Last April I joined 5 other Peace Corps volunteers for a 6-day hike in the Namib-Naukluft National Park in Namibia, frequently cited online as one of the “toughest hike in Africa.” My hiking experience prior to Naukluft was a 1-overnight hike in the Shenandoah National Park, VA. Luckily, two of the volunteers were very experienced hikers, so I felt safe enough to tag along despite my lack of experience.
Due to my short stature and even shorter legs, I quickly became to slowest hiker in the group, forever the penultimate in the line whom a fellow hiker who brought up the end had to keep a diligent eye out. Half way through the trip I realized I’ve bruised my left hip joint from all the steep drops over boulders, and the group had to constantly wait for me to catch up. On top of being exhausted, I was guilt-wracked the whole way for slowing the group down. In a nutshell, I didn’t feel like I was in any position to give any opinion on anything for the duration of the trip. I should just keep my mouth shut and be grateful that my fellow hikers haven’t dumped me in the wild yet.
The third day of the hike found the six of us traipsing through a boulder-filled valley where the river had run dry during the raining season. As usual, I was lagging behind by a couple hundred yards. When I finally caught up with my group, I found our unofficial team leader holding a two-meter long stick, poking gingerly under a rock while the rest of the group perched on various boulders to watch.
“It’s a black mamba!”
A black mamba’s venom can kill a person within twenty minutes, and we were three-day hike from cellphone reception. All in all, poking it with a stick is probably the dumbest thing a persona can do. The part of me that worked in the herpetology lab before wanted to tell the guy lay off, but being the slowest hiker in the group, I somehow felt that I was in no position to tell the team leader to do anything. And to be honest, I can’t say I was at least a little intrigued by seeing a live black mamba. Instead of staying 50 ft. away and telling the guy off, I climbed behind a tree that grew out of the precipice and took out my camera.
Finally the mamba was poked enough that it lashed out, spitting venom and sending us idiots running. No one was hurt, and we finished the hike with nothing more than bruises and blisters.
However, the incident sat uneasily on my mind for months to come. There were so many ways the event could have gone wrong, and if it had, someone in the group would have been dead. And what’s the point of having worked in a herpetology lab if I could not even find the balls to tell my fellow hikers to leave a record man-killing snake alone? I felt ashamed of myself for months. No matter how much of a wuss I am at hiking, it should not have stopped me from making use of my experience at the herpetology lab to know the right thing to do when you encounter a venomous snake in the wild. With knowledge comes responsibility, and it’s the responsibility of anybody who have worked in a herpetology lab to tell people off when they’re messing around with a black mamba.
The conclusion is, on future trips with fellow volunteers, I will tell anyone off who tries to mess with a dangerous reptile and amphibian. If you decided to leave the safari truck to take pictures with wild lions, or swim in a hippo infested river, I will consider that natural selection of the human race and leave you to your own device; I didn’t work in the mammal department. However, if you try to mess with any reptiles and amphibians (include: snakes, lizards, salamanders, frogs, crocodiles, komodo dragons, and Galapagos tortoises,) I will tell you off even if it means souring the atmosphere of the trip. I do solemnly swear I will.