One of the things we enjoy most about travel is seeing animals in their natural environment. Our mini-series “Animal Encounters” includes some great memories from our journeys. While snakes may not be our favorite creature, there’s no denying that they are pretty cool to observe. Below, in no particular order, are our top animal encounters with snakes.
1. Anaconda: Los Llanos, Venezuela
After visiting Angel Falls we head into Los Llanos (the plains) of Venezuela. We arranged a homestay at a cattle rancher’s farm. This gentleman, Don Ramon, owns a large tract of farmland and has lived there his whole life. We stayed several days, each day going on one excursion in the morning, then resting until going out again in the late afternoon in order to beat the heat. This is where I learned the necessity of a siesta. It reached around 115 F during the hottest part of the day. On one of our afternoon jaunts we set out riding in the back of Ramon’s F-150 sitting on homemade benches along with a few of his kids and nephews. As we were bouncing along the dirt road the pickup suddenly stopped. Don Ramon got out and grabbed a pole that was roughly 4 feet long and ended in an open “V” on one side. He walked over to the watery ditch that lined both sides of the road and poked the pole around a bit. Finally, with a great sweep of the pole, onto the grass came an anaconda! It wasn’t just a baby either, this thing was BIG! After a bit of maneuvering, Ramon got hold of the business end of the snake. He then handed it to me and man, that animal was heavy and strong. We all grabbed a section and spread her out to get a better look before returning her safely to the wetlands.
2. Yellow Eyelash Viper, Cahuita, Costa Rica
We came across this yellow eyelash viper while visiting Cahuita on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. We were inside the boundaries of Cahuita National Park, walking along the trails that criss-cross the jungle. We’d seen leaf-cutter ants and heard howler monkeys in the distance. We’d even come across a band of capuchins who tried to threaten us for our lunch. Until then, nothing scary until we saw a bright, yellow snake curled up in the vegetation just next to the path. We wanted to take a closer look, but not knowing what it was, we didn’t want to get too close either. We later learned that the snake was a venomous pit viper, but one of the smaller ones in this category, averaging just a couple of feet. The species comes in a number of colors, varying by the region in which it’s found. A bite from their long fangs is painful, sometimes even deadly. Since they’re nocturnal, we were lucky to have seen this guy out and about during the day.
3. Red Racer, California, USA
Vasquez Rocks was a great place for a hike. We’d spent a few hours clambering around the rocks and exploring this area that had been the set for so many films and TV shows. After reenacting a scene of Captain Kirk and the Gorn from Star Trek, we finally head back to the car. That’s when we something caught our eye. We snapped a photo as quick as we could of this speedy serpent, with the hopes of identifying it later. It turned out to be the famous red racer. The snake can slither up to 7 mph and reach around 6 feet in length. They’re not poisonous, but they can give a good, flesh-tearing bite.
4. Sea Snake, Great Barrier Reef, Australia
There are about 15 sea snake species in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef. The most common seen by divers is the olive sea snake, and we’re pretty sure that’s the one we observed on one of our immersions. We’d been down for 20 minutes or so, enjoying looking at brightly-colored fish, coral and other sea life. We’d seen eels many times, but they generally stay hidden in crevices in the rocks with just their heads sticking out. Seeing a serpent swimming freely near you, can be quite a surprise. The sea snake here swam up and over my shoulder. Yikes! Notice the flattened tail of the sea snake, an adaptation for its life aquatic. The sea snake carries some potent venom, but their fangs are small, and they aren’t aggressive. In fact, with no real natural predators, they tend to be mostly curious, and like to swim close to divers, so keep an eye out.
5. Python, Bangkok, Thailand
This entry doesn’t include an animal encounter in the wild, but the facility we visited is doing important work, and the experience was memorable, so we wanted to include it. The Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute (Bangkok Snake Farm) is located inside the Thai Red Cross complex in Bangkok. It’s known as one of the top snake anti-venom research facilities in the world. This is where they breed snakes and produce anti-venom serums to benefit those who have been bitten. The farm houses many types of vipers and the King Cobra. Educational presentations explain the importance of the research at the institute and lets visitors get up close and personal with some of the species. The photo above shows off my python-handling skills.