An Empty Coast

An Empty Coast
My latest novel

Thursday, October 30, 2008

SNAKE!

You'd be forgiven, Legion of Fans (LOF), after spending some time reading my blog (get back to work, the lot of you), that the most dangerous thing that can happen to you in Africa is being hit by a falling monkey turd, or harrassed by immigration officals at obscure border posts.

Not so...

When we arrived at Tinga (I won't put the link in again as I don't want to rub our good fortune in too much) I said to the head guide, Mr Q, who was hanging around reception: "Hey, did you hear about the dude who got nailed by the lioness?"

The news at the time was full of the story of Kruger Park trails ranger Rudi Lorist who had been mauled by a lioness while leading a walking safari. Realising the lioness had cubs, and was therefore very protective of them, Rudi had tried giving her a wide berth, but she went for him anyway. She charged him and Rudi got a shot off, hitting her in the lower jaw. Sadly, she died, but not before raking Rudi's arms with her upper teeth. Happily, father-of-two Rudi and all his tourists lived.

"Yes, dude," replied Mr Q, "here's his brother." And sure enough, there was Rudi's brother, who is the manager of Tinga's Narina Lodge. Small, dangerous, world here in the Kruger Park.

I've been on plenty of walks in the Kruger Park and other parts of Africa and even went tracking lions in Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe. There was nothing about Rudi's story that turned me off the concept of walking in lion-infested bushveld. Far from it. As sad as it was that an animal died, Rudi's training saved his life, and possibly the lives of the people in his care.

I'm not scared of much at all, in fact, LOF. I've parachuted and bungee jumped, spent time on warlike operations (which is what we call going to war these days - although admittedly I spent my time in Afghanistan sitting at a desk typing and drinking coffee and listening to my iPod), been chased by a black rhino and had lions sniffing around my tent in the middle of the night (OK, that was a bit scary). Me, I'm not even scared of spiders or mice.

However, the one thing I am truly, utterly, deeply, madly petrified of (other than death) is snakes.

I can't think of any more words for scared, but if I could I would insert them. Mortified.

I wear boots and socks in the evenings, I keep my tent flaps zipped up all the time and I even roll our bedding up each morning just on the off chance that some snake might have found a way around my defences and snuck in, to lay in ambush between our sheets.

So, imagine, if you will, my surprise when the other night, after consuming a good deal of beer and red wine, I approached the ablutions block in Pretoriuskop Camp in the Kruger National Park at about 9pm and discovered a thick bootlace wrapped around the door handle.

"Odd," I may very well have said out aloud. Why would someone wrap a thick bootlace around the door handle of the toilet block? Even odder, LOF, was what happened next. As I reached for the door handle the bootlace started squirming.

When I (and this will tell you how drunk I was) touched the door handle, the bootlace reared up and struck at my hand with its small pointed head and tiny but sharp fangs.

Clearly, this was no bootlace.

'Snake,' I thought to myself, looking down at my hand as I kicked open the door. I walked into the ablutions block and thought I should find something I could use to knock the small snake off the door handle and shoo it into the grass, lest some other unsuspecting drunkard be attacked.

And then I stopped.

In the middle of the empty ablutions block I looked around me, catching my reflection in one of the mirrors. What's wrong with you, Mr Blog, I asked myself? Why aren't you crying like a little girl and running around in circles? You have just been attacked (kind of) by a snake and here you are, standing calmly, thinking of ways to shoo it away.

'It must be the booze,' I replied to myself.

I found a mop, and carrying it by the yucky end I went back to the door, kicked it open and brushed the snake on to the stoep (as we call the verandah or patio here in Africa). It squiggled around a bit, finding it hard to gain purchase on the slippery concrete, to I nudged it with the end of the mop some more.

"Off you go," I said to it, and burped.

It was a small snake, but like a little man it was full of anger and aggro. Instead of realising its lucky break - that I wasn't going to kill it (as I probably should have) it reared up to its full 20 centimetre height and started striking and attacking the end of the mop.

"So much for being more scared of me than I am of you," I said to it. "Off you go, you disgusting little thing." I pushed and prodded it - the snake continuing a fierce rear guard action all the way, until it finally realised it couldn't kill the mop, or me, and it slithered away.

I went back inside, replaced the mop and thought I had better see to myself. I inspected the knuckle of my right index finger and saw that I had recieved a tiny, but noticeable scratch. The skin wasn't broken.

It occurred to me I should wash the wound but then as I was holding my finger uder the water I remembered an Army lecturer from some decades ago telling us not to wash the wound if bitten by a snake as if it turned out to be a dangerous one then the traces of venom could be used to identify it if the body of the snake wasn't handy. Not being particularly environmentally-friendly in the Army (in the olden days at least) we were also taught to kill a snake that bit us, if possible, for identifcation (and manly payback) purposes.

I remember, as a wide eyed, slightly terrified 19-year-old infantryman wondering how I would be able to kill a snake that had just bitten me. Surely I would have passed out from fear or be crying my eyes out by this stage.

"Damn," I said out loud. Not only had I failed to kill the snake, I was washing away the venom that might identify it. How would the doctors know which anti-venom to administer? Perhaps I might die here in the Pretoriuskop ablutions block.

This was more the real me. "Mrs Blog!" I called (using her real name, of course). She was next door in the ladies. "Err, come in here."

"What, what?" she squealed, knowing something must be wrong.

"OK, first, you won't believe this. There was a snake on the door handle and I chased it away and didn't kill it and I haven't panicked or cried or anything." I was quite proud of myself.

"And...?"

"Oh, and it scratched me."

She said she was off to find the camp's night duty manager and would call a doctor. Feeling remarkably calm, very brave and still quite drunk I said, "No, don't bother them."

Mrs B insisted and I insisted back, but I won the day, until I started walking out of the ablution block. I felt my finger start to throb. A weird, pulsing, constricting kind of numbness started shooting up the inside of my arm. I felt the gland in my armpit swell and pulsate. "Um, maybe you should call the manager, after all."

We walked the short distance back to our tent and Mrs B called the duty manager. While we waited for him to arrive I supervised her in wrapping a pressure bandage around my arm from armpit to hand, to slow the passage of any poison. The army training was kicking in and the alcohol was kicking out.

"I want a beer," I said.

"You'll get no such thing," she replied.

I felt I needed to return to my prior level of intoxicaiton, lest I revert to type and start crying and weeing my pants, but she would have none of it.

The night duty manager, a very nice man named Philip, arrived a few minutes later. He asked me to describe the snake and then called the senior ranger on his cellphone. He spoke rapidly to the ranger in Shangaan. I only a know a few words but I picked up "nyoka", which means snake in various African dialects and, to my great concern, the word "cobra" in English.

Gulp. "Cobra?" I said to Mrs B.

Philip passed the phone to me. It sounded like the Ranger and his family were watching TV. He advised me to sit still and wait and see what happened. He would also get Philip to call the doctor. "Um, OK," I said.

Philip called the doctor and from the background noise on the end of the line it sounded like we had interrupted a dinner party.

"It's highly unlikely you've been invenomated or that it was a deadly snake," the Doctor said. I wondered how he could tell all this over the phone, but it was nice to hear someone say all that anyway. I also recalled from my military training that you should always reassure the patient they are going to be OK, even if they have been bitten by a Taipan (certain death sentence) or had their stomach blown out by a mortar shell.

"Just sit still for an hour and call me back if you develop any neurological signs."

"What do you mean by that?" I asked.

"Tingling around the lips, numbess, spasms... that sort thing..."

That sort of thing? What about, like, paralysis, necrosis, organ shut down, that sort of thing? I felt the doctor needed a little more info, so I repeated the bit about the numbess in my fingers, the shooting, throbbing sensation up my arm, the swelling in my glands...

"Hmmm, he said, that could just be..." He seemed reluctant to finish the sentence.

"Psychosematic?" I ventured.

"Ja," he replied, with a you-said-it-not-me tone, "psychosematic."

I thanked him and relayed his Rx to Mrs Blog. 'Lie down for an hour and see if you die.'

Mrs Blog laid me to rest on our foam camping mattress, propping my banaged arm up with one arm. She relented and acceeded to my last wish, to have a beer, and I propped myself up in bed, with a beer in one hand and an excellent Deon Meyer book in the other.

When the lip tingling, necrosis and organ shut-down began I would know that I had died happy, in a beautiful place, with the woman I love, a beer in one hand and a good book in the other.

I would go out knowing that when it came to the crunch I had looked the snake in its tiny beady eyes; I had been environmentally PC and not killed it; I had confronted my worst fear in life; and I had not peed my pants.

After an hour, with no change and me feeling absolutley fine and (once more) pleasantly inebriated, Mrs Blog (who was also quite drunk by now) and I made a joint decision to remove the bandage, just to see what happened (you can see how pissed we both were). I braced myself for the rush of poison into my system, but nothing happened.

Philip stopped by the next morning, and the next evening, and the following morning to make sure I was still alive, which was very nice of him and I assured him, as I will do again this evening when he drops by, that I am 100 per cent alive and well.

And still terrified of snakes (when sober).

What about you, LOF? What are you scared of, you bunch of nancy boys and girls?

7 comments :

ali g said...

Hail good fellow ...well met
You now qualify to join the snake story swapping club. My first was Mother Blog when carrying puppy out the door saying Ali looks like a lizard tail sticking out from under the air con unit.
Checked and found tail thing was just the tip of the iceburg...big giant King Brown curled up behind it. It was 'dispatched' in the French way..
2nd was transferring cattle through gate..looked down as thump on side of leg to see another King Brown hanging off the side of my jeans with his fangs buried in the seam..
That was scary but like you an extreme calm comes upon you as you get on your quad bike and race back to the house saying sh*t sh*t sh*t over & over again. Anyway he missed my leg but venom was running down my leg inside the jeans. Noted that 'wet' was also running down the leg from above the attack area. Yes it was wee but believe wee wee is sometime used to nuetralise snake bite. [Bubu tells me that it works on white snakes so mine being well fortfied with alcohol should easily nuetralise a brown's venom.]
Third time was in the Ute coming back from the tip in shorts and sandals..[please stop me if you've heard all this beore] Looked down and a very bad tempered brown was coming out from under the passenger seat...Immediately raised feet up onto seat, pulled hand brake on ..opened driver's door and evacuated said ute which eventually came to a stop some 30 metres further down the road.
Last time was when I was on my trusty large zero radius 54 inch cut mower when what ho Mr Brown came out from the vegie patch, reared up in front of me and said in a most snakey voice "where do you think youze is going bro?"
To which I quietly replied " Straight ahead my boy....straight ahead!
Then crunch slice chew eviscerate splat and all that.
So welcome to the club.
Mother Blog is appreciative of you informing her of all this before the blog..and so am I ..she is still getting over seeing that video of you bungeeing off Victoria Falls all those years ago..
She also, after reading about the guide being mauled on the walking safari, has decided that she will do no more walking safaris from now on.

Heidihi said...

OK, snake swapping stories here we come:

I was up at Mossman Gorge (Far North Qld), going along the walking track with all the other tourists when out of no where (well the undergrowth)came a large(ish) brown snake. The brown snake had obviously decided that the best route was over my feet! As the snake slithered over my feet, I screamed rather loudly and jumped about 5 feet skywards. This calm and rational action caused all the other tourists to look in my direction - very subtle. As I was coming back down from my rather large jump, I was terrified that I would land on my new friend - thankfully he was a few metres away at the base of a tree.

Luckily this hasn't happened again and I've been back to Mossman a few times now.

tonypark said...

Heidhi, that's my nightmare.

Crookedpaw said...

Interesting to note how people are happy to swap anecdotes and have managed to avoid answering the question of what scares them the most.

Whilst I'm not actually scared of any animals as such, I do have a healthy respect for those which are capable of causing me harm - perhaps show big, hairy spiders more respect than other creatures - and would certainly jump if unexpectedly met.

Heights are scary to me, although I am managing to control that fear. And here's one for the strange/weird file. Walking across train tracks, for some reason, produces the ever so slightest rumblings of concern.

The thing that scares me most, though, is slipping into dementia/Alzheimers. Having worked with people and their families devasted by this disease, I shudder every time I think it could be me. And the insidious irony is that I probably wouldn't realise it was happening.

Ick.

Live long and prosper,

Crookedpaw

Muriel said...

Solifuges - sun spiders. They aren't really spiders (which I quite like) - they're bigger, hairier and have more legs (10, not eight). They run at astonishing speed in any direction - forwards, backwards, sideways, and, if necessary, up walls and across ceilings. THey aren't venomous but they have big jaws and their bites hurt like buggery.

And cockroaches. Yeuuch.

Anonymous said...

Very small penny lizards, and frogs, but only if it looks like I have to touch them.

And absolutely nothing else.

Certainly not snakes.

You wuss.

JR said...

Cars with P plate drivers (Provisional Drivers..generally kids starting out) tailgating behind me....eeeesh.