Snake in the Grass by Dolores Banerd
It was December 2013 and just past eight in the morning when I emerged from my guesthouse in Sanur, a beach town on the tropical island of Bali.
It was the first day of my month-long vacation, a trip celebrating my recent retirement. I chose to start here because, unlike many other towns in touristy Bali, Sanur still offered a villagey atmosphere by way of calmer resorts, cafes, and activities. Especially compared to nearby chaotic Kuta with its frenetic nightlife, Sanur is a snooze. Even its reef-protected sea is more lethargic. All in all, it’s a good-vibes kind of place, and good vibes were important to me, a solo traveler. No danger here—or so I thought.
Before stepping into the tropical heat, I slathered my face with sunscreen and donned my widest-brimmed straw hat. I knew from a previous trip that in Bali the sun blazes piteously all day, every day. As it turned out this could have been the last day of my life and whether I was wearing sunscreen or not wouldn’t matter in the least.
I was starting early because I wanted to walk the three-mile partly shaded footpath that bordered the beach before the unwelcome arrival of hordes of tourists, pushy vendors and the most intense sun. My favorite and the most scenic way to reach it was to cut through the luxurious Bali Hyatt resort; it was farthest from my guesthouse, but worth every extra step. I was fit mostly because months before I’d sworn off watching reruns of Dateline and Law & Order and stuck to a one-hour-per-day walking regimen (only cheating a few times). Thus, the “extra steps” were not a problem. Also, I was retired which meant I had all the time in the world. Or so I thought.
This Hyatt property is immense—a 37-acre posh resort edging the Indian Ocean that offers an abundance of amenities. It’s also a feast for the eye, a modern-day Garden of Eden landscaped with intimate pathways, shaded walks and glens, inviting swimming pools and serene secluded ponds. Best of all, it’s nestled in an orderly jungle teeming with exotic flowers and thick with lush foliage.
All in all, an idyllic place that I looked forward to tramping through again, but to my surprise, when I approached its outer limits, it seemed to be more jungly than I remembered, so dense with tangly, twisty vegetation; it appeared impenetrable and much darker, too. It looked to be abandoned, and it was. Within minutes, I spotted large No Trespassing and Keep Out signs posted at frequent intervals. Later, I found out that the entire resort 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 I saw this as a way to slog off for good my highly-regulated 9-to-5 work persona that I had adhered to for many years and do something more Jane-like (as in Tarzan and Jane). Besides, I was confident I could get away with it. It was early in the day. I saw no one. Once I entered the property, I was sure I would be able to slip through unnoticed.
While mulling over my plan, I continued walking until I reached what had once been the main road into the property. It 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 inside the grounds, I noticed a fortyish, plumpish Balinese man sitting on a solitary chair placed about 25 feet in front of me. His khaki shirt with a large insignia said it all: he was an official security guard.
He seemed to be sleeping, but he wasn’t. His eyes popped wide as he silently gave me the once-over. His facial expression said it all—“Lady, don’t even think of coming in here, don’t make me get up off my chair, just go away” I got his unspoken message and returned his gaze, but I did not nod, speak, or even smile.
He was hatless. I particularly noticed this because—like most Californians— I consider Enemies Number 1 and 2 to be UVA and UVB rays. Foolish man, I thought to myself, to work outdoors under such a punishing sun without a hat and in my mind’s eye, I wagged my finger at him for living dangerously. Silly of me, I know, considering I was keen to do the same by ignoring all “keep out” warning signs.
I was also annoyed, but not for that reason. His presence meant the managers of the Hyatt were serious about the “No Trespassing” edict. Of course, I could have sneaked in, entering the property where the guard could not see me but some thing – my Guardian Angel perhaps? – nudged me into abandoning my plan. Why am I saying nudged? It practically screamed at me –stop, don’t be stupid, obey the signs, don’t do it. Luckily, I listened. I retraced my steps and arrived at the beach footpath by an easier route.
The next day while lingering over my morning latte at my favorite café, I gripped the local English-language newspaper in terror when I spotted this headline: Huge Python Suffocates and Kills Security Guard at Luxury Bali Hotel. The article stated that the tragedy happened the day of my aborted walk-through. Details were scant, but eyewitnesses reported that after the brutal killing the python retreated into the dense jungle. It was still at large.
I recoiled from the newspaper as if the serpent was slithering towards me. After I caught my breath, I realized that had I persisted in my desire to tromp through the Hyatt property I could have been the python’s ill-fated victim and the headline could have just as easily read: American Woman Strangled and Killed by 15-Foot Python.
I lingered over my coffee for many more minutes awash in shock and grief. The shock was how close I came to putting myself in such a dangerous situation. Had the serpent and I crossed paths, I would have been a goner. You can’t outrun a python.
But once some of the horror subsided, I was consumed with sadness at the security guard’s fate and his family’s loss. I felt especially foolish for inwardly chastising the man for his hatlessness 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.