Anete and I are sitting on a terrace amidst lush rainforest, sipping large glasses of refreshing blood red sorrel juice. Squirrels hop by in nearby trees, insects make a lot of noise, and a couple of drops of rain have once again threatened to kick off the monsoon officially… but it’s not quite the time yet.
The whole scene is rather idyllic. Or is it?
What the reader might not realise: this environment is trying to kill us.
I’m not even talking about the jaguars which take shelter in these environs, the third largest cats in the world. Yes, they’re capable of crushing our skulls with one bite, but humans are generally not on their menu. They’ve got access to juicier snacks.
What about Belize’s eight venomous snakes? Well, there’s the odd chance we’ll get bitten. At least, if we’d get it in our heads to try and catch, harass or kill one of them. In that case, so our hosts have told us, they’ll have to drive us straight to the local shaman. Trained medical personnel is scarce in the Cayo district, and even hospitals haven’t always stocked up anti-poison. But, let’s be honest: the only serpent we’ll be bugging is the ever grumpy lady from the local internet café. We’ll leave the real snakes alone.
We also try to keep our door shut at all time, in case vampire bats want to spend time in our cosy bedroom. Unexpected visitors can be nice, but not when they potentially carry rabies. And tarantula bites aren’t dangerous – unless you’re allergic – but they are more painful than bee stings. Still, it’s quite an experience to have dinner with such a fat and fluffy spider dangling over our heads.
Crocodiles then? A taxi driver in Belize City told us a story that happened a week previously. A local woman was peacefully peddling a canoe on the Belize River when a crocodile attacked and snapped her young child away. The lady tried to beat the shit out of the crocodile, but to no avail – a search and rescue team later found the dead child, hidden under some branches in the river. The crocodile had kept her as a snack for later.
I’d love nothing more than to reassure worried readers, tell them that we’ll not swim in jungle rivers… but I’m afraid we’ve already broken that promise.
The local scorpions are equally nasty motherfuckers. True, their sting is not lethal. But should we absent-mindedly step on them barefooted, it’ll nevertheless not be our best day. First, there’s the initial shock, an electrifying sensation running through the whole body. Feet and hands will start to tingle, and we might begin tripping as if we’ve taken hallucinogenic drugs.
Despite a past habit of seeing tropical critters in real life, the hair on our arms rose when we saw our first scorpion, peacefully hanging out in our toilet. Luckily, there’s our host Pauline, tried and tested in the concrete jungle of New York, who stormed in and karate kicked the poor fellow into the afterlife.
But all of the above means nothing compared to the ferocity, the violence and unstoppable blood thirst of the most dangerous animal in Belize, the mass murderer of the tropics…
The kissing bug
Yes, it sounds cute, but believe me: you don’t want this fellow to be your Valentine. This coin-sized insect is alternatively called the assassin bug. Right.
The kissing bug likes blood – human blood. He waits until you doze off to start feasting on your lips. He bites through the soft tissue and gorges away. When he’s done, he burps (or so I imagine) and poops right there, on your lips.
That is when things get dangerous because a parasite might reside in his pile (well, little pile, I guess) of shit. Upon waking up, you might scratch the itch, thus pushing the kissing bug’s poop in the wound or in your mouth.
Once the parasite has found its way inside, it will multiply rapidly and attack your vital organs. Not good! Before you know it, you’ve contracted Chagas disease, a vicious illness that gives Lyme disease a run for its money. Supposedly, Charles Darwin suffered from Chagas disease in the latter stages of his life.
And so, we’ve been religiously scanning our bedroom every evening, in search for a little bugger that would love nothing more than to use our mouths as toilet pots. Truth be told, it’s not the kind of lovely domestic scene we expected when we first met.
As you notice, dear reader, life is far from safe in the Maya Mountains of Belize. Then again – if you’re not living it, you’re already dead.