Saturday, 22 November 2014

Things that go bump in the night

I had been thinking that a post about creepy crawlies in Fiji was long overdue when the inspiration arrived on my doorstep. My bedroom doorstep. Literally. At 3am.

Now all of you cat owners know about the lovely treats that your cute little killers bring you as gifts. Terrified mice, rats in rigor mortis, tailless chewed up lizards, half-dead birds and the like. All delightful and totally within my capacity to deal with. But the other night I met my match. I’ll admit there was some screaming and maybe just a little hysteria.

We have a long wooden landing at the top of the stairs outside of our bedroom. The cats use this as their killing ground. In the night you can sometimes hear them playing some sort of morbid version of catch. It sounds something like: scamper, scamper, thud, scamper, thud, thud. If any of the scampers or thuds is punctuated by a squeak, I’ll rouse myself from my slumber to undertake a mission of mercy to try to save the still living victim.

The other night there were quite a lot of thuds and scampers. Eventually there was a loud squeak, so I got out of bed and went onto the landing. A pile of clean laundry had been knocked over and one of the murderous beasts, Reggie, was looking expectantly at a crumpled up dark shirt, presumably the hiding place of a wee cute mouse that had managed to escape his clutches. In the dark, I stepped over the cat and the t-shirt to pick up daughter’s school uniform to hang it back up when the cat and the shirt suddenly engaged in mortal combat. The shirt wasn't a shirt. It was a fruit bat.

Now, I usually find fruit bats quite charming. They are wonderful to see flying overhead in the beautiful Fijian dusk – in silhouette they look just like Batman’s mark. However, they do get on your nerves when they screech and fight during the night. So there I was, penned in between blissfully slumbering daughter’s bedroom door and a flapping injured bat.

The cat, at least, had retreated a little. I grabbed daughter’s school shirt and was about to throw it over the injured beast when suddenly the fabric, in both substance and size, appeared to be inadequate for the task. Also the day was dawning on her second to last day of school (ever) and an important chemistry exam. I didn't want to be responsible for ruining a lucky shirt, or cause the entire family to become infected by a Fijian version of Ebola, so I turned to the only other option available to me. I screamed for my husband.

Husband, who had just hours before been complaining about our felines’ blood-thirsty ways (when dealing with a dead baby bird), gallantly appeared with a blanket. He gently picked up the poor little critter and took it outside. When he got back into bed later (after washing with copious amounts of warm soapy water – we've got a very good understanding of microbiology in our family) he said, “Poor little thing. It probably won’t live. Damned thing bit me three or four times – nearly took my finger off”. He then started making zombie noises. Funny.

Reggie as a kitten killing a catnip mouse
One of the great things about Fiji is its lack of deadly creepy crawlies. The Fijians think our fear of spiders is incomprehensible as none of the spiders here bite. There are snakes – both on land and sea. But the land based ones are mostly small and rare, while the banded sea krait is venomous but has a tiny mouth. Imagine yourself trying to take a bite out of a basketball - that’s what I imagine the degree of difficulty one of these striped critters would have trying to deliver a mortal wound to a person. Of course this is hard to remember when one is swimming up from the reef at you when you’re snorkeling – there is something particularly unnerving about snakes moving in three dimensions.
Scary if you're scared of snakes, I guess.
Poor daughter appears to be the one with the most frequent creepy crawly encounters. Soon after we arrived in Suva, she slayed a scorpion with a wooden spatula in the kitchen. Or at least she thought it was a scorpion. The fact that it turned out to be a harmless scorpion spider shouldn't detract from her heroic effort. Then there was the enormous Pacific tree boa in the branches above their heads during a biology field trip. This being Fiji, one of Anna’s classmate’s scrambled up the tree to get it down.

However, her worst encounter by far was with a spider. Now I know that I just said that spiders don’t bite here. However, when there is one the size of a dinner plate hiding in your untidy bedroom all rational thinking goes out of the window. She was saved by her friend, S, who stood like a Ninja for around 45 minutes on her bed patiently surveying the room for the elusive beast. Assisted by another friend, H, the beast was eventually caught. The fact that H has a propensity to eat all of my pickled jalapenos when he’s in the house was forever forgiven. John and I witnessed these unfolding events via inadvertent text messages as demonstrated by the phone screenshot below.

Pity about the swearing but at least she demonstrates her vast literary knowledge
As for me, the worst that I've encountered is a venomous centipede that ran out of some lettuce into the salad spinner, where it was trapped and duly dispatched by one of Anna’s friends. I’m not going to lie – I absolutely loath the things. I hate all their horrible little legs and the creepy undulating way that they move. Not to the mention that a bite from them has been likened to the pain of childbirth. They are definitely my least favourite of all tropical critters along with crocodiles. Fortunately we don’t have those here.

Of course, all of this needs to be put into perspective. Even if you do the Beqa shark dive or happen to encounter a reef shark while snorkeling, it’s very likely that the most dangerous thing that you’ll experience in Fiji will be a ride in a taxi with no seatbelts and a driver in desperate need of a pair of spectacles. Unless you're smallish and furry, in which case I'd suggest that you stay away from our cats.

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