Sunday, May 4, 2014

Never Choose The Tarantula Cabin and other Lessons of the Jungle

Happily on our way to the eco-lodge on the eco-bus (photo by Luis Bastardo)

"Tarantulas are usually nocturnal and are difficult to notice unless you are searching for them. Most people encounter adult males, which wander during daylight hours looking for female mates." - The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Travel 

As our plane reached cruising altitude, I leaned back in my seat, sipping my gin and tonic slowly, feeling a huge wave of relief to finally be free of the daily 10-hour hikes through the rugged Andes. For five days, Luis, my 50-something husband, and I had hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu with a group of 20-something athletic Spaniards. It was a terribly isolating experience since I was just starting to learn Spanish and so didn't understand much of what was said, my body was at the level of physical condition brought on by years of owner neglect and, even in the best of circumstances, I am a very slow hiker, so we spent most of the trip trailing far behind the other hikers and the guide. The declines were much harder on my knees than I had expected and I was now unable to walk for more than 15 minutes or so, even on a flat surface, without tearing up in pain. But far above the Andes with my gin and tonic in hand on the way to Puerto Maldonado in the Peruvian jungle, all that was behind me now. I had done it! 

From plane to bus to boat: arriving at the eco-lodge (photo by Simone Cannon)
When the plane landed, we rode the open-sided bus, then a boat to the EcoAmazonia Lodge were we were warmly greeted by the staff.
"Hola y Bienvenidos! We have a wide selection of eco-cabins; which one would you like?"
I looked at the list of cabins, then at Luis.
"I don't know. They all look identical to me...what's the difference?"
"They have different names."  
"There is the Llama cabin and the Caiman cabin and the Macaw cabin and the Iguana cabin and the Anaconda cabin and the Tarantula cabin and the..."
"We'll take the Tarantula cabin." Luis looked at me. "Really"?
"Would you prefer the Anaconda cabin?"
"The Tarantula's fine"
"We'll take the Tarantula."
"Excellent choice!"

We followed the front desk clerk to our eco-cabin and peered inside. It looked normal enough. No tarantula-shaped chandeliers, no tarantula-printed sheets, just a rattan framed bed and grass cloth walls and flooring. Nothing to worry about here. We dropped our bags and I sat on the bed with my back against the wall.
"So, what's our itinerary for the rest of the day?"
Luis looked up and past me. "Well, first, we'll have to kill that tarantula that's walking down the wall toward your head".
"Ha ha, very funny. Seriously, are we supposed to meet the guide or what?"

Now, one thing that you have to know about my husband is that his great delight in life is playing practical jokes. He is the original snakes-in-the-can guy, anything for a laugh, so naturally I didn't bite.

"Look, Luis, I'm tired and not in the mood for silly games. I'm so sure that there's a giant tarantula crawling down toward me in the Tarantula Cabin...I mean, really, what are the odds? A tarantula hanging on the wall five feet above my head in its namesake room? I doubt that tarantulas have a sense of irony."
"Actually, it's more like three feet."
"I'm not looking up."
"Suit yourself."
"I'm absolutely not looking up or moving because I refuse to fall for your infantile jokes one more...AGGGGGHHHH!!!"

Tarantula on the wall (photo courtesy of Matt Moyers)

My screams brought the eco-staff running into our room.
Señora! Señora! ¿está bien?"  
"Ah! You have a tarantula!" 
"Pero, Señora, a tarantula is good luck!"
"I don't care! If I want luck, I'll buy a rabbit's foot at the eco-gift shop! Get it out of here!"
"Yes, of course." 
Four more men arrived carrying a broom. 
"What are you going to do with that?" 
"Cut his legs off."
"Cut his legs off."
"So he can't crawl back into your room." 
"Oh, my God. I'm going to have a tiny disabled spider hobbling around outside my room?"
"More like gyrating."
"That's terrible!"
"Although of course his family will still have all of their legs. They will probably return tonight to see what happened to their relative. Tarantulas are well-known in the jungle for their vendettas." 
Peels of laughter. They were kidding. I think. I spent the night wide awake sitting up in bed with my flashlight in hand and my shoes on just in case.  

    Jungle Transport (photo by Simone Cannon)

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