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Brain eating bugs!

2 March 2012

Our greatest enemies were not the snakes or the heat and humidity. Our greatest enemies were the bugs! There seemed to be hundreds of varieties of them and they tormented me day and night. They crawled into my paint box and onto my palette. They got in the food and the water, into our hair and into our clothing. The cockroaches were the most revolting; they were clever and fast and hard to kill. The rhododores molested us during the day and covered or bodies with hundreds of little red craters. Their bites sapped our stamina, causing a newcomer such as Gary to become lethargic.

The chaquistes are the chiggers of the jungle. They started their daily torment at dusk and continued all night. They were almost invisible and managed to penetrate even the most closely-knit nets. Between the cockroaches and the chaquistes, there were the varieties of flies, spiders, caterpillars, worms and many other creatures.

The most dangerous was a fly called Mosca de Chicelero: its bite causes a deterioration of the flesh similar to leprosy. The worm, Cormollote, lived in the forest and falls on the traveler, burrows through the skull and into the brain, killing its victim. The tarantula and the scorpion were also present but we had only seen one of each. Some of the spiders were three inches around and as poisonous as the scorpion. Some of the caterpillars were poisonous; their bites caused great pain but are not fatal.


Oh what fun!  Editorial Mazatlán has taken on the somewhat daunting task of publishing the Mexican and Central American journals of explorer and artist Dimitar Krustev, a Bulgarian artist who emigrated to the United States in the 1950s, and — fascinated by the indigenous peoples of the Americas — became one of the last of the great jungle explorers.  In 1968 he became the first person known to have successfully navigated the Uscaminta River on the border of México and Guatemala from its headwaters in the Guatemalan Sierra Madres to the Gulf.

There is an overwhelming amount of material, and we’d be overjoyed to partner with a university anthropology department, or ambitious PhD student looking for a doctoral dissertation.  For right now, our more modest goal is to get into print a small journal Dimitar kept of his adventures with a Lacondon Mayan community during the rainy season in 1969.

Being a visual artist, and not a writer (and having English as a second language), Dimitar’s self-published notes aren’t always in standard English.  John Kirsch had the task of clearing them up enough to edit (and did an excellent job), so now I’m having a great time fact checking and straightening out some of the Bulgarian-flavored English phonetic spellings of Mayan words.

Mention of a missionary’s name had me calling the Wycliffe Bible Society this morning.  Suprisingly enough, the person answering the phone knew the missionary (Phillip Baer, who wrote extensively on the Lacondon, while — in Dimitar’s view — undermining their society and culture) and I’ve been reading up on Latin American entomology.  The “disease like leprosy is “Leishmaniasis”, carried by female mosquitoes of the genus Lutzomyia, but that was too easy to track down,  having been mentioned recently in a Villahermosa newspaper.

But … oh what fun… the brain-eating bug was spelled right, but try finding out anything about the critter.  I really had to bore through the internet, before I found the elusive Cormollote, buried in a  short article in February 10, 1900 British Medical Journal written by Frederick C. Kayt, Assistant Colonial Surgeon of British Honduras (“A Case of ‘beef Worm’ (Dermatobia Noxialis) in the Orbit”).  It wasn’t nearly as alarming…  the critter having only eaten his way into an eyeball.  And by the way, he’s not a bug, he’s the larva of Drmatobia noxialis, a kind of bot-fly.  Which kind of redeems things:   eyeball (and possibly brain)-eating maggots put Cormollote near the top in anybody’s list of gross jungle creepy-crawlies.

Writing footnotes and fact checking… before we start editing.  What better way to spend the day when you live in a tropical sea-side town?  Besides, the internet eats enough of my brain.




3 Comments leave one →
  1. Rebecca permalink
    2 March 2012 2:43 pm

    You may have more luck looking under the name Dermatobia hominis, since (at least according to
    that’s a more widely-used name for the same species. Its Wikipedia page ( claims it has a common name of “human botfly.” Google that one before breakfast at your own risk.

  2. 2 March 2012 2:48 pm

    And I thought my mechanic’s warnings about garrapatas was scary!

  3. Craig permalink
    3 March 2012 11:50 am

    Bravo! Another great project for Editorial Mazatlan! I’ll be looking forward to seeing this one come out soon, being a fan of old travel writings and the Maya in general.

    Some things have not changed. The chaquistes can still be extremely annoying pests. The brain eaters and leprosy-like … ugh. Haven’t ever encountered those… that my brain can still recall anyway.

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