And God said, “Let there be spiders.”

I just finished reading Anansi Boys. Which, you might think, is an odd book for me to have read, given my moderate to severe arachnophobia. Because, you see, Anansi Boys is, essentially, all about spiders.

However, it’s the sequel-esque to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, which I recently read and could quite possibly be one of my favourite books I’ve read this year. You see, Anansi is an African folktale character who most often takes the shape of a spider. He is the spirit of all stories. Legend has it that all stories used to belong to Tiger, but Anansi tricked him and now, instead of the drab, sad world that Tiger had created, the world is now filled with Anansi’s funny, trickster stories.

But, Anansi is a spider. And his boys are Fat Charlie and Spider. And there is literally a scene where thousands of spiders: “the great spiders and the small spiders, venomous spiders and biting spiders: huge hairy spiders and elegant chitinous spiders,” come and save Spider from Tiger.

Despite all that, it was a pretty decent book. Not one of Gaiman’s best (those awards would go to American Gods, The Graveyard Book, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane) but pretty good nonetheless.

But, I think, had I been reading this book a few weeks ago, things would have gone much better for me…

It all started at Frenchman’s Farm, a small accommodation with no website where we were told we could get away for the night, do some hiking in the Ankasa Nature Reserve and really unplug.

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One thing I can say for the farm, it was beautiful. We arrived at noon, fairly starving after a 3 ½ hour ride from our previous accommodation just outside of Elmina. And we proceeded to be served cold coconut milk – from coconuts, of course, while waiting about 3 hours for lunch.

Ok, that’s fine. Coconut milk is pretty good and the flesh is delicious, so we waited. We finally got fed about 3 o’clock and then we made our way to the Ankasa Nature Reserve. Then this happened:

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Now, that’s not our vehicle, ours was right behind. There were a few groups of teachers staying at Frenchman’s Farm that night and the vehicle in front of us got stuck and stayed stuck for the next hour. After about 45 minutes, the park guide got out and offered to lead us up the rest of the drive to get to where the hike actually begun.

We all thought that was fine, seeing as we were in hiking gear, and we walked a total of 3 minutes to get to the start of the hike. Wish we had known that 45 minutes prior.

The company we booked with had recommended the Ankasa Nature Reserve because they said there was tons of beautiful hiking to do: there’s a waterfall, a “Big Tree” with a circumference of 12 meters and a height of 66.5 meters. Also, there’s an area where large bamboos have grown in such a way that it forms a dome, resembling a cathedral.

Corrections: Supposedly there’s a waterfall, it’s a 20 km-hike from the drop-off and involves overnighting in the forest. Supposedly there’s a “Big Tree,” but it’s an hour-and-a-half hike and we wouldn’t have enough light to make it there and back (something they failed to mention when we left – and the car situation didn’t help).

Which left us with the bamboo cathedral – about a 2-minute hike away. And I’ll admit, the bamboo’s height was pretty cool. But it was definitely cut to give it the appearance it has. That said, it was as tall as the smaller trees near by, significantly taller than we were and did have a sort of walking indoors feeling.

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By the time we had finished looking around, the vehicle had been unstuck and the cars met us at the start of the hike, meaning our real “hike” lasted a total of 7 walking minutes and about 10 wandering-through-bamboo minutes. We returned to the farm for rice and bread (they hadn’t really prepared for vegetarians).

We chalked the day up to a bust and were excited about heading to the beach the next day, so we called it an early night. The lodging standards were a bit lower than we had lately become accustomed to, so we kept comparing it to Peace Corps standards, where it fit right in.

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One of the worst things that happened to me in Peace Corps was the number of hand-sized spiders (not fingers, just palm-sized) that made it into the bed I slept in my first 3 months with my host family. On numerous occasions, my host family came running to the sound of my screams only to get to my room and laugh and dust a spider away. There were also mornings when I would get out of my sleeping bag (I slept wholly enclosed, nearly suffocating each night) and discover that I had rolled over and crushed a similarly–sized giant spider while I had slept. It kept me very paranoid for a very long time.

So wouldn’t you know, that as we’re about to crawl into bed here at the farm, I notice something black on our mosquito netting. Making it’s way up and into the bed was – you guessed it – a spider. And not a puny no fingers, just palm-sized spider, but a spider the size of my entire hand – fingers outstretched.

My knight in shining armor killed it for me (he was none too happy about its size either), and I spent the rest of the night curled up against him trying to deep-breath myself out of a panic attack.

So, perhaps, had I already read Anansi Boys, I could have spoken to the spider, asked it to leave. Asked it to tell its insects friends to leave me be. But, unfortunately, I didn’t know what to say to a spider. And my troubles with insects had only just begun.

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