Merry Crickets: A Christmas Invasion

The first time I went south with my husband to Ecuador for Christmas was the first time I had been south of the border at all.  I knew to expect the heat, which washed over us as we stepped off the plane.  After an eternity of puking into my then fiance’s lap (I get airsick), the heat and humidity was stifling.

But the sounds were beautiful.  Underneath the honking and engine noises of Guayaquil was the soft song of crickets singing.  It added a surreal ethereality to the unfamiliar city. Little did I know that this beautiful song heralded of a terrifying invasion that would change the way I view the holiday forever.

We spent the night in the cool of his parents’ apartment, but the next day we made the 4 hour drive, headed for the island where my future father-in-law had a shrimp farm.  I had been told that the accommodations were a bit more rustic there than the plush carpets and AC of the big city apartment, but I didn’t know that we would have roommates.

The trip was uneventful and the island was, predictably gorgeous.  The house, though simple with screens instead of windows and tall stilts to keep out water, was comfortable and tidy.  All that would change when the sun set.

As the shadows lengthened, the familiar cricket song from the city began to hum and tweet.  This time, though, we were away from sounds and lights.  The song quickly changed from background music to din.  And as the stars began to peek out in the twilight sky, we realized that the sound wasn’t coming from the outside.  It was coming from inside the house with us.

Then they started jumping.  We hadn’t realized it during the day, but the crickets, thousands of them, had been climbing the stilts and the steps and the walls.  They had been finding tiny crevices in the walls and cracks in the floors and gaps in the screens and they had been pouring in one by one in silence while the heat of the day baked down on us.

At first we tried to squash them.  How many could it be?  But still they came.  We quickly realized there were more than just a few.  Still, we could handle this.  My fiance, his sister and parents, and myself took on cricket fighting duty, while my future sister-in-law’s fiance got started with the beef wellington we were to have for dinner.

After fighting for what seemed like an eternity, there was a lull in the battle.  Perhaps we had driven them off!  We sat down to rest for a few moments.  It was then that we realized that the pictures on the walls were moving.  Then we noticed the twinkling Christmas tree and remembered that they didn’t own blinky lights.  It was the crickets.  There were so many crickets in the tree that they were moving the ornaments making it appear that the lights were twinkling.  The branches themselves were shifting with the dreadful weight of the insects.

I escaped outside to the dark of the porch where at least I couldn’t see them.  Dinner was served and our chef told us that he was pretty sure he had defended the food from crickets, but the grim set of his face told otherwise.  He didn’t eat.

We spent the night with our mouths tightly closed, praying that no crickets would crawl into our sheets and listening to the noise that had changed from a peaceful song to deafening shrieks.

And the next morning, it was over.  The dead crickets were nowhere to be seen, the birds, crabs, and other wildlife having made short work of this Christmas feast.

A few days later, my Mother-in-Law returned from a grocery trip to the city and reported that the invasion had come for Guayaquil the day after it had hit us.  The streets were full of crickets.  Drivers heading to the mall for last second shopping found themselves sliding as if they were driving on ice.  People slipped and fell down on the sidewalks. There were car crashes. With no wildlife to clean up the mess, the bodies of the insects piled up and the city stank of dead crickets.

No one had ever seen anything like this.  It had been a hundred year hatch, they said.  My Father-in-Law seemed certain that I had brought the crickets with me in my suitcase.  To this day, when we go to visit, he laughs and asks me if I’ve brought crickets again this year.  And I, for one,  will never eat beef wellington again.

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