When Bill first moved to San Pancho, he was loving the small town life, the long, empty beach, the verdant jungle around him. What he wasn’t loving was how he began feeling. So he went to a doctor in a nearby town. “Doc,” he said, “I’m not doing too well. I wake up in the morning, I shower, and half an hour later I’m slick with sweat. I’m listless, unmotivated, my face is always red. I think I may have a fever. Do you know what’s causing all this?” After listening politely to Bill’s litany of symptoms, the good doctor looked him in the eye and said, “Yes, I do know what’s causing all this, Bill. It’s f@#*ing hot out.”
Indeed. Although thankful to find there was nothing medically wrong with him, Bill was just as thankful for a straight-talking physician. The prescription for his ailment was simple: acclimatize. It’s f@#*ing hot in the jungle. And muggy. And buggy. In the summer, temperatures nudge 100° F with 99% humidity. Some days we sit here, like Bill, immobilized, sweating into our seats. Sometimes not even a whisper of a breeze lifts the palm fronds, and the ocean is dull and flat. Everything is as still and silent as a painting.
Never ones to nap (we would always wake up feeling more cranky than if we’d stayed awake), here we find ourselves occasionally succumbing to the smart Mexican custom of siesta. By midday, punishingly high temperatures and stifling humidity leave us no other choice. We still wake up cranky, but at least we slept through the hottest part of the day. We’ve also never been pool people, but some days we’ll spend hours in Bill and Barbara’s. Not that it’s particularly refreshing — the water temp registers 91° F — still, it’s a few degrees cooler than our overheated bodies. We emerge only when our skin is so pruned and puckered we start looking like those shriveled apples that artists make into old-people faces. When I take a shower, I use only the cold tap.
When the clock chimes 6 p.m., we gather with the cats and dog in the living room and crank the A/C. After a few minutes chilling, The Duke, in his own charmingly bizarro world, chooses to lounge outside in the heat of the setting sun. On his way out, he steps over the wild cat, who opts to stay cool.
Then there are the bugs. This is the jungle, after all. I was prepared for mosquitoes and cockroaches and sundry other creepy crawlies. What I wasn’t prepared for was the five-foot snake that slithered out of the bushes outside our door. Hearing a cat fight outside, I went to see if The Duke needed back-up. Of all the cats, including the wild one, Duke is the most bad-ass scrapper. And he’s deaf. After being on the prowl all day, he’ll often drag himself home, a few new battle scars cut into his nose and ears. Regardless of whatever bout he’s involved in, whether he’s winning or losing, settling an old score or proving himself to a new cat in the ‘hood, he’ll stop mid-screech, check the angle of the sun, and excuse himself from his opponent to make it home for dinner.
But I digress. This particular donnybrook was so loud and long even Oprah became concerned. So I went outside to try to break it up, with Oprah hot on my heels hoping to mediate. As I opened the front gate, I heard a rustling in the bushes and called out — futilely, of course, because of The Duke’s handicap. No sound, no fury. So I grabbed a fistful of branches and shook hard to try to flush out the fighters. What emerged was not a cat, oh no, not at all. It was a snake so long it spanned nearly the entire road. I leapt back and let loose a series of expletives. It slithered in front of me, making a beeline for the house. I proceeded to jump from one foot to the other, like Homer Simpson. Why I don’t know. I guess I thought if I freaked it out enough I could divert it from the front door. It must have worked, because the reptile serpentined past me, under the car, around the flower pot and into the jungle. As I stood there watching after the snake, my heart pounding, there was another rustling from the same bush. I swung around, thinking, what are the odds there’d be two!? But out from the thicket appeared Bebe, blinking in the sunlight. I exhaled. For a brief moment I wondered which one considered the other a snack. Shuddering, I scooped up the little cat and ran inside, looking over my shoulder. Describing it to a few people, the consensus was that I dodged a boa constrictor…
I have tread extra carefully ever since, but the only other critters we come into contact with on a daily basis are the evil blood-thirsty vampires otherwise known as mosquitoes (my new fragrance is Eau de Off!), geckos and chameleons (which don’t work hard enough, in my opinion, to slay the blood-suckers), land crabs (which shake their little pincher fists at us when we approach), stinging ants, and massive black bees that, rather than being scary, are actually quite funny. How can you not laugh at a bee that is so heavy it tests the limits of its wing capacity? They kind of crash into things trying to keep themselves aloft, like a wayward hot-air balloon.
One day we discovered a Hercules beetle on the couch. Also known as a rhinoceros beetle because of its big ugly horn, these bad boys can reach nearly seven inches in length. Good thing he was dead (and his horn facing down, in case I overlooked him before sitting down). Last week we were driving along the road and saw two guys standing to the side, holding a stick out in front of them. Out of curiosity, we stopped to ask what they were doing. They proudly showed us a tarantula on the end of the stick — alive. They’d found it in their house. We haven’t had the privilege of hosting a large, hairy spider (yet), but we did see a very long-legged arachnid by the pool. Again, thankfully, deceased. Raccoon-like coatimundis and possums sometimes saunter through the yard, but they’re pretty harmless.
Oprah, unfortunately, has had her own unpleasant bouts with bugs. Running our fingers through her luxuriant curly hair, we’ve been tripped up by jelly-belly sized ticks. With nasty visions of Lyme disease, mouth frothing, and seizures, we quickly perform tick-extraction surgery. And it has to be done right, otherwise you can leave the head embedded in the skin, causing infection and disease. First, swab the area with mineral oil (we didn’t have any, so used olive oil). I don’t know why; either it suffocates the tick or just makes it easier to slide out. Then, using tweezers, grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible, and pull straight out. Don’t squeeze or twist the tick or the head will break off. We became quite adept at this after Oprah hosted about half a dozen or so of the vile little vermin.
What we have not encountered, thankfully, are scorpions. I’d read that more than 1,000 people a year die from scorpion stings, and that the nasty critters like to hide out in your shoes. I wear nothing but flip-flops. Then there are the crocodiles that hang out in the estuary. At least we think they’re in the estuary. The last big storm washed them out to sea and we have not heard whether or not they made it back. I imagine word would get around PDQ if a surfer dude came face to face with a croc while hanging five.
All creatures great and small in Mexico are not, of course, lying in wait to take you out. There are some brilliantly coloured butterflies that flit amongst the bougainvillea, lemon-yellow and neon-orange birds that eat berries off the trees outside our windows. Vultures often wheel and soar overhead in search of something dead, and pelicans cruise in formation inches above the surf, like a squadron of fighter jets.
Some actually depend on us for their very survival. Biologists from San Blas, a few hundred kilometers up north, used to come and redirect the crocs homeward. And then there’s Frank Smith, aka Turtle Frank. When the California native first visited San Pancho in 1991, he discovered marine turtle eggs and meat on the menus of local restaurants. When he asked around, he discovered the turtle population was being decimated. So he set to work dedicating his efforts to the Grupo Ecologico de la Costa Verde and turtle nest recovery. He’s happy to report he and his volunteers recover three or four marine turtle nests every day.
Two of his accidental volunteers were Teghann and Amanda, our 15-year-old niece and her friend who had come to visit us. They were walking along the beach one day and happened upon Frank. He was tending to two newly hatched turtles. The girls were excited to see them, so he asked them if they would like to release them into the ocean after dark. Well, duh! So he placed a turtle in each of their palms, which they carefully carried home, the little guys’ flippers flapping away in an effort to turn seaward. They got a plastic container, settled their tiny reptiles in their room, and waited for sundown. Teghann named her foster critter Gherkin, but Amanda opted to leave hers nameless, perhaps to pre-empt any emotional attachment. They spent a few hours playing with them and watching over them. When it got dark, they gathered their turtles, grabbed some flashlights and headed for the beach. It wasn’t exactly Free Willy, but it was pretty moving. The girls gently released the hatchlings onto the sand, then cheered them on as they made a mad dash for the surf by the light of the moon. When they disappeared into the ocean, we all became quiet, silently wishing them a safe journey to wherever their instinct pulls them. As we turned away, the girls vowed to come back in a few years to the same spot to welcome their grown babies home.