On the Road


The tempter of Eve, a phallic symbol of male sexuality the world over and the ultimate fear of Indiana Jones, snakes are everywhere.

Fortunately, most snakes aren’t poisonous and would rather not meet you at all (an exception being the terrifying and aggressive mambas of Africa). You can come across them by accident though and they may attack you in a bite-first-ask-questions-later kind of response.

There’s no way to tell if a snake is poisonous or not with any certainty and it’s worth asking when you arrive somewhere if there are any to watch out for in particular. Bright markings tend to be a giveaway though, unless that species is impersonating another venomous branch of the family.

The best way to avoid getting bitten by a snake is not to step on it. Carry a torch at night whenever walking in the tropics and stamp your feet as you go. Snakes know all about bad vibrations and will move out of your way as fast as they can. Small snakes, like the Krait can be very slow, however, so watch where you’re going.

Check your sleeping bag and backpacks if in the wild and take care when gathering firewood or fruit in nature. You can cut down on the risks by wearing boots and using sticks to turn over rocks or logs. If you come across a snake just back away slowly – unless it’s a mamba or a king cobra, few snakes are actually looking to bite the unlucky backpacker. If you do get attacked then grab a stick and try to hit the back of the head.

If you get bitten by a snake get to a hospital fast to receive the anti venom. If that’s not an option then try to make the victim relax as much as possible – ‘think what a cool story this will make.’ Keep the bitten area below the heart and wash away any venom on the surface of the skin with soap and water. You want to stop the poison spreading so you can put the wound in cold water and also tie a bandage above the bite – so if a traveller is bit on the ankle you can start bandaging at the knee.

DO NOT TRY TO SUCK OUT THE POISON OR CUT THE WOUND. Man, those westerns have a lot to answer for.

There are no poisonous snakes in Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rica, Ireland, Polynesia or New Zealand – neighbouring Australia has loads.

It’s actually quite rare to die from snake bite but the poison can still disable you for life.