Just like the spider on the wall / we gonn’ crawl, one more

Balinese snake statue

Going back to New Zealand I’ve worked out that one word scares the beje­sus out of my com­pa­tri­ots more than any oth­er.

I can mum­ble on about polit­i­cal insur­rec­tion, about cor­rup­tion, about insane traf­fic the likes of which Auck­land nev­er sees — nobody believes that one — and a thou­sand oth­er things, but none match­es that one word: snake.

New Zealan­ders hate snakes. New Zealan­ders are ter­ri­fied of snakes. New Zealan­ders are fas­ci­nat­ed by snakes.

When I returned to Auck­land short­ly after the sec­ond Bali bomb­ings — 20 or so poor souls ripped to pieces — I was at a par­ty and was asked what Bali was like as a place to live. I began to explain that the bomb­ings, as awful as they were, did not nec­es­sar­i­ly make the place more dan­ger­ous than New Zealand (the dri­ving does that — but that’s anoth­er sto­ry) day to day. I was cut off mid sen­tence by an anx­ious woman:

But, don’t you have snakes?’

Yes,’ some­one else said, ‘what about the snakes?’

I looked around — every­one was nod­ding with some sort of wide-eyed fear­ful curios­i­ty.

Snakes.

I under­stand. We don’t have snakes in New Zealand — aside from prop­er­ty devel­op­ers and politi­cians — and they both ter­ri­fy and fas­ci­nate the — awful two words — aver­age kiwi. Indeed, in New Zealand, the idea that any wild beast — aside from a shark, and that is very, very rare — can seri­ous­ly hurt, let alone kill, is quite alien.

When I first went to Bali, many years back now, I asked — also anx­ious­ly — if there were many snakes on the island. ‘Not many — no poi­so­nous snakes.’ I was reas­sured with a smile by the local guide as we rat­tled along the seem­ing­ly more dan­ger­ous quar­ries they call roads.

It was, of course, a com­plete lie. Brazen. But one they tell all tourists.

The island is full of dead­ly snakes — from the thin, quite beau­ti­ful, green things that hang from trees to the aggres­sive cobras, some of which spit in your face from a dis­tance — which seem to be more com­mon than any oth­er rep­tile you encounter aside from the ubiq­ui­tous small lizards that are every­where.

Indeed, I encoun­tered many, many snakes over the years I was there and only one, a huge python up in hills — you could have your pho­to tak­en with it for a price — was unable to inject my body with lethal tox­ins at whim.

Whilst still on hol­i­day, one of those green harm­less vipers slith­ered into the pool at the hotel in Sanur and swam over Bel­la — who was but 7 at the time — rest­ing briefly on her shoul­der. She was most­ly obliv­i­ous, I screamed and dragged her from the pool. The pool boy took a large stick and killed it.

Why, I thought, if the thing is so harm­less, do we need to kill it?

A cou­ple of weeks after we moved there, a friend told us a sto­ry of a per­son in bed — watch­ing tel­ly — when the roof fell in and a fam­i­ly of vipers land­ed on the bed in front of her. She saved her­self by toss­ing the sheet over the nest and run­ning scream­ing.

Ah — so there are dead­ly snakes on par­adise isle.….

Despite my kiwi-instinc­tive hor­ror at all things long and slith­ery, I quick­ly got over it. You have to — you encounter the bloody things every­where. Brigid almost stood on a cobra by the front door. It slid away, into a hole under the new garage floor. The gar­den­er and the dri­ver quick­ly mixed some instant con­crete and cement­ed the thing into its new tomb.

For all, I know it’s still there. The staff, how­ev­er, were ter­ri­fied that they had offend­ed or killed a god and stepped clear of the space there­after.

We killed a snake — anoth­er cobra — in the gar­den after the dachs­hund had chased it into a cor­ner. They both sat there taunt­ing each oth­er before the gar­den­er swooped with a stick.

It was put out­side in the trash. The old Chi­nese guy who owned the benkel sepe­da motor (motor­bike repair shop) across the road came over, took it out of the bin, cut the head off with a knife and ate the snake raw on the spot.

The dachs­hund, not hav­ing learned any­thing much — as is her way in life — cor­nered anoth­er cobra. It spat in her eye and she ran to us, yelp­ing in extreme pain. She sur­vived but still, years lat­er, has a blue glow in that eye.

deadly Balinese tree snakes

The same dog, with the more street­wise Bali dog as back­up, tried, in front of me, out­side, by my office, to herd a light brown cobra — one dog com­ing from the back, one from the front. In ret­ro­spect — which came a few sec­onds lat­er — stu­pid­ly I ran over and grabbed both by their necks and threw them into the house. The snake head­ed into the gar­den.

It wasn’t uncom­mon, sit­ting in the office which had no walls and foliage around, to watch a brown or green snake slide past on the wall or grass. I was almost expert at work­ing out what brand it was, but always con­scious of the fact that there was/is no snakebite anti­dote to speak of on Bali — since there were no nas­ties on the island.

And so on.

We moved to Bangkok.

There are no snakes in Bangkok we were told when we arrived.

Sure.

 

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