How not to shower with lizards

There’s a place where the sun shines brightly, illuminating the colorful wings of tropical butterflies as they flutter across the warm water of the sparkling bay. That was a really hard sentence to write because apparently lovely prose doesn’t come naturally to me. Anyway, that picture that I just tried to paint for you is in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. The scene sounds beautiful, right? It isn’t. It’s a horrific thing.

Unlike some animals whose swimming ability might surprise you, water snakes come to mind, butterflies can swim exactly the amount you would think they can – which is not at all. These butterflies flutter around with the eventual goal of getting to the other side of the bay. They go higher and lower and back and forth all while the water below them swells higher and lower and back and forth too. It’s a dance that needs to be perfectly timed and choreographed. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had unpredictable waves and ditzy butterflies to work with and therefore, the beautiful dance ends in tragedy. Step right up ladies and gentleman, it’s the powerful ocean versus oblivious butterflies.

The bay is speckled with floating butterflies, both dead and dying, but still it continues. Instead of opting to take the long way around, the next butterfly will still risk the shortcut, completely disregarding the peril of those floating belly up below them. It’s pretty awful.

This is San Juan del Sur and the route they choose to take… Also, those specks in the water are boats, not dead butterflies.

My understanding is that most butterflies and moths don’t swim. I didn’t Google that fact, so it’s possible that there’s a random sub-genus of a butterfly-like creature doing laps around a swimming pool somewhere in Asia. For the most part though, I’m pretty sure they are land and air creatures. But in Central America, these insects have a baffling overconfidence when it comes to water. All that humidity must make them think they’ll be fine in more moisture-dense places, like a bay or a shower, for instance.

Moths, in particular, like to hang out in showers. When they’re looking for a cool, dark place to camp out for the day, a shower fits the bill. As you read this, don’t picture your own shower. If you haven’t traveled to developing countries in the tropics, showers there are not the same as showers here. Houses and hotels are built differently all over the world and lots of houses in warm climates are built around an open-air courtyard. The upside is that this keeps the air circulating and the rooms cooler, the downside is that lots of outdoor things wind up indoors. Like moths. This goes double for places you paid very little for.

I don’t actually have a picture of the inside of any Central American showers, but here is the outside of one in Guatemala. Notice the thatched roof. There is no protection against critters at all!

Since I haven’t dispensed much actual travel advice on my blog yet, I thought I’d do so now:

Here is a step-by-step guide for what not to do if you should ever find yourself in a showering with a moth in a cheap, tropical hotel.

  1. First, you shouldn’t forget the common fact that moths (or butterflies) can’t swim.
  2. Then, you shouldn’t think to yourself, “If I splash him just a bit, he’ll probably fly away and find somewhere else to catch some Zzz’s.” Remember step one. If you take this approach you cause the moth (or moths) to either A. Freak out or B. Die on the shower floor between your feet thus causing you to finish your shower with a massive moth blocking the drain. Oh yeah, moths in tropical climates are really big.
  3. Next, you shouldn’t assume that moths are any better at following navigational prompts than flies who bang their heads against a closed window while you try to usher them out an open one. Even if they’re not injured past the point of escaping, no matter how frantically you flail your arms, the moths won’t fly toward the small opening above the shower curtain.
  4. After that, you really shouldn’t forget that there’s usually more than meets the eye to any situation. By disturbing the peace, you might discover that one critter’s bedroom is another’s hunting ground. One false move could mean you’re disrupting the whole tiny ecosystem happening below the showerhead. Yes, folks, that’s right. Lizards will not appreciate you disturbing the slumber of their dinner.
  5. Finally, if you should find yourself at this point showering with not only moths, but lizards too, it’s best not to freak out and grab your towel where a scorpion has been hiding.

To sum up those steps: stay calm, keep showering and above all, don’t freak out the moths. Once you’ve disturbed the moths, the lizards get angry. They come scrambling out from between tiles on the walls and cracks in the roof to make a last-ditch effort to scoop up their dinner before it drowns or flies away. Fun fact: lurking spiders don’t appreciate when you rouse lizards. Spiders, moths and lizards, oh my!

Have I mentioned this all takes place while you’re standing in a grimy 3 ft. x 3 ft. shower with cold water? Oh, and you’re naked. It’s pretty much my version of hell.

In case you’re thinking that I’m some sort of superwoman when it comes to bugs, you’re dead wrong. At home, I freak out if a ladybug is crawling on the window sill across the room. I would either make Chaos eat it (this is Chaos) or make Andy take it outside. FYI, ladybugs aren’t cute, they’re beetles with polka-dots and a pop of color. I do not tolerate bugs in my house. In Central America though, it isn’t my house and tolerance is really the only option.

Andy is not afraid of bugs. This is his arm in Guatemala and he nonchalantly asked me take a picture before he flicked it off of him. I would have died.

The video below is me, freaking out about a missing cockroach from a hotel bathroom in Nicaragua. Notice how well I keep my cool when we find him again.

Right now you’re all probably wishing you had a way to send me a few bucks so I’d never need to stay in a place this terrible again. But you’re wrong. This place and other places with lizards in the showers really haven’t been that bad. No, I’m not staying at resorts, but these places are perfectly fine establishments with clean beds, friendly proprietors and amazing locations.

It’s just that sometimes, crazy happenings are just the name of the game when you’re traveling on a budget. Sometimes, if you’re in a place with high humidity that makes the flora and fauna go crazy, bugs will happen no matter how much you paid for the room. Just like sometimes, despite Mother Nature’s best efforts, even a beautiful beach can have a downfall that you can’t do anything about. The sand may be warm, the water may be blue and amazingly green vegetation may play backdrop to it all, but even with all that beauty, the surf might still be ridden with dead butterflies. C’est la vie and C’est de voyage!

Beautiful San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. This picture doesn’t do it justice, Google it kids!

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8 responses to “How not to shower with lizards

  1. Thanks for the friendly bit of travel advice and kudos to Andy for allowing the large bug onto his arm. I’m certain that I’m not as brave as that. Cheers.

  2. I would like to add that if you kill the biggest cockroach you have ever seen in the shower and its guts are all over your rough cement wall and your cleaning lady doesn’t come till Monday then you must either:
    A) Not shower until Monday
    OR
    B) Get a hotel room just to shower in until Monday.
    And either way:
    C) Your cleaning lady will smile and give you a this-stupid-girl-needs-to-go-back-to-her-own-country-or-stop-being-a-pansy look no matter how much extra you tip her.

    Of course you’ll forever have the mental upper hand against cockroaches once you eat one…

    • Leslie, you’re my hero for eating that cockroach. Also, you’re my hero for killing so many bugs for me in my lifetime! Thanks!

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