Invaders in Paradise: Nature versus Us at Guatemala’s Lake Atitlan

November 5, 2012

As Dale starts the shower, built into the natural rock of a hillside above Lake Atitlán, a natural visitor drops in on him. A mouse falls from an unseen crevice overhead to land at his feet with a plop. The mouse is stunned for a moment, so Dale puts a bucket over him and calls me in to meet his new friend. When he lifts the bucket, the mouse lies very still, understandably leery of the giants chuckling overhead. We put the bucket back over him while we discuss what to do with him.

The mouse is stunned for a moment, unable to move, so Dale puts a bucket over him and calls me in to meet his visitor.

Our discussion is interrupted by a loud, wet kerplop, as a hairball falls before our eyes and lands next to the bucket hiding our captive.

I give a shriek of surprise, which prompts Dale to gasp, “Hush!” He doesn’t sound so much irritated as startled, not so much by the arrival of Mouse Two as by my shrill cartoon “eek!” Unlike a cartoon lady, I don’t leap atop the toilet and clutch my skirts. Instead I grow concerned: Is Mouse Two okay? Are more of their friends coming? As we peer upward into the overhead crevice, awaiting the invasion, Mouse Two rises to her feet in a daze and creeps up the boulder which forms part of our shower.

We lift the bucket off Mouse One, hoping he’ll follow.

At that point, we lift the bucket off Mouse One, hoping he’ll follow his mate. Equally dazed, he manages to follow Mouse Two up and out of sight.

Equally dazed, he manages to follow Mouse Two up and out of sight.

“Let’s not tell the management,” I say. “They might kill them.”

Dale agrees.

As I cringe under my morning shower, I begin to question our decision. My empathy is sure to evaporate if a sopping mouse falls onto my head.

The mice do not make a reappearance – today.

The mice do not make a reappearance – today.

However, in the evening, as we lie in bed watching a TV show on Dale’s iPad, another of nature’s creatures occupies our tropical sanctuary. I’m almost accustomed to the annoying moths and ants intent on joining us each night. And the stick insect in the bathroom is charming decor. But…

The stick insect in the bathroom is charming decor.

…on this night, when Dale and I slip out of bed to get ready for sleep, and I turn to rearrange the covers, I see a small scorpion circling in apparent confusion. He has been nestling between our legs while we watched an episode of Damages. My first thought is that Damages is about 45-minutes long. Has this creature been struggling beneath me for 45 minutes?

I whimper, an inarticulate child-like sound that is neither laugh nor sob, but could be mistaken for either. “A-ha-ha-ha-ha…”

“What now?!” Dale comes running, but stops short when he sees me staring, transfixed, at our crumpled sheets.

“There’s a scorpion in the bed. And he was under us the whole time!” I give him a pleading look.

“What do you want me to do about it?”

“Get rid of it, please.”

“Why do I have to be the one?” he asks.

“I’ve done my share of bug killing,” I declare.

This is true. I smashed a spider to smithereens just hours ago, knowing Dale hates them. Before that, we had a huge one in our previous apartment upstairs. I assured him it was harmless, that it would just eat insects, that if we left it alone it would leave us alone. He replied, “I’ll never sleep.”

“Besides,” I return to the subject of the scorpion, “I just can’t.”

Why do I think Dale can when I just can’t? I don’t dare say, “Because you’re the boy.” Scorpions make me irrational, but not irrational enough to make a sexist declaration that could backfire on me later.

Dale gets a glass and—it’s impossible not to laugh at his second weapon—a slotted spatula. The scorpion is so small he’ll surely slip through one of the slots.

“What’re you doing?” I ask.

“You asked me to get rid of it.”

I run to the next room, unable to bear watching. Then a yell of surprise brings me scurrying back to the bedside. “What happened?!”

“You’re not going to like this.” He holds up his empty spatula-and-glass trap.

“You don’t know where it went?!” I jump from foot to foot. “Why did you use a slotted spatula?”

“Do you want to do it?” As he thrusts the spatula in my direction, he yells again. “There it is!” The scorpion is dangling from one of the slots.

I shriek and step aside as he runs for the door and catapults the monster into the night. When he returns, I say, “I’ll never be able to sleep now.”

Dale tries to reassure me, “I read a sign in the lobby that said the scorpions they have here aren’t dangerous.”

This does not reassure me.

Seconds later I spot a centipede crawling straight toward our bed on its hundred rotating appendages. I have no energy left to shriek. I just grab my sandal and mash it with silent ferocity, again and again. Dale looks a little frightened…of me.

We rig our mosquito net, which is not easy under a vaulted ceiling. The cure is almost worse than the disease: the net is only meant for one person, so it brushes our faces whenever we roll away from the tented middle. Each time we feel that tickle, we wake in panic, flailing our arms, sure something deadly is crawling across our cheeks. But we refuse to give up the net for our remaining five nights, though we won’t sleep the whole night again.

Rigging a mosquito net is not easy under a vaulted ceiling. (I was too preoccupied with bugs to remember to get a shot with the net – but isn’t it pretty?)

The next morning, one of the mice returns. This time Dale uses a bucket and plate to serve our little friend to the Hotel Aaculaax’s courtyard garden. Later, we assume the mouse’s mate has followed, because we never see either of them again. Perhaps they’ve had enough of giants. Or maybe they’ve met the scorpion. Better them than us.

Dale serves our little friend to the Hotel Aaculaax’s courtyard garden.

People often call the tropics “Paradise.” But here’s what people forget about Eden: Adam and Eve weren’t the only ones who found it a great place to live.

We are not alone.

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