Black Spitting Cobra

Parsel Tongue: Eye to Eye with a Cobra in Borneo

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“No one’s scared of snakes, are they?” our Malay guide inquired before we set out in the jungle on our trek through the nature reserve at the Shangri-La Rasa Ria.

A Scottish woman’s hand shot in the air, as she exclaimed in a heavy brogue, “who isn’t?!” then realized she was the only one who ‘fessed up.

Now, not raising my hand was not a lie of omission. Snakes have never particularly worried me. When I used to work in the Arizona desert, we would have to constantly be on the look out for rattlers, as 150 or so kids lived on that ranch in summer months. A couple times, we (being the boys I worked with) would skin the rattlers we found and fry them up for dinner. Humane? Probably not. But we couldn’t have the threat of such a dangerous reptile prowling the premises with five year olds in close proximity, and I always think if you’re going to kill a living thing, the least you can do is make use of it.

The day SVV and I got engaged in Sierraville, just inches away from where we sat, we witnessed two four footers doing, in their case, the vertical tango, and instead of running off in fear, we were both riveted. I don’t do sharks. But snakes? I find them a bit fascinating.

Of course, all of that changes when you come eye-to-eye with one.

Our guide calmly went on to explain that the jungle was full of green vipers, black spitting cobras and a number of other dangerous slitherers. “But don’t worry. We very rarely, if ever, seen them on the cut path.” Truth be told, the threat of snakes didn’t make me squirm; I was more concerned with the spiders and scorpions we might encounter instead.

I’m a bit of an eager trekker. I like to be at the front of the pack, so throughout our hour hike, I hovered just behind our guide and ahead of the other 20 or so vacationers in our group. Perhaps this zeal doesn’t always serve me well. In this case, it almost didn’t.

I was going along my merry way, keeping my eyes peeled for bugs not reptiles, when I saw something move just a few inches to the right of my foot. I paused. “Oooh look, guys, it’s a snake!” I bent down and started to get closer. The guide turned around and went bug-eyed when he saw what I’d spotted.

(In retrospect, aren’t guides trained to notice every last subtle movement in the jungle? The fact that he didn’t see a large snake lingering just off the path worries me ever so slightly.)

SVV whipped out the camera, but our guide was screaming at us to quickly move away with such vigor that we figured we probably better do what he said instead of pausing to take a photo, as both of us were inclined to do. It’s probably a good thing we listened, too, as we found out later that the black spitting cobra is lethal and blinds its prey by spitting venom into their eyes. Now, my parents paid good money for these set of eyes—get Lasik, it will change your life—and I didn’t want to upset them. So we removed ourselves from the potential crime scene, as the cobra disappeared into the brush. A near miss, and it was only the third day of our honeymoon in Borneo. Luckily, a future encounter with an angry fish would promise I didn’t leave the island unscathed.

Still, all I could think of was the end scene in Rikki Tikki Tavi. At least things worked out better for me than they did the mongoose.

  • June 30, 2010

    I should have taken the shot. My right eye would have been covered by the camera and I could have closed the left! Bumm..

  • June 30, 2010

    I’ve never been too worried about snakes either, but before my husband and I went to South Africa, my dad got very concerned that we’d be poisoned by a Black Mamba (he’d apparently been watching the Discovery Channel). We laughed it off until, one day while on safari, our guide stopped the Jeep and got out to look closely at the ground. “Black Mamaba went this way,” he said, pointing in the direction we were headed. The driver then backed up, turned around and went the other way. He said the one animal they don’t mess with is the Black Mamba, which can outrun a man, and that if they see even the tracks of one, they will leave the area.

  • June 30, 2010

    Hang on, I thought Riki Tiki Tavi ended well… Might have to go back.

    Ditto on the LASIK part.

  • June 30, 2010
    Nora Leary

    That’s so scary! My guide at the Burundi zoo left the snake cage open for a bit (as he went to get a pole to poke it), and I ran hands in the air out of the room! You are a very brave bunch!

  • June 30, 2010

    I’m not overly fond of snakes, but like to see them from a distance. That was a little too close though.

  • June 30, 2010

    Wow that is so scary! I will be in Borneo in December and I was so excited until this moment and now I am so frightened! How was the rest of it? You got attacked by a fish? I’d love to hear what you packed for it (clothes wise) to protect against the bugs and heat.

  • June 30, 2010

    Snakes freak me out. I once sat on a rock, in the middle of an extremely shallow creek, for over thirty minutes because a little non-poisonous water snake was hanging out by my rock. I was petrified. Then my grandma came and found me, and basically called me out for being a chicken. I could not even imagine hiking an area where they live, let alone coming face-to-face with one! Does this exclude me from most tropical travel?

  • June 30, 2010

    Holy ass crackers! I would have passed out right there. Snakes are by far my greatest fear in this world. Just the picture alone is freaking me out a little bit. I’ll say it again, you are a much braver woman than I.

  • June 30, 2010

    I’ve been waiting to hear more about this snake!!!!!! Damn, I wish you had gotten a pic. What a cool story though!

  • June 30, 2010

    I nanny for two boys who constantly catch a variety of snakes and spiders and torment me with them. I would have peed my pants if I were on that hike and came face to face with a spitting cobra. Yikes.

  • July 1, 2010

    I am so the eager trekker, too. Always wanting to be out front near the guide. I wonder what this says about our personalities 🙂

    Cool shot.

  • July 1, 2010

    I own a snake 🙂

    It’s a little bitty thing but he/she (sorry, there is no way I am going to sex it. and allow me to digress a second but why does it have to be called that? it sounds so wrong!) is molting like mad so, I expect big things in the future! I have an Albino Corn Snake so it’s pink! A PINK SNAKE! Ahhh!

    We also have a crotchety old iguana with no tail (it had to be amputated after an unfortunate burn/break incident).

    Finally, I know how to identify Western Diamondbacks from Eastern, having taken Arizona Desert Biology in school, being from Mesa and all.

  • July 3, 2010
    Haidang Nguyen

    scary post! i would have freaked out and gone bersek. this is why i avoid jungles/forests. no thanks! nice post / recap though : )

  • July 7, 2010

    Cool Story! Snakes are my one and only fear! I’m not sure I would have been so calm if I was so close to one!

  • July 7, 2010

    Snakes, leeches, crocodiles. I love Borneo! 🙂

  • July 8, 2010

    Holy Mother of God. He would not have needed to tell me to move away quickly, I’d have been on the next block in the blink of an eye, screaming like a little girl all the way.

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