S P I D E R
S P E C I A L
S T .S OMETIMES
THE CAMBODIAN TARANTULA KNOWN LOCALLY AS APING! ARE A CRUNCHY TREAT (FOR SOME)
In the Heart of Darkness - Aping! There is very little on earth that scares me more than SPIDERS. For the past two years of living in Cambodia, I had heard rumors of a “spiderville” where the tourist buses stopped. According to my sources, and a few writings of travelers, there was a place just north
of Phnom Penh that kids would throw live spiders on unsuspecting tourists. Supposedly, street vendors sold delicious tarantulas - known locally as “Aping” [aah-ping]. While the tourist target is asking, or friends of theirs are laughing, the street kids take a live one
and put it on one of the tourists. Now THAT was something I wanted to see. But I didn’t just want to see some dead ones. I wanted to confront the ugly MONSTERS once and for all. And not just one. I wanted the ultimate Spider experience. Here’s how it went....
No, these spiders were NOT photoshopped !!
3 ON THE HEAD!
GETTING A FACIAL
!!! HELP !!!
Why Eat Aping? According to other sources, including ABC news, the history of eating Aping dates back to the rough times of the Khmer Rounge. The Khmer people were forced into labor camps or they would hide out in the jungles. The large arachnids became a replenish-able source of protein. Now, however, the taste of deep fried spider ranks higher than the local cricket, grub, or ant communities. They are also more expensive than the other “snacks”.
THE LOCALS ALSO BELIEVE THAT APING (GRILLED) HAVE A MEDICINAL VALUE: FOR COUGH OR CHEST PAINS The Hunt Starts Early Spider hunters get up early, around 4am, and walk through the fields/jungle where they have seen nests (lairs). Using a long thin stick, the hunter will poke around looking for the larger monsters. Once found, they pin down the spider with the stick and grab hold of its body around the abdomen. Some hunters use two sticks instead. Dangerous? Like most tarantula species, these Aping can definitely bite you. The bite turns black and inflamed. But the urticulating hairs are more of a problem with handling them. Tarantulas can throw tiny hairs, or simply shake their bodies to shed the hairs. These tiny hairs are actually part of their exoskeleton and they have tiny barbs that lodge into your skin. Basically, this is a defense mechanism the tarantula uses when it is angry or attacked. It is very irritating and itchy for a while. (luckily, the spiders all over me were caught the day before. Therefore, they had been defanged and kicked off most of their hairs in anger.)
S I Z E M AT T ERS? NOT TO ME. EVEN A SMALL SPIDER IS A MONSTER. APING ARE LARGEST AFTER THE RAINY SEASON. ACCORDING TO MY SPIDER LADY, THEY CAN GET AS BIG AS YOUR HAND AND THEY CAN KILL A SMALL COW OR A PIG. THE SMALL ONES ALL OVER ME WERE BIG ENOUGH TO FETCH 10 FOR A DOLLAR. THE BIG ONES THEN GO FOR 2-3 A DOLLAR.
FA N G S ? THE SPIDER HUNTERS USUALLY DEFANG THE BEASTS BEFORE THEY ARE SOLD TO THE STREET VENDORS. SUPPOSEDLY, THE ONES THAT WERE CRAWLING ON MY DID NOT HAVE FANGS. (??) THE HUNTERS TWIST AND PULL THE FANGS OUT WITH THEIR TEETH OR A SMALL PLIERS. THEIR POISON IS THEN NEUTRALIZED IN THE HOT OILS OF A WOK.
OV E R - H U N TED? SPIDER HUNTERS NOW COLLECT THEIR HAIRY GAME ABOUT 100KM OUTSIDE OF SKUON - THE TOWN KNOWN FOR ITS SPIDER TRADE. MOST HAVE BEEN HUNTED OUT OF THE AREA. THE PEOPLE BELIEVE THERE WILL ALWAYS BE SPIDERS IF THEY ONLY TAKE THE BIG ONES ONCE A WEEK FROM A NEST. I DID NOT HEAR ABOUT ANY INDUSTRIALIZED FARMS.
An hour and a half drive North-East of Phnom Penh, a half hour interview, and a quick bite to eat... That is what the short afternoon turned out to be. I thought it might be an overnight trip. I wanted to go hunt them, cook them, learn the whole process. But May is just the start of the rainy season. The best time to go is at the end of the rainy season, when the spiders are huge! Pov, my friend, drove me in his car to the main turn-about, where the tourist buses usually stop. It was almost deserted at noon on a Sunday. but the spider ladies were there. Pov was my interpreter as I sat down on a small plastic chair and interviewed a few of the spider vendors.I wanted to know everything. Most of the information in
10 APING FOR 1200 RIEL ($1.10 US) - IF SHE SELLS ONE HUNDRED IN A DAY, IT IS A GOOD DAY.
this newsletter is the product of the interviews. While we chatted, one of the younger girls came over and started putting the black creatures all over me. The more I reacted, the more they put on me. I decided to dive in “head first” ,so to speak, and asked her to put one on my head. Instead, she put three on my head. One crawled right over my right eye while the second one traveled down my cheek. Third one cuddled up on my head like a tarantula toupee’. Did I mention the fact that I am completely AFRAID of small spiders and TERRIFIED of the larger, hairy ones? I only ate a few of the legs and washed it down with a local beer. No way was I going to crunch into the abdomen! Gross.Yuck. I said my thank you’s and handed the spider lady $20 US for letting me have so much “fun” and teaching me about Aping.
ONLY THE LEGS
“APING-GET YOUR APING”
A “HANDS ON” INTERVIEW
“NOT LIKE CHICKEN!”
FIRST AND LAST TIME
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Pov interprets and explains the fruits, smoked fish, and the Khmer customs as you travel
POV TOURS Pov is a driver that educates his farangs during the whole trip (if you want him to). We stopped for smoked fish, fruits, and had fun talking to the street vendors. Pov is an excellent guide not only because of his English skills, but he really knows Khmer life. Now Pov can take you to the spider women. I recommend it. Don’t settle for an expensive dish with four or five spiders laid out restaurant style. Go for the LIVE experience. Be careful at the fruit stands, spiders are lurking!
One Step Closer to Conquering ARACHNOPHOBIA! I don’t think I will ever get “over” spiders. They are fascinating creatures, but they remain my number one fear. This was a fantastic experience for me. The spider ladies of Skuon might not be there very much longer if the taste for Aping persists. Cambodians love to eat them and tourists love to act out their own Animal Planet specials. (I certainly did!) What’s next? I am living in South America next. Therefore, I might as well go looking for the gargantuan Bird Eating Spider! I hope they have those somewhere near Venezuela but certainly not in my apartment. As my travels in South East Asia come to a close, I will be closing another chapter of my international education career. Summer will be a flash in the pan trip to Thailand (saying goodbye to friends), traveling to Venezuela, back to the states for a week or two, and a trip back to Venezuela. Wish me luck. And all of you... travel safe! There are lots of spiders out there. --------------------Greg Lemoine