The snake charmer...

Trip Start May 31, 2008
Trip End Jul 14, 2008

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Flag of Indonesia  , Java,
Thursday, June 19, 2008

Maybe the snake charmer isn't exactly the right name for this guy...actually the 'snake slapper' would be more appropriate....well it all starts with a trip to Solo - or Surakarta being its real Java.  It's about 2 hrs east of Yogyakarta and is the center of the universe for batik making.  It's also a zone red for travelers because it's the home base of an extremist Muslim group and there has been some action here in the past.  But we're going to check out the batiks....and the market is very cool...although it's sweatingly hot and there is no room to walk, let alone shop or actually try on things.  I hang in there pretty well until I can't take how closed in it is anymore and I head out the back to the food vendors.  As I look down the row of vendors, I don't see anything that I recognize in particular. But so far whatever I've ordered has been pretty good...except for the dish of livers, and then there was what seemed too be like tough fatty tissue in gravy...and then there's the fermented soy which I tasted in error...should've smelled it first, that would've done the trick. 
But other than those things, I've enjoyed the spices that are used in food here, the veggies, whatever the carts have been selling.  So I sit down and order what I see somebody else's tricky here - not speaking the language at all...I don't recognize just about any of the words.  My only vocab consists of terimah-kasih (thank you), and Sampay jumpa (see you later), and Selamat Datang (welcome), and parasiwata (tourist), and a few other phrases that I mostly forget when I need them. 
Anyway, over lunch I meet these 20-somethings that are just intrigued with who I might be...they join me and we have a chat that works out pretty well.  It's funny...sometimes here you feel like a movie star.  I see very few other tourists in Java and people will come up to you and ask to take their picture with you....or they'll send their kid over to you to practice a few English phrases.  People at first look at you like you might be a bit of an alien but then, if you smile and offer a greeting, you will always get a big smile and your greeting returned.  People generally love to have their photo taken...and if you can share a conversation, they really want to know a few things about you.  Well, after a delightful lunch, which in fact my new friends treated me to...which was very sweet of them, I do a bit more shopping...then back to the hostel for me. 
The evening takes an unexpected direction when we join these people from the hostel to go eat snake meat.  I didn't know exactly what to expect...I thought we must be going to some restaurant they wanted to check out.  So we end up on this dark street with a little tienda...hardly resembles a restaurant to my western eyes....and there's a sign identifying it as the snake place.  After this point its all about the snake man. 
I see a bunch of snake heads on the floor next to a hatchet and above which is a bloody counter.  Undoubtedly where the snakes have met their demise.  Then the snake man, who's clearly in charge of everything including all the snakes, starts pulling cobras out of a wire cage...first one, slaps it down on the cement floor, then another... and these are good-sized cobras...he keeps his SANDALLED foot on the tails and starts slapping them on the back of their head with his bare hand.  In their anger, they do the hiss and puff out the neck wide thing that cobras are known's quite a scene.  He's so casual about it...smoking a cigarette and chatting at the same time with the Indonesian man we are with who does some translating for us. 
Off in the corner there are a bunch of skinless snake bodies hung up...ready for the fryer.  Below that is a bloody plastic bucket full of snake guts.  So he keeps messing with the cobras...slap slap and hiss...all very threatening...I've never seen cobras do their thing this up close...wild...  Then he goes back to this other cage and pulls out this huge python...wraps it around his arm and his neck...offers it to us....I just rub its skin...don't really want it around my neck...although I'm sure snake man would rescue me from an eager constrictor if I needed it.   
He shows us his snake wounds...two fingers that are warped and messed up b because when the snake got him, he had to cut out some flesh to get the venom out.  I take a few hand pictures...but they come out a bit blurry.  Also a hunk taken out of his ankle to remove venomed flesh.  He's very cool about it all...hazards of the job I guess. 
Then a woman arrives by scooter with a bag full of guessed it!...more cobras!!!  He takes them out one by one...counts to about 12...I guess they were just captured from somewhere and she's delivering the goods.  I notice some Red Bull-like drink on the counter that they consume here.  He says that when you chop the head off you mix the blood with some of this energy drink and it'll cure whatever you've got...diabetes, heart problems...anything. 
This scene is pretty far out...I'm thinking a snake dinner is going to happen but it seems everybody in the group has gotten a little squeamish...looks like we're passing on the dinner...moving on to something less alive.  And that's fine with me...especially when someone else delivers this large turtle...larger than Apollo...about a foot in diameter.  He's already shown us all these shells of dead turtles  so I know that the prospects for this one do not look good....and I don't want to hang around and witness that action...
I believe that I've just hit my boundary of tolerance.  So we head on over to a more docile's tofu and fried vegetables for a tiny and well spiced, crunchy eel to liven it all up.  Enough fine dining for one night....where's that Kentucky Fried?  because chopping snake heads off is one thing...but chickens?  I eat them... so I guess I must be ok with that....

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