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How our Costa Rican beach paradise turned into night of the living crabs

Crab on beach


Five kids, two parents, four rental properties and 12 days in Costa Rica. We move every three days, but our most memorable villa rental is idyllically situated 30 metres from the beach near the town of Montezuma. The place needs a pressure wash, but who cares? The beach beckons, so we will only be indoors at night.

We find a small land crab in a crevice in the kitchen. Flying ants, locked in a reproductive embrace, cover the living room lamp. "How did they all get in?" I wonder.

"The crabs come out in rainy season. They're harmless. Keep the doors closed," the owner offers. I don't ask about the ants.

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The first night, Sarah, 13, wants to sleep on the poured plaster couch, part of the wall actually, but there is a crab under her pillow. She screams and moves into the master bedroom.

Privacy gone. Crabs one, tenants zero.

I go to look outside and pull back the curtain in front of the sliding doors. A fresh sea breeze enters where a pane of glass should have been – so I found the reason for the flying ant population. And maybe the crabs. A large crab is a few inches from my nose, a metre up from the ground, climbing onto the curtain. Another hangs from the curtain rod, two metres up. (Land crabs, I am telling you, can really climb.)

A late night trip to the local store yields 50 metres of tinfoil and two rolls of packing tape. Two hours later, the window is foiled over and the gaps around the sliding door are packed with coiled foil. Hopefully, the house is both crab and ant proof. But it's hot, windless, there's no air conditioning and I cannot sleep. I am reading on the couch when the crabs come out, literally, by the dozen.

War is declared. Spousal reinforcements are brought in. It is a long night, the dream house has taken on a nightmarish quality, worsened in part because the crabs are hard to find in the glow cast by feeble 20-watt bulbs. The crabs infiltrate any possible location. One climbs stairs. I look up to see it escape to the bedroom. When approached, it starts to climb up onto the bed, threatening to wake the kids. We leave it be. Crabs are agile and cunning, but lack guile. They are outmatched by two humans wearing headlamps and wielding Tupperware. By 4 a.m., 30 land crabs have been launched into the black night.

We feel indignant and intolerant. Unacceptable! Maybe we will move. Someone will pay. In the morning, I will seek retribution.

But the morning arrives rich with the sounds of waves crashing gently on the beach and birds singing in the surrounding palms. A crested jay swoops down to snatch some breakfast and we are bathed in a warm tropical breeze. After breakfast the children play joyfully on the beach. I lull in and out of consciousness in the hammock.

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The next night, there is nary a crab in sight.

Paradise lost, paradise regained.

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