It was 5:00 AM when the Man-Rooster crowed. Our guide whistled on gently enough to wake us but oddly enough to startle us out of sleep. Our group members slowly climbed from their bunks, some heading to brush teeth while others groaned disappointments at carefully hung clothing that was still sopping wet. So, the day started with wet socks, boots, pants, and shirts. We had more than 11 miles to go to our next camp, Paraiso, base camp for ascension to The Lost City.
The day’s trek took us through surreal landscapes; everything from dense, dark jungle to sweeping mountain vistas. At times, the trail narrowed to a foot wide hanging over roaring rapids, while other times, gentle ridge walks granted the opportunity to take in some of the incredible tropical plants that I’m guilty of overpaying for and then slowly killing at home grow in abundance and to incredible size here under the jungle canopy. And the animals (haven’t purchased any of those – yet. The only toucan that’s been in my house is named Sam.) – the monkeys, frogs, exotic birds, butterflies with vibrant colors and patterns, make you feel as if David Attenborough should be narrating the experience for you.
All of this trail time seemed like an opportunity to ask about another exotic animal that I appreciate about as much as Indiana Jones: snakes.
“Do you ever see snakes on the trail?” I asked our translator. (Groups can request to have an English translator, as many of the guides do not speak English.)
“Oh, yes. Two types. Both poisonous. The coral snake and the black mampana (post-trek research suggests this being a type of pit viper. I say “suggests” because The Google has no knowledge of a “mampana” snake, and without the wisdom of the Google, I am left to make stuff up – my specialty.) The coral snake hears us coming and goes in the opposite direction. The mampana is perfectly camouflaged – brown, black, and does not move when you get near it.”
“You mean it just sits on the trail?”
“Yes. Or on rocks. But we probably won’t see one.”
I should have left it there. But, of course, I didn’t.
“So has anyone ever been bitten on one of these hikes?”
“Yes, about a year ago, a man was bitten by a mampana.”
Silence for a moment as I processed this and debated if I wanted to ask questions to which I may not want the answers.
“So,” I continued, “did you have to treat him back at camp?”
“No, no. He had to go back to Santa Marta on a mule.”
“To Santa Marta on a mule!?! That’s the solution?”
“No, no!” The translator continued. “Just to the trailhead on the mule, then back to Santa Marta by truck.” I did some quick calculating – that was still a day’s journey.
“I think you should tell the story with him going all the way back to Santa Marta on the mule. I think it makes for a better story. It has some quixotic flare to it.”
He laughed. So did I – uncomfortably.
It was only a couple hours later that our entire group passed within inches of a coiled baby mampana – more dangerous, our guide shared, because they are young and more likely to strike. It was resting on a rock ledge, a ledge exactly at chest height, and in a location where one of us could have easily grabbed to steady ourselves at a pivot in the trail. A few hours after that, our group encountered a full grown mampana slithering across the trail. From that point forward, we all watched the trail with greater scrutiny.
An 11 mile day of hot, slimy, arduous jungle hiking ended with hot chocolate and plates of pasta covered with a tuna fish bolognese. By 730, everyone was ready for bed. Tomorrow morning, we would climb to The Lost City