The snake in the kitchen

I was digging around in the photos from my Raleigh International expedition to Ghana in 1999 and found this pic of my mate Terry holding up the skinned cobra that I killed

Thought that, after lettin it slip in Dosaboys that I had killed this thing I had best let you in on the whole story.

Our group had trekked for days to set up a camp in the middle of the jungle in Bia National Park, riding a tractor as far as it would go over the mud tracks. The reamining trek into the middle of the jungle took about 6 hours, a trek not made any easier by the fact that we had to carry in all our provisions ourselves.

Now, miles away from civilisation we had the unenviable task of setting up a camp with a bunch of other 18-25 year olds we'd just met, and building a tourist shelter to encourage tourism into an area of unspoilt natural beauty where no bugger ever goes. Because of the lack of any investment in the area the locals live in poverty and the idea was to stimulate a bit of outside interest and investment into the place and not die in the process. I think we may just about have achieved one of these aims by the end.

Just as an aside, I met my first girlfriend on this trip and she got hit by a car soon afterwards, spending the next 9 months in hospital.

Anyway, we were in the jungle there, attempting to build something with absolutely no engineering experience whatsoever in the middle of the jungle, every day getting attacked by these bloody nasty ants that would jump out the trees and bite us. Daily we would find ourselves stripping off and peeling ants off each other, the stubborn little bastards preferring to hold on and lose their heads while remaining embedded in your skin than let go. I still have nightmares about them to this day.

Entertainment in our spare time involved chatting while picking up maggots from our decaying rubbish and throwing them into this HUGE spiderweb and watching the dazzlingly beautiful brown spider with it's opalescent exoskeleton kill them and wrap them in silk cocoons.

One day, Phil had a row with someone and stormed into our "kitchen", a mud hut which had been there for years but fell down shortly after we arrived.

Suddenly he came running out screaming

"Fuck me!" he said "There's a cobra in the kitchen!!!!"

I abandoned the spider that was as big as my hand and came over only to see this 5 foot long jet black beauty racing out after him!

Alerted to the commotion, our truly laid back guide (every tourist who wants to go into a national park in Ghana has to be accompanied by a guide) finished his cigarette and ambled over to see what the fuss was about while the rest of us shit ourselves.

Before the project started we were told that if we got bitten by pretty much anything in the jungle then we could pretty much start the timer on 4 hours and learn to pray. Given that it took 6 hours to walk in and the neasrest town was then 6 hours away by coach none of us were going to do anything too stupid.


You'd think that wouldn't you...

So the guide walks over and picks up a forked stick. Phil is eyeing this thing up, both keeping their distance when the guide comes over and says

"Hey mon..." in the most relaxed tone "it's only a snake"

...before smacking the thing around the head!

The snake was none too impressed and backed up hissing and lunging, while the guide lit another cigarette.


Just another one to make sure.

At this point he says

"Well someone want to help me out then?"

I can't say that I particularly WANTED to, but I never turn down an opportunity to help people, so I said

"Yeah I'd love to. What do you want me to do?"

The snake lunged at him and he pinned it down in the fork, the thing wriggling like a live wire.

"Don't just stand there" he said, "Use the bloody machete!"

So I stepped up and hacked his head off. The snakes that is.

The first blow was pretty poor cos I was shaking like erm Shakin Stevens or something and I think I just pissed it off.

With a neck half broken I don't think Mr Snake was overly impressed so I smacked him again and the weirdest thing happened.

The snakes head flew forward about a foot and the jaws snapped closed where my leg had been about a second before.

I will never forget what happened next because ater that things got REALLY eerie.

As I mentioned earlier, animals in the Ghanaian wild are a little stubborn and have a pretty long sell-by date after they've been killed. Ants continue to move long after you've seperated their heads from their bodies.

And now I know that snakes do too.

10 minutes after I had seperated the head from the body, that jet black body continued to writhe and wriggle of it's own accord and the eyes continued to stare.

According to the African legend if a snake sees you after death it will continue to stare so it remembers your face then (I can't remember this exactly) it will call it's mates to do you in. The stare is really really scary.

After 15 minutes the body had stopped moving and I ventured over to give it a poke with my machete to see if it had decided to give up and die yet and on contact the body sprung back to life, writhing again! I'm not ashamed to say, I jumped about 2 foot in the air and hid behind a tree.

The next day, the guide says to me, "Andy do you want a snakeskin to take home?"

"Hell yeah of course why not!" I said, assuming that he was gonna sort it out

"Great" he says, "You can come and help me skin him then"


So we sit around the ashes of yesterdays campfire and he grabs Mr Snake and throws him on the ashes. I thought that he had made a pretty glaring error with that move, but it turns out that snakes are just like fish, and when cooked properly the skin starts to peel off the flesh.

When offered the choice of skin or flesh I opted for the flesh job cos I have pretty crrappy coordination, so he got me to hold the cobra's flesh and bones, the flesh being white like mackerel.

As I pulled gently, he peeled the skin away from the body and I was left with a flailed cobra in my hands.

The next job was to dry the skin out so we got a piece of corrugated iron and nailed the skin to it. For effect, we put the head at the top and that's when we took that picture, then we hung it on the side of the kitchen wall.

The next morning I saw an image I'll never forget.

The Cobra head, dazzling in the sun in defiance of death, was limp atop the board as his skin hung down.

The eyes, still lively seemed to pierce my soul and the buzzing of flies around was unbearable. The skin crawled with flies, dining on this rarest of delicacies and seemed to come out of his mouth.

It was like the scene from Lord of the Flies but more so as the devil analogy was even more obvious.

I didn't take the skin home. We took it down and buried it. I think the guide dug it up later though.

The next day the kitchen wall fell down in the middle of the night.
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