You’d think coming from Australia, land of ‘Everything can kill ya’, I’d know how to camp. I’d know that I should shake out my boots (that I never wear). That I should shake out my clothes before wearing them (and wonder where that new stain came from). That I should shake out my sleeping bag even though I don’t use it cause it’s too hot.
Especially since I’ve had some experience with venomous creatures of the lethal kind. You see, the category of animals in Australia is divided into two: Deadly or lethal.
My first encounter would have been back in 2011. I was hiking, barefoot, through the Cumberland River Gorge with two female friends. We reached a beautiful rocky outcrop by the river that spills into the Southern Ocean where my favourite left wave rolls lazily to the beach (it was here that I had my first Epic wave, dropping off the lip of a 4-foot beast, landing it and then zipping between the other surfers crowding the water).
I needed to pee and waltzed up the river, skipping over rocks. A large boulder was in my way so I climbed over it and landed with a thud on the other side. Just as I was about to unzip I heard a hiss. I looked down and froze.
My left foot had magically landed right next to a coiled up Tiger Snake, the 6th most lethal snake in the world, leaving just enough space for oxygen to pass between it and my foot.
Perhaps if I hadn’t drunken mushroom tea and smoked some joints on the trek, then I wouldn’t have attempted to break Usian Bolt’s hundred meter record.
*But I did.
Six months later I was exploring a semi-dry lake with my good friend, Warwick, a talented photographer who had been showing me the ways of the land in the Otways bushland. As we’re hiking through tall, dry grass in the month of September (just coming out of winter), Warwick, who has grown up in the bush, said,
“Careful mate, this looks like snake country.”
As he went to the right, I went to the left and froze after about 10 meters. Before me, on top of the bushes, lay a long dark snake. Motionless. I couldn’t even see if it was breathing. It’s eyes seemed glazed over, like I get when I have one puff too many on a happy stick.
Hmm, I thought. It looks dead. Reckon I’ll pick it up and throw it at Warwick for shits and giggles.
I guess Karma read my mind and decided to intervene. As I bent forward and reached down with my hand I stopped, not dropping my gaze from the snake which had yet to show any sign of life. A gut instinct rang alarm bells.
Hmm, I thought. It might not be dead. And it might actually be deadly.
“Warwick, ol’ buddy, ol’ pal, would you mind moseying on over here? I’ve found a snake and I’m not sure what it is or if it’s alive.”
Warwick crashed over through the bushes and stopped upon eying the critter. Carrying a mono-pod for his camera he instructed me to,
“Step to the left there, mate,” as he came to stand between me and the snake. Using the mono-pod, he rustled the bushes under the snake.
Now Warwick is a big guy. In height and in muscle. And when he rustled those bushes and the snake came to life, saw us two bipedals and shot into the bush at the speed of a bullet, Warwick crashed back on to me which resulted in me being splayed on my back like an upturned turtle.
“Holy shit!” I yelped. “What was it?”
“Tiger snake,” Warwick said, standing up and helping me to rise.
“Shit, mate, that’s the second time in six months.”
Tiger snakes have a very potent neurotoxic venom. Death from a bite can occur within 30 minutes, but usually takes 6-24 hours. It’ll will generally flee if encountered, but can become aggressive when cornered and strikes with unerring accuracy.
Let’s fast forward to the island of Koh Phangan in Thailand in the year 2013. I was driving a scooter to a jam session on the other side of the island in torrential rain at night on unlit dark roads. Tall grass was growing by the roadside. I noticed something long and dark just on the edge of the road. I slowed down by it and immediately recoginsed the cobra that had me close my legs in and push the throttle all the way.
A few months later I found myself on the sailing boat, SV San Miguel, hitching a ride to South Africa. An epic adventure of adventurous proportions. We had left Phuket, Thailand and sailed off to Sri Lanka. From Sri Lanka, we sailed south to Chagos Archipelago, a deserted chain of atolls and islands. The nearest habituated land were the Maldives, 180 nautical miles to our west.
As we cruised the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, the depth reader showing 4,000 meters of water below us, we came across a strong current that the marine life were using as a super highway. As there was no wind, we jumped in to swim with sharks, barracuda, leatherhead sea turtles, a small hawksbill sea turtle, corafin fish and some Portuguese Man O’War.
The Man O’War isn’t a jellyfish. It’s a siphonophore, a collection of living organisims known as zooids (I shit you not). As I was watching a shark swim beneath me I felt a sting on my left ear. I clambered back on board and in the galley I wiped my ear with vinegar before returning to the water. Then I was stung on my left rib.
Damn it, I thought as I returned once more to the galley for another swab of vinegar. I hate vinegar. The smell can propel me backwards as though I were taking a 12-gauge buckshot to the chest. Returning to the water for the third time I was then stung on my left ankle. I looked around and saw the floating zooid colony and identified it.
Merde, I thought as again, I returned below deck and swabbed the stung area with vinegar. But the venom of the previous stings had reached my left lymph node and it was fighting back hard. So hard that the pain caused had me stumble back to my cabin like after a typical night out in Bangkok. I collapsed on the bunk and passed out.
An hour later I came too and exchanged survival stories with the captain who had suffered the same fate.
Let’s time-jump to June, 2015, when a recluse spider bit my left shin in my sleep in Kilifi. Not knowing what it was I let the bite fester for 9 days before I figured that the black, dead skin and continuous oozing puss (which was my liquefied flesh caused by the spider’s venom) might need to be looked at in a hospital.
After they dug out a hole that could house a piggy bank, placed me on anti-biotics and painkillers, it took four weeks for the wound to heal.
You see, a recluse spider, the size of a quarter, has venom that destroys and melts your flesh. It doesn’t get into the blood stream, it’s extremely painful and leaves a pretty nasty scar if not treated in time and can result in death.
I was close to losing my leg and was very grateful for the treatment I received.
Now, a month later, I’m once again bitten by a recluse fucking spider in my tent. Once again in my sleep. Once again on my left side. This time, on the very point of my left elbow. This time, I knew what it was straight away. Confirmation came on the third day and I headed over to the hospital where I greeted the same doctors that had treated me before (it starts off looking like a mosquito bite, it’ll itch all day and then the day after a white head, like a pimple will appear. Pain sets in like a tender bruise before the venom starts to melt your flesh under the skin).
“Got a new one,” I grinned as they cleaned me up, gave me antibiotics and now, I hope it’ll only take a week to heal.
I love nature but sometimes, nature loves me back a little too hard, like an aunt with giant bosoms who squeezes you in a bear-hug, suffocating you to a point of passing out.
Now I’m practicing how to shoot webs from my wrists.
*Please note: in the event of encountering any snake, you should freeze and give it way. They’ll usually slither off to not be bothered. If it’s a black mamba then good luck.