I love the wildlife, but Australia’s got a bit too much of it for me, and after today’s encounter, I’ll be glad to leave it behind for the (relative) safety of Africa…
So there I am, running along a trail in a small mountain range close to Cairns. I’ve chosen the hard ‘blue’ hiking route because I need to get my legs working again for the next marathon in a couple of weeks. I’ve not passed anyone in either direction for almost two hours but the trail keeps me focussed because of the rocks, tree routes and hanging vines waiting to trip you up.
I’ve seen a couple of small wallabies and scrub hens, but it’s a beautiful big brash turkey that captures my attention as it strides across the narrow path in front of me. I decide to take a photo of it and crouch down to get the best angle when out of the corner of my eye I detect movement in the tree above me. It’s a huge python and it’s silently sliding down a branch towards us.
I remain crouched down, frozen and unable to react. The brash turkey — dinner for the python no doubt — scuttles off into the scrub completely unaware of how close it came to a gruesome death. And now it’s just me and the big snake, staring each other down, less than two metres apart. My mind starts racing: no one knows I’m there and I’ve just scared off its meal — could I be next on the menu?
Its massive body is thicker than my leg but I can’t see the whole snake, as it is so well camouflaged in the trees and vines. It is hanging in a ‘U’ shape that allows me to see the protruding head, some of the upper body and thick mid-section, but not the coiled tail section it must be using to grip the tree and hang from. Snakes scare the shit out of me and I’ve never seen one this big, even in a zoo.
I was definitely worried about the aggressive snakes found over here that will strike when cornered, such as the brown snake and the taipan, but I had no idea whether this giant constrictor was venomous or not. I knew I had to pass it on the narrow path or else face a two-hour hike back the way I’d just come. In a rare moment of clarity I think of my family and my promise to my wife not to take any unnecessary risks on my travels. I turn my phone camera to ‘selfie’ mode and record a short video message to say that if someone finds the phone — and not me — I’ve most likely come off worst in this encounter.
Then I decide to go for it, to stand up and run past the python and hope that the element of surprise and my lightning speed (!) get me past safely on the narrow track. I launch myself forward and run like the wind until I feel the threat is over. I’m sweating profusely, my hands are shaking and the adrenaline rush is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.
I walk on, catching my breath and feeling like I’ve got away with one, but also in awe of seeing something as big as that up close in its natural habitat, on the hunt for a fat wild turkey. Fifteen minutes later I pass a hiker coming the other way and feel I have to warn him. “Wow, a python, I’ve not seen one of those in over 10 years and I’ve been walking this trail since I was a boy,” he says with enthusiasm. “Once I saw a big one drop out of a tree, take a wallaby and start squeezing the life out of it with its coils. I’ll never forget it.”
I’ll never forget it either, especially as I can laugh about it now and pretend that I was braver than I actually was.
All in all, It’s been a mad few days in tropical Queensland, where I was thrilled to see huge Saltwater crocs in their natural environment in the Daintree rainforest. This was followed by a close encounter with a huge Barracuda on the Great Barrier Reef. And now I can’t get in my tent because it’s completely surrounded by a colony of green-head ants and I don’t want to share my sleeping bag with any of them. What a mad place Australia is. Still, at least I’ve escaped the box-jellyfish and the packs of wild dogs. Africa here I come…