kill around 20 (thanks to the great, old-fashioned fly swatter we specifically stole from the cabin to bring down here in preparation). Plus, I feel like they are getting more clever as time goes on, spending more and more time taunting me from the screen of our laptop, or the rim of a glass, or, worst of all, my pillow; places they know I’m reluctant to batter with my vehement rage or despoil with a smattering of fly remnants, revelling, I’m sure, in watching my frustration manifest itself in angry teeth grinding. Of course, they also often make the mistake of thinking they are just as safe landing on Laynni but, I can assure you, that has proven to be literally no deterrent at all.

Attack of the Giant Corner Spider!

Attack of the Giant Corner Spider!

There are also fruit flies, which flock to the vicinity of our garbage bin if the thought of a pineapple even crosses our minds, and gnats, which mostly trouble Laynni when she is on the roof doing yoga, but occasionally hang around when I’m on the computer doing their best to irritate me by buzzing around my eyes and ears, or occasionally reading over my shoulder while I type. The odd giant black bee will fly in, drowning out our music with its overwhelming and -frankly a bit obnoxious – buzzing, but they never stay long, usually doing a quick tour of the premises before concluding our place consists of basically nothing but books and pillows, and beating a hasty retreat.

Rather fittingly, as I’m writing this I keep getting distracted by the giant spider on the window in front of me stalking giant ants. It promises to be a fun battle. We used to kill these big spiders, mainly based on the concept that if I ever found one in bed with me I would immediately, and embarrassingly, shit my pants. But over time we have learned that they seem to want as little to do with us as we do with them and, in all likelihood, help keep the populations of some of the smaller nuisances down some. Also, they are really fast and hard to kill, and after any failed assassination attempt I spend hours fearing retribution. Hence, our uneasy truce.

Note: Not more than an hour after writing this I was pulling a chair out when I apparently startled said spider into frantically scampering across my hand and partially up my arm. After a moment to regain my composure, well, let’s just say my embargo on killing spiders ended rather abruptly.

For some reason the ants aren’t nearly as prevalent or invasive in this apartment as they were when we stayed upstairs previously (literally right on top of our current room).

Like an airplane for mice

Like an airplane for animated mice

Up there they were far and away our feature nemesis, with tiny little red ones getting into anything and everything in our kitchen anytime we were a little lax in distribution of the industrial “genocide blend” ant killer we bring all the way down from Canada specially for them. In this apartment we only see a few of those every once in a while, and the only time they are ever really a problem is when I discover one exploring the maze of bristles on my toothbrush. Other than that there are the really large ones that never seem to venture beyond the bathroom windows or the tub and, from what I can tell, simply do laps around the window sill and provide giant spider fodder. Keep up the good work, dipshits. Then there is the group of sort of standard-issue black ants that aren’t as invasive as the tiny biters, and aren’t big enough to seem worrisome, and seem to generally spend all their time slowly hauling dead fly carcasses out the door to, presumably, some huge feast they are preparing somewhere across the stairs in the nearby shrubbery.

Unfortunately, leaving our windows open at night, while keeping our place cool and freshly breezy, apparently also opens us up to minor moth infestations. Generally just a little off-putting, occasionally interesting, but every once in a while absolutely shocking and horrific, such as when the moth in question that has chosen the underside of our couch as his temporary place of rest and recuperation turns out to be the size of a bat, or maybe a piece of whole wheat bread, and controversially decides to flee his comfortable hiding spot just as I happen to be passing by in the dark at 3 am on the way to the bathroom, his massive wings ruffling my unruly bed-hair and creating flitting shadows reminiscent of weary souls escaping vanquished villains, or, once again, a bat.

It's a standoff

It’s a standoff

Scorpions tend to be the most infamous visitors around here, owing to their dangerous and frightening reputations, but in reality they have been almost inconsequential this time around. We’ve only encountered two the whole time, one of which I trapped in a glass and dumped outside (from where he likely proceeded to the apartment below ours, where they allegedly see almost a scorpion per day) and the other of which unfortunately did not fare well in my well-intentioned by ultimately failed attempt to use the fly swatter to quickly fling him out the window into the great outdoors beyond, thereby saving myself both time and the need to wash a glass. My aim was off, only slightly mind you, but I’m sure that was small consolation to the scorpion who found itself knocked senseless by a high velocity impact with the still-closed portion of the window. My second try was far more successful, probably in part because he was no longer putting up much of a struggle.

Maybe our strangest discovery came a couple days ago during a heavy rainstorm when Laynni spotted a huge earthworm on the cement floor, ever…so…slowly making its way further into the room; muddy, dishevelled and disoriented like it had finally, after days of deliberation, determined that maybe living in the wet muddy garden didn’t necessarily have to be its lot in life, that maybe generation after generation of earthworms had been confining themselves to the dank confines of dirt holes for so long simply out of habit, and that maybe, just maybe, a couple nights in a warm dry bed wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Where do you think you're going, huh?

Where do you think you’re going, huh?

I chucked it back into the shrubbery, too.

Now, for some of the other creatures that cross our paths here and there without, so far, breaching the confines of our home away from home.

Dogs – there are dogs everywhere. Dogs for companionship, dogs for security, dogs for putting a scare into hikers who are only minding their own business, dogs for monotonously barking away the eerie silence of the dead of night. Truth be told, I could probably do without all of them. Although Pierre’s are pretty nice, even if they do get your heart racing in a hurry any time you approach his door unannounced.

Birds – lots of different kinds, probably with actual names and classifications, but which I will simply describe as the yellow one, the hummingbird-ish one, the one that sounds like a whiny cat, the dirty-looking ones that occasionally run into our window with the same resounding crash you normally only hear from a Guatemalan road crew saving themselves a whole bunch of work by using dynamite. The first time it happened I rushed to the window and, upon witnessing this sad-looking specimen clobbered comatose, lying on the roof below with its body unhealthily contorted like a rambunctious kid had been trying to use it as a Rubik’s cube, but still raggedly breathing, I started running through euthanasia scenarios, as unpleasant as I found the idea, discarding them one by one as inhumane, messy, or simply beyond my powers of destruction. Plus, where was I going to find cement boots on a Saturday? So I retired to the couch to read, and subconsciously ponder this dilemma, returning about an hour later just in time to witness the previously unconscious specimen make its way upright to awkwardly stumble a few steps away from my looming shadow before clumsily managing to get airborne long enough to make it to a nearby branch.

Lifeguard duty

Lifeguard duty

Talk about dodging a bullet, huh? I’m sure one day he’ll be sitting around the tree with a bunch of other ugly brown birds laughing his ass off about the time he came so close to being smothered with a bleach-soaked dish cloth. And then there is the huge crane that flies past every morning to spend all day hanging out on the big rocks at the nearby point before heading back the way he came every afternoon like clockwork as though he is putting in his unionized shift at the corner fishery, or maybe just has to find someplace to spend the day because he hasn’t come up with the courage to tell his wife and squawking brood that he got laid off months ago and their nest of twigs and dung is on the verge of repossession.

The problem being, in all likelihood, an overall lack of fish. In the past we have always seen a lot of fish in the lake, often jumping, occasionally floating by mysteriously tits up, but this time around they have been conspicuously absent. Except, of course, for in the sauna, which finally succumbed to the rising waters a couple weeks ago and now rather than hosting overweight gringos optimistically hoping to lose a whole bunch of water weight in a short period of time, instead serves as a particularly stylish and trendy fish pond like it is a mall for adolescent fish, a cool place to cruise around lackadaisically looking intentionally nonchalant and leering at the rapidly changing fins and bottom scales of their female counterparts.

Animals!

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