Oye, rubia: ¡La Cucaracha!

Oye, rubia: ¡La Cucaracha!

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Summer in Madrid has but one fatal flaw…the cockroaches. Blogger Kristen Bernardi on trying to smite the critters that just...won’t...die.

The heat in Madrid brings the masses out onto the streets; sipping sangria on terrazas and digging through rebajas bins in every shop.

Little do we know, while we’re out enjoying ourselves, that’s when the cockroaches invade.

On late nights out, you can see them scuttling across your path. Big ones, small ones; brown ones, black ones. They gain strength from lapping up spilled calimocho in the streets of Malasaña.

They’re gross enough on the sidewalk, but when you return home to see them scurrying along your countertop, it’s enough to make your skin crawl.

Madrid cockroaches (cockrileños?) do not discriminate. They are capable of invading even the poshest of flats, in the highest of high-rises. Even if you keep your kitchen crumb-free and your windows closed, if your neighbours do not, they will find their way in and make themselves at home.

I’m from the country, so while I had plenty of experience with a variety of big ole’ bugs, I had never personally encountered a cockroach until I moved to Madrid.

My first apartment in Delicias was infested. Elderly cockroaches probably told tales of all the flat’s previous tenants, passing down the stories for generations to come. It was the cockroach Ritz Carlton.

I may have been imagining it, but I swear when I’d turn on the lights, I could hear the little clickety-click noises as they run into hiding.

Cockroach shown actual size

Disgusting. But shockingly, this was not the biggest problem.

My dear flatmate was too squeamish to squish them. She couldn’t bear “the crunch”, she said, of their hard exterior against the sole of her flip-flop.

So, as an alternative to smooshing them, she would take a juice glass – and trap them. And then, she would wait.

Fun fact: it can take two to three days for a cockroach trapped under a drinking glass to die. At first they try to climb up the sides, but eventually they accept their fate and a couple days later, I’d find them legs up in their glass coffins, having fought the good fight and ultimately lost.

One day I walked in the door parched from the July heat. I went to the kitchen and opened the cupboards, only to find that there wasn’t a glass to be found. With a sense of foreboding, I went into the sitting room.

It was a cockroach holocaust. Our sitting room looked like a mini torture chamber. On every flat surface was an overturned glass with a prisoner trapped underneath, each in a different stage of duress. The stabby music from the movie Psycho played in my head. Reee! Reee! Reeeee!

This had to stop.

I bought anti-cucaracha spray. It didn’t work. I tried killing a single cockroach, skewering it on a toothpick and propping it up in the rug, Vlad the Impaler-style. “Let this be a lesson to you aallll,” I would shout. But they took no notice.

Finally, I called in the big guns. My friend Judith is from Louisiana. The state of Louisiana is largely swampland, and subsequently, the bugs there are roughly the size of a Fiat. Judith would know what to do.

And she did.

Expatica readers, I pass the following cockroach-smiting ‘recipe’ onto you. It works. Nay, it is the only thing that I’ve found that works.

Other than the odd run-in with one of the slick little bastards toddling across Plaza Chueca, my life has been cockroach-free ever since. R.I.P., little fellas!


- Five to 10 small plastic* cups (depending on the terror alert level of your cockroach infestation.)
- 1 part borax powder
- 1 part flour
- 1 zip-lock style sandwich bag
- water

  1. Cut off the top 2/3 of the cups. (They should be rather shallow, so that the cockroaches can climb in AND MEET THEIR DOOM.)
  2. Place a measure of the borax powder in a zip-lock style bag (about 1/2 cup should do).
  3. Place an equal measure of flour in the bag.
  4. Add enough water so that the mixture becomes a thick paste, like wet cement. Close the bag and mush it around with your hands to make sure it’s mixed thoroughly.
  5. Cut off a bottom corner of the bag, and pipe the mixture into the cups until they are nearly filled to the brim.
  6. Place the cups in strategic dark corners around your house. Bid the cockroaches farewell.

*Don’t use paper cups – they’ll disintegrate from the borax.

Unlike just using straight borax powder, which my expert says cockroaches have ‘evolved past’ and therefore avoid, this mixture is a one-two punch. The cockroaches are attracted to the flour. They eat it and carry it back to their homes, distributing it to the other cockroaches. That’s when the borax does its trick. A day or two after setting out the cups, you may see a sluggish or dead cockroach or two, but after a week, you will once again be the only resident of your flat. All future cockroaches will avoid your flat like the plague.


Kristen Bernardi / Expatica
photo credit: Neil T, Tomás Fano and Kristen Bernardi

Kristen Bernardi is an American journalist living in Madrid. She has contributed to various travel publications including Fodor's, TimeOut, The Insider's Guide, Spain Magazine and InMadrid, and most recently assisted in 2008 Spanish presidential election coverage for CNN International. She is on a constant search for the perfect tortilla española, and will consider returning to US soil once the Pittsburgh Pirates make the World Series. Kristen writes a blog, Oye, rubia, on a wide range of topics for Expatica on fortnightly Fridays.

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