The scorpion tail is among the most evil of appendages. Curled forward over the segmented body, it waits with stinger poised to deliver its venom to whatever the devilish creature can grasp in its hideous claws. The sting is known to bring an excruciating, clarifying pain, and that of some species can be deadly to man.
Around the world, humans of sound body and mind take precautions to avoid the scorpion tail. A friend and I sought it out, with the intent of discovering what secrets its poisons could unlock in the realm of drunkenness.
The drink in question is Uña de la Gran Bestia, or the "Claw of the Great Beast," famous in Canoa, a small surfing town set halfway up the coast of Ecuador. Several vendors sell the concoction, made by marinating scorpions, giant millipedes, and marijuana stalks in moonshine before selling it for a dollar a pop. "One shot, I get tired," a brewer named Fabio told us. "Two shots, I start to wake up. Three shots, I become sexually excited . . . My wife hates it when I take three shots."
Rather than spend our hard-earned dollars, we figured we could brew our own. First, we needed to gather the ingredients. Marijuana was already plentiful, but the arthropods took some hunting. In search of scorpions, we paid a visit to the greenhouse, where our tree nursery was located. The ground was lined with bricks to keep the baby saplings from taking root, and there we stalked our prey.
The mayor himself took the stage and sang, 'Mátala!' which literally means 'kill her,' but in context is more like 'make love to her with supreme vigor.'
One by one, we turned over every brick in the greenhouse. When we found a scorpion, we used a stick to herd it into a large plastic soda bottle, keeping our hands and other appendages safely at a distance. In total, we collected about half a dozen, the smallest scarcely larger than a human knuckle, larger ones about pinkie-sized. We then carried the bottle of living scorpions on the bus back to our hostel, where we dropped them into a jar of alcohol for preservation. They were still alive when we tapped them out of the soda bottle, and struggled as they sank into the alcohol, slowly flailing their claws before gradually ceasing movement as they met their intoxicated demise.
For the next ingredient, we had a tip that a neighbor's roof was infested with millipedes, but before we could pay a visit for collection we noticed one of the scorpions was leaking white goo into the jar. We had already been harboring doubts about the safety of our project, and the breach in carapace convinced us to abandon it altogether.
Instead, we resigned ourselves to sampling the pre-made drinks for sale in the coast's thriving alcohol scene. Moonshine distilled from sugarcane—commonly known as aguardiente, or more locally, caña—is the common man's liquor in Ecuador, and it showed up in various forms.
One variation is cañelazo, a sweet, sticky, heated mix of cider, cinnamon, and caña that tastes good going down but guarantees you will need to brush your teeth first thing on waking up the next day, possibly two or three times. During election weekend, the town bars all shut down to promote temperate voting; but at the mayor's victory party that followed, the cañelazo flowed freely. Townfolk gathered in the rain to drink and dance the night away, and at one point the mayor himself took the stage and sang, "Mátala!" which literally means "kill her," but in context is more like "make love to her with supreme vigor."
Another favorite drink is coco loco, made by pouring caña into a coconut, which is then buried underground for a month before happy revelers drink the milk and eat the white meat, impregnated with alcohol.
He wanted to imitate the drinks brewed by the indigenous people in the jungle and settled on a recipe using marijuana, millipedes, and scorpions, plus coca leaves for added oomph.
For the crown jewel, the Uña de la Gran Bestia, we ventured to the boat bar, a popular tourist spot on Canoa's beach, after a long morning of surfing under the hot equatorial sun. Calixto, the bar owner, learned of the brew while selling merchandise in the Amazon, according to the story narrated by his son. He wanted to imitate the drinks brewed by the indigenous people in the jungle and settled on a recipe using marijuana, millipedes, and scorpions, plus coca leaves for added oomph.
In addition to causing intoxication, he claims the liquor contains positive energy and medicinal properties. Elderly people buy the drink to help their sleep, and they rub it on their skin to treat arthritis. Some people use it as an aphrodisiac, others just to party. One fun-loving Frenchman I knew reported that after an evening of Uña, he went crazy dancing, jumping on cars, and then woke up the next morning with broken glasses and in bed with a four-fingered woman. He didn't elaborate on how the missing digit affected the encounter one way or another.
Our story didn't have such a happy ending. The liquor was displayed behind the bar, the bottle filled with murky brownish liquid and the offensive ingredients floating within, leaving no doubt that you got what you paid for. The bartender poured the shots and after a moment's hesitation, we downed them. I was expecting something disgusting, painful, commensurate with the effect the vile creatures hold on the imagination. But it was fine. Just caña with an herby, earthy taste to it.
We took three shots, recalling Fabio's previous words. If anything, though, my arousal followed the opposite path, as my excitement to try the drink rapidly turned to drowsiness. After spending the morning getting tossed about by waves in the Pacific Ocean, the liquor proved too much and I retreated into a fitful afternoon sleep, filled with nightmares about scorpion tails and other evils that lurk in the tropics.