Bachacs: No Surrender

Mark Meredith confronts a terrible army of bachacs in his garden

My tiny garden in England gave me few problems. If it looked parched in the summer, that was because of the hosepipe bans, and it always recovered. Occasionally, it was invaded by greenfly; sometimes the odd slug would munch through the spinach. It was an undramatic garden.

Then I came to live in Trinidad, and swapped my dull, quilt-sized patch of lawn in Hampshire for a garden as exotic as it was possible to get. The sun shone, it rained, and everything grew abundantly without any help from me. Perfect.

One night, shortly after we moved in, I went outside to shut the gate. The moon was full, and as I stood looking skywards, taking in the splendours of a cloudless tropical night, something bit my little toe. Hard.

I thrashed and stamped and slapped. I was being attacked by leaves, and they were all over my feet. No, pieces of leaves. They were flowing in an undulating river of green in the moonlight. They washed across the drive, taking a sharp right turn along the garage wall, then down a path in the lawn before disappearing down the hill into the night.

I stood astonished, rubbing my feet, and scraping dead ants out of my slippers. Sure, I’d seen plenty of ants in my time, but this was an army of countless divisions, and some of them looked exceptionally big and fierce, for ants.

I was fascinated. This was what living in the tropics was all about. I welcomed the invasion as a glorious manifestation of nature’s grandeur. I watched the ants on their nightly parade, amazed at their industry and strength.

But then I examined my new garden and began to notice its naked shrubs, and I realised that the leaves had not merely withered or dropped off. They had been scythed down in their prime. And I didn’t like the look of those paths. They ran through the lawn, along the hedge, round the back, down the hill. They completely encircled the house.     

One was much wider than the rest, with narrower paths branching off it. It led down the hill and stopped under a clump of banana trees. In the middle of the clump was a large hole, camouflaged beneath some dry leaves.

Two big, heavy-duty security ants stood guarding the entrance, waving their massive pincers at me. There were holes everywhere, all guarded by miniature thugs. They covered a huge area. It slowly dawned on me that this was no ordinary ants’ nest. This wasn’t Hampshire, and these things didn’t seem to like me. Did they only eat leaves?

That night I watched them in a different light. As soon as dusk faded, they swarmed up their highway and down the side roads to rape and pillage their way through the neighbourhood. And I got bitten again. Each night I had to put on shoes or dance up and down in the dark while shutting the gate. And it wasn’t just me. My wife, my children, our visitors, our neighbours, anyone who stood in the road outside, got eaten.

Everyone who had told me to put down poison — which was everyone — was right. It had to be done. The bachacs had launched a blitzkrieg on our neighbours opposite: an endless tide of looted leaves headed for the dark tunnels honeycombing the hill.

That weekend I headed for the bachacs’ lair with my partner Roger. Roger’s plan was simple: drown them in poison, then blow them up. The heavies at the holes waved their pincers at us. We gave them two fingers and washed them away in a milky river of death. Then we poured gasolene down the larger holes. Explosions raced through the network of tunnels, rocking the ground beneath our feet.

That evening I surveyed the carnage. Piles of brown bodies lay heaped outside the holes. Some of the big guys remained at their posts, not so defiant now, but still alive. Solitary bachacs straggled through the corpse-ridden wreckage of their city, coated in a ghostly white.

I felt terrible. All the monumental work they had put into building their empire: the industry, the organisation, all that ruthless efficiency. Obliterated for ever. But guilt evaporated with each bite-free night. I thought of the shrubs and their young shoots forcing their way into the world.

A fortnight later I was bitten. They were back. The highway down the hill was spewing out bachacs by the billion, around the house and over the road. Everyone agreed: it was the largest bachac nest anyone we knew had ever seen.

I found an exterminator. He had a secret recipe for bachacs, which he said did not poison the land. He estimated that the nest was 45 years old, with a population in excess of two billion. They even had their own royal family, a queen and four princesses. No, he said, they didn’t just eat leaves, they’ve been known to look indoors for food. Oh, and they can fly.

Well, when you hear that you’ve acquired an extended family of two billion maybe flesh-eating, sometimes flying bachacs, you listen carefully to the man with the spray-gun. He sprayed the secret recipe down the holes. He dug into the command centre — an area some 30 feet by 10 — and filled it with a fine mist.

That was a month ago. The highway is a deserted and lonely place now; grass is beginning to creep over its once teeming surface. Rain has washed the bodies from the rubble of the nest, and shutting the gate is quite painless.

So why are my shrubs still losing their leaves?

I discovered the truth yesterday. Even as I write, a new highway is being sliced into the hill. They seem to be in a big hurry. I know they’re smart. I just hope they don’t bear a grudge.