November 26, 2016
Every day for over two weeks, I set my coffee cup on the arm of the teal painted Adirondack chair facing the waves of Playa Negra. It was usually around 5 AM. I was up before the others. I loved to see the sun move across the yard and light up the waves. The birds were already awake and calling. We had one more week in this place of awe before moving off the Nicoya Peninsula to our next rental—a house in the hills above Dominical.
I would miss this house and the life-force that swirled around it. Every morning the black birds met me and chattered and the white-throated magpie jays with their feather crowns talked to each other as if I wasn’t sitting just ten feet away. There was evidence monkeys had been on the patio during the night and each morning as I crossed the patio from my room to the main house, I was usually greeted by some new bug—none of which I could identify. Steve tried to look each one up online and occasionally would locate one—like the tailless whip scorpion we discovered the first night.
The tailless whip scorpion is probably the ugliest thing you will ever see. It is straight out of a sci-fi. If it was bear-size you would faint—possibly die—from fear. The boys had the main house and discovered it in the bathroom. They got a good look at it before it scooted under the counter and they immediately looked it up online. Turns out the tailless whip scorpion is not really a scorpion or a spider. They are members of the ancient order of Amblypygi or arachnid chelicerate arthropods. They are harmless and often kept as pets and can become quite friendly with humans. I wanted to see it and called to Steve from bathroom.
“Where did it go?”
“Under the counter. Where the sink is.”
“You mean that one-eighth inch gap at the floor?”
Steve poked his head around the door. “Yeah. He can totally get flat.”
The bug was palm size and dark gray. He only made the occasional appearance in the entire 30 days we were there and only at night. We saw three more in the laundry room but they scurried away and hid in some impossibly small crack in the floor.
Steve was adamant that we were not to kill any bugs. If we didn’t want them in the house, we were to pick them up and put them outside. I tried to follow that rule — the we’re-in-Costa Rica-so get-used-to-it rule, but there were times, I couldn’t comply. On a few occasions, I made Steve come into my room to remove some creature, usually an actual scorpion (not Whiptail-Harry, as we began to call the bug under the bathroom counter).
So, yes there were scorpions in Costa Rica. The ones we saw were not that big—maybe 2-3 inches uncurled. They were not aggressive as other scorpions I’ve been involved with, like the bark scorpions of Phoenix, but they were hard to see, which made accidental encounter a possibility. They seemed to stay in corners in the dark and stopped moving if they sensed another lifeform. Did you know scorpions glow in the dark? No kidding. So, bring your black light—or maybe just don’t look for them. Ignorance is possibly better in this case.
One night I woke up with a sensation on my leg under the light sheet. I sat straight up throwing off the cover and saw a black spider about the size of my thumbnail crawling on my thigh. My first thought was to be still and observe him/her–whatever, which I did for a second. He had stopped moving. Afraid of me? He had every reason to be. The next second my personal-space-bug-intrusion-instinct kicked in and I slapped the palm of my hand down on him with all intent to smack his little guts on my leg. When I raised my hand he was fully alive and unharmed. He hadn’t bit me, and in fact, he looked exactly the same. My leg, however, had a red hand print on it. He resumed his slow travel up my thigh and I had a sudden moment of forgiveness that he was in my space—my bed while so many dark and dirty corners on the floor were more appropriate for his travel. Why would he wander into my bed except by chance; some path had opened to him and he took it. It was the same reason I was sitting in that bed in that place of rain and bugs—that place so full of life where people survive alongside the bigger and deeper expanse of nature—the bugs, the birds, the monkeys, the free roaming chickens, cows and dogs, the ants—OMG the ants—all wandering loose and free. I watched him for another moment—I could because he was slow and he wasn’t ugly like Whiptail-Harry. With that thought, I swept him with the back of my hand across the room where he likely hit the wall or some piece of furniture, dropped to the floor unharmed (because bugs can do that somehow), and kept on going as if it was just another Tuesday at 3 AM.
There was a lesson in that moment—one of many I learned during those two months in Costa Rica. Did I spare him because he wasn’t ugly? Or did I spare him because I admired his resiliency—the way he had adapted to the lifestyle—living among the constant threat of something more aggressive than he? Maybe.
But then there were the millipedes…
When I live in Costa Rica, I will do all I can to deter bugs in a humane—non pesticide way—from coming into my space. But there, in that rental home that had been sadly neglected for so long, I had to take a more sadistic approach to the millipedes. For that reason, I forgive the millipede that crawled into my ear and made me itch for a week. I suppose it died in there or exited in disgust or perhaps he has now burrowed into my brain.
The inch-long millipedes were, at first, a source of entertainment. For days, I watched them crisscross the floor of my bathroom while I dressed or brushed my teeth or sat on the john. They seemed to have no purpose at all yet a hundred or more disappeared and reappeared daily and every day I either stepped on them—because there was no way to avoid it, or scooped them up with the broom and pan to move them to the outside of the house. I tried to not kill them. I didn’t want to. But, at some point, the constant crunching of them under my shoes (yes, they crunch) and my inability to go barefoot in my room, forced me to take a new approach. I studied them to determine their point of entry. Although they came from everywhere, a small majority came from one direction crossing an area near my bed to enter the large bathroom to linger on the stone tile floor. Should you have the thought that perhaps my bathroom floor wasn’t clean—think again. Cleaning the floor, on a daily basis, was my first avenue of attack.
I looked online to find ways to remove them but those were all outdoor preventative—like diatomaceous earth, which is a horrible way to die if you are a bug with an exoskeleton (bed bugs, ants, fleas). It basically acts like glass, shredding their exterior which exposes their interior, killing them slowly and possibly painfully. So, I came up with a few ideas of my own. I sprinkled cayenne powder around the perimeter of the room but had to remove it the next night after my sinuses objected. I tried cinnamon. At least the room smelled like cookies. I tried pepper—figuring they might sneeze themselves out of the room. I sprayed them with vinegar water. I dripped a thin line of liquid dish washing soap around the baseboards. Nothing stopped them, although the dish soap did slow them down for a few seconds.
So, back to the basics. Duct tape. When you don’t know what else to do, duct tape it. It was not going to be a humane method but I knew it would work. We had brought duct tape with us—because duct tape is a staple, like salt. It is the fallback solution for everything. I created some double-sided duct tape, which is not easy. If they (whoever makes duct tape) don’t yet have double-sided on the new products white board—they should put it there. I placed the double-sided duct tape in front of the main millipede highway, and—you know what happened. As they crossed the tape they became stuck and eventually died of starvation. Word must have spread among their community that one highway was blocked. Although the tape—a span of about 4 feet—collected 20 or so new travelers a day, that was not their only point of entry and within a few days, they had altered their path.
There is a great lesson in the resilience of bugs—particularly the highly successful ones of Costa Rica. We can all learn the lesson:
Don’t look down. Hit the ground running, and if your path is diverted, just take another. Try to stay away from the evil ones—the killers of goodness—and those that want to judge you based on your appearance, your color or the size of your legs.