Ben Winston

Not your average travel blog

Look what we found! …and a Side Stabbing Snake

Tasting with their feet, an abundant and colourful butterfly population are constantly around us as we expedite up the river. Green water snakes hunt fish, spiders cast their webs as sails to catch the wind and transport themselves hundreds of miles, the rare blue-faced monkeys that live here (which actually have a red tint in their facial fuzz) illusively skulk and clamber around the canopy. Even more illusive, genets and possibly caracal call this their home. More about a genet later…

Pinterest Photo

A Genet

It’s a lazy start this morning with some coffee and some soup for breakfast. Charlie and I discuss some of the unique and unusual creatures of this part of Africa. There are more bugs and reptiles with specialised weapons to mention than you can shake a stick at, but I wouldn’t want to put you off visiting any more than I already have. There is a snake here called the Burrowing Viper. It’s unique because it has a small head which doesn’t indicate that it has venomous glands, but we shouldn’t be fooled. They appear rather inoffensive, but like a miniature Mr Hyde, have a rather grumpy disposition if disturbed, touched, or if you greet them with a hug. They are not huggers. Their unique weapon has earned them a few other names; one of which is the Side Stabbing Snake. It can slash its surprisingly long and highly toxic fangs from side to side in order to attack or defend. It shouldn’t kill you, but it’s enough to hospitalise or certainly result in losing a foot or digit. Oddly, that’s if you are bitten on your leg or hand. I can’t find any happy “results” if you’re bitten in the face or chest… Unlike other snakes, grabbing it behind it’s head (or hugging it) is a dangerous option. I’m glad I wasn’t the chap who made the discovery. They are unique in both their unassuming beauty and their ability. They are also a perfect example of why we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.


Pinterest Photo

The adventurous day ahead through the sweaty forest, along broken rocks and waterfalls, chest deep in parts of the river and swinging from vines to get around sheer cliff drops was not to be our last through the northern Malawian bush. We would however go as far as we could on this particular river trek. Nothing prepared us for the vision around the bend. The sublime cascade fell roughly down the interrupting rocks. Fizzing into the air, the water ran down the shimmering stone faces above us for roughly 70 metres. The clearing in the valley was taken up by the largest waterfall we had come across. Knowing the lighter colours of the trees that we had travelled through and those darker, deeper into the jungle ahead, we knew the falls were likely the barrier between the forest we had trekked through and the denser, more vibrant jungle further into the unmanned land.

IMG_4028 Go_Untamed_Bush_winstonwolfrider_Waterfall

We paused for a while for a drink as we figured out a way to scale it. We were unsure if we could, and it was impossible to see if we could continue our journey onward on the river should we reach the top. Charlie and Bjorn took the initiative and began scaling the jagged rock face to left of the falls. They tossed their wet shoes off for maximum grip on the scorching rocks. They were obviously too excited to worry about burning their soles. Beyond view and without rope or anything to secure them to the cliff, I began to question our boyish charm and spirit. No screams yet, so I assume they’re ok as I talk to Matt about his numb forearm (see previous post). Confident of Bjorn and Charlie’s intrepidness, we decide to scale the rock face on the other side of the falls. We can see that getting halfway up should be relatively easy, but beyond that (and more importantly, getting down) could be tricky. The rocks are desperately hot in the sun and I’m forever lifting my feet like a lizard in the dessert attempting to avoid the burn.


Turns out all of us made it to the top of the falls in our own way, but upon meeting Bjorn and Charlie at the top we learnt that there was no way they were going to descend down the side they came up. We had conquered (I hate using that term when in relation to something wild) the falls. However, we now face a couple of beautiful swimming pools and then a smaller waterfall surrounded by sheer cliffs. We have no chance of going any further without some serious equipment and probably a couple of professional climbers. The small falls we couldn’t see from the bottom would be the barrier between us and the unknown ahead. We will have come back another time in the knowledge of what we need to get around. Just sidestepping this smaller waterfall could take a whole day or two. The falls that Bjorn and Charlie had seen from a hill top by Lake Malawi, 10 km away with some binoculars, were not the ones that had stopped this expedition from continuing. We will have to wait to discover them on another trip.

Over the next few days we will explore a little more and make our way back down the river. At least that was the plan…

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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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