Alright, it is that time of year. Yep. Halloween. A time for creepiness. Except, sometimes creepiness happens when you live near a rainforest in Malaysia…and you have a Hank Williams song in your mind while running. Talk about a weird intercultural/interspecies encounter. Perhaps the weirdest. Ever.
Do remember that I grew up in Kansas and that it is rattlesnake country. I often came across them in my front yard and the pastures when I brought the cattle in for the evening. I even encountered one on a grade school field trip to Coronado Heights in Lindsborg, Kansas, where Francisco Vásquez de Coronado gave up searching for the seven cities of gold and headed back to Mexico.
I now am known to be able to spot snakes in any hiking group before anyone else. Consequently, I have become the lead guide when in the jungle, prairies, or woods.
When I lived and taught in Malaysia, I was a long distance runner. My runs would average 2-6 miles a day. My favorite place? The Taman Pertanian Malaysia in Bukit Cahaya Seri Alam (Shah Alam Malaysia Agricultural Park).
This park is 1,295 hectares (approximately 5 square miles) of tropical rain forest and agricultural garden exhibits. It is one of the largest in the world. My favorite long run was to take the road to the end of the park and back to my house. It was about 6.5 miles.
So…one day I was running in the park during the monsoon season at the end of a storm. In a monsoon storm, you can get A LOT of rain in a short period. (For Houstonians, think hurricane or tropical storm rains.) I set out to go to the end of the park and back. On my way back, it seemed a large tree had fallen across the road because of the rains. I jumped over it. The tree moved.
However, it was not a tree. It was a 22 foot long reticulated python. Alive…and…looking at me from one edge of the jungle while his tail was across the road in the other end of the jungle. I prayed and then said “Please don’t eat me”. His head dropped into a bush and then he looked up at me again and crashed through the jungle. I don’t know if you have heard an elephant crash through the jungle, but that was exactly what it sounded like. These critters are big and they move surprisingly quickly.
Needless to say, I probably ran the fastest 2 miles of my life home. When sitting on the kitchen floor trying to recover my husband said: “You look white as a sheet. What happened?” I told him about my experience and I don’t think he really believed me until we were in the Sarawak State Museum in Kuching, Malaysia, where there was a skin of a reticulated python specimen of approximately the same size. It wrapped around the top of the room.
I shared my story with a work colleague and she said “Oh yes, I know all about these snakes. My father helped build the Malaysian railroad and he said they would always carry bundles of sticks with them in case one fell from a tree and tried to squeeze them. Once that happened, you had approximately one minute to get loose because the snake thought it was crushing your bones and not the sticks. During that one minute they unhinge their jaws so that they can try to swallow you whole.”
All I can say about my “snakes alive” experience is “me oh my oh” and that I wish I had been enjoying jambalaya on the bayou that day.