Critter stories

pretty flowers
I didn’t take any rat, millipede, or spider photos, and the geckos ran away too quickly too. So I thought I’d post a flower picture instead.

I thought I’d share with you a few critter stories from our week in Vanuatu.

Let’s start with the spiders (and spider-like insects).

You know the meme that says ‘when I walk through a spiderweb I turn into a ninja’? Well, you couldn’t do that where we were staying, you’d be in permanent ninja mode. Every walk from our room to the bathroom, dining room, kitchen, to the truck to go out, every walk included walking through a web of some sort. I never found a spider crawling on me, but I did find one crawling on someone else. As I brushed it off (a big deal for this arachnophobe) she said, ‘I don’t have a problem with any of these spiders, they are not poisonous.’ Which is a totally sensible attitude. My problem with spiders, however, isn’t their poison, it’s their spider-likeness. What part of irrational fear don’t you understand?

I’m not as phobic as I used to be, and that was a good thing because there were about 17 daddy long legs in my shower cubical, and a similar number in the toilet stall. And there was no point in moving them out as the place was open to the air and they’d just move back in again. There was also a little jumping spider on the toilet wall. They were quite cute, actually, but then there was always the chance they’d jump on you. And then there was the spider I decided not to worry about even though he was reasonably close to my knee. I thought he was dead, you see, but then he moved and I realised he was just digesting his food.

Moz told me his toilet spider story on the plane on the way home. He said that before sitting he would check under the seat to make sure there wasn’t anything there. I hadn’t done that, but I could see when he said it that it was a really good idea and I wished I had. Anyway, he had checked one time and found nothing, but when he flushed the loo a large yellow orb-weaver spider appeared from under the ledge of the toilet. He saw it swimming in the bowl and then scuttling back up the side to the top again. I was nearly sick at that news.

There was only once that I saw a big spider on the toilet wall. I don’t know what he was but he was big enough for me to avoid that room for as long as possible. I think he made another appearance right up in the cone roof of the dining room. Moz looked up and moved his chair back just in case the spider should fall because it would have fallen directly on him. Another spider that lived around the dining room was a wolf spider. He would show up just outside the door in the evenings.

The dining room was full of interesting critters.

Earwigs would catch a lift in on the plates we had washed the night before and had left out to air dry. A big black cockroach was scuttling along the floor one night, we all just let him cruise by.  You don’t feel like squashing bugs so much when you’ve taken your shoes off at the door to keep the floor clean. There were smaller bugs in the teabag box, we think they were a type of cockroach too. And obviously all the flying insects including a few quite beautiful butterflies that made their way in and couldn’t make their way out again.

Our dining sessions weren’t just interrupted by insects. The cat, Snow, enjoyed people’s company and would spend each meal time looking for a lap to sit on. She was supposed to be an outside cat but she loved people too much and would work her way in through the ill-fitting dining room door.

One breakfast she was prowling around while we were eating and we heard an almighty bang as a fold up table that had been stacked against the wall came crashing down. It got everyone’s attention and by the time I saw what was going on, there was Snow with a rat in her mouth. We were thrilled, of course, but I think Snow was a little confused because we all congratulated her but at the same time shooed her out of the room to play with her new toy elsewhere. She left a little present of rat bones on the mat outside the door later for us, as cats do.

That wasn’t the only rat to make an appearance in the dining room.

To understand this story I need to describe the room. It’s an octagonal room with a tiled floor and a cone-shaped roof. When the room was being built they realised they needed to line the ceiling with something, and as a stop-gap used calico fabric. It gives the place a tent-like feel.

We were sitting eating breakfast when Roger (our host) looked up at the ceiling, and wondered to himself where the drips that just fell on his shirt were coming from. The roof had leaked before but not usually in the spot where he was sitting. And then he realised that it wasn’t raining so the roof couldn’t be leaking at all. And then he saw the imprint of little feet on the calico as a rat finished toiletting and walked away. The children fell about laughing. In fact, we all giggled over that one for a long time. But I’m not sure how I would have reacted if it had been my shirt that had got wet.

Speaking of animals in the ceiling, one appeared to me when I had a shower once.

I had gone to shower in the middle of the day when I wouldn’t be getting in anyone’s way. There were two showers shared among nine of us ladies and even though the water was cold, it was refreshing, and a shower was one of my favourite times of the day. This time, as I shampooed my hair, I felt eyes upon me. I looked up and there was Snow sticking her face through a hole in the ceiling. She apparently often crept up to the roof to sun herself during the day and she wanted to say hello. She was a friendly cat.

The larger black cat wasn’t quite so friendly but we saw him jump down from our roof on more than one occasion, and after hearing a rat scrabbling around we thought he was doing a fine job of keeping the population down and he could keep visiting.

There were two kittens as well, Pickles and Ginger.

They were inside cats in the family house. The children loved them. But one morning the family turned up very late for breakfast. In fact, I’d assumed they were eating at home and I’d cleared everything away. But they turned up eventually, late because Pickles had got himself caught in a glue trap used for the rats. They had cut the trap off and doused the poor animal in turpentine to try to get rid of the glue. They weren’t sure if he’d pull through. Later that day he made an appearance in our worship and prayer time, all wrapped up in a towel and looking very sorry for himself. But a couple of days later when I saw him he looked fit and healthy and was trying to escape the house, so I think he’s made of sterner stuff and he’ll pull through.

Their dog, Nacho, is getting on in years but he still does a good job of guarding the place. The biggest issue with Nacho was that he kept eating the bunch of bananas that we were leaving outside to ripen. He also wanted to eat all the food for the ducks. You’d take out a plate of scraps after dinner and the ducks would come crowding around, and then run away with fear as Nacho rounded the corner to take his share. You’d have to do a bit of fielding and defence to let the ducks get at the food while keeping Nacho away.

Of course, millipedes were everywhere.

A bit fatter and juicier than the ones we have at home but basically the same harmless crawlers chugging their way into every room. But in Vanuatu the millipedes were a reminder that centipedes were always a risk. Not that centipedes will kill you but the bite is mighty painful. We heard two centipede stories: one guy was walking down the road and saw a centipede crawling its way in the same direction. He wanted to kill it but he only had a knife the size of a paring knife and you don’t want to get too close to these things. He picked up a stone instead and bashed the thing on the head. Well, the centipede didn’t like that – it reared up, pushing half its body up into the air and looking around. And then, apparently, it dashed off the road at great speed into the bush. I think the guy was glad it decided to run away instead of running towards him and biting!

The other story had happened very close to our room in the last couple of weeks. The family had found a centipede that looked different to any one they’d seen before. It had two tails. But then they realised that what they were seeing was one centipede eating another. The person telling me this tale said that we should be happy because now, instead of two centipedes near where we were, there were none, because they killed the victor of that particular fight. I wasn’t really encouraged but I didn’t see any centipedes in our visit so that was good.

One afternoon as I was inside our room working I heard a droning sound that I thought was someone cutting grass next door. It wasn’t though, it was about four wasps fighting each other for what I thought was the chance to build their mud nest next to the circuit breaker on the wall outside. They went at it for a couple of hours and there was a definite winner. But by that evening everyone had gone away and no nest had been built.

There were nicer tropical critters too.

The critters I liked best were the geckos that blew kisses to each other all through the night. I mean, if you have to have insect eating animals, why not geckos? Why spiders? Anyway the geckos were super cute and there were heaps of them, especially if we left our balcony light on and attracted the mosquitos.

And the fish, of course. We went snorkelling and saw fish of every size and shape and hue, and sea cucumbers, and coral. All totally gorgeous. We even saw a bait ball underneath a jetty. Moz played with it a bit, trying to touch the fish, but they always moved out of the way like one organism and he only managed to brush the side of one fish.

And one last story, going out with a bang.

On the very final night, when I thought that Vanuatu had served up all it was going to, and that there wasn’t time for another adventure between bedtime and 4.30am the next morning when we left to board the plane, I walked out of our room to head to the toilet before bed and then I walked straight back in again. On our front steps was a snake, a large one, probably a metre long. The snake wasn’t poisonous, not like here in Australia, but I still didn’t feel like stepping over him. Moz threw a shoe at him and he didn’t move at all. So I skipped the toilet stop and we let him be. He wasn’t there in the morning.

We only stayed a week in Vanuatu and I’ve built up 2000 words worth of critter stories. I guess you get used to it over time but this western wuss has experienced enough to keep her going for a while. At least until we go back to visit next time.

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