Bugs If you've heard of San-Blas, you've heard about the bugs.
The mosquitos aren't too bad, but the jejenes can be brutal for some
people. Jejenes are little sand flies and there's a lot of
them. The good news is they generally hang out down at the beach
and are usually not too bad in the afternoons. They don't come out if
there's a breeze. They come out mostly in the
mornings, and late afternoons, especially when there's a full moon.
About 1 in 4 people are allergic to the bites and each bite turns into a big
red sore, kind of like a mosquito bite. For the people who are not
allergic, you feel a little prick and that's it. Frankly, not many
people who are allergic care to come back, but I have one friend who comes
here every year who is allergic and she just covers up and takes care to avoid
the buggiest places at the buggiest times. The jejenes are probably the
main reason the area was never developed as a major tourist area hence this
tribute by Doug Brown.
A Tribute to the Jején
by Douglas Brown
When asked what I consider to be the single most significant animal species
in the vicinity of San Blas, Nayarit, my immediate and unequivocal response is the
jején. This nearly invisible insect, variously known as the sand flea, the no-see-um,
or, to the scientifically inclined, Voz haitiana, is the first line of defense of the
region's charm and character. Although aided in no small part by the mosquito, it
is the jején that has prevented San Blas from becoming the ugly, glitzy, over priced,
condominium and fast-food-chain infested tourist trap typified by the two closest
port cities to the north and south.
When this apparently insignificant creature alights on the skin, it appears, to
the naked eye, to be only a small black dot, the size of a pin point. True appreciation
of this tiny predator requires a microscope. Magnification reveals the beauty of the
three segmented body. A soft, stubby black abdomen merges almost
indistinguishably into the hard, chitinous thorax. A small head pokes out in front on
a short, slender neck. Six sinuously spindly legs provide a stable undercarriage when
this minute guardian is not using its transparent, black-veined wings for locomotion.
But of most interest is the head. Here, just beneath the two round, glittering,
compound eyes topped by a pair of small antennae, is found the business end of this
minuscule defender of the natural landscape. The mouth parts descend like two tiny,
curved scimitars, ready at a moment's notice to carve a minute flowing well of
nutritious, red blood from the exposed skin of any mammal they might encounter.
If it were only the actual bite of the jejénes that one need worry about, they
would not be the effective deterrent to noxious, pale-skinned invaders that, in fact,
they are. The physical discomfort as they sink their minute blades into their victim
is, like themselves, relatively small. Unlike the hypodermic needle injections of
mosquito bites, which often are not felt until the animal has finished feeding, the
jején's attack is easily detected at the outset. Thus, it is a simple matter for the
afflicted victim to simply brush them away or crush them to death at the first sign
Fortunately, these infinitesimal warriors also have a secondary mode of
assault. Like the mosquito, the jején spits a protein into its prey as it bites. A
significant portion of species homo sapiens--casual observation suggests it could be
as many as one person out of four--produces an antibody to this protein which causes
large red welts to appear on the skin. These inflammations are often accompanied
by a fierce itch that can last for several days. Even the most determined party of
fast-food addicts is certain to be routed by a 25% casulty rate.
Another of the jején's advantages is numbers. In his wildest dreams Genghis
Khan could never have contemplated deploying so many soldiers in his Golden
Hoard. But their troop strength is far from constant. Rather, their numbers vary in
a semi-lunar cycle, peaking the day after the full and the new moons, and rapidly
diminishing as it waxes or wanes. I suspect this phenomenon is related to the
exceptionally high tides which occur at these two times. It seems a reasonable
hypothesis that they lay their eggs at the tidal fringe, and when the water reaches
them , they hatch.
The jején's role is not, however, limited to defense. This useful insect also
makes important contributions to the local culture. The famous "San Blas Salute"
is one significant example. This activity, which can be observed whenever two or
more people stop to converse on the street, consists of waving a handkerchief,
diaper, towel or other appropriate piece of fabric in front of the face. The resulting
spectacle, late in the afternoon on the day after a full moon, can be quite striking--
comparable to a religious ritual.
Another social contribution of the jején is the conversational gambit it
supplies. In temperate climates, where the weather exhibits great variability,
comments on the temperature or the excess or lack precipitation provide a safe,
uncontroversial means of starting a conversation. The unvarying weather of the
tropcs presents a serious problem. Imagine how boring it would be to hear, "Well,
its sunny and 86 degrees again today," every time two people came together.
Remarks on the state of the jején population neatly plug this cultural gap for the San
Formidable as it is, the jején is far from invincible. Chemical warfare, in the
form of DEET, can be effectively employed by those not overly concerned about the
genetic consequences to their progeny. The local residents deploy large clouds of
smoke generated by smoldering fires burning whatever trash they can find--wood,
plastic, fiberglass resins, used motor oil, coconut shells, whatever. While the long
term effect of this practice on the lungs and the contribution it makes to the
greenhouse effect is open to question, it is effective. It also has the added benefit of
keeping the streets relatively clean.
The principal vulnerability of the jején, however, is that he is a weak flier.
The merest puff of wind sends him careening out of control. Thus, while he owns
the still early morning and late afternoon, from the time the sea breeze begins to
blow until it drops, he is banshed from the places it reaches: most notably the beach.
The local cogniscenti exploit this weakness by developing a thorough knowledge of
the location of every fan in every public building in the town.
Unfortunately, the norteño invasion is not the only threat to the character of
the area. Inexorable human population pressure is causing extremely rapid and
irreversible alterations to the local landscape. The mangrove forest is being
converted to agriculture and artificial shrimp ponds. The mountain slopes, formerly
covered by complex tropical forest ecosystems, are yielding to avocado and mango
monocultures. The once pristine beaches are rapidly being sub-divided and fenced
in. Against these titanic economic forces the jején can provide but feeble resistance.
But, for those of us who do not wish to have a fast-food emporium on every corner,
or hundreds of broad, Bermuda-short clad bottoms promenading the streets of the
town, one can only say, "Thank the great earth goddess, in all her wisdom, for
providing such a valiant defender."