It was June 2008 and Devon, Christopher Columbus and I were searching for Berg Adders (Bitis atropos), a high elevation viper species found in isolated mountain ranges in South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwae and Mozambique. Interesting side note, the species name “atropos” refers to one of the goddesses of fate and destiny.
Atropos is the goddess who chose how one died and also ended each mortals life by cutting their thread of life. Her sister Clotho spun the thread while her other sister Lachesis (a genus of South American Pitviper!) determined the length.
So why were we going after these things? Well we had heard that a population had been documented as occurring in this one mountain range and we wanted to see if we could confirm their presence or if they still could be there.
Swaziland can be like Texas. The land may look open but you had better not just go walking out there or you may find yourself with some irate locals. Because of this we had to wait while Vusi (guy in charge of getting us access) negotiated the fee for us being allowed to herp on the land and stay in our tent located just outside his house.
Surprisingly this was actually way more complicated than I thought it would be. There was a whole ritual just to get to talk to the chief. What was eventually settled on I do not remember exactly other than that it was a little bit of money and some food. We only got out for a really quick look around that night because we had spent most of the day getting access and it was too cool at night for much to be moving.
Waking up the next morning we quickly realized we had very little chance at seeing anything. The area was grazed to hell and it did not seem to be quite high enough in elevation. After a long day of searching and not finding the hoped for target we arrived back at the chiefs house craving rice and chakalaka goodness after a day of mountain climbing with no food.
Elation of being back at camp soon dissipated as we realized that none of the tops we had been provided were forming a good seal with our tank of gas. This meant we could not boil water to make rice. And none of us was looking forward to a cookie only dinner. Time to improvise.
It came to me quickly, “Duct tape and TP” I said as I began ruffling through our supplies. As I began creating a seal by using the TP to make the threaded top piece catch with our fuel tank I could sense MacGyver smiling down on me providing me with encouragement that negated my companions ridicule of how this plan would never work.
As I continued my work Devon and Chris kept commenting on how “I was going to blow all of us up”. As I layered duct tape over my improvised seal the mood began to change and they started to believe. When I finished layer it was moment of truth time. We got out a match, opened the valve and…………………..success!!!!!
At the moment it was one of my proudest moments as I had successfully shut them up and they were impressed and
appreciative that we would be eating a actual food as opposed to cookies. Devon was sitting on the ground next to the burner and I was standing across from him, Columbus was a few feet away from us on the side of our add on tent vestibule. We were all eagerly awaiting the water starting to boil when a tiny piece of exposed TP caught on fire igniting my seal and laying our plans of a warm dinner to hell.
A quick flash in my peripheral vision and I was doing my best Impala at the rivers edge leaping back from an onrushing Nile crocodile impression as I bounded over Devon into our tent looking for the zippers to the door so we could get the hell out of there. While I frantically looked for the zippers to the door I looked back to see Devon futilely attempting to blow out the fireball that now came from the top of the tank. Columbus was standing a few feet away repeatedly looking from Devon to me and back.
Our tent was filled with colorful phrases that one would expect to hear in a Tarantino flick. I was making no headway finding the zippers and thought for sure I had killed us all when Columbus did the obvious thing and picked up the pot of water and dumped it on the flame. The flame was extinguished and the chaos that had seemed like forever in reality had probably only taken no longer than 10 seconds.
The threat now gone we all began laughing so hard we had tears rolling down our eyes. It did not matter that some of our gear was soaked, the entire floor of the vestibule was wet and that we realized we had not been in danger of blowing up. We were rolling at the thoughts of what the chiefs family were. They already thought we were a little off for wanting to look for snakes so bad and now we had succeeded in lighting up our whole tent with a ball of flame on the first night.
After a long bit of tearful laughter we got our gear out of the pools of water to dry off and had our dinner of cookies and chocolate bars before heading to bed. Tomorrow were to resume our search for our target. Unfortunately we learned later that there appeared to be a mix up in where the Berg Adders were reported found so we had spent a few days looking for bigfoot.