The Big One: Brazil 2009


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On Monday night in south London, something that can only be described as the dismembered hand of a small, furry child scampered across my kitchen floor and darted beneath a cupboard. For all I know, it’s still there. I’m in no hurry to check.

It’s the second vom-inducing colossus I’ve seen this month – have they suddenly discovered steroids this summer? This incredible hulk looked like he’d definitely hitched a ride in the nearest banana crate. But for all his beastliness, he was nowhere near the Big One. I’m reminded of that ghastly benchmark every time I see a spider in my house; nothing outside of a zoo enclosure will ever come close. Hopefully.

The Big One crossed our path in Brazil. Not in the Amazon jungle, as you might expect, but actually on an island just off the north coast, called Boipeba. My friend Liz and I had booked a chalet in a beautiful spot just a few minutes walk from the beach and located in a lush, tropical garden. It was paradise on Earth – but eerily quiet. We were the only guests in the entire compound, which struck us as odd at the time. However, the owners were lovely, and we thanked our lucky stars that we had the whole place to ourselves.

We spent our first day wandering along the beach, lazing in our hammocks and sampling the delicious moqueca fish stew from the man down the road, whose ‘restaurant’ was actually his living room – literally. We didn’t have a care in the world. But that night as we got ready for bed, s*** got real.

Liz had gone for a shower, but I soon heard a strange, strangled request for me to come into the bathroom. As I gently pushed open the door, all I could see was her naked back standing in front of the cubicle. I was expecting her to turn around and explain what the issue was, but she just stood there with her back to me, silent and still as a statue, even when I called her name. I couldn’t figure out why the hell she was acting so weird – until I came right up alongside her.

Neither of us was going to be taking a shower anytime soon.

Poised on the wall right in front of us was a spider the size of a dinner plate. I could count every eyeball in its hideous head, because they were as large as marbles. Its long, bony legs were as thick as my fingers (and no doubt would have cracked like lobster claws underfoot). It looked like it could bench press 300lb and was so hefty I could practically hear it breathing. And it was trapped in our f***ing apartment.

In England, this scenario can usually be resolved by simply running the tap on full force until the offending article gracefully spirals out of view. But water cannon and a shovel would have struggled to wash this abomination down the plughole. A manhole, perhaps. But not a plughole. I remember wondering whether my travel buddy had packed a gun.

This was literally the worst thing that I could ever have hoped to find lurking in our bathroom. A mouse, snake or possum I could possibly have confronted in a far more productive manner. But spiders are my worst nightmare, and this one was waaaaaaaay out of my comfort zone. Plus, we were in Brazil – the land of the Amazon rainforest – which left us wondering precisely what kind of spider we were dealing with here.

Was it poisonous? How poisonous? Like nausea-and-cramps poisonous or rest-in-peace poisonous? Or had it evolved to mega-ugly status so that it could simply scare its predators to death? Could it jump? How far could it jump? Could it launch itself towards us at any given moment?

Why was it so bulbous? Was it pregnant? That circumference was suspiciously ‘face’-sized. Like that skittish ‘hand’ in Aliens.

Would it sneak into our beds and lay eggs down our throats while we were sleeping?!? Was that why there were no other guests in the compound? Because they’d all been eaten alive by these dexterous, flesh-eating savages?! Was that the reason why the vegetation round here was so lush? Because it was being fertilised by the decaying remains of all the previous guests?!!? : 0

I’m not sure how long we remained rooted to the spot by the sheer size of this unfortunate discovery and all our dreadful thoughts. But as we stood there meek and mute, the creature began to creep its way slowly, slowly up the wall.

I’d grabbed my phone in order to take a picture of it as evidence, because I already knew that no-one was going to believe us when we told them how big it was – especially me, the storyteller (hence The ‘Teller’gram – get it? : D ) – and just as I was about to ask it to ‘say cheese’, this thing suddenly started galloping straight towards us across the ceiling. Literally galloping – like some nightmarish, upside-down, eight-legged horse! We sprinted for the door and slammed it just in time, trapping The Big One in the bathroom. Which meant no more toilet facilities for the night. Great.

Still, panic over – he was trapped in the loo, and now we could all finally get some sleep, right? WRONG. Because just as we were getting into bed, I noticed something shimmering up in the corner of the ceiling. I couldn’t work out what it was at first because the lighting was pretty minimal, so it was a little dark and shadowy up there.

I climbed up on a chair and used the backlight on my phone for illumination. I soon realised that the light was being reflected onto some kind of shiny surface… and then realised that there were numerous reflections shining off numerous shiny surfaces… and then realised that these numerous shiny surfaces were actually the black, beady eyes of yet another Brazilian face-hugger – and I was shining a fricking torch in its face.

Having toppled from the chair, it soon became apparent that we were potentially in a pretty sticky predicament, here. A quick scan of the room revealed the bricks used along the top edge of the wall below the ceiling were littered with decorative air vents that also served as wide-open doorways for as many of these suckers to crawl in and out of our apartment as they liked.

All that was missing was the ‘welcome’ mat – we might as well have sprinkled each other with salt and pepper and advertised ourselves as lunch.

Not knowing how many were now already in the room and not wishing to dwell on how many more might arrive, I decided the best way to prevent these man-eating jungle beasts from killing me in my sleep would be to mummify myself with the bed sheets and pretend none of this was happening. I wrapped myself up like a Quality Street – screw oxygen.

I felt like I was dying in there; it was 30°C and I could practically smell my brain boiling in its juices. I’d have done anything for a glass of water – as long as it didn’t involve unravelling myself from those sheets. For all I knew, they could have pierced through the cotton like a hole puncher anyway – I’d envisioned fangs like walrus tusks – but it was the best I could do. By now it was pitch black outside and who knew how many of them might be lying in wait to ambush me as soon as I opened the front door. Dehydration seemed like a far safer bet.

It was a long night.

In the morning, we ran straight to the owners to tell them all about the beasts in our apartment, describing The Big One in great detail. The guy didn’t look too surprised. “Oh that?!” he laughed. “Oh no no no ­– those are the friendly ones. He’s harmless – like Daddy Longlegs!” (If that’s the size of the friendly ones on the mainland, I’d hate to see what delights are lurking in the Amazon.)

Having explained that it would still be great nonetheless if he could swing by and escort them from the premises, he duly arrived armed with some bug spray and a broomstick. After 15 minutes crashing around behind the closed door – clearly he’d given up on the bug spray and resorted to beating them to death instead – he finally emerged triumphant. But we’d already made up our minds: it was time to leave arachnid island. Pronto.

: 0


You might also like:

Animal Attraction: Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them (in my house)

Commuter Critters: Human Wildlife on London Transport

4 thoughts

  1. Nadia, once again your story has me in stitches!. I too had a similar experience with a spider (photo evdence) to remind me of my fears whilst on a mission trip.

    Liked by 1 person

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