Sunday, October 29, 2006

Pests

I knew before we left on the trip that I would suffer from mosquito bites anytime we were in a locale in which these creatures are endemic. I am, for some reason, irresistible to mosquitos, so much so that they will ignore my mosquito repellant-free husband and find the one spot on my exposed skin that I failed to slather with DEET. I don't even bother bringing mosquito repellant from home when we travel- the 15% DEET I can buy in the U.S. is too wimpy. I wait until I can buy something that is at least 20%, and preferably 30% DEET. So what if it melts plastic and those fancy modern fabrics? It keeps the mosquitos away.

When I get bitten by a mosquito, I don't just get a little red bump. It starts out small, but soon swells to the size of a nickel, or even a quarter. Then it slowly fades, passing through a mottled spot phase that is so ugly that I often feel compelled to cover it with a band-aid, lest passers-by think I am afflicted with a strange, potentially contagious skin disorder. Some bites even leave lasting darks spots, that fade only over the course of months or years. It is now almost November, and I still have a couple dark spots from the bites I got in Malaysia in February. Despite my best efforts with DEET, I have been bitten in every place I have ever visited in which mosquitoes are common, except Cambodia. I found my lack of mosquito bites in Cambodia amusing, since this was the one leg of our big trip that was to a location considered malarial, and we had to take Malarone while we were in the country, and for several days before and after. Maybe Malarone changes how I smell, and makes me less attractive to mosquitoes. Or maybe the government of Cambodia has run a successful mosquito-eradication campaign around Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor Wat, Regardless of the reason, I certainly wasn't complaining about the lack of bites. For one thing, Cambodia also has dengue fever, and there is no prophylactic or treatment for that. You just have to suffer through the disease that is called "break-bone fever" in some places.

Given my known mosquito-drawing nature, it was no surprise that I found mosquitos to be the most annoying pests on our trip. I may even have complained about my bites enough to cause my husband to share that sentiment. I expected the strange and disturbingly large creepy-crawlies of Malaysia and Thailand to be the second most annoying pests. I was wrong. The only large and freaky bugs we saw in Malaysia were in cages or other controlled environments. The only annoying bug in Thailand was a large cockroach who refused to stay in our bathroom and away from our sleeping quarters in the little hut we had on Ko Ngai. This ruined my sleep while I was there, and, not wanted to suffer alone, I duly ruined my husband's sleep. Don't feel sorry for him. He could have killed the thing and made us both happy. He apparently missed the bit of the wedding vows where he promised to squash large bugs for me and insisted on trying to reason with me about how harmless the cockroach was and how it was more scared of me than I was of it. I thought that if it was so scared, it should leave my room. It probably thought the same about me. I was paying for the privilege of being there, so I decided to stay put. Besides, there were probably cockroaches outside, too.

The second most annoying pest of the trip was not in the tropical climes at all. It was in Australia, in both Canberra and Sydney. Anyone who has spent any time in these cities can probably guess the identity of the mystery bug. It is the common fly. The Aussie flies are the most annoying fly I have ever encountered. They are incredibly persistent and unafraid of harm from humans. They will land on you while you are moving. You can swat one away, literally making contact with it as you push it aside, only to have it turn around and fly right back at your face. They are also disturbingly numerous. Whereas you might encounter one or two flies on a stroll here in San Diego, you will probably encounter one or two hundred on a similar stroll in Canberra. I do not think I exaggerate, and if I do, it is only because the flies that I did encounter insisted on accompanying me for my entire stay outdoors. They follow you whenever you go outdoors. I was constantly surprised that there wasn't a little black cloud around my husband (in a nice change from the mosquito case, these flies preferred him to me) . Ten minutes outdoors in Canberra was enough to make me understand why the stereotypical Aussie outback hat (as worn by the philosopher Bruces in the Monty Python sketch) has corks tied to it. The corks would keep the flies away, and really, looking a little silly is a small price to pay for relief from these pests.
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