This week I've been caught up in cobwebs a couple of times in my house. It's as though really tiny spiders have been on manoeuvres, abseiling down from the ceiling in random places, setting traps for me to catch the almost invisible threads in my face. In fairness I don't get many bugs here in Olvera, just the occasional cockroach on reconnaissance from the drain in the street, and earwigs, which for some unknown reason are keen to hang out in my bathroom, keeping me company on towels and face-clothes etc.
It was a different story when I first came to Spain, probably because the place I lived was more rural. The agent who sold us the house told us a big lie. She assured us there were no spiders here, well, only the sort of 'gangly' ones that looked like crane flies. Several months later a spider the size of my hand appeared on the ceiling. We had a guest around to witness it. It crossed my mind that the best way to handle the situation was to calmly evacuate, take shelter in a neighbouring province and then implore NATO to make a tactical nuclear strike on my house. Fortunately my guest was less terrified of spiders than I was, and managed to wrangle the beast with a chair and a whip, ushering him in a bucket from whence he was dispatched to the chicken coup. Chickens are your best friend if you dislike creepy crawlies. They relish spiders and I've even seen them eat a baby snake (another critter I'm not keen to share living space with). For the record, a chicken's gullet is capable of grinding glass, so they make swift work of all kinds of bugs.
We had plenty of bugs there for the chickens to get to work on. Being an old property, the house had various nests of long standing. There was a thicket of ivy surrounding the tool shed from which beetles the size of rats would emerge every now and again. These would be redirected to the chicken run for sonderbehandlung. Indoors there was a huge fireplace, the insides of which was fitted with protective sheets of iron. From the gap between the iron and the wall, during the night when nobody was around, a predator would crawl out and prowl the living room. I first noticed this when I came down for a wee one night and, as it was a bright, moonlit night, I didn't bother turning the lights on. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something darting across the floor. It had the length and width of a six inch school ruler, and was galloping at the speed of a race horse. I reached for the light, but as I switched it on I was only able to catch a brief glimpse of the critter as it disappeared into it's lair. It was a giant centipede, or as I later found out when I looked it up, 'Scolopendra cingulata' or Mediterranean banded centipede which is a nasty piece of work. It is an opportunistic carnivore which can eat insects and small lizards, and if suitably provoked, endow you with a painful, toxic bite as well as a lifetime of nightmares. I figured I wasn't brave enough to tackle the nest by removing the iron plates, so instead I invested in an insecticide spray sold here called Zum (which smells truly awful and is probably banned in the rest of the civilized world). This is employed by spraying the floor and walls where it creates a barrier that is toxic to walking insects. I sprayed this all over the room and sure enough, in subsequent mornings I would come down to discover dead centipedes, some even larger than the first specimen I caught a glimpse of.
Wasps were of course a problem. A Spanish chap give me a good tip. Keep away from them during the day time. If you're planning to disable a wasps nest, do it at night when they are home and asleep. He demonstrated this in an out-building of his country house one evening on a nest about the size of a fist. He gave it a quick spray of lighter fluid and set it on fire. In seconds it burned to a cinder, wasps and all, without a single angry escapee, though to be fair, I may have missed some of the action as I had, as is my nature, turned and run as far away as was as humanly possible.
Probably the largest insect to have accosted me in those early days was some sort of locust. I was stood admiring a friends garden when I noticed something flying towards me. I didn't have a clue what it was. As is the case at such moments, time seemed to slow to a standstill. As my mind was saying "w h a t t h e a b s o l u t e f u c k" in slow-motion, the insect coming towards me just kept getting bigger and bigger. Then suddenly there was a thud and it landed on my chest. It must have been four inches long. There it sat, looking up it me as though it was trying to figure out whether I was edible or not. I made the decision for him and flicked it off with the back of my hand. Fortunately these things are tourists from Africa. We don't see them very often, and when we do they are generally on their own, not in crop-stripping plagues. Still it gave me the willies I can tell you.
Bigger still were the eagles, and trust me, these things are big. I was driving in the country one day and an eagle flew across the road, having emerged from a driveway. It flew right across the bonnet of my car, giving me about the best possible view one can get of an eagle in flight without actually riding one! In particular I noticed the talons were not much smaller than my hands. Some months later I saw another one in action. I was pottering about in the garden when an eagle swooped into the vegetable patch, presumably on the hunt for some unfortunate mouse or vole or whatever. The thing that struck me was deadly combination of speed and silence. I was lucky enough to be looking in the right direction at the right time to see the thing dive-bombing, but I could easily imagine that from the position of the prey, there would be no warning, just instant death from a blue sky. I had a pool in a private and secluded walled-garden at the time and was in the habit of doing the odd spot of sun-bathing in the nuddy. Subsequently I always kept my shorts on while catching a few rays in case a more myopic eagle than most mistook my member for a mouse! Imagine having to explain that one in A&E.
I don't get to see so much wildlife now I live in Olvera. There are always big birds flying around, vultures and so forth, though I rarely see them up close. Turtles in the river are about the height of entertainment locally, though further afield I've seen badgers in Ronda. The most puzzling thing I've seen was whilst driving to Ronda early one morning. Something strange was crossing the road near Montecorto. I had to do a double-take because it looked like a self-propelled coffee table. There were, what seemed to be eight legs hanging off a fringed table-top just a few inches off the ground, with a head and a tale that matched like those found on a Viking Longship, and the whole thing had the same hue as a red squirrel. You can tell from my inept description I'm no wildlife expert! I mused for a long while on this and did a fair amount of Googling. My final conclusion was that it was a pair of mongooses (is that mongeese?). They would have been running pretty much one behind the other, hence the eight legs. Given my eyesight though it may well have been a coffee table!