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Finding Christoph a Guyanese snake

In Guyana, South America, recently, I kept crossing paths with a handsome young Swiss couple. I was volunteering for two weeks at Yupukari, a small Amerindian community. They were touring, and arrived in Yupukari just the day before I finished, leaving to see some more of the country. We discovered that they were departing Guyana on my same flight the following week.

Christoph and Anouk had already been to Iwokrama and various other nature reserves in this wonderfully diverse country of birds and jaguars and reptiles. We three rode together from Yupukari to Karanambu, where giant river otters are rescued and released by long-time committed activist Diane McTurk. During our one-hour boat ride on the Rupununi River on a cloudy, cool, peaceful morning, I was impressed with Christoph’s keen spotting eye. Granted, he sat taller in the open boat than the rest of us, but he saw and identified many jungle birds and an occasional black caiman—snout barely visible above the water—even before the Guyanese guides spotted them. I was spending a night at Karanambu in their eco-lodge before heading back to Georgetown, but Christoph and Anouk had only a few hours there before returning to Yupukari, where they would go out on a night-time search for black caiman, the largest member of the alligator family.

Back home in Zurich, Christoph is a forestry engineer, although he had originally planned to be a veterinarian. He has an encyclopedic knowledge and infinite interest in all forms of flora and fauna. Over lunch, he off-handedly mentioned that he had pet snakes at home, 25 of them, but was surprised not to have seen snakes yet in Guyana.

After a few rum punches and a simple lunch around a long table with some of the Karanambu staff, my Swiss friends and the two guides started walking down the short trail to the river for their return journey to Yupukari. Suddenly a cry went out! Andrea, an American who helps manage the Karanambu lodge, had discovered a visitor in her bathroom. The others came rushing back and we all gathered to see what it was all about. Lo and behold, there was a small black snake, commonly called a “cat-eyed snake,” trying to escape the noise and attention. Someone held him up so we could admire how slim and sleek he was, quite elegant. The timing was perfect. At last Christoph had met up with a Guyanese snake.

Dorothy Conlon is an octogenarian globe-trotter who, often traveling alone, explores destinations that are well off the beaten track. Combining personal travel with volunteer/service learning experiences, she has traveled from the far reaches of the Amazon to Africa, Asia, India and many other locations. She is the author of “At Home in the World: Memoirs of a Traveling Woman.” Learn more at

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