When I was younger, I spent a summer in Thailand. It was a classic slacker-bum trip: nonexistent itinerary, overstuffed backpacks, sketchy hostels, and a dog-eared (and inexplicably sticky) Lonely Planet book.
One of our impromptu stops was Chiang Mai, the northern provincial capital and jump-off point for the region’s requisite tourist trek: Elephant Camping.
The Chiang Mai hostels were happy to arrange a guided tour of the surrounding countryside, populated by Karen tribes, who most people identify as those long-necked women who wear stacks of gold rings around their necks. It was supposed to be culturally immersive, and to some extent it was, but really the draw was that instead of having to walk, your group would cruise through the jungle paths atop a pack of large, surly elephants.
It was a blast.
One morning, we were all packed up and ready to leave our camp when I realized I needed to take a last-minute bathroom break. Because straddling a lumbering five-ton elephant for several hours with a full bladder sounded like a really uncomfortable idea.
Of course, there were no bathrooms. There was jungle. So, per the usual, I tromped up the hill flanking our campsite, fighting through the maze of trees and ferns and vines until I found a nice little clearing, shielded by a fat palm tree.
Although I’d done my share of pop-and-squats on domestic camping trips, being in the dense jungle was kind of scary so I didn’t exactly stop to examine the area in detail. Hastily, I assumed the position.
That is probably why I overlooked the fact that I was emptying my bladder directly over a hive of some sort.
First, I felt an unpleasant pinch on my tricep. But at this point, I was used to being bitten by all manner of bugs…and I was mid-stream, so I brushed it off. Then I felt one on my shoulder, and on my ankle, and then (horrifyingly) on my ass cheek.
I looked back over my shoulder and saw a group of about a dozen massive bee-like creatures hovering over their urine-splashed hive in an understandably agitated manner. About a million more were crawling out of the hive’s pockets.
OH HOLY SHIT.
I took off through the jungle, running back down the hill toward the campsite, vaguely aware that I was feeling little pinches all over my body. I tried to sprint, but this was challenging because my shorts and underwear were still around my ankles.
The bees were fast. I could hear them buzzing behind me. As I flailed down the densely vegetated slope, I glanced backward to check my lead and two questions simultaneously popped to mind:
1) Why am I looking back? Coach always told me never to look back. Looking back is a waste of energy. Just run.
2) Why are there strings flying behind me? Oh. It’s because my halter top has somehow come untied. That’s…additionally awesome.
Neither of these thoughts were particularly useful, but somehow, as I crashed through the last stretch of jungle to the campsite, the swarm of bees faded away.
I had won.
Unhappily, my victory was tarnished by the fact that the finish involved stumbling inelegantly – half naked and covered in welts – into a semi-circle of fellow Elephant Campers. Who were fully geared up and waiting for me, overstuffed backpacks and all.
(I think it’s relevant to acknowledge that this group included my then-boyfriend, who is now my husband, and who obviously wasn’t totally scarred by this sight. Thanks, babe.)
I held my disconnected halter top up with one hand while tugging my shorts up with the other and tried, through panicked and panty breaths, to explain the situation.
But to be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure what had happened. Obviously, I’d picked a poor place to pop a squat. I’d disturbed the nest of a large stinging insect, unintentionally assaulting their home with what, to them, must have been a hurricane of urine.
And I’d been stung. A lot. Like, My Girl a lot. If I’d been allergic, I totally would have gone the way of Macaulay Culkin.
Our Karen tour guide then proved himself to be the baddest bad-ass on the face of the earth. After making sure I wasn’t going to die and asking me a dozen questions about the exact location of my unfortunate restroom, he left me with a tube of ointment and took off up the hill. When he returned ten minutes later, he explained that the hive had been “taken care of.”
HOW DID YOU NOT GET STUNG? I wanted to know.
He did get stung, he explained. But he was so accustomed to the bees and their venom that his body didn’t react.
Anyway, why is this long-winded story relevant?
Because this happened ten years ago and since then, I hadn’t been stung by a bee. Until today.
I was up on our roof deck, sweeping up dirt and stray flakes of cracked slate tile in preparation for the application of a coat of sealant. Apparently there’s a nest up there. Somehow, with my gruff broom action, I disturbed it.
A dozen red buzzing insects appeared. (Wasps, hornets? Who knows.) In some ways, it was like Elephant Camp all over again. I felt that first pinch. Then I stood there, dumbfounded, for several seconds while I processed what was happening.
And then I got the hell out of there.
On the plus side, I only got stung twice, and today’s incident didn’t involve any nudity.
On the minus side, this problem is…actually mine to deal with. No bad-ass Karen trekking guide is going to “take care of” it. And no lumbering five-ton elephant is going to carry me away from it.
I had planned to go back up there in the cooler evening hours (when bees are generally less active) and spray the area with poisonous spray, but sunset came and went. And I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t think I was scared of bees until today’s minor incident brought back these ten-year-old memories.
As it turns out: I’m kind of scared of bees.
And I think I’ll leave this problem for someone else to deal with. Husband, roof guy, pest control guy. I don’t know who, but I know that I’m not going to fight this particular battle. There are plenty of other projects around this house that don’t involve declaring war against a colony of stinging red bees.
Incidentally, one of those projects is fixing our perpetually-running toilet. This toilet is annoying and less than ideal, but we’ve been living with it. Because, hey – you’ve gotta go somewhere.
Which is exactly the sort of attitude that got me in to trouble in the first place.
If I’m not going face the bees, I suppose it’s only appropriate that I deal with the toilet, right?
As disgusting and creepy as toilet tanks are…at least they don’t sting.