By: Mac Marzolini

Chapter One: The Serpent of Death

1, the serpent of death

The snake was coiled upon in the leaf litter, its brown scales reflected off of my head torch. Knowing exactly how potent its venom is and the size of its fangs, I sweat in nervousness. I have been sweating all day but only now it is not the heat of the rainforest but my body trying to tell my head to get out of here. A light turns on beside me; the bright light almost blinds me. I’m seeing stars and the most dangerous snake in all of South America is only inches away from my leg. A voice comes from behind the light but the face and figure remains invisible.

“Got the bloody thing working, alright, take 9”

I continue to see stars, pretending I can see I look directly at the light.

“This is the largest venomous snake in all of the Americas and although encounters are far and few between they are still incredibly dangerous with enough venom to kill me within minutes, what a comforting thought. Like all vipers, the bushmaster has hemotoxic venom which dissolves blood and tissue. Other venomous snakes like the coral snake have neurotoxins in their venom which as the name suggests effects the nervous system.”

Now is the part I have been dreading, who’s bloody idea was this? The snake remains still, perhaps sleeping. A smile forms in my face, a smile of pure terror. My hand slowly moves towards the snake’s neck. I think it’s the snake’s neck, there are still spots in my eyes and the snake happens to be in my blind spot. Luckily I do grab the neck, the snake opens its jaws and attempts to bite me, and it can’t reach. I swallow.

“The bushmaster is an ambush predator; it uses its brown and black colouration to hide from potential prey. Such a beautiful snake, they hunt by detecting their prey not only by tasting the air with their tongue but also by using specialized pits which lay between their eyes and nostrils. These pits allow the snake to detect heat which is produced by its warm blooded prey.”

I grab a small twig and use it to point at the small pits

“And here are the pits of the pit viper’s namesake.”

The jaw continues to hang open and attempt to bite me; it lets out a loud hiss of displeasure. I move his head closer to the ground, as I do so, I grab my snake stick and using the rubber end I pin his head down and allow myself to remove my hand without getting bitten. I keep the stick on him to stop him from escaping; the camera begins to focus on the snake’s head.

Moving my stick away from his neck the bushmaster begins to slither away in the underbrush. Within seconds it has vanished into the night time. The camera records it vanishing and turns back onto me. I smile enthusiastically.

“I guess he didn’t like the company, but what a gorgeous snake.”

Of course as soon as I get used to the bright light and my sight regains, the light shuts off, the only lights now are the head lamps of my camera man, my director and I. we gathered our things and headed back on the trail we took to get to where we are. Somehow I got voted to walk first so that if there were and dangerous animals I would be able to point them out. It’s more like if there are any dangerous animals I would get bitten and the other two would run home as fast as their legs can carry them. I didn’t look up the entire way back to the road where we are supposed to be picked up. On the way to the road it was rugged terrain, the place was pitch black and I couldn’t hear myself think from all of the frog calls. There’s something about being in the Amazon at night that just has a soothing effect, and I think the other two were beginning to feel it as well as their complaining diminished. The three of us were in complete tranquility with the stars seeping through the canopy and the ever changing frog calls from all directions. This is when I took the opportunity to educate the camera man and director about the hunting habits of the Jaguar as sort of payback for making me walk out in front.

“You know this reminds me of a wildlife program I was a part of a few years back in Bolivia. We were walking through the rainforest when someone heard a rustling in the bushes; he thought it was nothing so he just continued. It was silent, nothing but frog calls filled the forest until that is, when the person at the back herd a coughing noise. If you hear a jaguar cough it is the last thing you will ever hear. A massive cat which was only meters away had attacked and injured him. Lucky for him it was a domestic jaguar that we were looking after and he just wanted to play but if it was wild, he wouldn’t be fortunate enough to hear anything in the bushes let alone live.”

“Stop!”

“Am I beginning to scare you?”

I turned back at the camera man to see his scared pale face but instead I saw worry, I looked further and realized that the director was missing. I too was beginning to worry, had a jaguar gotten him? We stayed close and looked for his head torch. We saw nothing. I bit my lip. The forest remained loud with amphibians. I turned around and my head torch met his smiling face, I jumped.

“The batteries died when I went for a pee.”

I just stared at him considering punching him for disappearing but came to my senses and simply made him walk third in line; after all I bet he couldn’t tell the difference between a fer de lance and a yellow anaconda. We continued along the path which I was pretty much making up as I went along; after all we came from this general direction when we were looking for wildlife. I had found a familiar geographic feature, a river we had crossed many hours ago though it was day time then. The moon danced on the water’s surface while water moving around rocks distorted the sky’s reflection. Lifting our camera equipment above our heads, we continued into the slow moving river. The water was a refreshing change to the humidity which felt as if it was cooking us alive. Halfway through the river, the camera man, Pablo, stopped; he had a worried look on his face,

“Something just touched my leg”

We all just stared at each other, I then quickly grabbed a water proof camera that Pablo had in his pocket and filmed underwater using the camera and a waterproof flashlight. At least I thought it was a waterproof flashlight, it seemed to work. Fish are often attracted to bright lights at night so it didn’t take long for a large black shape to appear by the water’s surface. It faced the camera then slowly returned into the watery depths from wince it came. I took the camera out of the water so that it would view the worried look on Pablo’s face. I will look at the footage when we get back to base, I was to damp and tired to waste any more time. The river bank was steep and muddy although there was a ramp that we made when the director fell down hours ago. Quite chuffed he did so as it allowed us to easily climb up with little trouble.  The rest of the walk was straight forward, with no trouble. We were all quiet and the only noise that could be heard was not the running of water as one may suspect but rather the chorus, I say chorus it was more of a symphony of frog calls. Each species of frog is tuned to only hear calls made by the same species; this limits confusion and allows females to more easily select a mate. Hundreds of different species of frogs inhabit the Amazon rainforest from bull frogs to tree frogs, which are all nocturnal to avoid diurnal predators. Not all predators are awake during the day however, some frogs may resort to eating other frog species and even bats will eat some of the smaller frogs.

As we walked it looked as if the stars had descended upon the rainforest as fireflies were plentiful with their bioluminescent abdomens. The fireflies flickered for hours until we came across some glowing mushrooms and then the director had what he called a “brilliant idea”.

“I have a brilliant idea.”

My eyes rolled, I turned to him. I just know I’m going to get little to no sleep tonight.

“Let’s have you talk about the glowing mushrooms and the little lightning bugs.”

As usual I had to make things up as I went along, it’s not that the information was incorrect, it was all as accurate as possible but there was no flow to it, I just started talking about the many purposes animals had for bioluminescence and then I eventually stopped. We took thirty takes for what should have only been three or four, I literally had just a few sentences then the camera was focused on the small firefly for a few minutes. I’m tired, hungry, damp and may have a slight case of trench foot, I was not working at my full capacity so it took much longer then it should have to film a small insect and a mushroom. After the filming we continued on our way, I would be amazed if that clip would even make it to the film, at most there would be some clips of the insect and mushrooms then me doing a narration.

Hours we walked until we finally got to the dirt road and found our ride had been waiting for an hour. Once in the car we were driven to our hotel but the journey there would be long which gave us the time to watch the videos we shot including Pablo’s little fish friend. The little screen of the camera, although small lit up the entire back seat and we watched as the water turned from black brown when the light was shown on it and a shadowy figure moved its way towards the light, as it got closer it became more visible and long lobe like appendages were visible where fins should be. It was a South American Lung fish, a harmless fish that lives in the bottom of rivers and ponds, when we were moving we must have disturbed it causing it to swim to the surface for air, which it breaths unlike most fish which get their oxygen from the water through their gills. Lungfish get oxygen directly from the water’s surface where they take in a lung full of air then return to the muddy river bottom. Pablo seemed relieved; I am currently under the impressions that he was worried it was an anaconda or perhaps the greatly amusing candiru. There was still plenty of time until we arrive at the hotel so I took a much needed nap, which was not hard to do despite me not usually able to sleep in cars.

I’m no animal wrangler I’m just a small town zoo keeper way out of my depth. It’s dangerous, life threatening but that’s why I do it, to remember that I am truly alive… plus it’s a whole lot of fun. Some people live their entire lives without truly living, going out into the wilderness and facing the dangers that we had evolved to face. We are not meant to sit at a cubicle hunched over some electronic like our life depended on it. That is not how nature had intended us to live our lives but some artificial way of living where everything is based on how much currency someone has rather than their experiences. Granted some currency does make living a bit more comfortable but I love to go out, have some fear in my life and remember that I am truly alive with a thirst for adventure rather than simply a slave to society.