The Day of the Mamba

Trip Start Sep 29, 2010
Trip End Nov 29, 2011

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Flag of Malawi  , Central Region,
Monday, August 1, 2011

We had come to Nkhotakota to spend some time in the nearby game reserve. Des and Grace by this time had only a few days left before flying back to the UK, so some bush camping would be our final hurrah in the countryside.

Getting to the Game Reserve proved frustratingly slow.  Having first to register with the government office in town, we only left for the reserve around 1pm.  A shared taxi ride later, we were dropped off with our guide at a road block which marked the edge of the reserve.  Before we set off on the long hike to the camp site, our guide disappeared for an hour and a half to get geared-up (read: armed – there are dangerous animals in this reserve) and gather supplies for himself.  Okay, so he needed time to get himself ready, but we had spent six hours to this point trying to first organise and then get to the game reserve, and daylight was running out.  We finally set out on foot to the camp at 4pm.

Everyone we had asked had said we would have to walk either 8km (5 miles) or 14km (~9 miles) – naturally we hoped it would be the shorter of the two.  Ninety minutes of brisk walking (remember, dusk was fast approaching) and we were still not close; 'just some metres more' should always be taken with a pinch of salt!

We finally arrived at the rather basic camp just as the dusk was setting in.  By the time we’d fetched water from the spring and decided where to pitch camp, it was dark.  Our guide – whom we were decidedly unhappy with – seemed not to understand our frustrations at arriving in, frankly, the middle of nowhere in the dark.  After all, he had a hut to rest and sleep in, while we were left to pitch camp in torchlight.  Not ideal.

Our moods were lifted quickly though when the camp minder’s wife came to us first with fire (a relief for us, given that collecting firewood in the dark is no easy task) and then water.  We settled down to cook.

Now over the course of the two weeks Des and Grace spent with me, we cooked on open fires many times.  By the end of the two days here in the bush, we had perfected the technique:  Two fires – one with flames and wood for light and making coals; the other with glowing coals for cooking on.  We cooked a meat and rice stew, and drank brandy and coke (a lovely, rather chocolaty combination) before turning in to rest weary bodies.

The next day we climbed the nearby hill.  I touched a mahogany tree, Des searched for snakes and Grace ended the trek with a new bracelet.  The rest of the day was spent cooking dinner again and finishing off the delicious brandy and coke (didn’t really want to carry all that liquid back again!).

The next morning, we rose and set off early for the roadblock we had walked from two days previously.  The day before we had let it be known to our guide that we wanted to do this ourselves, an exercise made easier by suggesting he go and see his family who live near the roadblock.  This he did, so we set off on the long (but straightforward) walk back to civilisation.  After perhaps only 20 minutes, we all shared an experience I doubt any of us will forget.

Walking three abreast in a straight line along the wide path (four-wheel vehicles obviously use it occasionally), we happily chatted away while clearly only watching what our feet were doing.  I was on the left, Des on the right and Grace in the middle.  Conversation was interrupted by my expletive-laden and energetic jump backwards, an act promptly followed by my two comrades.  Hearts skipped, adrenaline rushed and legs backpedalled to take us all to a safe distance.  What caused this manic, frenzied flight to safety?  Well, laid right across the path (and remember, this was a path wide enough for three adults to walk side-by-side on) was an olive-green snake, its head raised two foot off the ground and staring straight at us.  This snake must have been at the very least 6 foot long, probably more like 7 or even 8 foot.  Now for those who don’t know, Des is a passionate know-all on snakes, and so when composure was restored to the situation (which it quickly was, I’m happy to report), he informed us that what we were (still) looking at was probably a Black Mamba.  The Black Mamba is apparently the longest, quickest and most deadly snake in all of Africa.  If it had decided to strike (and frankly we were fortunate it didn’t, given we literally nearly trod on it), then one of us would almost certainly be facing at a slow and painful end.  We stood and watched from a safe distance as it decided we were no treat and turned to slither into the undergrowth.  What an experience.

The adrenaline from what we had just happened carried us swiftly onwards to the roadblock, where we relayed our story to our guard who had come to meet us on our return.  He listened eagerly and sorted us out with a lift on the back of a pickup to the nearby town of Kasungu.  From here, we made our last journey together back to Lilongwe.
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