Close Encounters of the Snake KindJune 29, 2010
My arrival home after a night out at a restaurant involves a simple and familiar ritual – a ride back to my villa down a small street and into an even smaller lane. Then I wheel the bike into a tight turn to face my villa, put the bike on the stand and walk two steps in the dark to unlock the gate – more by feel than by sight. That’s because as soon as my bike is on its stand, the engine stops and the lights go out. Last night’s ritual was a little … different.
As I kill the engine, I catch a fleeting glimpse of something moving on the ground in front of the gate. Must be one of the local rodents, I think, or a frog cavorting in the lane – but something about the quality of the movement doesn’t seem right.
So, curious, I fire up the bike again. The lights flash on – and there, right where I usually stand while fumbling in the dark with the gate lock, is a snake. Its body is fairly thick, and it’s perhaps 1.2 metres long. The skin is pale brownish-green with slightly darker markings which glisten wetly as its scales catch the light. I don’t mind snakes, as long as they are at a respectable distance. This one isn’t – it is less than a metre in front of me, moving from left to right, but not making a great deal of progress. My lane is paved, but has a light sprinkling of fine gravel preventing good purchase for belly scales. The reptile in question is making all the right sinuous movements, but not unlike governments, its efforts don’t produce much forward motion.
I am thinking that if I was that snake, I would be getting a little peeved by now. Oh no! What if it gets the same idea – that turning might be a better proposition than continuing its slow progress forward? If it turns left, it will go under my gate and into the villa. Not good, I muse. But if it turns right, then I will have an annoyed snake slithering over my sandalled feet. By sheer force of will, I telepathically encourage the thing to keep going. Luckily, it does, and I watch as it struggles another two metres, gives up, and turns left into the neighbouring villa. Whew!
I scan the surroundings. Does it have companions? A change to my usual villa entry strategy is called for here, so I unlock the gate by bringing the bike right up to it, then stand on the foot-board while riding forward and sliding the gate open. Awkward, but effective, because my feet stay off the ground. I mean, I do contain some testosterone, which means I’m really brave and stuff – but what if it came back? What if I was bitten? Who would feed the dog? It’s a cool Bali night, but I sweat a little.
I suddenly recall a friend in Seminyak telling me that she was woken by her dog barking in the second floor bedroom. On turning on the light, she discovered that a large snake had fallen out of her roof and was wriggling on the floor. It apparently took some fancy moves with a long-handled garden hoe (that she just happened to have on her balcony) to dispose of the beast. She left for Spain shortly afterwards, where uninvited snakes presumably stay out of the boudoir.
So I spend the next hour in the villa cautiously scrutinising every possible hiding place – just to be sure, you understand. And yes, I did check the ceiling of my bedroom very carefully. I also checked all the rooms and wardrobes, kitchen cabinets, pantries, storage areas, and balconies. You never know what might be in there.
The rest of the night I spend with Uncle Google, who informs me that Bali has quite a few snakes, many of them venomous. I discover that beautiful Bali is home to King Cobras, Black Spitting Cobras, Malayan Kraits, Banded Kraits, Malayan Pit Vipers, Green Pit Vipers, Blue Temple Vipers, Oriental Whip Snakes and Coral Snakes. And they are just the dangerous ones. The ones that aren’t venomous, like the pythons, make up for it by being astonishingly huge. I recently saw one about ten metres long in Batu Belig – probably a Reticulated Python. One report from Curugsewu in Java claimed that villagers there caught a specimen that was 15 metres long and weighed 450 kilograms.
It is not reassuring bedtime reading, particularly after a seeing a photograph which looks very much like the snake I saw earlier. The caption reads: Baby King Cobra. Oh Lord …
I check the distribution of snakes in Bali, and find the answer: “Anywhere where there is vegetation, water, rats & frogs.” Oh great. That narrows it down.
I go to bed, but first check under the bed and behind all the bedroom furniture. I even whip back the bed-covers, which might seem a little paranoid. But don’t tell me you wouldn’t have done the same thing. I sleep, but to my relief, don’t dream of snakes. But I think that, like snakes themselves, my future snake dream will manifest itself when I least expect it.