Snakes on a Plain

5 03 2009


      “I’m not going to say this again: it’s a tent pole, not a petrified snake!”    (The Nile, Uganda)



For many people, the mere thought of a snake is enough to prevent them from travelling to exotic places…or even eating spaghetti or licorice. However, the fact remains that Red Twizzlers aside, unless you go searching for them with a tethered mouse on a stick, your chances of actually seeing a snake even in the wildest of places are actually quite slim.


Although Australia has the distinction of being home to more deadly snakes than anywhere else on earth, Africa has its fair share…although most visitors would never know that after the average safari. And, not every snake is deadly. In fact, if you really want to see deadly serpents, you’re probably better off to spend the day at the local zoo rather than travel to deepest, darkest Africa.


We were driving from Kampala, Uganda, to Nairobi, Kenya and had stopped for a night beside the Nile near Bujagali Falls. It was a magical camping spot that overlooked the river’s lush green gorge not far from one of its first identified sources. We set up our camp and prepared dinner as the last light of the day slowly faded. With dishes done and many of the group retired for the evening, a handful of us remained around the fire, quietly chatting or writing diaries.


We sat on our camp stools and watched the sunset while the noise of the rapids drifted through the air. Suddenly, one of our group pointed to the ground.


“Look,” she exclaimed, “a snake!”


Our visitor slithered between the stools making a bee-line for the fire before skirting around the flames and disappearing into the darkness and trees beyond. We had all remained calmly seated and watched it cautiously with apprehensive fascination.


Once our friend was gone, someone collected a wildlife identification guide. They sat down and began to flick through the book while we all chipped in with our description of the snake.


“Hmmm,” the owner of the book exclaimed. “Here it is.” He held the book up facing towards us, a glossy page of illustrations illuminated by his head torch.


“Yeah, definitely” we all agreed, one by one. “What is it?”


“It’s a boomslang,” he announced. “One of the deadliest of all snakes. It ‘…delivers a potent hemotoxic venom through large, deeply grooved folded fangs positioned in the rear of its mouth’” he read. “The venom affects the circulatory system, destroying red blood cells and causing organ degeneration and generalized tissue damage.”


We all looked at each other warily, and then toward the dark trees and bushes into which the snake had disappeared.


“Right then,” someone announced. “I’m off to bed.” And with that the entire group got up as one and ran to our tents, quickly zipping them shut behind us.



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan