Earthquakes and tarantulas – Lebanon’s unexpected extras

Last night after nine months in Beirut two unexpected things happened which freaked me out. I am used to worrying about the normal things: money, work deadlines, walking home by myself at night – but then up popped two things I had (perhaps foolishly) not anticipated.

Firstly at ten o’clock last night I was in a fourth floor flat in Gemmayzeh, babysitting and watching a DVD, when I felt the sofa rocking under me. The dog was some way away and couldn’t possibly have moved it and I was alone in the house. I got up and walked around it, trying to work out what had happened, then decided I must have imagined it. I sat back down and a minute later the same thing happened. I realised that the sofa couldn’t moving by itself – which meant that the building must be moving, which meant – earthquake!

I’ve never felt one before, and it was only little by the time it hit Beirut – 5.5 on the Richter scale but it happened out in the sea between Lebanon and Cyrus.

By the time I’d realised what it was and was trying to decide whether to grab the baby and the dog and try to go outside it was already over. Sam woke up for a few seconds then fell asleep again, and Maya, the dog, circled around a bit and then lay back down to which I took as a sign that it was all over.

Not that dangerous at all in fact, but still a little worrying, as there have been several building collapses in Beirut over the last couple of months even without earthquakes to send them on their way – so many of the buildings here are old and crumbling and liable to collapse at any minute.

A building collapse in Achrefieh in Beirut in January killed almost 30 people (photo from the National Post)

After the excitement was over and Sam was back in the custody of his parents I came back to Hamra, where Everitte and some of out friends were out at our local old-school style pub, the Captain’s Cabin.

I went to join them for a beer out in the garden, which is a small patio surrounded by flower beds and small trees, and is always full of some of the biggest cockroaches I have ever seen. They must be attracted to the tress or something.

When I arrived at the bar someone said “You’re scared of spiders aren’t you India?” which of course made me instantly uneasy as I have a horrible spider phobia. Apparently just before I arrived an enormous spider had been crawling across the wall a few feet from where we were sitting, and one of the guys who is also terrified of spiders was totally freaked out. Everyone said it was the biggest spider they’d ever seen, but I just assumed it was a normal spider, just a big one, so although I really hoped it had gone for good I didn’t leave.

the other guy was really jumpy and kept flinching whenever someone touched him, and at one point he thought he felt something on his back and leapt up so suddenly that his chair went flying across the courtyard. I am admittedly a total pansy when it comes to spiders but even I thought it was funny how incredibly jumpy he was – though when something ran across one of my bare feet I did decide to put them up on my chair out of reach, even once I realised it was just one of the enormous cockroaches.

In the end I didn’t see it, and left in blissful ignorance of the fact that it was, in fact, no normal spider but a tarantula, the side of Everitte’s hand and covered in fur, with huge thick legs. Suddenly flying-chair-guy began to seem foolishly calm – how could he have seen it and stayed there? I fear I can never sit in that garden again.

This is what they saw, and what, unbeknownst to me, lurks in many a ground floor flat and garden in Beirut:

This photo was taken in a bathroom in Beirut (and I stole it from here http://www.traveljournals.net/pictures/60555.html). How can you be expected to enjoy your beer with this crawling around your garden?!

How did I not know that there are tarantulas in Lebanon?! I am so glad we live on the fourth floor, but I am still never going to comfortable relaxing in a garden again.

England house spiders render me a quivering wreck, so this is a whole other ball-game. Still, I guess I’ve gone nine months without ever seeing one so I may get lucky and continue to avoid them. Snakes and scorpions are kinda cool, but spiders – no thank you!

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22 thoughts on “Earthquakes and tarantulas – Lebanon’s unexpected extras

  1. Tarantulas are quite common in Arizona and the southern part of New Mexico, I’ve never seen one, in fact, where I live our house spiders are so small, unless they move, or are on something very lightly colored, you almost don’t see them, and I think by nature Tarantulas are very shy and timid, they are also very fragile, the reason they don’t climb very high is because a fall can seriously injure or even kill them. So, there are more dangerous spiders than a tarantula. Guess, you really didn’t want to know all this huh? Sorry, I don’t care much for them either, but they serve a purpose in the great scheme of life, I’m just not sure what it is, great post.

    • Thanks Katrina – it is good to know they are fragile. Reinforces my belief that I am safe as long as I stay in our 4th floor flat at all times! It’s not so much the danger factor for me — it’s not really rational, it’s the way they move that freaks me out, so the bigger the scarier in my book, even though the deadliest ones are often quite small I guess.

  2. Oh, no scorpions, thank you. I had one on my shirt once in Mexico. Thankfully it didn’t sting me. I’m not overly fond of spiders or snakes, either—or earthquakes for that matter…. I think I qualify as a wimp…. :)

    • Haha. I’m not sure that makes you a wimp, just someone with some survival instincts! To be fair I’m not sure I’d feel so relaxed about scorpions if I had one on my person. Sounds horrifying!

  3. Sounds like a hard evening for you. I experienced only one (small) earthquake when I woke up because my bed was shaking and my cockatiels running wild in their cage. My husband overslept it and complained next morning about having missed it.

  4. For a moment there it sounded like you were here in California :) I’ve been through a few earthquakes, at least here though I know they’ve tried to impose pretty strict building codes- can still be a little unnerving though. Don’t get the fuss about the spider but I have a taratula as a pet so what can you expect :)

    • Steer god! I just have a problem with the way spiders moev – the bigger they are the more I can see it, so that’s the issue. What’s it like having one as a pet? Does he crawl on you? Does he even recognize you or are they more like insects where the personality is not always very evident?

  5. It doesn’t show a lot of personality, and it isn”t recommended to let them crawl on you the hairs cause itching and people can develope an allergy to them, mostly I just watch it in its terrarium, kinda lika fish:-)

  6. My other half recalls a story growing up in Egypt of camping on a beach and having scorpions so prevalent that you had to keep your shoes on and your eyes open every minute. I wouldn’t have closed my eyes, not once.

    • That sounds lethal! I think scorpions are kind of amazing, but can quite see why most people would view them like I do spiders. I had a night mare the other night that an enormous hairy spider had hollowed out my hand and was living inside it and laying eggs. It’s been hard for me to close my eyes recently, I must admit!

  7. Man…i’m reading this becauIse I’ve just seen the hugest spider in my kitchen and didn’t want to believe it was a tarantula, this is lebanon not the Amazon. I grew up in Africa and am used to things that slither and crawl but this freaks me out…its massive! I don’t know what to do, its too beautiful to kill but I am going to need to eat at some point.

    i’m looking forward to reading your blogs, I’ve just arrived in Beirut and feel it will make an excellent guide.

    • Oh no! I was hoping they would stay out of houses and stick to the wild’s of the Captain’s Cabin garden! What did you do in the end? Thanks for taking a look at my blog – I’m not sure how helpful it’ll be a guide really, but if you have any questions about anything let me know and I’ll do my best to answer them for you.

  8. I am from Canada living here in Beirut until my husband’s immigration goes through so I understand what you are going through!! We live on the ground floor and the other day a Tarantula came crawling into the bedroom. I screamed so loud my husband came running, I just stood there pointing. All he could say is “oh that’s it” then he took his shoe and killed it. I don’t understand how people can be so calm around them, you are lucky you missed it in the garden!!!

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