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Letters

March, 2017

Some days are just animal days. Yesterday, I made a pre-emptive strike at an isulilla (ee-soo-LEE-ja) who had the temerity to stride across the cloth behind my laptop as I was looking at e-mails in the comedor (dining room). These are ants about 5/8 of an inch in length (cm. and a half), and their sting is ferocious. (The first time I stepped on one, it was late afternoon. It felt as though a tiny devil was stabbing his pitchfork into the bottom of my foot, and by the following morning, I could still feel it.) This particular ant might not have been looking to attack, but I just did not want to pick up my coffee cup and find him there, so I grabbed my sandal and ground him into mush. This is necessary if you intend to stop them. If you just squash them, they roll around, gnash their fearsome fangs at you, and glare at you with baleful eyes. It is not until they are separated into tiny pieces that you can feel safe. And I would not touch one with my bare fingers even then.

Dr. Linn House Call

Then, after lunch, as I was reading under the mosquito net in my room, I heard a crash. What on earth was that? I emerged from the net but all I saw was a frog on the wall above the desk. Well, they often make a noise that seems entirely out of proportion to their size, so I took a cup and a piece of cardboard, captured him, and headed for the front door.

When I looked in to the front room, however, I saw the real cause of the ruckus. There was a long (at least two meters), slender, glistening green-black snake thrashing around in the corner by the cushion chair. He must have fallen from the rafters. He did not look venomous … he had a round head, not the arrowhead-shaped, wide-jawed, narrow-necked form of the vipers, and he was thinner than a viper of that length would be, and his eyes did not have the evil vertical viper pupils. Still, he was obviously panicked, and was zooming around at an astonishing speed. (Considering that snakes have no legs, they can move very, very quickly.) I opened the front door and hoped he would take the hint, but instead he dove for the small cave between the standing cupboard and the place where the shower wall juts out, beneath the little saw table. I returned to my room and banged the wall a time or two with the broom, then heard rustling in the thatch at the front of the house and went and banged there, and two macaws flew off. I did not see the snake. At first. Then I spotted his head poised above the standing cupboard, the remainder of his length dangling down alongside the brooms and other stuff in that corner. Hmm.

I decided to go to the dining room for a while, and left the front door enticingly open. When I returned, I could find no evidence of snake, nor did I perceive any overnight nor the next morning.

I was still looking carefully into corners, though, and rightly so. The snake had not gone.

His next appearance was a few days later, when he again fell from the rafters with a tremendous clatter, in the corner by the back door, as I was working on the laptop while sitting in the hammock. Concerned that he might in his panic dive toward me, and I might, startled, toss the new laptop across the room, I carefully set it down, stepped back a pace or two, and watched as the terrified snake (whom I am sure is convinced that I am a person who eats snakes) thrashed and flailed and finally flung himself across to the other back corner of the room. Whence he disappeared. I peeked cautiously, from a distance, under the bed, but no sign of him there. I then walked, cautiously, around the bed and looked carefully into the corner but could find no sighting there either. I looked up into the rafters, and out the window (there is a snake-sized hole in the corner where the support post comes up through the floor), but nothing.

I then consulted with Enrique Benavides, who the lodge staff assured me knows the most about snakes. He came to the house, looked around, and said, yup, it’s a mantona, a house snake, boas that sometimes live in the thatched roofs. It’s gone up into the rafters, he assured me. He seemed quietly amused that I would be excited about this – after all, everyone wants a mantona, to keep down the population of frogs, rodents, bats, etc – but did comment that it sounded like a pretty good sized creature.

Charlie Machete

The following day, I went off to Iquitos, and when I returned, there was incontrovertible evidence that the snake was still in my roof. There was a line of white droppings leading up to the small rug by my bedside, and another splatter where the depositions had been scattered by the screen over the bathroom. There was also a discarded snake skin draped over the front corner rafters. Then when I returned from supper, yet another spray of white leavings had been left on the far side of my mosquito net. Fortunately, none of it was in the bed itself, but geez … the animal seems to favor my bedroom as his headquarters. And while I do appreciate the removal of vermin, I wish he were a less messy beast, and not so clumsy as to fall from the rafters so often.

Fortunately, a few days later, all traces of snake disappeared, and there is again a frog in the shower, so I believe Mr. Snake has moved on.

The clinic was relatively quiescent through February, except for the first day, when Dr. Roldan was in Iquitos and we had twenty patients. We finished with 217 for the month, which is not exactly slow but is not really a busy month, any more.

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