Snake in the Grass by Dolores Banerd
It was December 2013 and just past eight in the morning when I emerged fresh-scrubbed from my air-cooled room at the Swastika Bungalows (actual name) in Sanur on the resort-island of Bali.
Of course, I’d also slathered my face and arms with sunscreen and donned my widest-brimmed straw hat. What I knew about Bali from a previous trip is that the sun would blaze pitilessly —the same as the day before and the day before that. What I didn’t know was this could have been the last day of my life.
I was starting early in order to walk the 3-mile paved footpath by the beach before the unwelcome arrival of throngs of tourists, pushy vendors and the most intense sun. There are several short ways to reach it, but my favorite and most scenic was to cut through the luxurious Bali Hyatt resort, which was farthest from my guesthouse, but worth every extra step. I was fit so I had the “extra steps” in me and I was retired which meant I had all the time in the world. Or so I thought.
This Hyatt property had it all. It was immense—a 37-acre posh resort edging the ocean—and offered an abundance of amenities to please the pampered. It was also a feast for the eye, a modern day Garden of Eden with a landscape filled with intimate pathways, shade-filled walks and glens, inviting swimming pools and serene secluded lily ponds. Best of all, as far as I was concerned, is that it was nestled in a splendidly ordered jungle teeming to the max with exotic flowers and thick with lush foliage.
All in all, an agreeable place and I was looking forward to my tramp through the acreage. However, to my surprise, as I approached its outer limits, I noticed it was more jungly than I remembered, so dense with vegetation it seemed impenetrable. And there was a darkness about it. It looked abandoned, and it was. Within minutes, I spotted large No Trespassing and Keep Out signs posted at intervals. Later, I learned that the property was closed for 18-months for an extensive renovation.
Still, it beckoned me. Despite the wildness of the terrain—Mother Nature was rapidly reclaiming it—I had my heart set on trekking through it (perhaps there’s some Tarzan/Jane in my DNA). I was also confident I could get away with it because it was early in the day. I saw no one. Once I entered the property, no one would see me.
While mulling over my plan, I continued walking until I reached what had once been the main entrance. The paved roadway was torn up, but its outline was still visible. Ah, I thought, this is the perfect place to start my trek to the beach, but it wasn’t. Just as I stepped a few feet inside the grounds, I noticed a uniformed Balinese Security Guard sitting on a single chair placed a short distance ahead of me. He was hatless. I particularly noticed his lack of a hat because, like most southern Californian women, I consider Enemies Number 1 and 2 to be UVA and UVB rays. In my mind’s eye, I shook my finger at him for living dangerously.
My mood darkened, but not for that reason. His presence meant the managers of the Bali Hyatt were serious about the “No Trespassing” edict. Of course, I could have hiked through the property by entering where the guard could not see me but some thing (a Guardian Angel perhaps?) nudged me into abandoning my plan. When I hesitated, it practically screamed at me –stop, don’t be stupid, pay attention to the signs. Luckily, I listened and gave up on the idea. Instead, I retraced my steps, and arrived at my destination, the beach footpath, by an easier route.
Two mornings later while lingering over a latte at an outdoor café, an icy terror gripped me as I read an article in the local English-language newspaper. It stated that two days earlier—on the same day as my aborted walk-through—the Security Guard at the Bali Hyatt had been strangled and crushed by a 15-foot Burmese python. According to eyewitnesses, after the brutal killing the python retreated into the thick vegetation. He was still at large.
I recoiled from the newspaper as if the serpent was slithering toward me.
After I caught my breath, I realized that had I persisted in my desire to tromp through the Hyatt’s property I could have been the python’s ill-fated victim and the news article would have read:
American Tourist Killed by 15-foot Python.
Early yesterday morning, two local citizens directed the police to the body of an American woman discovered on the Bali Hyatt property currently under renovation. According to the police, the (cough, cough) year-old woman was strangled and crushed by a 15-foot Burmese python that had been terrifying the local residents for weeks. Apparently, the female traveler had ignored the posted warning signs and was traversing the immense Hyatt property when she was killed. A local resident who witnessed the grizzly event stated that after the brutal attack the python retreated into the dense brush and has not been seen again.
I lingered over my latte for many more minutes awash in shock and grief. The shock was how close I came to putting myself in a dangerous situation. Had the snake and I crossed paths, I would have been a goner. You can’t outrun a python.
After some of the horror subsided, I was overwhelmed with sadness at the security guard’s fate and his family’s loss. I felt especially foolish for inwardly chastising the man for his hatless status as he dutifully guarded the entry to the Hyatt. As it turned out, the danger he was in wasn’t from the distant sun blazing down on him, but from the unseen deadly terror lurking so much closer in the thick grassy terrain.