“Just remember: it’s the jungle, so be prepared to see anything.”
It’s after dinner, almost nine. Arnold hands out our headlamps and continues to tell us the to- do’s before we all head into the bush for our night walk.
“Be very, very quiet. If you see something and want to tell the group, talk quietly and point, or whisper it. We will be walking for about one hour. Sometimes we see nothing, sometimes we see things. You never know, it’s the jungle. Ready?”
There’s a murmur from our five-person group.
Three males, two females, including myself. And then there’s Arnold who leads.
We walk for just a couple of minutes away from the resort before pushing through a narrow entry into the rainforest at Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch. We follow Arnold. It’s quiet, other than the crickets, and the sound of crushed leaves and branches under our feet.
Bubbles of light are swirling around, everyone is looking for “things,” except for me. I’m more concerned about looking where I put my feet.
Arnold is moving steadily but I can’t always see him. At times I can spot the edge of his machete. I am fourth in line.
I start wondering if this was a good idea. If I can just make I out of here alive, I think…
The silence of the forest starts getting to me. I feel like an intruder, trespassing into someone’s home.
The other girl, who is in front of me, seems to feel the same.
“This is intense. Very intense.” she whispers to me, turning around for a quick second.
I whisper back and tell her I’m not sure this was a good idea.I see her nodding.
My lamp shines on her back and I notice the damp hair ringlets on her neck and the dark circle on the back of her tee-shirt.
The full moon is there, too, shining our path some more. I feel my own sweat dripping down my back. The jungle feels like a sauna. Who knew it got that hot in here.
I try to focus on more positive thoughts, like the nice shower that I would take back at my luxury treehouse, and then my thinking gets interrupted by prayers. Please Lord, please don’t let me come across any….
Arnold’s arm is stretched back at us and everyone’s huddled up in one line.
“What is it?” I’m afraid of hearing the answer.
“Oh my God!”
The gasps continue. “Come come come, quick!” Arnold says. We huddle forward. Then hear “look to the left!”
And there it is.
My eyes fall on a long, thin, brown-ish snake. He is sliding along. He just passed our path and is making his way into the bush. He’s in no rush. He’s still in the open, up to the right of us and he stops. He waits and moves slowly, takes his time. Does he know we’re there? I’m not sure what I want to do more, scream, cry or just say one last prayer before I die right there.
This creature that could literally kill me or any one of us in a few seconds. There it was, just a few feet from me.
I have about a thousand thoughts go through my head while camera flashes go off around me. The gasps continue and I’m not sure that using flash is wise. I don’t know why but I just feel like it may piss him off.
What if he turns around? What if he’s waiting to jump one of us? What if he’s slowed down because he knows we are there? And how on earth did Arnold see him anyway, he looks exactly like the color of those brown leaves we’ve been crushing past for ten minutes.
The gasps continue. “This is so cool!”
“It’s the most poisonous snake we have.” Arnold says. “It’s a fer-de-lance.”
The word “poisonous” was enough for me. I couldn’t remember the name of the snake at the moment nor did I care. I would look it up later, and learn that the fer-de-lance is the most poisonous and vicious kind of snake in Belize and in all of Central America, responsible for the most snake-related deaths.
I pull out my i-Phone (I had left my camera in my room for once) and snap a photo, just because I think maybe I will need it later. To be honest, even if I had brought my camera along with me, I’m not sure I would have snapped away with flash and brought more attention to myself.
As I zoom on the snake with my phone, it becomes even more real. I feel my goose bumps and my throat clam up. I forget all about the heat and the nice shower in the treehouse.
And then I get mad at myself. What was I thinking?! Is this adventure or is this tempting fate? But then again, this is amazing, I’ve never seen a snake before. I remember those famous words about the adventures at Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch: “it’s not for everyone.”
My silence is matched with more “wows” and “awesome”.
Arnold still stands waiting, and so we do too. I realize at the moment, I don’t know what you do when cross paths with a snake.
I keep my eye on it as if to make sure he’s not coming at me.
He finally moves some further away from us some more, and goes deeper into the bush. I see him raise his head off the ground to go up around the treer tunk. I shiver watching him lift up with such ease.
“We wait some more until he moves totally away because snakes can jump twice as high as their length.” The jungle heat rises up my chest.
The five minutes we wait seem like an eternity.
Arnold does the OK sign and says it’s okay now, as he starts to walk on.
I’m scared to walk past that tree trunk the snake went around, even if it’s now at a reasonable distance. What if he turns around and decides to strike?
I walk quietly and make sure I’m to the farthest on my right as possible, looping around while mumbling one more prayer.
At least thirty or more minutes to go to the walk. I’m so concentrated on my feet now and so jumpy that I bump into a few branches… oh ya, I have to watch my head too!
I’m not alone, the other girl is nervous too since the snake encounter.
“This is too intense, I think I’ve seen all I need to see now.”
I’m relieved she feels the same. The rest of them – the men – look undeterred.
I keep expecting another one on the ground in front of me…the leaves are brown, the same color. Would I be able to tell? Would Arnold? How vulnerable we can be in the face of the wild, and mother Nature.
We keep walking slowly and quietly and nothing happens for the next twenty minutes. We spot an iguana hugging a branch, butterflies sleeping, and a frog. The crickets are still singing in the background and the moon keeps lighting our path.
“Do you want to see how much darker it is in the rainforest?” Arnold makes us turn off our head lamps for a second. Thank God for the moon, because it is still casting a light on the forest. Still, it is as dark as I imagine hell to be.
We get back to our artificial lights and keep walking.
How much longer again? The mud seeps into my shoes while I do the math.
“Look! Is that a window?” I looked up from the ground and saw light. She was right, that was one of the cabanas! We had looped around and thirty minutes had already passed…
I lean forward and put a spring in my step, ready to be out of the jungle where I was not welcome at night.
We reach the last bush and exit onto the the main path. We are out of the forest.
I take a deep breath, and thank my blessings.
While it’s true that Belize’s rainforests have snakes, the poisonous ones usually come out in plain view and move around only at night. And even then, the expert guides at Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch told me that seeing a fer-de-lance on a night walk is an extremely rare occurrence and that I’m “lucky” I saw one. I don’t know about lucky, but I do seem to bring the animals out.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to walk the jungle at night, and I’m glad I did it. It demystified the idea of snake in my head and the fear of running into one and not knowing what to do. Knowledge is power, and now I know what to do whenever I’m a rainforest area.
If you sign up for a night walk, here’s how to survive it:
1. Check your headlamp before you set out.
2. Wear long pants and hiking shoes/boots (the thicker the better).
3. Spray on the insect repellant.
4. Watch where you place your feet and hands, as there are poisonous tree barks as well.
5. If you see a snake, don’t use flash when taking a photo (or if you must, do it from a good distance) – that’s my advice. I hear they hate light and if you shine it directly on their head, they will get annoyed, coil and strike. Wait until he is completely gone before you pass.
6. Walk and talk very quietly.
7. Never go alone.