Ben Winston

Not your average travel blog

Leopards, Crabs, and Unknown Poison

Last night, Matt cooked dinner. As he picked up some kindling to move it onto the fire, he was bitten or stung by an unknown creepy crawly. A regular occurrence in the wild if you’re not paying a lot of attention. Losing feeling in his hand and with the numbness spreading up his arm, he still managed to cook up a storm with the rice by the river. He’s a typical gung-ho paratrooper. Looking like a French extra in a bad Van Damme movie from the 80’s, he’s considering the sting with some concern. Sadly, there is not much we can do until we know what poison has come from, or until the symptoms worsen so we can figure it out. It’s something which is fairly common here. If it was something to seriously worry about (i.e. a mamba), we likely would have seen it and we would be “tourniqueting” Matt’s forearm to slow the blood flow instead of writing about it. We wouldn’t be far off helping him back to base before a long trip to find some kind medical attention…by which time, we have told him, we will consider axing off his hand. In all seriousness, not knowing what has stung him is a problem. Some strong anti-histamine drops, a dollop of anti-irritation cream, some strong pain killers and a large amount of peaceful fumes from some kind of Malawian jungle leaf we came across yesterday (coincidentally) and Matt is still on his back, anxious about losing more sensation past his shoulder. Likely a scorpion, possibly a ground wasp or centipede, very unlikely a small snake (puff adder or viper); Matt’s hand should be ok after 48 hours or so. However, it is a little strange that the finger he was stung on is frozen-cold compared to the rest of him. We can feel it’s chill when we touch it. We can also only see one puncture wound, so although snakes are often known to only pierce skin with one fang, it’s unlikely to be one.

We’ll keep an eye on any development of fever, nausea, bleeding, foaming, damaged eyesight, diarrhoea, or any extreme colouring, and for now we’ll take the chance to sleep (in turns). We’re at least three days to any kind of tiny clinic and with the boat schedules as they are, likely a week to a hospital with any amount of intense treatment. Matt isn’t stranger to bites. Losing his bitten finger won’t be a big deal.

After breakfast, we move camp a few kilometres further up the river to the top of a 20ft waterfall. Created by a giant rock slide in the last few thousand years, we camp by a rock face as far from the falls as possible (because of the noise). We make some coffee while we place a few fishing lines into the pool at the bottom of the falls – hoping to bag us a catfish for supper. It isn’t difficult to think about Gollum fishing at the forbidden pool. Sadly, we’re out of luck and Charlie comes up with only a few tiny swimmers which may not even be considered by the dozens of otter which frequent this cascade. We explore the nearby bushes and trees and find plenty of evidence of wildlife.

Otter spur (scat/excrement) is everywhere, giant snails sloop around the rocks and greenery, various small birds can be heard in the canopy and they often fly up the river, flashing their colours to us while inspecting their new guests. We also find trees which a leopard has sharpened its claws on, mud in which bush pigs have lolloped in glee with and in the shallows I find fresh water crabs – a sumptuous snack for the unfussy otters. Later at dusk, the branches and the skies above our bug nets are busy with dozens and dozens of sparrow-sized bats. They are likely nesting in the caves behind us which we can’t quite climb into. At night we hear the otters screeching nearby and it’s clear that with all the scat strewn all over the rocky landscape that they are thriving here with very little predation.


Prior to bed, with Matt’s cooking skills on hold with a dicky arm and the rest of us rather weary from a busy day in the bush, we weren’t very adventurous when making dinner. We packed as many calories as we could into us and sat around discussing the usual blokey things. We also decided (as Matt’s condition seemed to neither be improving nor getting worse) it was time to crack open the cheap and horrific local sugar spirits. They call it Gin. It’s clear and it smells like something you might de-rust your lawnmower with. We’ve found it goes rather well with a little pineapple cordial and a lot of water.
We’re due another explorative day tomorrow, further up stream and deeper into the jungle. As it goes dark fairly early, we have an evening of drinking and are still ready for bed by 9pm.


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Where am I now?

After extensive work and tours through Southern Africa, most of my time is spent between Malawi and Europe.
Go Untamed Safaris was striding into top gear, but volatile poitics in 2019, Covid in 2020, the impacts of Russia vs the World as well as insesent corruption forced my hand.
The dust is now settling. Everything has changed. New chapters are about to be written.

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