I’m almost certain the locals would laugh at this title. Since writing it, I’ve seen a child prod the tricot rayé with a stick and a man carry one by its tail. But I am Australian. So I grew up hearing the mantra: “don’t touch snakes, don’t go near snakes, if you find yourself near a snake stand very still and hope it doesn’t bite you, if the snake bites you, you will probably die.” Needless to say for my partner and I, having a bunch of snakes swimming around our feet is at best unnerving. This is the story of how we were accosted, yes accosted, by seas snakes in New Caledonia.
We were staying at Escapade Îlot Maître, it was high tide and dozens of sea turtles had made their way into the lagoon to feed. Naturally we wasted no time diving into the water to snorkel alongside these incredible creatures. And what an experience! There really is nothing like it. They are the most serene animals and were quite content with us watching them while they fed on sea grass.
Unfortunately we didn’t have an underwater camera but I really wanted a photo of the turtles, so I decided to take one from above. I got out of the water and in my excitement locked myself out the front of our bungalow – no big deal, my partner would let me in when he got out of the water.
My partner was standing on the back steps of our bungalow (the sort of steps that go directly into the water) when I heard him yell “there’s a snake.” Now I’m locked out of the bungalow but I can see the last two steps and sure enough I can see the snake on the bottom step making its way to where he is standing.
“Then go up the steps and get inside,” I yelled back to him.
“Are you crazy? I don’t want to step over it!” he yelled back.
We were both confused. Moments felt like hours as I saw the snake getting closer to him, inching ever nearer to his ankles. It was then that we simultaneously realised that by some horrific coincidence there were in fact two snakes: one in front of him on the top step and one behind him on the bottom and the space between them was shrinking rapidly. The next few seconds happened in a blur. The snake on the top step miraculously moved out of the way and he swiftly ran past it.
This was the first of many encounters with the affectionately named, tricot rayé. This sea snake is revered by locals and is something of a mascot for the island.
Another time on Amédée Islet I was about to sit down on a fallen log when a child ran over and excitedly told me there was a snake under it. I looked underneath and sure enough those signature black and beige stripes could be found. I’ve never been so grateful to understand French. The child looked amused as I thanked him and left to find a different place to sit. I turned back around and saw him petting the snake – what?!
We have since learned that although its venom is lethal, it is a docile animal that rarely bites even when handled roughly – not that I would ever advise doing so!