Foreign parts January 9, 2006Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
I got interrupted as I was writing my last post and was rushed into publishing it before it was finished. What Jens the spider and worries about foreign travel were meant to lead into were horrors of past travels, especially as regards fauna.
Now I don’t know whether to think I am well-travelled or not by modern standards. By world standards, I obviously am, and going to New Zealand will take me to my fourth continent, whereas I suppose a huge percentage of the world’s folk have never left their own borders. But many a European, North American, East Asian, Antipodean and Middle East native will have been to many or all of the world’s continents (bar Antarctica). And if I were to whizz back in time, I suppose I could even give Columbus and Marco Polo a run for their money, although I’ve done no major journey by sea or overland. (I have had a fantasy of going to the southern tip of Malaya by land, which, I’m guessing, is the longest overland journey you can do from mainland Europe, but I can’t imagine it will materialise.) But anyway, this isn’t about quantity. It’s about fucking scary creatures one encounters along the way.
The only countries I have been to in the tropics are Mexico and Thailand. Mexico wasn’t at all a worry on the creepy-crawly front, and Thailand wasn’t nearly as much of a worry as it could have been. The only close brushes with fauna were on Koh Tarutao, which I’ve mentioned before, but, in spite of the warnings for cobras and scorpions, and the knowledge that the island was home to crocodiles only 20 or so years ago, the only startling moment was the singing insects.
No, the worst run-ins with nature have been far closer to home. The most wimpish moments came in the glorious surroundings of Umbria. The ex – a huge, hulking brute – and I were spectacularly girl’s-blouseish when confronted with scorpions in the bedroom. But then I can’t help thinking that’s a fairly normal reaction. Could many people sleep easily in a bed with a view on scorpions at every angle? They were above us on the ceiling beams. On the walls to our left and right. And, most terrifyingly, on the floor. Checking shoes was the order of the day, as they like to curl up in there for fun, apparently, and hospitalise you with poisoned toes before breakfast. Our hosts couldn’t understand what the fuss was about when they got up at crack of dawn to see us standing on a wall outside the house with a full view of our surroundings. It was our hilltop fortress, and we slept in the car from then on. The trouble with scorpions, apart from them being spiteful, nasty shits – they had really hospitalised a previous guest – is that they look exactly like scorpions. Such a disappointment. Obviously I’d never seen one in the flesh before, and hoped they might be cuddly close up, but they weren’t, and moved in just the hideous way you’d expect them to – all mechanical and crispy. Italy has been ruined for me as a result.
Another friend’s house just outside Paris was also a bit of a terrorthon. Snakes – both venomous and non-, but you could only tell which was which by killing them and cutting their heads off and then having a peek – lived not just nicely nastily outside, looking for victims, à la Petit Prince (or should that be au?), but actually IN the walls. Ghastly little shits. Thankfully, they didn’t make an appearance whenever I visited, but there were big furry spiders – admittedly my first big furry spider was in the less than glamorous surroundings of my parents’ house in London – and once even a weasel INSIDE the house. The cheek. My host had his gun out in an instant and I thought I might be witness to a real bit of country living, but he trapped the bastard, which turned out to be pregnant, and let it waddle off into the night. (His house was later overrun with the bastards.)
Anyway, the wimpish hulking brute and I eventually decided we were fed up of foreign fauna and thought we’d even have to strike France and Italy off the destination list as too exotic. We understood our travelling days were pretty much behind us. Everywhere was too dangerous. But then that seemed a bit grim. So we came up with a perfect compromise solution. Belgium.
Now of course the non-travel plans were scotched, and I even ended up living in France later on, even in the snake-infested house for a while. But to honour our resolution somewhat, we did set off on one joint holiday to Belgium. We drove up from Paris, crossed the border straight into the gorgeous Ardenne and stopped randomly at the first town we came to which took our fancy, lovely Dinant. We found a hotel, prepared to settle in for the night, flung open the windows as it was a scorching Belgian summer – a scorching Belgian summer? – and we were immediately invaded by a brood of squawking bats, flying in perfect circles and getting ever nearer my cowering head with every swoop. Is not even Belgium safe?
Well, I’m older and wiser now, of course, and am consciously taking my life in my hands and braving the New World. My sister has just been and has already stunned me with stories of what the colonials get up to. Jumping off tall things with an elastic band strapped to some limb or other. I’ll see what I can do about reformatting any contracts we made with our cousins over there. But things have clearly got out of hand since we let them look after themselves if feigning suicide is the number one leisure activity. Looks like it might have to be the human fauna I’ll be looking out for on this trip…