May 27 2018

Our Yearly Visit from the Abuelitas

Tonight, at around 6:00pm, a few visitors stopped by while I was in the kitchen mixing up a batch of banana bread. The Ticos call them abuelitas (little grandmothers) and they come every year after the start of the rainy season. They don’t stay long, but their presence can be felt for weeks. In fact, when they come, we usually go out to dinner and leave them behind. It may sound rude, but it’s just survival on our part.

So, who are the abuelitas? They are flying termites that swarm up from the ground, usually once a year, just before dusk (which is also the time I am preparing dinner). During our four years of living at the Cabinas, hundreds of thousands of them swarmed outside every year, with hundreds coming in through the cracks in the wood ceiling, windows, and under the door. Here is a video from that time.

Now that we are living in town, very few abuelitas come to visit. But we learned from our time living in the country that, when they come, there is nothing to do but stop cooking dinner, stop watching that movie, stop trying to swat them because we are sorely outnumbered, and just leave. When we return a couple of hours later, tens of thousands of them have entered, died, and shed their wings and it is as if it has snowed tiny black wings all over everything. (I can hear you saying, “Ewwww, yuk!” But we are in the tropics, after all!) Here’s a photo of our printer, covered with the abuelitas, to give you an idea of what we’re talking about.

When we come back home, the work begins – sweeping and vacuuming — and continues for days as their gossamer wings continue to float down from the beams and catch on the rough plaster walls. They are a constant reminder that nature cannot be contained and we are just puny humans who must adjust to its rhythms.

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