Halloween is coming and Seattle Times travel writers Kristin Jackson and Brian Cantwell remember some of the creepy-crawly things they’ve encountered on their travels.
Night of the iguana
Yes, we’d been out on the town. No, it wasn’t a drunken hallucination. That really was an iguana poking its evil-looking, razor-toothed snout out of the toilet in a Mexican hotel room. Right after a friend had used the facilities.
Somehow the creature — a giant lizard with scaly skin and spikes on its back — had gotten into the beachfront resort’s plumbing system and surfaced in the toilet.
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My friend yelled and bolted from the bathroom, truly as white as a sheet and jabbering almost incoherently. I peeked in to see the dripping, about 2-foot-long creature now crouched on the bathroom floor. Panicked, and in my crappy Spanish, I phoned the front desk to try to explain there was an iguana in our bathroom and we really, really needed help.
Eventually a sleepy-looking hotel employee arrived with a broom and dustpan, doubtless thinking the silly American guests were exaggerating and afraid of a nice little gecko.
He opened the bathroom door, screeched in alarm, slammed it shut, and frantically called his boss. Other hotel employees arrived pronto. Shouting and poking the iguana with the broom, they threw a thick blanket over it and carried the creature away, writhing and snapping its teeth on the broom handle.
It was months before we could use a bathroom without fear. Who knew what lurked below?
— Kristin Jackson
They grow ’em big Down Under
In Australia’s animal kingdom, just about anything that moves can kill you. During one Australian visit, it was an arachnid the size of my hand, crouched at the foot of the bed.
By a fluke of bad planning — mine — my wife and I had ended up on our fifth wedding anniversary at remote Mallacoota Inlet when a slow old highway (the map didn’t say it was gravel!) didn’t get us to our planned luxury hotel on time.
We made the best of things at a backwater lodge at the end of a long dusty turnoff 300 miles south of Sydney. But it got a little ludicrous when we returned to our room after a shoe-leathery-steak dinner and encountered The Spider.
Poisonous? Who knew? I think it may have hissed when I turned on the light.
Having shared at least one celebratory bottle of Mallacoota merlot, I wasn’t primed for hand-to-hand combat, and the creature with eight limbs had something of an advantage on me there anyway.
Luckily, we had dressed for the occasion. I was wearing sturdy black Oxford shoes.
But no way was I getting close enough to stomp on that behemoth. It could have taken me down with one sweep of a leg and had seven left to dance on my corpse.
So I pulled off a shoe and took careful aim.
And missed by a mile.
Suffice it to say that 20 minutes of physical comedy ensued involving miss after miss with hurled shoe, punctuated by colorful oaths and more than a few shrieks (from my bride or from me, I’m not telling) as the monster lunged, leapt (I swear, it leapt) and did wind sprints across the room.
Finally, a lucky cross-room heave of the shoe found its mark.
Later, my Aussie sister-in-law chided us for killing what was obviously a “friendly” Hunstman spider. It wouldn’t have hurt us and eats lots of insects, she said. (With a leg-span up to 6 inches, the Australian Museum website says! Known for amazing speed, it says!)
Fine. Next time I’ll invite her along. As long as she wears really big shoes.
— Brian J. Cantwell
Something slithers in the night
I was staying in a traveler’s tropical fantasy come true, deep in a jungle in Thailand at a luxuriously rustic, treehouselike lodge. The balmy romantic setting, the spicy dinner, singing outside around a firepit … it was all wonderful.
Finally bidding my friends goodnight, I headed, humming happily, for the outdoor wood stairs that climbed up to my thatched-hut room. I reached for the staircase railing to steady myself in the dark night of the no-electricity resort. Something pulsed thickly and slithered under my hand. I shrieked. It was a snake, a big one, that had wrapped itself sinuously around the railing.
I stampeded, screaming, back to my friends. They shone a big flashlight. We glimpsed the snake, maybe five or six feet long, undulating out of sight at the foot of the stairs.
When it comes to snakes, I’m irrationally fearful. I won’t even touch the page of a National Geographic magazine that has those glossy snake pictures. And now I’d had a real, live snake in my hand. Who knows if it was poisonous — I didn’t stick around to try to identify it. It was just big. And I was terrified.
Eventually I headed back to my room, friends in tow. Did the snake have a lurking girlfriend or boyfriend or a nest of writhing babies? I made them search for snakes everywhere, on the little balcony, under the bed, up in the rafters.
I lamented the flimsy netted-screen door and windows which, I feared, wouldn’t keep out any wandering snake. I stayed awake, nervously on guard, for hours.
It was a night to remember, in a serpentine way.
— Kristin Jackson
Seeing Florida’s wildlife is a snap
During a vacation rendezvous with friends on Florida’s Gulf Coast, my family took a guided boat trip in Wakulla Springs State Park, the cypress swamp where “Creature From the Black Lagoon” was filmed.
Baleful eyes peered from behind every tree trunk. We and a dozen other tourists groaned appropriately as the park ranger warned us to keep arms inside the boat “because the alligators are always looking for a hand out!”
As the vessel meandered near a big gator basking by the roots of a waterlogged, moss-draped cypress, the ranger pointed out some swimming moorhens.
“Around here people call ’em pond chickens,” he drawled. “Not only do they look, act and sound like chickens — they kind of taste like ’em, too!”
As if on cue, just yards in front of us, the alligator suddenly lunged at one of the birds. There was an audible SNAP.
Our boatload of tourists watched wide-eyed as the long jaws chomped up and down, making a quick meal of the bird.
Like a triggered car alarm, another moorhen set up a heartbreaking caterwaul. Around our little boat, moms and dads from Ohio, somebody’s aunt from Duluth, and a couple of school kids from Alabama winced and looked at each other as reality sank in.
Then the stunned tension broke.
“He got Pa!” one of our friends deadpanned, as if quoting the squawking bird.
— Brian J. Cantwell