We pulled up to the small dock to find three of our host’s men animatedly discussing some matter in Kinyarwanda, the local language. As we disembarked our little motorboat, the only bit of English we picked up from the conversation was, “It’s good. It doesn’t spit.”
“What doesn’t spit?”
Oh, that would be the two-meter snake the lads sent to Hades shortly before our arrival at the beautiful eco-resort and spa under construction on Lake Kivu.
“Two meters. Wow. But you said, ‘It’s good.’ So it’s not poisonous?”
Immediately and in unison came vigorous head shaking from the three dockhands, the owner of the resort and Jules. “Oh no, it’s poisonous.” It’s just one of those “good” two-meter poisonous snakes…y’know, ’cause it doesn’t spit its poison at you.
That’s awesome! I, for one, was reassured and stoked to run up into the carved-out-of-nature resort, where rocks form your bathtub, trees shroud you from neighboring cabins and two-meter poisonous snakes bring you your room service in the morning. At least you don’t have to worry about them spitting in your food if you get a rep as a bad tipper.
You gotta love a place where the snake you’re wrestling “ain’t so tough” because he’s only a black mamba and not a spitting cobra. I think this says a lot about Rwanda and the difference in mentality we citified Westerners have when traveling to lands – not to mention eco-resorts under construction – more connected to nature.
This weekend, the gang is going to see the gorillas in the north. This is very significant in that we are currently in the only place on the planet where these creatures can be observed in their natural habitat. And the Rwandan government has taken great pains to ensure that the habitat is preserved and treated with respect. One of the mechanisms implemented to achieve this preservation and reduce foot traffic is the $500 fee foreigners are charged to take the trek.
I feel this excursion may be a turning point in my life. Until now, whenever faced with a physical challenge, I have risen to the occasion and gotten the job done. This time, however, I am hanging back, sending the team into the bush without me. A number of ailments have influenced my decision: general fatigue, poverty, but most prominently the fact that I am dreadfully out of shape. My knee buckling under me over the last two weeks has been the icing on the maybe-I-shouldn’t-go cake. Four knee operations over the years and a significant amount of unneeded weight have done a bit of a number on me. All this combined with the fact that the trek is at altitude (about 9,000 feet) have influenced me to err on the side of caution this time and wimp out.
I made it up the mountains north of the Terai in Nepal in 105-degree heat and intense humidity while saddled with dysentery (I thought they were actually going to have to helicopter me out); I made it up the deathly initial slope at Wadi Mujib at the Dead Sea in 100-degree dry desert heat just last year; but man, these days I crap out walking up a hill in Kigali. Factor in altitude…perhaps discretion is the better part of valor.
I have, however, decided to view my absence from this once-in-a-lifetime return to nature in a positive light. I’ve come so close I can taste it. This just means I must come back some day, return to this beautiful land of green banana trees, rich red soil and gorillas found nowhere else on the planet. Maybe I’ll do a whole adventure trip – Safari, Kilimanjaro and the gorillas in the mist. Or maybe I’ll be working here again and fortunate enough that my weekend adventures all happen to be once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Either way, it will be yet another opportunity for this city boy to reconnect with the natural environment with which all of our souls organically crave communion. I can’t wait. Who knows, maybe I’ll even get to see a snake that spits…