There was a tarantula in my shower -- I found him when I was unpacking my toiletries. He was sitting by the drain, waiting to pounce. I made haste to the front desk, "Can someone please remove the tarantula from my shower?" The small Mayan woman in the turquoise embroidered tunic smiled broadly, rose from her seat, disappeared into the kitchen, returned with a broom, and walked silently with me to my room.
The tarantula was gone -- the woman shrugged her shoulders and began to leave. I said, "No, please wait! He must be here somewhere." I began searching for the tarantula. I peered behind the toilet and under the sink. I scanned the walls of the bathroom. My Mayan stood in the doorway and her smile remained quietly on her countenance, but I could tell she wanted to leave. "Please, let's check the room too. Just a minute more. He can't have gone far, I mean, he's a tarantula, how fast are they? Are they fast? Oh wait, they can jump, they jump don't they?" I rattled on and my Mayan just nodded her head, she had no idea what I was saying. She smoothed her tunic along her round hips and shifted the broom from one hand to another, this was her polite and sweet way of telling me that she was bored with this Great Tarantula Hunt. She did lift the corner of the bedspread, gingerly and at a distance with her broom, so that I could look under the bed. I reached for my flashlight, but I was beginning to feel foolish. She wasn't worried about the tarantula, so then why should I?
I shrugged my shoulders, "Okay, well, so sorry to trouble you, thank you, gracias, gracias." And she was gone. I heard her leather sandals padding down the open air breezeway back to her station. Night was falling. It was time to dress for dinner.
We all gathered in the main hall. There were two tourist groups staying at the Tikal Inn for Thanksgiving, and so we were mingled with people from another important international ecological society and of course, I ended up cornered by the young girl leading them, younger than me, an ecologist of large opinion of herself. She had led her troupe quite expertly through the jungle, so expertly, that her in-country guide was able to take leave of them for the Thanksgiving holiday - he flew out by way of Flores that morning to visit his family back in the States. She was left alone with her bus driver and no first aid kit as far as I could tell. I mused to myself, if Nigel were to leave me with this band of sharp-fanged old people, they would sacrifice me to the Howler monkeys at sunrise and take off with London to some place that wasn't even on the itinerary -- they would be arrested by Federales and I would receive a post-mortem reprimand.
The cerveza was cold and plentiful and this was a blessing, because my companion droned on and on regarding her ecological work in the wilds of Oregon -- I held my own, somewhat, explaining that when I returned to the States I would be finishing up my Black River project. I had spent the past seven months mapping the entire river and all the tracts of land that we expected to protect along the river, an ancient black water river in the southeastern sector of North Carolina. Yes, spent my days and some nights bent, as if in prayer, over a digitizing tablet, entering each geographical coordinate as deftly as a Chinese calligrapher . . . beep, beep, beep, and occasionally I would look up at my monitor to see the river taking shape, becoming more and more river like, before my very tired eyes. Snap out of Bartelby!
There was some friendly competition between the pretty young ecologist and I -- we were loyal to our international ecological societies and we did our best to wrestle slightly and with the best of non-profit decorum to prove that our respective organizations were possibly the best to ever walk the earth, and to save the earth for that matter.
But bedtime was nearing, and more importantly, 10 p.m. was approaching and this my friends was when the generator that kept the Tikal Inn aglow would be turned off for the night. We were to be safely scuttled into our rooms when complete and total darkness fell like the trap door of a booby trap. There was no time for idle chatting with Nigel over the activities of the next day, no time to play a game or two of backgammon with London.
I closed the door to my room and I heard the last of the guests voices echo and sift away to be replaced by the chorus of tree frogs. The generator clicked and ran down, and I was gripped by a darkness I had never felt before. Ever. I lit my candle lantern and the light it struggled to give off was useless against this professional dark. This was ancient darkness, darkness that made the Mayan Indians sleep and dream of serpent goddesses. I took off my dress and put on my t-shirt and pajama pants -- and then I remembered the tarantula . . . I decided to close the bathroom door and skip my nightly ablutions, they could wait til morning. I slipped into the arms of my mosquito netting and fell into an uneasy slumber. Tomorrow there would be temples to climb.