This epistle has its genesis in, umm, Genesis. That would be 1:24 in the book of Genesis to be precise – and that would be in the bible for those still wondering what the hell I’m on about. Oh god, that’s the bit about that Almighty chappie making all the animals and things on day 6.
During my wayward life I’ve been confronted with a great many dangers and challenges. But only one peril is a recurring theme, a repressive meme like one of those persistent scary nightmares we all get at times.
WARNING for ophidiophiles: switch off now.
I refer, of course, to those slimy, sinuous and sneaky horrid creatures called SNAKES. Yea, yea, yea I know there’s a whole bunch of pedants out there queuing up right now to tell me snakes are not slimy. I’m fully aware they’re not actually slimy – but they sure as hell LOOK slimy. And that’s bad enough for me!
I am a passionate advocate for biodiversity. I’ve been beaten up and arrested enough times to attest to that.
And when the God bloke was setting up the flora and fauna on the third planet from the sun, you have to admit, he actually did a damn good job. But, it’s hard being omnipotent and I think he made one mistake. Well two actually, but flawed Homo sapiens is a subject way above my pay scale and worthy of a more intellectual analysis than you’ll get here. So I’ll stick to that other blunder, SNAKES.
I can comfortably live with the idea of rats, spiders, flies and other weird shit. I even see the justification for mosquitos. But snakes?
Jeez, snakes even figured in the nadir of humans when that goddam fucking SERPENT tempted Eve. It’s been a slithery, sinuously and sneakily downhill slide ever since for us humans.
Sometime in the future I hope I can share some of my exploits and encounters with animals in the past; including being raped by a fin whale (I absolutely kid you not). Snakes will be way up that list of encounters but for this episode I’ll restrict my cogitations to recent travels in Central America. Be patient.
Spiders are cuddly.
But first a story of a normal creature. A few weeks ago I had a run in with an enormous tarantula spider. I was in Guatemala and after a most pleasant meal with travellers from all over the globe I set off for bed. There was no electricity and as I opened the door of my room my head light beam fell on a spider in the middle of the floor.
Imagine an upturned grapefruit, painted black with eight stalks sticking out of it and the whole thing being covered with hair. I was fascinated, particularly as it was ‘frozen’ by the beam of my light. Now, being fascinated is slightly different to wanting to share a bed with this boy/girl. Keeping my friend mesmerised with my torch I used a chair to coax it out of the door from where it scurried off into the night. Immediately after I regretted my impulsiveness; I could have got a brilliant photo for this story.
Back to Snakes
While in Belize I was contacted by an American friend. We’re ex Greenpeace colleagues and in years gone by we’d had joint adventures ranging from the Amazon and up to Oregon where we blew up an enormous bear. But that story is for a later episode. Scott Paul now works as Director of Natural Resource Sustainability for Taylor Guitars, one of the global leaders in, funnily enough, guitars. He’s ruggedly handsome, Sauvé and super smart; and somehow this always made me a bit insecure.
[DISCLAIMER: Unless I insert that last sentence Scott has threatened to expose the real truth surrounding dark and sinister events I was involved with 25 years earlier in Labrea – a small frontier town on the banks of the River Purus deep in the heart of the Amazon.]
Scott was travelling to Belize with a colleague, Cos, to explore a possible future “tone wood” supply for Taylor. He’d also invited a few other outside experts to explore the possibilities of starting a small forest restoration project in the region. This sort of initiative is close to my heart. He wondered if we could meet up. I figured ‘shit yea.’ We could exchange gossip, down a few beers and bore the ass off his team with our war stories. What could possibly go wrong?
Into the dark interior
I was invited by Scott and his team to accompany them on an expedition. We travelled by 4 x 4 and after a couple of hours we arrived beside a pile of felled timber. I had absolutely no idea what we were looking at, but I was more than content to take in the flora and fauna. The team seemed happy and arranged a meeting with the village council for later in the day. Having time to kill we retired to a restaurant we’d passed earlier for lunch.
Blue Creek Cave
Here we discovered we were close to a grotto called the ‘Blue Creek Cave.’ This sounded enticing and so we set off to explore. As we trekked up the river we met a group of people coming down. They told us they’d been attacked by wild bees and been forced to retreat. Did that make us down hearted? Of course not, we were brave and fearless pioneers.
Eventually we arrived at the entrance to the cave. We could see the bees nest hanging from the roof but they seemed to have settled down. Suddenly Cos leapt off the track and disappeared behind a large rock. He emerged triumphantly with his sun hat in hand and coaxing a fucking great long green snake in front of him. It was then that I discovered Cos was a snake lover. In other words, until moments before somebody I’d considered to be a really balanced and generally nice bloke had suddenly turned into a weirdo!
Not content with the excitement of simply finding the creature Cos seemed keen to share it with us by driving it in our direction. As you can see from the attached video he almost succeeded. You can also see that at one point I abruptly stop filming. That was the moment when our friend Cos’s intentions reached my cerebral recesses. Computing took me a mere millie second. I ran. Being that brave and fearless pioneer I ran like fuck.
After reaching safety Cos joined us and I asked him if the snake was dangerous.
He replied: “Oh, it was only medium dangerous.” ONLY FUCKING MEDIUM DANGEROUS? What sort of answer is that – a mightily pissed off medium dangerous snake?
I did ask him, actually more of a rhetorical question, if you only got ‘medium ill?’
Notwithstanding that goddam snake a good day was had by all.
Coffee, beer and more snakes.
In Nicaragua I visited Matagalpa. Which, I only found out as I was arriving, is the coffee centre of the country. Suspicions were aroused when my chicken bus drove past hectare after hectare of concrete all covered with coffee beans all in various stages of drying. There were hundreds of workers, mostly women, all turning the beans. This, I found out later, after visiting the coffee museum in town, is vital to avoid those on top drying too quickly and those beneath rotting. Luckily for me the town itself is not spectacular! I discovered the Selva Negra organic coffee plantation, the largest in Nicaragua (their claim not mine), was a short bus ride away. Apparently the best coffee is that grown as “shade coffee.” This means, rather than fields of monoculture bushes, they are grown in clearings in the jungle with avocado, fig and citrus bushes helping to provide shade.
Sorry I digress. But then this is my blog and if I want to digress I will, so there. Anyway, back to snakes.
There were lots of walks through the jungle linking the coffee clearings and I walked for miles through them. Birds, insects and ginormous trees were in abundance. Wearing only tee shirt, shorts and my trusty Teva sandals I set off like Stanley looking for Livingston. Only as I neared the end of my perambulations, approaching the farm’s restaurant with a cold beer uppermost in my mind, did I notice a sign: “WARNING: SNAKES. IT IS VITAL YOU WEAR APPROPRIATE FOOTWEAR.” Bloody hell. Yikes! But then, given my phobia of snakes, if I’d seen that sign at the start of my walk I probably wouldn’t have done it and missed the incredible diversity there.