My sister reminded me the other day of what may have been my first encounter with a Puff Adder. The damned thing was lying atop an old hessian sack, trying to make itself look like a hessian sack, so that it could take out a little blonde farm boy. Since then I have stumbled on, jumped over, driven over and recoiled from these things more times than I care to remember. There was the time a bunch of us came over the saddle at Gateshead on our way back down from fishing and found a cluster of babies. A “gaggle of snakes” as I call them. Then there was a particularly orange specimen near the cattle feeding area on Reekie Lyn that got my heart pumping. Then there was the one Rhett and I drove over in his landcruizer of the way down to the Ndawana to fish. We drove over it repeatedly, but it didn’t seem to notice, heightening my suspicion that these things are deeply evil, and may actually be immune to death.
Aside from Puff Adders, there were the Night Adders that lived in the ticky-creeper on the veranda steps of my grandparents farmhouse. Then there was the cobra that crossed the road in front of Petro and I on the Eerste River, with its head in the fynbos one end and its tail in the bush on the other side. I don’t think I have ever see a bigger snake. The snake gaitors that Tom Sutcliffe had lent me on the same water a few days earlier suddenly seemed so hopelessly inadequate.
Then there was the trauma doctor friend of ours who told me to forget that the BS about hippos being Africa’s most dangerous animals. “Far and away …SNAKES” he assured me. It probably lies in the statistics…….maybe more people die from Hippo encounters than snake encounters, but he was adamant that it was snake victims that filled the emergency room.
My friend Russell showed me the goose bumps on his arm after he related the story of his encounter with a Berg Adder last week. He was navigating some high country on a motorbike, putting his feet down all the time, like a kid on a scooter, when he saw the little terror right where he would have put his foot.
That reminds me of a berg hike we did as kids to Bannerman’s hut near Giants Castle. We overnighted at the hut, and were to summit the pass the following morning, but alas, driving rain and cold drove us back to the hut. Later the same day we struck out for Giants Castle camp, walking single file down the path at some speed. It had by now turned hot and windy….perfect snake weather. First we encountered a Berg Adder that the lead hiker jumped over in terror, leaving the second guy at risk. Then we saw two more snakes….probably “Skaapstekers” By then us kids were all jumpy, so it was agreed that Keith Duane would hike in front. I was some distance behind him, when I came around a corner and nearly jumped out of my skin for the fourth time that day. He was standing next to the path, pointing down into the path with a straight finger and a piercing alarmed look. I followed the line of his arm…and saw…… a Shongololo!
There was the time at Roman baths that I spotted a Skaapsteker just before my foot was about to land on its head. Then we had a trip to Highmoor in April where the Skaapstekers were just EVERYWHERE. There was the time I was pushing my daughter along on her little pink bike, sans training wheels , when I kicked a grass snake. Hard. Then the Jack Russel walked right over a Rinkhals without knowing, and when we noticed it, we were one side, the dog was the other side, and the snake was angry.
We have had snakes in the laundry basket. Snakes in gumboots. Snakes on the windowsill.
This would all be fine, except that I am terrified of the things.
So last week when a puffy struck at my calf and got the fabric of my longs just millimetres from my skin, I sort of freaked out a little.
A few days later, rattled more that a rattle snake, wearing snake gaitors and probing the path ahead of me with a stick , I didn’t take too kindly to the occasional innocent tap to my calf from my wife’s hiking pole as she walked behind me. I know she struggles to get me onto a dance floor, but this method of inducing dancing just isn’t cricket. (especially given the embarrassing girl-like squeals it tends to induce).
PS. That Puff Adder that was immune to the Landcruizer tyres was crossing the road beside a large root that shielded it from the imprint of the tyre. I am still very suspicious however, that something as evil as a Puff Adder may in fact be able to avert death through mystical means.
PPS. I suppose the fact that I have thus far averted a snake bite, given the number of scary incidents I have had, itself borders on the mystical.
PPPS: I recommend you stay away from me on river banks. I seem to attract the damned things.