I'm on a three month trip round South America and will be visiting Ecuador for a few weeks in March. Since I'm going to be so close (relatively speaking) to the Galapagos Islands, it seemed like a good opportunity to visit them relatively cheaply. I spent a few hours researching flights and came within a gnat's whisker of booking, when I suddenly thought I'd better check up on the spider situation.
I am scared of spiders. Point, laugh, tell me it's irrational, that they're more scared of me than I am of them, that they're great as they keep insects down. All true (except the "more scared of me" bit; I'm not buying that one). It doesn't matter. Under normal circumstances my fear isn't crippling, the sort of spiders one encounters in a UK town or city (I hear stories about the country...) are borderline tolerable, though no way am I touching a large one.
But although my web searching turned up mostly tales of encounters in huts in the middle of nowhere - and I usually figure that if I avoid such accommodation, I'll be OK - I found stuff like this from apparently reputable sources:
"Heteropoda venatoria are often seen in hotel rooms on the islands, and occasionally on boats." (Google Books result from "Galapagos Wildlife" by David Horwell and Pete Oxford)
"Heteropoda venatoria... body size: female to 30mm; male to 22mm... At night, it emerges from its hiding place to wander over walls. Adults occur throughout the year." (www.nhm.ac.uk)
Yes, I know they are harmless (unless they cause me to have a heart attack!), it's the prospect of encountering one that worries me.
My Lonely Planet guide book makes no mention whatsoever of this kind of thing. Am I naive in assuming that, given how relatively common a phobia this is, if it was a serious problem it would get a mention? But then, how to square that with the above quotes?
I am strongly inclined to give the islands a miss now. Yes, this is letting my phobia control my life. No, it's not preventing me from fulfulling a major ambition - I wasn't too fussed about visiting the islands until I came to work out my itinerary for the next few weeks and thought "why not, if I can do it cheaply, since I'm going to be in the vicinity?". But it would be nice to go and it would be a shame to let this scare me off if it's not likely to be a problem in the first place.
So, how much of a risk is there of encountering something like this? I'll be honest and say I already asked this on the Lonely Planet forums and all four or five replies said they had not seen any spiders on their visits. But then I went back on the web and found all sorts of stuff suggesting this is quite common - e.g. people who have lived on the islands for a year saying spiders are everywhere. I'm seriously dithering here. Am I just asking the question here in the hope of someone telling me not to go? I just don't know.
I've been to lots of places where I think I *might* have encountered large spiders: Thailand, India, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil. But I've avoided sleeping in jungle huts and it's been fine. Am I focusing so much on the risk on the Galapagos Islands when the reality is it's no more risky than lots of other places I've been?
Would it be "safer" if I took a cruise instead? I really did prefer the idea of something land based, if only on cost grounds - I was thinking of flying to Santa Cruz, spending two or three nights there, taking a boat to San Cristobal and flying back to mainland Ecuador after another two or three nights (taking advantage of the flights to get from Guayaquil to Quito).
I think the real fear is that this is potentially *in my room*. I can deal much better with the idea that there might be spiders "out and about" and I can always choose not to go wandering about in any dense foliage or whatever. But if I'm not going to be able to sleep for six nights because there could be a monster in my room, what's supposed to be a fun trip (this isn't I'm A Celebrity...) is going to turn into a nightmare.
Anyway, any advice appreciated, and sorry if this has been a bit of a psychological info dump...