4 In Central America/ Travel


Costa Rica Spider - JoeBaur

There was always the question of bugs, insects, spiders when considering the move to Costa Rica. For all its utopic promises, there was never escaping the reality that paradise is also a draw for creepy crawlers. Beasts of the underworld. What we humans find preferable in our weather is pretty much also agreed upon in the world of horrific, nightmarish creatures that bring out our most murderous instincts.

Years back I had spent some time on a Tibetan college campus in the northern Indian city of Dharamsala. This place, too, was crawling with spiders as large as a human hand. Of course the American instinct was to immediately flatten these creatures upon contact as if they had actually threatened us. Of course they hadn’t, but such is the nature of the irrational reaction.

However, we were told early on in our travels that there was a Buddhist monastery on campus and that the monks would not take too kindly to foreigners whacking away at the ground with their shoes to kill, well, anything. Given their belief in reincarnation, it was akin in some ways to smashing a human for the simple crime of being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Could you imagine that? You’re walking along, enjoying the day in what you believe to be a publicly shared space when suddenly your world is overtaken by a large, Nike-shaped shadow in one half-second, your soul sent to oblivion the next.

India was seven years ago. Many of us handled the question of spiders by either leaving the front door open in hopes the little monster would see itself out before more found their way in or using a broom to sweep them out. With the latter there was the irrational fear that it would somehow grab hold of the broom and crawl up the wooden handle to do God knows what when it reached us noble humans. But after seeing the locals calmly scoop these spiders up with their hands, I decided it was time to take a new approach to insects.

“They’re a mere fraction of our size,” I repeatedly told myself over the years. “They’re more terrified of us and have more reason to be.”

This worked in theory in my preparation for what lied ahead in Costa Rica. Even better, it all turned out to be a bit of a non-issue as our apartment was on the second floor. Throughout the early months we had heard stories of scorpions sneaking their way into the warm chambers of a poor, unsuspecting soul’s shoe, but we escaped our first couple of months unscathed by the underbelly of the animal kingdom.

That is, until Mothra.

Just as aircraft in the Great War made Great Britain realize they no longer had the advantage of being an island, so too did Mothra change our perspective on the benefits of a second-floor apartment. One otherwise unremarkable night, Melanie and I returned home along with our neighbor Andrea. We shared a staircase to get up to the second-floor where there was a small common space with an ironing board and bookshelf. Our first mistake was leaving the light on, which we can only surmise in retrospect drew the beast to our humble abode.

“Holy shit!” I exclaimed in a respectful, definitely not fearful tone. “Is that a moth?”

It was unfortunately positioned right above our door, perched like a sleeping bird only with a color as black as death and the size of two hands spread out side-by-side.

“Looks like it,” Andrea replied, unfazed after having somehow encountered even larger moths during her time working with Doctors Without Borders in the Congo.

She continued into her apartment, unconcerned with the prospect that the moth would follow her in. Her door slammed shut and the moth remained still.

The last thing we wanted to do was panic. Surely this would awaken the moth and begin its fluttering madness. I saw its position above our door as a positive, convincing myself that if it did startle awake by our door, it wouldn’t think to immediately pull a mid-air u-turn into our apartment like an insect version of Top Gun.

Clearly I underestimated Mothra.

We calmly opened our door, walked in and closed the door behind us. Our plan seemed to work. The moth would spend the night outside our door and we would postpone any evening chores, such as taking out the trash, until the next day. This we thought was our unspoken agreement, an agreement which clearly did not transfer into the language of Mothra.

Suddenly, as these things go, a black blur whizzed across my face as Melanie and I were brushing our teeth. The sheer size of it up close was the stuff of a Japanese horror film, hence the name.

Mothra perched itself above our backdoor that led to the patio. Neither of us had the courage to swing the door open underneath it and to shoo it away. What if it decided to attack while we attempted to do the humanitarian thing? we logically asked ourselves.

Since India, I had practiced a strict policy of trapping and releasing insects whenever they found themselves in my apartment. To this day, I can only recall one instance where I reverted to the child within who burns ants with a magnifying glass. It was in college and one of those centipedes with a thousand legs was racing across my bedroom. After convincing myself it would be impossible to catch, I smashed it in the corner of my room using a removed closet door, screaming like a charging warrior who has lost his sense of decency. It was one of the more horrific monsters I have ever seen and I do not regret it for a second. That thing had it coming.

Besides, that latter incident was before India. After India, I respected all living things.

But there was something about Mothra. It did not seem to want to cooperate or go along peacefully. After all, it charged into our apartment when it clearly had no business doing so. It was perfectly welcome to stay outside our door with the bright light that probably attracted it in the first place.

With the rules of the game broken, I decided I had no other choice but to throw a volleyball at it.

Melanie stood by my side as I squared up to the backdoor. I held the volleyball like a basketball player getting ready to deliver a powerful chest pass. After a few deep breaths, I sent the ball soaring towards Mothra.


I caught the ball as it ricocheted back to me and fired another.


The beast didn’t even flinch! And so, I delivered it again. This time, it appeared to hit Mothra dead on. However, I was immediately faced with another problem. A problem I could only solve in the amount of time it took for the ball to bounce back to me.

In our lives, we experience a handful of moments that play back to us in slow motion. This was one of those moments for me. I remember seeing the ball moving slowly back to me as if it were floating. I realized in that stretch of time that I didn’t see Mothra fall off the wall to its demise nor did I notice it flying away. As the ball approached my hands, I realized it must be flattened onto the volleyball. With this realization, I quickly stepped away as the ball went crashing to the floor. Melanie and I bravely dispersed to see what would happen next.

Unfortunately what seemed like the end was merely the beginning to our evening in Mothra Hell.

A few moments later, we tip-toed back toward the volleyball. I poked it using a broom and saw no sign of Mothra. We went back to the corner by the backdoor and saw no remains on the floor. As part of our earlier attempts to humanely remove the beast, we did open the kitchen window over our sink. With no sign of Mothra, we foolishly convinced ourselves that it had flown away to safety after that crazy monster threw a volleyball at it.

With a brief moment of calm, Melanie finished brushing her teeth and went into our bedroom. As I went to follow behind, another blur the size of a baseball shot across my face near the couch where the volleyball had landed. Mothra did not want to go gentle into that good night.

All bets were off at this point. We tried to play it civilized and Mothra did not seem to get the hint. It was the last thing we wanted to do, but we felt left with no other choice.

We brought out the Raid — a deadly spray cocktail of Tetramethrin, Cypermethrin and Imiprothrin primarily used to send cockroaches to their grave. Despite having no indication as to whether or not this worked on moths, let alone moths the size of a dinner plate, I charged forward like a condemned soul into No Man’s Land, chasing Mothra into every corner of our 600-square foot apartment. Eventually the spray seemed to be doing its job with the animal fluttering around like a damaged aircraft. It even landed a couple of jabs against me in the midst of chaos.

That may seem like personification, but it’s not. Mothra punched me in the face. Twice.

However after what felt like 30 minutes of battle, Mothra remained in our apartment. It was around this point that Melanie realized that wildly spraying Raid around the apartment was probably not a good idea, especially with that warning on the bottle against breathing the aforementioned chemicals.

Still, I couldn’t control myself. Whenever Mothra approached, I fired off like a madman operating under primal instincts to protect himself and his loved one. In retrospect, I think Mothra was toying with me, flying in close to provoke my attack only to bounce back to safety as I idiotically painted our apartment with chemicals.

This continued for an abnormal amount of time. Finally we got it over the sink once again, less than a foot away from the open window that would send this miserable specimen out of our lives for good. Against all logic, I clutched even tighter onto my bottle of Raid. Melanie had the broom. With the appearance of safety that the four-foot handle — plus her arm’s reach — provided, she shooed the monster into the blackness of night and quickly slammed the kitchen window shut. Mothra was gone.

In the aftermath of our battle, I flicked on the fan next to our living room window. I cracked open the window just enough to ensure we didn’t poison ourselves in the middle of our sleep, but not enough for Mothra to squeeze back through. The next hour or so was spent cleaning all of our plates and counter space where my liberal spreading of Raid may have landed.

Too wired up for sleep, we poured ourselves a glass of wine and sequestered ourselves to the bedroom, our door locked in case Mothra came back with friends and decided to wreak more havoc with its supernatural abilities. Eventually, we were able to fall asleep.

The next day, we ran into Andrea in the very hallway space where our battle started.

“Was that you or Melanie screaming last night?”

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  • Christianna
    October 11, 2015 at 1:45 am

    I laughed so hard at this post! I’m so glad you finally got rid of the bug! I wouldn’t have had the patience you did, I hate bugs and kill them on site. Something that big though, I probably would have just decided to find a new place to live right then and there before even opening the front door.

    • Joe
      October 11, 2015 at 10:51 am

      Glad you liked it! Unfortunately relocating on the spot wasn’t an option. Luckily nothing that size ever returned…

  • Ana O
    October 11, 2015 at 5:50 am

    What a fun tale! I’m lethal to spiders, no bugs are allowed in my home 🙂

    • Joe
      October 11, 2015 at 10:50 am

      Thanks for reading! Sounds like you’re a human Raid.