I shone the torch up into the rafters of the wooden room. Yes it was definitely there. I counted ,one, two three, four, five, six, seven, eight legs spread out from its fat juicy body, tarantula! And then I shone the torch to another post, yes there was number two.
Just what on earth had possessed me to come to the Ecuadorian rain forest with a phobia of spiders? Tarantulas are the King of the arachnids and here they were bedding down with me for the night.
My guide had been extremely honest when I had asked about the chances of encountering tarantulas’ whilst on my rainforest trip.
“You will definitely have them in your room at some point. But that is good because they will eat all the unwanted insects. It’s not like a James Bond movie you know?”
No I mused it is not, no chance of Daniel Craig rescuing me from deadly spiders in the night. That scene of him walking out of the sea in those shorts flashed across my mind. Why hadn’t I booked a beach break? Too late now though.
And then I thought – What the hell kind of insects would there be, that having a tarantula in your room would be a good thing?
The guide had also thrown in the mention of scorpion spiders. My imagination ran amok at what that would be.
“Did I want high adventure?” The travel agent in Quito had asked. And I had rather rashly said, “Yes”.
The high adventure had started out inauspiciously enough, although the usual three hour canoe trek morphed into a grueling seven hours because the rains had come very late and that meant in places we had to carry our own canoe.
But along the route our enthusiastic guide pointed things out that would have escaped the usual grumpy tourists. I remember from a trip to Costa Rica that you can tell a good guide from his enthusiasm. Well on a scale of 1- 10 this guy was 11. His eye sight was better than spider mans.
He pointed out things that would have escaped any mere mortal. Orchids of the most miniscule size were suddenly glaringly obvious. Birds camouflaged high in the trees were suddenly as clear as if in a cage in front of us. Monkeys that were discreetly watching us were at the “watching you, watching me”, stage.
And so eventually we arrived at camp.
My hope had been to see a jaguar whilst there and as soon as our evening meal was over and the beers were being opened I immediately asked our guide, “So what are the chances of us seeing a jaguar?”
He looked a bit solemn and said, “Well there was one in the area but unfortunately my brother who works at the local petrol plant, was out pig hunting with his friends and shot it.”
My heart immediately sank, there was no chance of seeing another jaguar on my trip, they are so rare and so allusive and then I felt angry. Why had his brother shot it?
“He had gone hunting for pig with his friends and they had found no pigs, but on their way home they had spotted a jaguar, they saw it as a gift from the gods and they shot it.”
I wanted to cry. Such a beautiful creature to be shot because it was seen as a gift from the gods!
I could just imagine the conversation round the dinner table at our guide’s family home on Sunday.
“So my lovely boys, how has your week been?”
“Well mum my friends and I went out pig hunting; sadly we didn’t find one pig. But we saw a jaguar and we shot it.”
And my guides reply. “Well mum I had a group of very angry and upset tourists, because they didn’t see a jaguar on their trip. My brother had shot it.”
The guide raised my spirits slightly by telling me dolphins had been seen lower down the river and there was also high hopes of us catching piranha for tomorrow evening’s meal.
The death of the jaguar had caused me to forget about the prospect of spiders in my room. But on arriving at my room it all came back to me.
Whilst preparing to crawl under the mosquito net I realised there would be no electricity, after 10.00 the generator would be switched off. The arachnids would be free to roam and devour me in their own sweet spider time in the dark. Bang on cue the lights switched of and I was left in darkness.
And then I made the mistake of turning the torch on. And that’s when I saw them. And that’s when I heard a scream from another room. I listened out, the words “spider”, “crawling”, “me”, flitted through and then all was quiet.
As I placed the torch by my side my hands shook, the torch rolled away under the mosquito net. I heard a thud on the wooden floor and it rolled, presumably under my bed. And I was back to darkness.
In the silence I could hear it, one of the spiders was moving. I knew what it was; only something with eight legs could make that sound. I remained still waiting for the “coup de grace”. Nothing!
I must have slept because I heard a cacophony of whooping and howling, building in to a crescendo of deep barking. It was the howler monkeys bringing in the dawn. Never had I been so relieved to hear the sound of monkey conversation. I had survived the night of the spiders.
I learnt a fundamental lesson that night, tarantulas are not the man killers depicted in silly horror films. They didn’t devour me in a feeding frenzy, they left me alone.
My fear of spiders has dramatically reduced since that night in the rain forest. And although I would never embrace them as my favourite species of wildlife, I understood them slightly better.
Even to the point that when a scorpion spider was pointed out to me later in the day, I could actually peer at him and recognise a certain beauty in the specimen. With only a few shivers down my spine and a cursory thought – Had that too been in my room last night?