Hugged A Tarantula lately? Part 2

Terrace, Mariposa Language School, photo by Glenda Glenday

“El subjuntivo: presente, pretérito imperfecto, pretérito perfecto y el pluscuamperfecto.”

Classroom, Mariposa Spanish SchoolBergman valiantly tries to recapture our attention to the importance of Spanish subjunctive verbs as we watch hummingbirds flock to a tree just beyond the open window of our classroom.

A rooster saunters into the classroom, a hen following along behind.

They stop at a basket left in a corner of the room, right in front of my chair and directly under the dry-eraseboard.

Rooster showing off his nest
Rooster showing off his nest

The rooster’s prepared a nest there for his mate and seems, as far as I can read rooster, quite proud of himself.  The hen peers over the edge of the basket, seems satisfied, then they both bob their way back outside.

Chris and I giggle. We snap photos.

The subjunctive never stood a chance.

(for part 1, click here)

Mornings at the Mariposa

I wake up every morning at the Mariposa laughing, thanks to one particularly feisty rooster and a few wannabe cockerels.

The Mariposa alarm clock
The Mariposa alarm clock

It begins sometime after 5:00 a.m.

The rooster crows.

I partially wake up.  By the third morning I know the auditory show will begin a few seconds later.

Sure enough, they start.  Cockerels.

They want to imitate the big fellow – the rooster.

They start off well enough.

We translate rooster’s crow as “COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO!”.

Loud.  Assertive.

“This is my territory.”

Well, the Mariposa rooster doesn’t have much to worry about when it comes to staking claim to the property.

There’s no doubt to anyone who’s listening – and we probably all are by now – as to who’s boss of the barnyard.

I don’t know how to describe what sound the cockerels are attempting.

“Caw – ccaawww –  oooorrrrrrrr.”

A loud burst that suddenly becomes strangled.

Like they’re trying to hit a high note but swallow a throat lozenge mid-vowel.

Yet they keep on trying.

“Caw – ccaawww –  oooorrrrrrrr.”

A few days into my visit and I’m silently cheering them on – after my morning laugh I’d like at least one of them to succeed.

It never happened.

Poor little guys.

After the auditory show I shower (solar-powered hot water) and head downstairs to attempt a bit of Spanish homework before eating.

Breakfast starts at 7:00 a.m.  There’s always a mini-buffet spread out in the kitchen.  We help ourselves and then take our plates out onto the terrace to eat.

Melva and Betania, Mariposa kitchen
Melva and Betania in the kitchen

Fresh fruit and freshly squeezed fruit juices, cereal, eggs (from the hens on the property), bread. Cut up limes to squeeze over fresh papaya. It became my preferred way of eating papaya, although what we have available in Canada do not resemble in the least the papayas we had at the Mariposa.

Papaya plants, Mariposa Spanish school, Nicaragua
Papaya plants, Mariposa Spanish school, Nicaragua

This is a papaya plant growing just outside the kitchen door at the Mariposa -not quite ready to be harvested.

Just how large do they grow anyway?

Sometimes we have a type of omelette made from the root of the quequisque plant.

A massive quequisque plantAbove is a large quequisque, dug up by a worker near the bottom of the pineapple/coffee plantation.

What’s In My Room?

On the afternoon we’re to go to the eco-garden center, I’m in my bedroom and see a the dark blotch on the bed.

I get closer.

The fight or flight survival instinct is still hard-wired in the more primitive parts of our brains despite modern conveniences like cans of Raid Pest and Roach Control.

Something somewhere inside me screams “danger”.

I grab the bedspread, fling it against the wall and flatten myself into as small a space as possible against the door on the opposite side of the room.

Now, lizards, I like.  And I think bats are not only useful and extremely necessary but also sorta cute in their little rodent-faced way.

But I never before thought I’d be getting up close and personal with a tarantula.

Tarantula - not my best friend

The rational side of my brain tries to kick in once the immediate danger is no longer visible.

“Calm down. I chose to come here. Nobody forced me.  I did this on my own.”

I even said it out loud a couple of times.

It didn’t overcome my demented tarantula phobia.

By now my heart’s pounding and my palms are sweaty.  The tarantula is probably creeping around under the bed or climbing up the wall so it can crawl back onto the pillow to continue its nap.

The primeval side of my brain decided to dispatch itself back to Canada on the next flight from Managua.  Cold weather has the advantage of killing off monstrous sized arachnids.  Unfortunately, I could only afford the least expensive ticket to get here with no exchanges or refunds.  I do have out-of-country insurance but I don’t think this qualifies as a medical emergency.

I’m pretty well stuck here.  And it’s only my third day.  Of a two-week trip.

Then it dawns on me.

Maybe the thing is dead.  It could have fallen from the overhead beam – just keeled over and splat – down it went.

The problem is, Paulette isn’t around.  I could check to see if any of the others who help run the lodge are here, though it’s a Sunday afternoon – but at that moment, right underneath the panic, another feeling settles in.


I need to get a grip.

I’m scared out of my socks over something that is in its natural environment here.

My thinking clears enough to realize that I can leave the room by turning the key in the lock and making my getaway. Once downstairs I tell Paulette’s friend who is to take me to the garden centre what happened.

Pico Caballos

“I almost stepped on one once”, he says encouragingly.  “I left a pair of shoes outside my door and in the morning I saw it at the last second just before it could grab my foot.”

Lord have mercy.

“But they’re not really tarantulas.  The Nicas call them “pico caballos” – horse stingers.”

“Are they nicer than tarantulas?”

“That’s what I understand.”

That’s good news.  Very good news.  I have to be here for another 11 days.

We head off to the garden center where we crunch along some underbrush to a spot the owner wants to show us.  It’s so beautiful – aerial vines, orchids …

Then we look down at the vegetation under our feet.

“This is the type of place pico caballos like to hide,”  the owner tells us.

Dining terrace, Mariposa Spanish School, 2007We head back to the Mariposa after our tour of the center without having met any huge, hairy spiders.   We join Paulette at the outdoor dining table for some tea and I fill her in on my pico caballo experience earlier in the day.

“Bergman, would you go upstairs and see if it’s still there?”

I follow him to the room.  He kneels and sweeps around under the bed.

With his bare hand.

My stomach gets queasy again.

“No, it’s not there,” he smiles.

Why is he acting like it’s good news?

If it’s not there, it walked away.

If it walked away, it’s not dead.

And that means it can come back.

Probably when I’m asleep.

Back on the terrace Bergman cheerfully announces there’s nothing to worry about, the little critter’s gone.

“I’m glad I found out at least that it’s a pico caballo and not a tarantula,” I smugly pronounce.

The Unflappable Brit

Paulette’s teacup stops in midair.

“What do you mean ‘it’s not a tarantula’?  Of course it’s a tarantula.  ‘Pico caballo’ is merely the Nicaraguan expression for the type of tarantula that lives here.”

Holy fark.

“I wish you hadn’t told me that.” Her friend turns even paler than usual.

As for me, I’m starting to do that shallow breathing thing a body does when it goes into shock.

“Well, I don’t know what you’re so surprised about.”  Paulette is matter-of-fact as she takes another sip of tea.

“You’re in the sub-tropics for goodness’ sake.  There are all kinds of insects and things here.  Whatever were you expecting?”

Now, Paulette is originally from England.  What with her graceful manners and that wonderful, refined British accent, she sounds like she should be taking high tea at the Savoy rather than defending Central American tarantulas.

All those tales of the unflappable Brits, stiff upper lip and the rest of it?

All true.

I sheepishly admit she’s right.  And I did choose Nicaragua – not Greenland.

Bedtime at the Mariposa

That night – embarrassed but still paranoid – I untie the mosquito netting above the bed and begin my tarantula-proofing lunatic night time ritual:

  • Check the floor everywhere, kneel (a couple of feet away) from the beds and look underneath.
  • Look under the dresser.
  • Make sure nothing is crawling around in the shower (we each have our own bathroom) or behind the toilet.
  • Inspect the walls for dark blotches with eight legs.
  • Remove the pillowcase and look inside, inspect the pillow then reassemble.
  • Remove the bottom sheet and check on the mattress.
  • Remove top blanket, then the sheet and ensure nothing is moving.
  • Lift up the mattress to see if anything’s on the wood frame.
  • Tuck in the mosquito netting as tightly as possible on three sides of the bed.
  • Crawl into bed on the open side, jam the netting down as much as I can.
  • Get out of bed half an hour later to use the bathroom.
  • Start over.

I last about three nights.

I downsize the routine to the bedding, and forget about the walls and under the mattress.

At the end of the first week Ifeel more than a bit silly.

A glance under the bed and the top sheet, a quick tuck on the mosquito netting, and I was done for the night.

Never saw another tarantula.

Not even a pico caballo.


*I know tarantulas are not fatal.  They eat mostly insects, not humans.  Some people even keep them as pets.  Knowing that didn’t help at the time.  (Photo of the tarantula above courtesy of National Geographic – I was in no state to think about taking pictures).

Los Pipitos’ Farewell Dance

It’s my last day at the Mariposa.  Bergman and Paulette manage to keep me distracted enough not to notice something weird is going on. Doors to classrooms are closed, there’s a lot of coming and going.  I put it down to a community project Paulette has undertaken.

When I first arrived I wanted to visit and volunteer at a center for people with intellectual challenges called Los Pipitos, just down the hill from the Mariposa.  Though closed for their annual break, I did get to meet a few of the girls because they were learning Nicaraguan folklore dances at the Mariposa.

Los Pipitos dancing Nicaraguan folklore dance

Bergman calls me over to the terrace.

I receive the best going-away present possible.

I watch as the girls perform one of their dances for me.

Nicaragua’s Places to See

Had I idiotically fled the country at the sight of the tarantula, I would have missed:

The mouth of a volcano, Nicaragua

We visited a sulphur-spewing volcano.  Incredibly, chocoyos live within the volcano.
They build protected nests there and their babies keep warm as well as safe from predators.

San Juan, NicaraguaStreet scene from the nearby town. 

Downtown Granada, NicaraguaI visited Granada, UNESCO World Heritage Site, with Paulette one day.

Chris with students on field tripChris and I on our way back from a trip organized by the Mariposa Language School for a group of schoolchildren to a  local zoo.

None of the children had been there before.

(The highlight was the nature reserve; read about it here).


Author: Boheme4ever

Personal development, global travel. The stuff of my life.

7 thoughts on “Hugged A Tarantula lately? Part 2”

  1. Oh, I don’t think I have EVER laughed so much at a blog. But for the record the reason I was so blase about the tarantula is that pico caballos don’t bite. They are not only not fatal they are completely, absolutely, totally, honestly 100% HARMLESS!!! I have a photo somewhere of a kid with one (a big one) resting on his cheek…..I will see if I can find it. But now I understand why you never came back…..!! Big hugs!!!

    1. Thank you for your lovely comment, Annette. Although written quite a while ago, the “Tarantula” post was one of the easiest to write, probably because I had such visceral reactions to explore. I haven’t been visiting the blog lately and so am remiss in responding to comments.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s