I had been thinking that a post about creepy crawlies in Fiji was long overdue when the inspiration arrived on my doorstep. My bedroom doorstep. Literally. At 3am.

Now all of you cat owners will be familiar with the lovely treats that your cute little killers bring you as gifts. Terrified mice, rats in rigor mortis, tailless chewed up lizards, half-dead birds, and the like. All delightful and totally within my capacity to deal with. But the other night, I met my match. I’ll admit that there was some screaming and maybe just a little hysteria.

We have a long wooden landing at the top of the stairs outside of our bedroom. The cats use this as their killing ground. In the night, you can sometimes hear them playing some sort of morbid version of “catch”. It sounds something like: scamper, scamper, thud, scamper, thud, thud. If any of the scampers or thuds is punctuated by a squeak, I’ll rouse myself from my slumber to undertake a Mission of Mercy to try to save the still living victim.

Reggie, my little killer as a kitten - practicing with his catnip mouse

Reggie, my little killer as a kitten – practicing with his catnip mouse

The other night, there were quite a lot of thuds and scampers. Eventually there was a loud squeak, so I got out of bed and went onto the landing to intervene. A pile of clean laundry had been knocked over and one of the murderous beasts, Reggie, was looking expectantly at a crumpled up dark shirt – presumably the hiding place of a wee cute mouse that had managed to escape his clutches. In the dark, I stepped over the cat and the t-shirt to pick up my daughter’s school uniform to hang it back up when the cat and the shirt suddenly re-engaged in mortal combat. The shirt wasn’t a shirt; it was a fruit bat.

Now I usually find fruit bats quite charming. They are wonderful to see flying overhead in the beautiful Fijian dusk. In silhouette, they look just like Batman’s mark. However, they do get on your nerves when they screech and fight during the night. So there I was, penned in between my blissfully slumbering daughter’s bedroom door and a flapping, injured bat.

The cat, at least, had retreated a little. I grabbed my daughter’s school shirt and was about to throw it over the injured beast when suddenly the fabric, in both size and substance, appeared to be inadequate for the task. Also, the day was dawning on her second to last day of school (ever) and an important chemistry exam. I didn’t want to be responsible for ruining a lucky shirt, or cause the entire family to become infected by a Fijian version of Ebola, so I turned to the only other option available to me: I screamed for my husband.

My husband, who had just hours before been complaining about our feline’s blood-thirsty ways (when dealing with a dead baby bird), gallantly appeared with a blanket. He gently picked up the poor little critter and took it outside. When he got back into bed later (after washing with copious amounts of warm, soapy water – we’ve got a very good understanding of microbiology in our family), he said, “Poor little thing. It probably won’t live. Damned thing bit me three or four times – nearly took my finger off.” He then started making zombie noises. Funny.

One of the great things about Fiji is its lack of deadly creepy crawlies. The Fijians think that our fear of spiders is incomprehensible, as none of the spiders here bite. There are snakes – both on land and in the sea. But the land-based ones are mostly small and rare, while the banded sea krait is venomous but has a tiny mouth. Imagine yourself trying to take a bite out of a basketball – that’s the degree of difficulty I imagine one of these striped critters would have trying to deliver a mortal wound to a person. Of course, this is hard to remember when one is swimming up from the reef at you while you’re snorkelling – there is something particularly unnerving about snakes moving in three dimensions.

snorkelling snake

snorkelling snake

My poor daughter appears to be the one with the most frequent creepy crawly encounters. Soon after we arrived in Suva, she slayed a scorpion with a wooden spatula in the kitchen. Or at least she thought it was a scorpion. The fact that it turned out to be a harmless scorpion spider shouldn’t detract from her heroic efforts. Then there was the enormous Pacific tree boa in the branches above her and her classmate’s heads during a biology field trip. This being Fiji, one of her classmates actually scrambled up the tree to get it down.

However, her worst encounter by far was with a spider. Now, I know that I just said that spiders don’t bite here. However, when there is one the size of a dinner plate hiding in your untidy bedroom, all rational thinking goes out the window. She was saved by her friend, S, who stood like a Ninja for around 45 minutes on her bed patiently surveying the room for the elusive creature. Assisted by another friend, H, the beast was eventually caught. The fact that H has a propensity to eat all of my pickled jalapenos when he’s in the house was forever forgiven. Husband and I witnessed these unfolding events via inadvertent text messages, as demonstrated by the phone screenshot below:

Fiji text message_WWLOR

As for me, the worst that I’ve encountered is a venomous centipede that ran out of some lettuce into the salad spinner, where it was trapped and duly dispatched by one of my daughter’s friends. I’m not going to lie – I absolutely loathe the things. I hate all of their horrible little legs and the creepy undulating way they move. Not to mention that a bite from them has been likened to the pain of childbirth. They are definitely my least favourite tropical critters along with crocodiles. Fortunately, we don’t have those here.

Of course, all of this needs to be put into perspective. Even if you do the Beqa shark dive or happen to encounter a reef shark while snorkeling, it’s very likely that the most dangerous thing that you’ll experience in Fiji will be a ride in a taxi with no seat belts and a driver in desperate need of a pair of spectacles. That is, unless you’re smallish and furry; in which case, I’d suggest that you stay away from our cats.

Mary van Erp Bythell

Current Rock of Residence:

Suva, Fiji

Island Girl Since:

1986

Originally Hails From:

California – though that was an awfully long time ago!

Found frequently standing in front of the world map that hung in the dining room as a small child, Mary was presciently givena book about the South Pacific by her parents on her 8th birthday inscribed, “To our dream traveler”. Back then she aspired to live in Ulan Bator and Tierra del Fuego for reasons that remain unfathomable. Since escaping the suburban cultural desert of the pre-gentrified South San Francisco Bay Area, she has lived on three rocks: St. Croix, the UK and Fiji. Her time in St. Croix gave her an appreciation of fine rum, incomprehensible bureaucracy and not wearing shoes. In her little Northumberland village, she learned how to pronounce her T’s properly, take tea with milk and not to regard neighbors with suspicion. Leaving oldest child at university in Blighty, she moved to the sweaty megatropolis of Suva in 2012 with youngest child and husband, where she now works and takes in waifs and strays, mostly of the feline variety. You can read more about Mary’s Fiji life on her personal blog, Fiji Diaries.

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