By Margarita Meyendorff
Every year, in January, my husband Miky and I look forward to the abundant events and adventures that inevitably happen during our five-week stay in southern Mexico. We love Mexico. The plants and the environment are exquisite and pleasing to the eye. The animal and the insect world, also beautiful, is more challenging to get used to, particularly for wimps like me.
Usually, it’s the middle of the night, when the cat howling begins behind the stone wall, in the steep street adjacent to our little casita in San Agustinillo. The strays are looking for Cleo, the red-striped cat who often sleeps at my feet. In an instant, Cleo jumps off the bed and joins the cat crew on the balcony. The rendez-vouz escalates into an unbearable cat screech session. The howling gets me out of bed and I chase the various felines off the balcony back into the dark street. We are also visited by the odd raccoon or skunk that we mistake for a stray cat. Raccoons and skunks need to be chased away quickly before they eat all our growing vegetables. As soon as I put my head on my pillow, the morning rooster squawking begins. These are some of the nightly adventures that take about a week to get used to.
One night, I woke up to crunching noises in our little casita. I woke my husband, who sleeps through everything—even a small 4.1 earthquake that shook the casita a few nights ago— and I told him about the sounds. He turned on the light and there was Cleo, our docile, innocent, little cat, sitting at the end of our bed munching on a small iguana she had dragged in. “The crunching tiger,” Miky called her as he got up to get the broom. I was horrified as Miky swept Cleo and the dead iguana out of our room, onto the balcony and down the steps. All traces gone. Or so we thought. The next morning, en route to the beach, we passed our little swimming pool, and there lay the poor iguana, half-eaten, floating in the water.
And of course, there is the assortment of insects that push my nervous system to the edge, like Mexican cockroaches, which are large and unspeakably ugly. My 81-year old landlady steps on them with her shoes. The roaches are bigger than her shoes. If I happen to be near one I shout for Miky, my hero, to get the broom.
There are many mosquitos, yes, but I can live with them, especially with a dose of citronella before bed. Miky wraps himself up in his sheets and looks like an Egyptian mummy every night. Inevitably, there is blood dotted here and there on the sheets the next morning – we never feel the sting.
Reading at night with one lamp on and all the windows open creates a large influx of a variety of insects. I was so engrossed in my book one evening that I did not notice the grasshopper invasion that had occurred all around me. There were about a dozen grasshoppers on the walls ranging in size from one inch to two inches. Each one was caught and gently put back into the bushes in front of our balcony. Lights out – reading over.
One evening, Miky and I went to our neighbor’s B&B to watch the Australian Tennis Open on television. Paulina has the only television in town with the Canadian sports channel and a small crowd of tennis fans gathered to watch. The matches were well on their way when there came a blood curdling scream from the couch area and I watched as three grown people stood up on the couch. I followed suit and stood up on my chair, knowing that whatever it had been must be on the floor. And there it was in full glory—a scorpion.
It was crawling happily on the floor while six grown-ups stood on the furniture in a panic. Even though I am a wimp when it comes to creepy-crawly things, I never kill them. Unfortunately, this poor scorpion saw its end under the sole of a shoe and was then flushed down the toilet. Not a very dignified ending to an imposing, albeit scary-looking, creature.
There are all sorts of creatures on the beach. There are fish and some turtles—usually dead after being trapped in a fisherman’s net. There are crabs running in and out of their sand holes and lizards lazily sunning themselves on rocks. There are many birds such as pelicans, egrets, seagulls and vultures. The vultures voluntarily clean the beaches of all dead creatures. If we are lucky and the time is right, we see baby turtles rushing for safety to the ocean.
Fishermen return from their hunt with sharp knives in their hands and cut up their catch right on the beach. They work rapidly to keep the fish fresh for restaurants or for the freezer. If the fishermen have enough, we buy a kilo of fish and bring it home for supper.
Dogs. I love dogs. There are many of them in Mexico. There are all sorts of varieties, sizes and colors. Most of them belong to someone because they have collars. Some of them are tied up, and some are not and walk freely. Most dogs are friendly and tag along with us when we walk on the beach. I have never been afraid of dogs until this past January when I was bitten.
This one particular morning, Miky and I saw two nondescript, short-haired tan-looking dogs on our path to the beach. They were chasing the chickens, the roosters and anything else that moved. They had no collars and it seemed as if these two had escaped from somewhere and were enjoying being mischievous, unruly and naughty.
Happy dogs. We didn’t pay much attention to them.
An hour later I found myself walking home alone on the same path. I was almost home when the same two dogs jumped out of a neighbor’s yard and attacked me. I screamed and yelled and waved my arms, but to no avail. The two of them were egging each other on and they were determined to torment me. I was just another moving target for them—a tall chicken with skinny legs and flip flops for chicken feet. A neighbor heard the screaming and came running out but not before one of the dogs managed to stick a tooth into my knee and leave a gash with his claws. I was shaken. Never had anything like this happened to me before.
Our landlady took a photo of my knee and the image went viral in the San Agustinillo community Facebook page to warn others about these dogs. Had it been a smaller person, or a child perhaps, this incident could have been worse. I put a little hydrogen peroxide on the surface of my wound— it was not deep, and not much more was said about the dog bite, until I got back home to New York.
I was encouraged by my friends to get a rabies shot. So I did.
Living side by side with the various creatures is a way of life in Mexico – a way of life that teaches me to overcome and accept my fears so that I can ultimately enjoy this unique and magnificent environment. Next year, I will return to San Agustinillo and I look forward to new and exciting adventures.