Travel confession: I am terrified of South America. I always have been, but lately it has less been because of drug wars, dictators in red Berets, jungle diseases, and just all around general chaos. It has been because of the 1990 cinema classic Arachnophobia starring Jeff Daniels.
Let me back up and rewind a few years. As impressionable young children, my brother and I had a bizarre catalogue of movies that we inexplicably watched over and over and over again. But even more bizarre and inexplicable is how the plots of those movies have manifested themselves into my real adult life. I won’t get into the hardcore particulars, but by the time I got to Costa Rica at the age 21, there was no convincing me that these flying creatures WEREN’T dinosaurs from Jurassic Park:
Fast forward to now. When I moved into my basement apartment in the beginning of the year, everything seemed great for about a month. Sure, it was a little cold and dark, but it was finished and spacious, a bargain for the buck. It was bug-free, save one lonesome long-legged (albeit ‘wispy’) spider living in a corner in the bathroom. I figured he wasn’t bothering me, and (I kid you not) I remembered a line from a movie – Arachnophobia! – wherein the wife of Jeff Daniels’ character forbids him from killing a spider because AND I QUOTE “It’s bad luck to kill a spider in a new house.”
Friends, family. Let this be a lesson. If you let one spider live, three months later you will be met with infestation. One particularly gruesome Sunday night, I murdered twenty to thirty spiders in a fit of death and carnage. They continue to appear, one here, one there (usually in the same corner of the bathroom – SPIDER GHOSTS?). Every time I kill one of these little assholes I am reminded of this: I booked a flight to Ecuador, and soon after a trip to the Amazon Rainforest. What. was. I. thinking? (!)
If you haven’t seen the movie, and I recommend that you DON’T, here is a quick little plot synopsis. Jeff Daniels has arachnophobia, an acute fear of spiders. He moves into a house at the same exact time a scientist accidentally imports a rare spider from his travels in the Amazon Rainforest. The Amazon spider finds its way to Jeff Daniels’ house and makes sweet spider lovin’ to the same little house spider that Jeff Daniels’ wife let live! The resulting hybrid baby spiders take over the whole town, death and carnage predictably ensue. Poor Jeff Daniels is blamed for all the dead people because, you see, he’s the new doctor in town and they were all his patients. To prove his innocence he has to (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!) pull a Sherlock Holmes/Angela Lansbury/Stabler&Benson (take your detective pick), solve the mystery and subsequently OVERCOME his fear of spiders and set fire to his house.
You see now, why I am terrified of South America. Basically my apartment is the plot of the movie Arachnophobia waiting to happen. All it will take is one little sneaky Amazonian spider to hitch a ride in my suitcase, find its way to my basement bathroom and find one of my immortal wispy house spiders particularly attractive and BAM! Philadelphians will no longer be safe to watch Wheel of Fortune whilst snacking on bowls of popcorn.
Okay, so this isn’t really about my phobia of the movie Arachnophobia.
Of all the continents, South America is our closest neighbor, and yet, there is still so much unknown. If I were to ask you to tell me the first image you had of any country in South America, could you answer that question as easily as you could for Australia, Europe, Africa, or Asia? I know I couldn’t. Patagonia, Machu Picchu, Christ the Redeemer – these are all images only in recent years added to my collective conscious, and the Amazon Rainforest a big expansive concept of a place that I had not thought I would ever step foot into or near in my wildest dreams. But now I am.
I’ve been reading a lot from my hand-written journal from my previous journeys abroad and this sentence about Brazil keeps nagging at me: “[Brazil] lacks the envelope of friendliness, of security…it is definitely a country I have to get through, day by day.” I remember leaving after a week of complete and utter mayhem – of Carnival in Salvador, of drinking and sweating and peeing in streets, of the drumbeats I can still feel sometimes in my chest cavity, of the cobblestone streets and of faceless childrens’ hands plunging deep into my already empty pockets, and thinking I’d never go back to that continent again.
But I am.
And it’s scary.
And that is why we do it.
The trick being not to bring home any arachnids.