Uninvited Island Roomates

Coming from a cold weather state, I’m accustomed to looking for a certain set of perks in an apartment. I’d comb Craigslist postings, praying to see the words “heat included!” Gym facilities were a major plus, and free parking was always a coveted amenity. Even better, covered parking – be still, my shovel-weary, frozen-fingered, snooze-button-loving heart!

Apartment hunting on island, however, was a whole different ballgame. We didn’t have any illusions about having an air conditioner, as we had read up on the price of electricity and had an inkling that we wouldn’t be able to afford running an A/C unit on a regular basis anyway. (Spoiler alert: We actually did get an air conditioned apartment and that dormant unit taunts me every morning as I straighten my hair while trying not to slip in puddles of my own sweat. I glare at it every night as I try to fall asleep; its cool breezes haunt me in my dreams…)

No, we had no delusions of grandeur for our island apartment. Safety was paramount, and ceiling fans and a nice breeze were high on the list of desirable features. But we completely underestimated the holy grail of island apartment amenities: “monthly extermination included.”

We’re clean people. Meticulous, even. We keep everything but unopened canned goods in the refrigerator. Counters are scoured on a weekly basis, trash emptied promptly. Nary a plate is left in the sink overnight. But when you’re living on a tropical island, it simply does not matter. Your sanitation efforts will be in vain, because each and every month, despite the valiant efforts of the exterminator you are compensating so well, the insects of the surrounding bush are going to make their presence known.

Our formal introduction to the inevitability of insect inhabitants began mere days after moving into our apartment when I caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of my eye while getting ready for bed. I turned and saw what I thought was a small hummingbird perched on the wall in my bedroom. Despite having never seen an all-black hummingbird in my lifetime, I just assumed that must be what it was. After all, up until that point, I was blissfully unaware that enormous flying cockroaches even existed! Yet this cockroach had a distinctly avian build, more bat than insect, and was much, much bigger than any cockroach I had ever seen before. And this winged monstrosity was far from my kitchen, where I am somewhat accustomed to greedy cockroaches making the occasional appearance in search of crumbs. No, this massive cockroach was hovering in my bedroom, in a disturbing proximity to my sleeping space.

Needless to say, we slept on the couch that night.

We vanquished the first gigantic cockroach, and several of its brethren, with a healthy dose of Raid before the exterminator finally made his long-awaited appearance. The exterminator’s visit lulled me into a false sense of security, comforted by my delusions that we had won the war against the pests indefinitely.

We may have won the initial battle, but the war against the wide array of creepy crawly creatures was just beginning. We quickly became accustomed to seeing spiders that could easily be mistaken for starfish. We were very nearly defeated by an infestation of ants, each of which was nearly microscopic on its own and only became visible when clustered in the small armies that descended upon our kitchen. We even encountered a tiny scorpion…in our bedroom.

(We slept on the couch that night, too.)

Beyond the once-a-month extermination, we’re on our own as far as the bugs go. We did send our landlord one complaint about a wasp’s nest, and were rather unceremoniously presented with a can of wasp spray and wished good luck. But we are not completely alone in this battle. We have found allies…in the form of lizards.

I won’t lie – I did not take to our reptilian roommates immediately. Actually, the first time I spotted a little green lizard darting across my bedroom, I was completely horrified and bolted to my laptop to fire off an indignant e-mail to my landlord. I expected a response that was apologetic – or at the very least, sympathetic. What I got, essentially, was this:

“Good morning, Ginger! Congratulations on spotting your first lizard! Consider yourself lucky – lizards will eat spiders, cockroaches, and other horrifying creatures that want to live with you! Hopefully it will make hundreds of baby lizards in your apartment and you’ll never have to be exterminated again!”

Humph. Not quite the response I was hoping for. I pouted for a bit (and, um, slept on the couch for about a week), but I quickly realized my landlord was right – the lizards did ameliorate our bug problems significantly. They were even kind of cute, and I had always wanted a pet.

The lizards still occasionally irk us, though. We often see more lizard turds than we do actual lizards, which makes us uneasy about exactly how many reptiles are lurking unseen in the apartment. There was also a brief period where we had a rash of tiny newborn lizards appearing throughout the apartment. They must have been abandoned by their lizard parents because we soon started finding dead baby lizards on a daily basis. We gave them the most dignified burial we could in the form of a prompt toilet flushing, which my husband solemnly termed, “burial at sea”. But we felt really badly that we didn’t know how to save them – we’ve developed a bit of a soft spot for the little buggers.

On the whole, I have adjusted to sharing our living space with insects and reptiles as best I can; they don’t bother me so much anymore (although spiders will forever remain my husband’s area of expertise). What other choice does an island girl have? Keep the kitchen fastidiously clean. Don’t tick off the lizards. Seriously consider buying stock in Raid and Sure Shot.

And if all else fails, there’s always the couch.

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About Ginger

Ginger stumbled upon St Thomas mostly by accident a little over a year ago. She didn’t plan to stay too long, but her crippling fear of flying means she’s essentially stranded and likely here for the long haul. (Upon consulting a map, she was startled to find that she was not, in fact, living just off the coast of Florida.) In her pre-island life, Ginger was a Type A, list-loving lady, but island life has changed all that. Her formerly lengthy and detailed grocery lists have been crossed out to read “whatever’s on sale and not past its expiration date”, and she’ll take a $6.99 liter of rum over an $8.99 gallon of milk any day of the week. Ginger moved to her rock with her husband, the Official Spider Slayer of the household. When she’s not changing flat tires and chasing lizards from her kitchen, you can find her in a hammock with a rum punch in hand.

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19 thoughts on “Uninvited Island Roomates

  1. Totally relate Ginger … had our first scorpion in the shower and cockroach the size of a small child in the sheets last week. Good to know it’s ‘normal’ island living 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  2. I am loving this site& specifically your post. I lived on Roatan for a few years (just moved back to the US in Janurary.) Before moving to the island I had never even seen a cockroach… and it was my biggest fear. We took over a hotel to run and the first night, after making our bed with all white linens that I had personally imported from the US in my valuable luggage-space, I got in bed and thought “I will flip my pillow over to the cool side” and when I did the biggest, nastiest cockroach was right there on the bed. It was horrifying. Thankfully i have a husband with ninja reflexes who killed it quickly, but I am still slightly traumatized by that incident. Which is funny, because there are much worse roach stories I have form my time on island, but that first one is the one that makes my skin crawl… after that I was not scared by them anymore.

    • Thanks, April! Funny how quickly you get used to the things that horrified you during your first few weeks 🙂 I can handle just about anything now, except spiders!

  3. Eh, no need to be so meticulous in the kitchen. I’m relaxed on that matter and find it makes little difference. Also, after waking up at 4:30am with a tarantula on my pillow, I procured a mosquito net for my bed. It does cut off the breeze a bit, but the peace of mind (and peace from mosquitoes!) has been totally worth it. Plus it adds a romantically Out-of-Africa campy feel to your sleeping quarters. Great post!

    • We’ve definitely relaxed a bit over keeping the kitchen so clean, now that we’ve seen what little difference it makes. Oh God – I don’t think I’d ever go back in the bedroom after finding a tarantula in there. Maybe we’ll try getting a mosquito net – thanks!

      • If I woke to find a tarantula on my pillow, I don’t think I could close my eyes again … like, ever. I would also, in that moment, do a complete freak out and then dissolve into a sobbing mess.

        I don’t do spiders.

  4. I’m loving this blog. Something feels good about knowing others share in your horrors and frustrations of island living. During our first few Caribbean months I awoke feeling sure that there was a rodent on me. I quickly, and in complete blackness, brushed it off me only to be left with the most searing pain. I turned on the lamp to discover a centipede- poised to strike again. Naturally i freaked out and made my husband deal with this horrible pest. I didn’t sleep well for months and the scar has only recently faded- well over a year later!

    • Thanks, Lindsey – so glad you found us! Yes, I always find it vaguely comforting to know someone else has also braved an island creepy crawly infestation. Though your centipede experience is one I haven’t had yet and will surely infiltrate my dreams (nightmares) tonight. 😉

  5. Centipedes were my worst nightmare in Barbados. I could deal with all the rest but they are nasty. I got hit on four different occasions. Once in the forehead when I forgot to shake my ballcap out before I put it on. All of them hurt! I also had a rat jump on my shoulder one night when I was sitting reading. I jumped up on the couch so fast and that rat flew off on to the floor. Scared the heck out of me. Later I realized I had set poison and the thing was half dead a probably ‘fell’ off the rafter. My cat played with it for awhile and then killed it. I stayed on the couch standing up for quite a while. I miss Island life for true! I’m really enjoying your blog and comments. Brings back loads of memories. Thanks!

  6. Question — if you are fortunate enough to have lizards in your home, can you still exterminate, or would that kill them, too? Also, just FYI, y’all are slightly crushing my fantasies of living in the BVI, lol. Cockroaches, lizards, and even ants I can handle, but I don’t think I’d relax for a minute if I knew a centipede, tarantula, scorpion, or rat (or snake? what about snakes?) could be sharing my pillow at any moment.

    • Haha, sorry to burst your bubble, Linda. Yes, you can do some stuff to deter island creepy crawlies, but you can never really get rid of them all. It’s just a fact of life in “paradise”… 😉

  7. Interesting site. i have lived in Puerto Rico now for 4 1/2 years. Yeah it was all new and wondrous and amazing and finally we got rid of the critters except at certain times of the year when they are just here. I do remember Charlotte to had it’s season for different kind of critter invasions. It’s no big deal now. Cat kills the lizards I am too late to rescue but still no roaches(except the ones she brings in) to speak of. If I had to choose where to live. This is it. Yeah the electri is high but we don’t use it like in the states and no heat required. I have an 1863 sq.ft home. Last month’s electric bill $34.75. It was never that low in any where I lived in the states. The hardest things here are the drivers, anything government and the Gran Picolas. That’s probably not spelled right. They are the annoying loud speakers strapped to trucks and prowl the neighborhoods ie of the whole island. Politicals are the worst. That said. I have come to terms with all that offends me by realizing that if this was different. if it were easy then everyone would be here and I would not have been able to afford this lovely home with ocean view and breezes. It would be like Hawaii a lost dream overrun with tourists and investors and what happened to the sense of community. No I love Rincon. I love Puerto Rico. I will take her as she is and revel in her beauty, her charm and all that has made her the way she is.

  8. I can relate so well to this post! I live on the Big Island of Hawai’i, and since my encounter with a cockroach that ended up DOWN THE BACK OF MY YOGA PANTS when I was trying to RAID it to death, I’m getting much less freaked out about them. I love my house geckos (except when the adults eat the babies), and count myself lucky to have not yet experienced the centipedes or excessive spiders. The cane spiders are massive here. Mahalo for sharing all of your wonderful island tales! I’ve just invited all my Big Island sistas to like your FB page, as I think they’ll enjoy it too.

  9. Pingback: Creepy Crawly Buggy Nightmares | Drinking the Whole BottleDrinking the Whole Bottle

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