“There’s a really great path you can take up this hill,” she told me as we were standing in her driveway, the orange tomcat slinking between her legs like a toddler peeking his head from behind his mother’s knees. Accepting a second housesitting gig in the hills of Boquete, I was eager to take a little walk in the woods and scope the neighborhood, which consists of forest more than people or houses. I decided one morning to take advantage of the bounty of nature surrounding this house and walk down the path the owner pointed out to me.
For the past ten months I had mostly been living on the Caribbean and I moved to Boquete partly for the aspect of hiking on a weekly basis. I could have hiked in the jungle when I was living in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica; however, I took my job as a beach bum very seriously and preferred the salt of the ocean over the salty sweat that would pour out of my body in the thick humidity there had I taken a hike. It would basically be like an internal rain shower of sweat pouring out of my body. Also, I’m deathly afraid of snakes. The limit of that fear has no bounds, to the point where the thought of hiking in the jungle in Costa Rica gave me heart palpitations. What if I saw a snake? There are oodles there, poisonous ones, you know. There are too many for me to feel comfortable. I can’t even look at photos of snakes without cringing and having a mini freak out session, much like a sleep-deprived child when you take their candy away.
I am so scared of snakes that I do strange things like throw all the covers off my bed before going to sleep to make sure one isn’t nestled by my feet ready to eat me. I open the toilet lid and peer into the bowl before sitting down to make sure one isn’t coiled in the water ready to bite my bottom. I refuse to go anywhere near a snake in a cage for fear the glass will spontaneously combust thus wreaking havoc on all my senses as I wildly run away screaming and probably wetting my pants in fear.
But Boquete must be different right? This place has a magical ring to it, almost like when you’re hiking alone in the woods, little fairies and gnomes are skipping along the path with you whistling and brandishing their magical wands making all scary things that exist in the woods disappear. Or so I thought.
I plodded along the worn path in the morning sunlight. Clouds were hanging low over some of the hills in the distance. I stopped here and there to admire the view, worshiping the uninterrupted view of lush, green forest, rolling mountains, volcanoes and hills, several greenhouses dotting the land like white polka dots on a green blanket, and way off on the horizon, a body of water. I was thinking about how fortunate I was to have another housesitting gig with stunning views of Boquete. I was counting my lucky stars, or in this case, I was counting my lucky rolling hills.
After about twenty minutes of walking, a tiny red baby snake slithered across the path in front of me. Wow, I thought, a baby snake! And look! I’m not freaking out! Not even a wave of disgust undulating through my entire body as per usual. I wanted to almost pat myself on the back. “This is an unexpected first,” I proudly said out loud. For one reason or another, I ignored the instinct in me that said, “Where there is a baby, there must be a mother nearby.” Standing still on the path debating on whether to continue or turn around for some much needed coffee and breakfast, I saw a movement to my right. I turned to see the mother emerging from the tall grass, red, black and yellow, staring at me. An unearthly, loud guttural noise emitted from my mouth as I turned and fled faster than I have ever moved in my life. Cue in the shivers of disgust coursing through my body as I simultaneously ran and screamed.
In the twenty minutes it took me to get to the point where I saw the snake, it took me probably one minute to return to the house. This is not the first time a hike has been cut short because a snake has appeared on the path. I like to refer to these kinds of hikes as failed hikes. I have since learned that the snake I saw is the most poisonous snake in all of Panama; a coral snake also dubbed culebra de sangre in Spanish, which literally means, “snake of blood.” My Panamanian friend, Gina, told me that if they bite you, you will bleed out of all of your pores before dying in a matter of twenty minutes. An antidote exists but apparently it’s pointless as you only have twenty minutes to live and the chances of you getting to where you can purchase said product will most likely take you longer than twenty minutes. So now I wonder if my hike wasn’t so much a failed hike as it was a success in saving my own life. The only thing I know for certain is that the aforementioned fairies and gnomes were not on my side that day.