Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Bernie the Berne

Warning: - this is a disgusting story and not for the squeamish.

One Brazilian creature that I’d never heard of before is the Berne. They aren’t very common but many people have come across them, possibly because everybody remembers their Berne encounter. Mine came courtesy of Blondie’s sister, Go, whose apartment we were cave-sitting while she was away in Bolivia and Peru. After a month seeing the sights of the Andean Plateau from the inside of a bus, Go came back with eyes wide open and tales of travelling that wouldn’t surprise anyone who had been through those two countries. They are entertaining stories but they are hers and I’m not going to steal them. Travelling from Sao Paulo to Cusco by bus is quite an undertaking, and a Brazilian girl can be far away from her favourite waxing salon. As no self-respecting Brasileira would submit to being waxed in a country whose depilisaçao is inferior to her own (and they all are, we´ve heard it many times), one of the first things she needed to do was pay a visit to the salon. As she turned over to have the back of her calves waxed, her friend doing it started to scream.

Now, some time before she left for Bolivia, Go had been bitten by some unknown creature. This bite hadn´t disappeared, and in fact had grown and caused her pain throughout the journey, sometimes feeling like it was scratching the itch itself. Living in an area of many dogs, much grass and many insects, a little hole from a bite had been invaded by the Berne fly, which likes to lay its larvae under the skin of cattle, dogs and occasionally humans. The larvae stay under the skin for 4-6 weeks, growing fatter on the flesh that they eat. They can grow to around the size of a little finger eventually, and have a fairly sickening design. The larva has a rounded back end, with three small rings covered in spikes towards the front. The idea is to make them difficult to remove or scratch out. They also have a pair of pincers at the front end, perhaps similar to an ant. After a gestation period, the larva will use the pincers to work their way out from under the skin, and soon make their way into the big wide world as a fully fledged Berne.

As Go was lying face down chatting to her friend, Bernie the Berne decided to see what all the gossip was about. He opened the skin and popped his little dark head out for a breather. This was when the depiladora screamed – “Aiiiii! Go! There´s a bichinho in your leg! I can see his little black head moving!”

Go left the salon still half-hairy and headed to the pharmacist. He applied a substance to encourage Bernie to come to the surface and told her to come back the next day. Go went. The pharmacist squeezed Bernie out from her leg, carefully, gently, making sure not to upset him too much. Half a Berne will cause more problems than a full one. After so long together, Go couldn´t stand the idea of being separated from Bernie. They´d been through the Pantanal, the Chaco, the Altiplano, Salar de Uyuni, La Paz, Titicaca, Cusco and the Sacred Valley to get to Machu Picchu, and came back all the way too. Hardy creature that he was and about the size of the nail of my little finger, he was still wriggling when she brought him home to show off possibly the best travelled Berne in history. Prazer, Bernie the Berne.

She toasted him a few minutes later though. Possibly because he hadn´t paid his half for the trip.

If you don’t know what a Berne looks like and for some reason want to see one being removed:

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