Part I here.
One summer during college, back when Davis, a.k.a. “Gordon Gecko,” still tried to get ladies by posing as a do-gooder, he convinced me to spend a summer in Honduras, do-gooding. We landed in post-Hurricane Mitch Tegucigalpa, picked our way around the carnage of broken bridges and collapsed shanties to the bus terminal, and took a mountaineering bus four hours out to our new home in the outlying village of San Lorenzo. We moved our light belongings into a simple three room unfurnished house, and set about finding beds and a table. It was a spartan existence, but we were cohabiting with a suprisingly awesome guy and two girls, one of whom was following Davis Do-Right around on his do-gooder deeds. We had a lot of fun. We also taught presentations to Honduran middle school students about AIDS prevention using drawings of a cheery animated character named Senior Condon! He was great. But we’ll get to that some other time.
Davis’s Honduran birthday party, before life turned into a walking nightmare
Everything about the house was hard. Hard tiles on the floors, hard plaster on the walls, dim lighting, hard chairs and a table in the main room. In fact, I honestly never saw any carpet or upholstery or plush furnishings of any sort the entire time I was in Honduras. Not even any grass. It sounds weird, but you come to miss softness. Every night we would come home to that hard house and sit in the hard chairs and sweat in the hard heat, and swat at the bees in the room. There were always a couple bees flying around, just in that main room. The girls were skittish about them at first, but we learned to live with them. After a while, they became much more annoying than scary. They were very comfortable buzzing right around us, running up and down our hard table, sitting in our food. And there were always, always three or four around at a time. It was a little galling.
When they started getting in our way, we started killing them. Just one or two at a time. We’d use a fly swatter, or the old smack-and-smush method. Sometimes, when there was no food around, we would even shoot down a buzzer with a burst from our aerosol bugspray can. This was a dramatic way to knock them down, but it took them forever to die that way. During one of these playful killing sprees, one of them stung me. I couldn’t believe how bad it hurt. It was ten times the pain of an American bee, pulsing and hot and an hour long. A few other people got stung, and it became clear these bees were not to be trifled with. After a few weeks of our uneasy detente, we noticed that the bees always came from a certain opening at the top of one of the walls. We went outside to see if there was a hive nearby. As it turned out, the hive was built right under the eave of the roof, saddling the wall on both sides, with openings on the outer and inner sides of the wall. The bees were colonizing our little house, and that made us their imperial subjects. Again, galling.
So one evening we finally decided we wouldn’t stand for it anymore. I don’t think there was a whole lot of thought that went into it, but Davis and I wrapped some cloth around a broom, doused it with bug spray, and lit it on fire. We held the smoking environment-bomb up to the top of the wall and let the smoke pour into the nest. We expected the bees to simply exit via their outer opening and find some other place to squat. I was holding the broom up there, chatting with Davis about something else, not really paying attention when I became aware of a building sound. It was like nothing I’d ever heard before. It started very quietly, a bass rumble like far-off thunder. As the smoke penetrated deeper into the nest the sound grew louder. It was the angry buzzing of a single enraged bee, times thousands and thousands. They buzzed as one enormous army, a warning growl so low and steady that it honestly seemed to vibrate everything around us. I honestly have never experienced a sound so menacing, and so full of credible, angry danger. Davis and I just stood there staring at each other, eyes wide. We never communicated about what the sound meant, because there was something so instinctual about it. It vibrated our brains and told us that now we were screwed. Based on the sound, that little nest must have actually been home to thousands of bees. And they were angry. And they were coming.
This is sort of what it sounded like, only super mean.
We dropped the broom and backed away. A few bees started diving out of the gap under the ceiling. Then there were twenty, then fifty, then one hundred. They weren’t leaving by the outer opening, they were pouring into the breach to eliminate the threat. In just a few seconds, our living room was filled with literally thousands of darting, rage-crazed Honduran viper bees. We had retreated to the bedroom by then, door closed. The ladies had already barricaded themselves in their room. It was up to us to deal with the new threat. We acted quickly. We each donned a long-sleeved shirt and sweat pants, and then a poncho. We put on hats and sunglasses and socks. We grabbed the fly swatter from the separate kitchen, and the lighter. We charged out of our bedroom and swatted our way to the waiting can of aerosol bug spray, and retreated to the kitchen once more.
The cloud of bees circling our table was insane. There was a solid core of hundreds of them circling noisily, with dozens of bees flying looser orbits around the outer perimeter of the room. I remember being really, really nervous about taking them on, thinking that with the potency of their stings, it might only take a few stings to do real damage to one of us. But we were determined not to take this invasion lying down. So we set out to enact our plan. With a crazed scream of our own, we rushed out of the kitchen at them. I went in first with the flyswatter and a magazine, whacking our way through the outer wings, crunching downed bees with every step. Davis followed behind with the big gun. Once I had cleared a space for him, he lit the lighter and held it up to the bug spray. Geysers of orange chemical flames pounded into the core of bees, and whole hundreds started to drop with each shot, scorched and smoking. But we only had time for a few shots before the pressure of bees buzzing right at our ears broke our courage, and we retreated.
The only weapon capable of striking fear into a bee’s buzzing heart
We traded roles back in the kitchen. Davis rushed in, whacking madly, and I came in and set up the artillery. We had a few seconds to blowtorch them each attack until they started to suround us and test our protective coverings. One bee got into the hood of my poncho and I felt it buzzing around the back of my neck. I screamed and ran. There are not many feelings like having a hotly vibrating bee rumbling inside your clothes, against your skin. After a minute of panicked undressing, he stung the back of my neck and then flew away, and pain covered my back. Then all those years of hatred for these insects filled my head and we made another crazy charge. The scene was slow-motion to me as we ran into the room, spraying and torching and whacking and crushing. We knocked over chairs and fell against the table. We feinted at the center and retreated to corners, and we killed them and killed them and killed them, all while they dove at our heads and ears. When they surrounded us we tightened into a back-to-back formation, fighting them off as they came. And soon, finally, they stopped coming.
It took a while to chase down the lingering drones and burn them out of the air. We were sweaty and hot in our ponchos, and my neck had a bulging sore growing on it, but when the carnage ended, we were still standing. Our living room was a bee graveyard. There were bees piled on our table, and bees scattered all over the floor, most of them blackened and immobile. We swept them into piles inches deep, and we burned them some more-thousands of bee skeletons crackling in the bugspray flames. It took a while for the magnitude of our victory to set in. We called the girls out of their room and sat down on the hard chairs and celebrated with cups of water and some pringles. And then we picked up the smoking broom, doused it again, and smoked that nest until no bee would ever live there again.
That’s me cremating the last pile of scorched bees. No, honestly, that’s really me. I’m not kidding.
And that, dear readers, is the story of the Battle of San Lorenzo. And possibly the reason I was set down on this earth in the first place. In Honduras, we learned to kill them.