In 2002 science discovered the world’s largest spider. It was a great day for science. Deep in the caves of the country of Laos lived a real monster. A local variety of large and aggressive spider, common in Asia and Australasia, known as the Giant Cave Huntsman.
This genus of spider is famous for a number of reasons. First, it is large. Secondly, it is mean. Thirdly, it is fast as hell. The average Huntsman encounter is over in two seconds: a horrible scrabbling, scraping sound, a blur of speed and an eight-legged bolt for the door. If you are standing in the way of the spider’s jump-to-light speed then you may well get bitten. I remember the description of the beast in the Australian book of spiders. It simply read: “Ready biter.” Anything that is a ready biter is not my kind of petting animal, no matter how many, or how few, legs it has.
We were seated in a makeshift wooden bar on the bank of a Mekong tributary river, about 12 miles north of the Laotian town of Vang Vieng. It was 8am. The plan was simple. We were going tubing, which involved drinking all day, floating from bar to bar and dancing with a lot of drunk girls wearing only bikinis. Lenin spoke up. “Best to use the toilets before we get on the tubes.”
“Good idea,” I said, finishing my drink. “I bet they’re out back. Baggsy first,” and I rushed off ahead.
Sure enough around the back of the bar was the traditional Laos toilet block. Four cubicle shacks made out of uneven planks of wood with a straw roof to keep off the rain. Like a cargo cult of a phonebox. I pushed open the creaking door of the first one. A basic Asian toilet, little more than a hole in the ground, awaited me. No light or any toilet roll. Just a bucket. Sighing, I squeezed into the small dark and foul-smelling hut, pushed the door closed and squatted over the hole.
I was humming to myself tunelessly in the dark gloom when I heard a conversation outside the toilet.
“Oh Hell!” came the voice of Lenin. He sounded genuinely shocked.
“Look at that one!” said Mariluz. She sounded revolted.
“Oh my god!” came Cesca’s worried tones, “I am glad I am not in that cubicle!”
“It must be the biggest spider I have ever seen!” reiterated Lenin.
Spider! The word was like ice down my back. They were standing outside my cubicle. With a creeping terror I looked slowly up. Above my head, so close that it is miracle I didn’t catch it with my hair when I entered, was the biggest spider in the world. What was immediately clear to me was that it was looking directly back at me. The Laos Cave Huntsman, always posed to run or bite, was considering his options. It was lucky that I was in my current position because this revelation was like a jolt of electricity through my body and I involuntarily let out a small mammalian whimper. Surely the same whimper two-legged creatures have been making in similar situations since the dawn of time.
“Basho!” came Lenin, “Are you in that one?” he laughed out loud.
“Look up darling,” said Cesca.
I tried to talk and look inedible at the same time, only gibberish came from my lips, “Bwwwwahhhh…”
“Yep, that’s Basho,” said Cesca.
I quickly finished my business and pulled up my trousers. Still squatting I waddled out of the toilet. My friends saw my horrified face and could not stifle a laugh. I stood and turned to see the monster hanging over the hutch.
“What the smeg is that thing? It’s huge!” I said trying desperately to look nonchalant.
“Dunno, but I think it wanted to eat you,” laughed Lenin.
The rest of the crew elected to go in the other cubicles and afterwards they forgot the monster and got on with enjoying the day. Enjoy it we did, but I cannot look at the video of us sitting in the bar without remembering the spider looking at me as I looked at him.