Introduction and warning
Travelling in the hotter parts of the world brings you mano a monster with all sorts of creatures that you’re not used to. I am an Englishman and normally to be found in the company of nothing more exciting than a fox or a cow. On my travels, I was suddenly in contact with everything from camels to snakes to sharks, which threatened to knock me right out of my comfort zone. However, nothing prepared me to face the creature I am normally highly adverse to…
You see, I left England with one particular animal dislike: that of spiders.
I’m not sure what they have done to deserve it, but it seems almost instinctive. I just cant stand them. They give me the impression of being unhappy, of being mean, of being violent. Spiders in the UK may not be able to envenomate a human, but that doesn’t stop them from trying. I have been bitten by an English spider, and it was a little shocking to actually feel it. I hoped I wouldn’t be bitten by any on my travels. I traced this fear back to my early teens where a nest of the little blighters was on the wall in my room and I awoke to find myself crawling with them. But, if I am honest with myself, it goes back even further than that. I vividly recall, at the age of 6, bursting into tears when my mother gave me a wind-up spider as a Christmas present. It is amazing that a childhood memory can trigger a certain response; in I find myself killing them when they are present. In England this usually amounts to a fencing lunge while wearing shoes, or the services of a cat, but then English spiders are generally small – what is to be done when the spider is bigger?
The correct way to conquer a fear is to face it down. This worked with my childhood fear of the dark (cured by locking myself in the airing cupboard) and with my fear of heights (by my jumping off the highest bungee in New Zealand). Sitting here now, can I say the following tales have cured me of a fear of spiders? I will leave that to the end of the article, after my memory has disgorged these scuttling 8-legged tales.
Warning. If you are scared of spiders, then these stories may make you want to never leave your house. Of course, and especially if you live in the country, your house is teeming with them already.
Just so you know.
All of the following are absolutely true. I know because they happened to me. Honestly, I don’t know why so many of the bastards came after me, it must be in revenge for the thousands I have killed in the UK. I think they put the word out that Basho was coming, with orders to crawl all over him…
…and so they did.
The one where Basho meets the Wolf and White Tailed spiders of Australia.
Cesca and I lay in the hostel. It was hot as hell. That sort of muggy heat not usual to an Englishman, who is more used to cold North Sea climates. It was the heat of Cairns, on the north east coast of Australia, a muggy tiring wet heat. We were exhausted. Not least of all because this was the morning after our three day diving course and we had been working hard, but also because we had been out all night celebrating our having passed the training. No one can drink as hard as a crowd of divers. Even Rugby players would have watched us from across the bar and remarked, “Oh, surely that’s just too much!”
Cesca stirred on her side of the bed and groaned. Obviously the head ache was coming for her. “I think we need to take a few days off.”
I opened an eye, “Sure.” I paused. “Just one point, we don’t have jobs to take a day off from.”
“We have been bussing up this country for the last two weeks! I need to take a rest before we go on.”
“You have something in mind?”
Without bringing her head out of the bed covers, she reached a hung-over arm to her bedside table and without looking picked up a pamphlet and slapped it on my chest.
I considered the pictures and title. The text was nigh on unreadable in my current mental state. “The Sanctuary?” I asked.
“Three days of peace in the jungle.”
“Ok. But, first breakfast.”
So a the next day we arrived at the Sanctuary. Built as a yoga retreat literally in the jungle south of Cairns, the main longhouse dominated the lush trees all around. The brochure spoke of wild cassowaries’ roaming the tracks, it also said that if you didn’t like spiders then perhaps this was not your place. The owner drove us up to the longhouse and I saw that it was of the highest build quality. A sort of open plan restaurant, bar and sitting room. It was wide and tall and peaceful. I loved it immediately.
The owner checked us in, and I whispered to Cesca, “Where are the rooms?”
She simply smiled and said, “You’ll see.”
The owner handed us over to a Woofer to show us our room. Woofers are people swapping work in exchange for free accommodation. It is a way of getting around the need for a working Visa when visiting a country. A month from this day we too went Woofing, which you can read about here. Anyway, he was English, and a nice guy. He led us out of the Longhouse and down the path on the hill, into the jungle that enveloped us immediately. The path cut a neat swath through the trees and light filtered through the leaves to become dappled as it played over our faces. The guy was speaking, and I wasn’t really listening until suddenly my ears pricked up.
“Yeah, we had one in room one the other night.” he was saying, “that’s your room.”
“Oh, really?” said Cesca.
“Yeah, they called me down to get it out,” he motioned a thumb at me, “but, you have him. Don’t worry.”
“About what?” I asked.
“Huntsmen,” said Cesca.
Huntsmen spiders. “I see” I said in that careful English way of voicing extreme discomfort.
The Woofer, being English, picked up on it straight away, “Hey don’t worry about it, you will be fine.”
Then I saw the room and I use the term lightly. Imagine this: You take a frame of a room, just the edges, like a wireframe model, and instead of walls made of wood or bricks you use green netting. So the room was basically a square tent in the jungle, and right amongst it.
“The sun rise is the best bit, “the Woofer explained, “It comes up the path and through the trees. It is wonderful way to wake up.”
Cesca exclaimed in excitement and clutched my arm.
“Wow,” she said.
I must admit, it was special. The room had a large bed in the middle and no power. Not even a light, but it had that rustic charm experienced only by those living on desert islands and perhaps by Tarzan. Of course, the netting was not what you might call airtight; it wrapped around the frame leaving huge gaps open to the outside. Anything that crawled could get in.
We plonked down our stuff and ventured back to the longhouse for lunch. There we met with some very nice people and made some good friends. Friends that I am glad to say, have stayed so. We talked with them and the woofers until the night fell and had an excellent bottle of wine. Then the time came to head to bed. The path was darker than a black-hole and without a torch the steep path could be dangerous. Slowly we made our way down to our room and took it in.
“Go on then,” Cesca said nudging me with her arm.
“Go on then what?”
“Go check the room.”
I sighed and reaching into my go-bag took hold of the nearest blunt object, which turned out to be a plastic lunchbox lid. I hefted it a few times and motioned to Cesca to follow me. We climbed up to the door and played our torch over the green fabric. It very neatly blocked the light from entering the room and I realised we would have to check it from the inside.
I found the bolt and clicked it open. I had that sense one gets when sneaking around the house for fear of waking someone.
“Get on with it,” Cesca said.
I pulled a face, turned on my head torch and flung open the door. Immediately something moved in the room. I heard a scrabbling of something frightened and annoyed at being disturbed. My torch played around the net-walls of the room as I tried to locate the source of the noise when suddenly a cricket ball sized shape flickered into view and flashed towards me. Cesca stepped back and I involuntarily cried out as the white shape, only just caught in the torch light, flashed directly at my face. Instinct kicked in and I batted it away with the plastic lid in my hand. The contact was a heavy thunk and whatever it was fell back into the room, only to flow carefully in an arc and flash for my face again. I batted it away, terror giving my body extra might but, again, it simply came straight for me. Over the next ten seconds I played tennis with it, crying out like a professional, batting it backhand and forehand in desperation to get it to stop coming for me. What was it? My mind screamed. Suddenly I realised that I was standing in the way of the exit. It was probably trying to get away! I jumped to one side and my head torch, loosened by the action, was flung from my head and fell against the doorframe to end up at my feet. Almost immediately the creature made a dash for it and…
…landed on it.
There was a moment of silence, broken only by my heart pounding. Both Cesca and I leaned in and took a close look. It was a, slightly battered, Goliath Moth. It had been attracted to the bright light of my head torch and acted only as come naturally for a moth. We looked at each other and laughed. I put the poor fellow outside the door. Goliath Moths are huge in the extreme and he was not permanently damaged by our 2 sets to 1 encounter.
We checked every inch of the room that night, but nothing was there and after a cuddle, we tried to sleep. In the morning I awoke to find Cesca wide awake, with her camera in her hand, pointing at something. Sitting on the bed post, staring at us, was a large spider. It was moving its feet in time like it was tapping them in impatience. Cesca was taking photos of it. I looked and thought I recognised it as a White Tail spider.
White-tailed spiders are medium-sized spiders native to southern and eastern Australia, and so named because of the whitish tips at the end of their abdomens. Common species are Lampona cylindrata and Lampona murina. Both these species have been introduced to New Zealand.