[Hello. If you found this page by searching for information on a hideous, giant brown spider that you've encountered in Hawaii, you're probably dealing with a cane spider. The extent of my knowledge of cane spiders is: (1) they are enormous, hairy, brown, and altogether terrifying, (2) they can be aggressive but are not poisonous, (3) they hang out in sugar cane fields (hence the name), and (4) native Hawaiians apparently don't think they're that big of a deal. Below is a story about my encounter with a cane spider during a vacation to the Big Island in summer 2005. In the comments section you'll find links to pictures of cane spiders, and stories from other people about their experiences with cane spiders. Happy hunting.]
Dr M and I just got back from a ten-day trip to the Big Island of Hawaii (otherwise known as the Island of Hawaii). Several dicksload of photos are available here (the automatic slideshow function doesn't seem to work because the Internet is terrible), and I'll be cross-referencing them throughout my numerous blog entries. The last 54 pictures were taken with underwater disposable cameras and are mostly awesome.
In my characteristic manner I've decided to begin the blog series with all the crappy things that happened to us while we were out in the middle of the freakin' ocean. The trip was wonderful overall, definitely one of my best vacations, but there were a few stinkers along the way. And here they are.
1. The Brush Fire
Our first afternoon in Hawaii, while lounging on the balcony of our fabulous timeshare condo, we found ourselves smelling fire in the air and being rained on by ash. The ash rain grew in intensity, as did the Santa Ana brushfire smell, and we wondered if it was The Volcano. It turns out it was a brushfire after all. We decided to go through with our fancy outdoor sunset dinner, ash be damned, and we kept our drinks covered with napkins between sips to avoid drinking ash. The brushfires would continue with varying intensity throughout the trip. See pictures 27, 28, and 32 for some fun smoke.
2. The Urchin
Dr M and I rented two snorkel sets on our second day on island (Snorkel Bob's -- $9 a week for a mask, snorkel, fins, and de-fogger solution, no hard sell to get you to rent the fancier stuff, free hat!), and immediately after obtaining the snorkels we drove off in search of a suitable snorkeling beach. We arrived at what we thought was a particular beach that appeared on our map, but turned out to be a random beach. But no matter. We went snorkeling!
The first thing I noticed about this beach (and most of the beaches we went to) was that there were freaking rocks everywhere. This made it hard to get into the damn water, especially for an uncoordinated oaf like myself. I managed to pick and trip my way into the water where Dr M was waiting impatiently. We swam around and saw fish and our first turtle and it was a lot of fun.
After swimming around for a while we decided to get out. Having never snorkeled before, I didn't know I was supposed to take my fins off before I got out of the water. And so, I clumsily tripped my way over the rocks to the shore, using my hands more than my feet. The whole experience was pretty painful and uncomfortable, mainly because all the rocks were rough at best and jagged at worst (mostly jagged, as it turned out). However, at one point my hand groped onto a spot where the pain was distinctly more severe than the usual rock formation -- it felt like sticking my hand into a pile of broken glass, and sent a painful tingle up my arm.
I finally got out and look at my finger where the pain had localized. In addition to the bleeding I saw four or five streaks of blue dye underneath my skin, and each streak had a corresponding blue splinter-like object dug deep into the skin. I had been stung! By something!
I showed my finger to Dr M and we decided that we may as well go to the urgent care clinic we had seen a few miles up the road. As we turned toward the car we heard a voice calling to us from a nearby house.
"Sea urchin! You got stung by a sea urchin!" It was an old native Hawaiian, excitedly yelling at us with helpful information and advice. "Vinegar! Soak it in vinegar! Or urinate!"
He walked toward us and we met him near his lawn. I showed him my finger. "Yeah, sea urchin," he said. "Soak it in vinegar, or urinate on it if you don't have any."
"Thanks," I said, still in a great deal of pain. "How do I get the spines out?"
"You don't get them out," he said. "The vinegar dissolves." Fabulous. I gathered my snorkeling crap together while Dr M made small talk with the old man. He told us about how when he was a kid, before he and his friends had cars, they would get stung by urchins all the time and just pee on it. He asked Dr M where we were from and she told him we were from San Francisco. He didn't know where San Francisco is. The man knows how to treat an urchin sting, but not so much on the geography.
It was a few miles to Safeway so as Dr M loaded the car I crouched down behind a rock formation and whizzed on my finger. Like magic, the pain subsided instantaneously. My hand smelled like piss, but at least it didn't hurt. We picked up a bottle of vinegar and I soaked my pee-y finger in it all the way home, and for a while that afternoon. I soaked the damn thing for so long that even after repeated hand-washings my finger still smelled like vinegar. I had pickled my finger.
Fortunately the vinegar soak did in fact dissolve most of the smaller bits of spine, but there was still a large piece that was dug in quite deep and didn't seem to go away. The blue dye was absorbed rather quickly. Some impromptu surgery with a needle freed most of the spine fragments, and at this point scar tissue has formed around the remaining bits. I'm predicting that the spines will be absorbed into my bloodstream and I'll get super urchin powers. Photos 24 and 25 sort of show my injured finger en route to Safeway.
3. The Volcano
I'm really glad we went to the Volcano. Even though we were miserable most of the time, and spent much of the day wishing we were on a hot beach instead of being pelted with freezing rain on a Monument to Nature's Fury, it's the kind of thing that I would have been sad to have left Hawaii without even trying.
The Volcano trip is a story best told in pictures (and captions), so I invite you to enjoy pictures 50-90 and their associated captions, which were written with the aid of much bitterness and also vodka.
4. The Spider
On (what we thought would be) our last night in Hawaii, Dr M and I were about to get ready to go to sleep when I noticed some movement near the ceiling outside our bedroom door. I told Dr M I was going to go get some water and brush my teeth, and went out and investigated the movement.
An aside here. I'm not really afraid of spiders. I certainly don't consider myself a full-on arachnophobe, meaning I'm not afraid of spiders in the way that I'm afraid of heights, lions, or success. But once a spider reaches a certain size, it afraids me. My rule of thumb is, if a spider looks like it's big enough to kill a mammal -- any mammal -- I'm afraid of it. So when I looked up and saw, lurking above the bedroom door, a spider that looked like it could kill a horse (not with venom, but by strangling it), my balls retreated forcefully into my abdomen and my heart decided that maybe I didn't really need it to beat for the next few minutes or so.
I went back into the bedroom, went up to Dr M, who was still in bed, and told her there was a really big spider outside the bedroom door.
"How big?" she asked, the Fear beginning to spread across her face (Dr M is afraid of spiders in all shapes and sizes).
"Big," I said.
"Like, tropical big." I resisted the urge to demonstrate the beast's size with my hands, but she got the idea. My first instinct was to just get dressed and leave. I know that doesn't make much sense, but even now I feel like if I saw one of these things in my own house I would just burn the house down and steamroll the ashes. This was a very large spider.
Somehow overcoming my crippling fear, I decided to try and kill it, and grabbed a nearby large book. I headed back toward the door and saw that the spider had decided for itself to come in and join the party, and was now making its way over the door frame. It then disappeared through the slats into an adjacent closet. I kept Dr M up to date on all this and she, who had managed to avoid seeing the monster, decided to leave the room and ask the Internet what kind of spider we were dealing with. She left me to draw the thing out of the closet.
I went to open the closet door, fully expecting to be met with a crawling lair of millions of giant spiders. But I never got the chance -- the spider had cleverly retreated into the locked utility closet that resort guests couldn't open. I told Dr M the latest and she decided to call the management company and get someone to come and open the closet. She explained our situation to the person on the phone, who told her that they couldn't send someone until the morning and maybe we could just sleep in another bedroom. Great! Here was a spider as big as a housecat, that for all we knew was fatally venomous, and could jump or fly or maybe do long division, and the management's advice was, "So yeah, just go ahead and go to sleep about twenty feet away from where you last saw it. I'm sure it won't bother you."
Dr M then called the concierge of the nearby hotel to see if she could at least figure out what we were dealing with (the World Wide Web proved to be an unhelpful resource on the spiders of Hawaii). The concierge told Dr M what I had feared all along -- we were very probably dealing with a Brown Recluse Spider, one bite from which is enough to land you a guest spot on Animal Planet's next episode of "Fucking Scary Fucking Animals That Will Totally Kill You." This fear was bolstered by the fact that, judging by the Web's coverage of spiders, the Brown Recluse is basically the only spider in the world.
Honestly, I didn't care what kind of spider it was. It was enough that the spider was (1) huge, (2) hairy, (3) enormous, (4) quite unreasonably big, and (5) in the house. I didn't care if its bite did nothing but simulate an orgasm. I didn't want it in the house, and that opinion wasn't going to be affected by finding out its name. As Dr M and I fretted over the appropriate course of action I noticed that a few flexible tree branches were showing up over the bedroom door, and surmised that the spider had finished whatever business it had in the utility closet and was coming back out to see where the party had gone. I shooed Dr M into another room and, arming myself with a broom and a phonebook, decided to take on the beast once and for all.
I tracked the bastard as he skittered along the ceiling toward the sliding balcony doors. I knew that I couldn't let him get to the doors. As much as I would have liked to just let him go outside and live the rest of his life as a giant spider, I knew that there was no guarantee he wouldn't come back once the heat died down. But I was also scared shitless of getting close enough to do anything. I couldn't reach him with the phonebook, and I couldn't nail him with the broom unless I was sure he would fall onto a spot where I could finish him off (as opposed to behind the couch). Then, I saw my opportunity.
He was going for the balcony, and he climbed past one of the big wooden sliding doors. Seizing my chance, I threw the other sliding door down the track and crashed it into the door the spider had just crawled begind, hoping to crush the spider between the two doors. No good. Just as the doors collided the spider slipped back into the room, onto the wall, and tensed up. It stood there, glued to the wall, and didn't move.
"I think I wounded it!" I called to Dr M. "Stay in there."
I crashed the doors together again, and the spider took a few steps and then seized up again. Another exploratory crash, another few steps, another standstill. I may not have taken out any of its legs, but I may have stunned it, and at least it knew that it was now in hostile territory.
There was nothing left for me to do but the obvious. The spider was over an area of open carpet, so I grabbed the broom, mustered every ounce of courage, and thrust the end of the broom directly into its massive body. I kept the bristles pressed against the beast for a while, pumping my arms a few times, before pulling the broom away and jumping back. The spider tumbled to the ground, landing on its back with its legs in the familiar death tangle above its smashed body. One or two legs were twitching feebly.
It was clearly done for but I had to be sure. I gave it a few fierce whacks with the broom. Now in a decidedly more flattened state, it wasn't moving at all. But, given my scorched earth approach to pest control, I wasn't done.
I threw the broom aside and grabbed the phonebook. Thankfully, it was hardcover. I imagine that Hawaiians find themselves using phonebooks as weapons quite often, so the phone company decided to give them a little more firepower. I dropped the book onto the spider's carcass, stepped on it, and ground it into the floor (miraculously, the spider had landed on a small non-carpeted area of the floor that covered a floor outlet, so I don't think I did much damage to the carpet). I left the book. I was satisfied that I had killed the spider and there was no way I was looking at that thing again.
"It's dead!" I called. Dr M came out. I pointed to the phonebook and suggested she stay away from it.
The rest of the night kind of sucked. We kept a bunch of lights on and slept under a sheet. Dr M, who through all that never laid eyes on the monster, fell asleep rather quickly and stayed asleep for most of the night. I lay awake, under the hot sheet, distracted by the dull lights, and re-living that terrible first full sighting over and over again for a few hours before falling into a restless sleep for about four hours. When I would get up to go to the bathroom (which was often, since I had generated quite a bit of adrenaline throughout the experience) I couldn't take my eyes off the ceiling. Every unseen place was a threat. I was sure there would be a giant spider under the turlet seat, seeking vengeance for his fallen comrade. I was seriously fucking freaked out.
Dr M and I got up at about 6:30 the following morning. We didn't have our usual balcony breakfast, no pleasant quiet last morning in the Hawaii condo. We just packed up the rest of our things, constantly looking over our shoulders at the ceilings, checking our shoes, etc. We didn't bother packing up or throwing away the food we had bought. I didn't even take out the trash. I never moved the phonebook. We headed to the management office at around 7:30.
We planned to tell the woman at the management office what had happened, and complain a bit about the response we had gotten when Dr M called the night before. All the same, I anticipated a level of disdain that can be expected from those who choose to live their lives around giant arthropods when visitors get scared of said arthropods. Kind of like Californians and earthquakes. Sure enough, when we told her we thought that we had battled what appeared to be a giant Brown Recluse Spider the night before, her response was, "A what?"
"Brown Recluse," I said, holding my hands (that's right, hands -- plural) out to demonstrate size. "It's a large brown spider with extremely deadly venom."
"Oh, the big brown spiders?" she said, grinning. "Those are our cane spiders. They're completely harmless. We have them all over." She then explained all about how cane spiders like sugar cane, and they're basically kittens with eight legs, and when she was a kid and they burned the sugar cane the cane spiders would come swarming out and throw big parties for everybody, with lots of confetti and cake and rum. Especially the rum.
"Well anyway, I killed it," I said. "It's under a phonebook on the carpet. Whoever goes in there next to clean or whatever should know that there's a giant dead spider under the phonebook." She told us that she would go in and take care of it. Like I said, disdain. But given the fact that I don't live in the tropics, the only giant spiders I had ever seen were either in cages or on TV, and up until the night before the largest household spiders I had ever encountered were the size of a quarter, I don't think it was unreasonable for me to be freaked out by finding a spider as big as George Washington's actual head.
(There are no pictures with this story. I'm finishing this in the midst of Disaster #5.)
5. The Delay
After the spider imbroglio Dr M and I had about 14 hours to kill before our flight home. We spent the morning reading at Starbucks, then had lunch, then drove over a mountain and back along the north coast of the Big Island, then more reading at Starbucks, then dinner, then we returned the rental car at the airport and checked in, and found out that our flight had been delayed four hours.
Four hour delay, whatever, it happens, it's annoying. There's nothing particularly unique about this delay, so I'm going to write about another delay I experienced a few years ago, my freshman year in college in fact. When I would go down to visit my family on break, I would fly Southwest out of Ontario to Oakland. The plane into Ontario came from Phoenix, and once my flight was delayed for three hours because of an air show in Phoenix. Now, you're probably thinking what I was thinking, and what I still think to this day: Isn't an air show the kind of thing the airlines should be able to plan around? An airshow isn't like a thunderstorm. It doesn't just appear out of nowhere. At the time I imagined the bewildered air traffic controllers in the tower at Phoenix:
"Okay, let's get that Southwest flight off the grou- Holy shit! What's that on the horizon? Gus, do you see that?"
"Aw, hell, Kurt! It's an air show! Comin' right at us! We need to ground all our flights until this thing blows over."
Tonight's delay is apparently due to mechanical problems in Los Angeles. Which is good, because, you know, I wasn't freaked out enough already flying over the vast nothingness of the Pacific Ocean for five hours in pitch blackness. Now I get to do it in a plane that's recovering from mechanical problems! Hooray! Mechanical problems!
Pictures 229-231 do some small amount of justice to our exhausted frustration during our last few hours in Hawaii.
Up next: The Beaches!