sea kraits

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Swimming with the snakes

With electricity out on the island again yesterday and the dive center’s back-up generator kaput, it was easy to see why Annie was so thoroughly frustrated. Without electricity, it would be impossible to fill the tanks for this morning’s scheduled dive. Leaving four divers, myself included, with little choice but to cancel the outing and tramp back through the jungle to our hotel, the Matavai, where we’d laze away another day around the fresh-water pool drinking beers and hoping to spot one of the pods of spinner dolphins that usually spent their mornings in the cove below us. But Annie, anxious not to lose paying customers, had something else in mind.

“What do you reckon, David?” she said in her Aussi accent. “Are you game for a little snorkelling in Snake Gully?”

Hmmmm….You know what? I love diving and hanging with Nemo and the parrot fish and other denizens of the deep, but I’m not crazy about snakes. Particularly snakes in the water. Did I really want to go swim with a creature whose venom, they say, is ten times stronger than that of a rattlesnake? Not so much.


photo by David Lansing

photo by David Lansing

“No worries,” Annie assured me. “No one on Niue has ever been bitten by a sea snake. Or if they have, they never lived to tell the tale.” Aussie humour—don’t you just love it? Seeing the concerned look on my face, she smiled and slapped me on the back. “Besides, they’re not really snakes. They’re sea kraits.”

“What’s the difference?” I asked her.

She shrugged. “Not much, I reckon.”

There’s something faintly Garden of Eden-ish about this remote South Pacific sanctum and, as you’ll recall, a snake—literally and metaphorically—plays a key role in paradise. This was much on my mind yesterday morning. It was foolish, I knew, yet I couldn’t help feeling that simply because my week on the island has been so magical, eventually something bad had to happen. I mean, that’s always the way it is, right? You take advantage of what’s offered—float on your back naked in a sacred pool, stuff yourself to the gills with pawpaw and taro, swim with the snakes—and invariably someone comes out of nowhere bellowing, “Now you’ve done it! You’ve messed up! And you are henceforth banished!” So certainly you can understand why I wasn’t crazy about the idea of swimming with the snakes. Or kraits. Or whatever they were. But, you know, life is what it is and sometimes you go along with the plan even when your gut tells you, “You’re going to get in trouble big time if you eat that apple.”

Thus, I shrugged and told Annie, What the heck. I reckoned I’d go snorkelling in Snake Gulley. 

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