Tuesday, 17 February 2015

"If I was to die it was a fine spot for it"

                                            Violet Cressy-Marcks in 1930
A wonderfully understated anecdote from 1929 tells you all you need to know about intrepid English traveller Violet Cressy-Marcks.

Violet was slogging her way up the Amazon at the time; sleeping on the ground at night, her revolver under her cheek.

She’d been in the swampy rainforest for months. She was weak and malnourished. But she was content, happy even, and her gruelling journey was approaching its end. 

Then, one night, misfortune struck.

“I was awakened by something that seemed to be pulled over me…” writes Violet in Up the Amazon and Over the Andes. “I glanced down and was horrified to see a snake.”

Now Violet had handled snakes before, at Cairo zoo. But “that was one thing and this was another”, she notes dryly. “A snake crawling over one at night time is a clear and not a pleasant proposition.”

Violet didn’t panic, however. Reluctant to fire her gun for fear of scaring off her Indian guides, she simply grabbed the reptile firmly, crawled out of her mosquito net, walked fifty yards to a rock, and “smashed its head”.

But her troubles didn’t end there. “The wretched thing had bitten me below the knee the moment I had stretched out my hand for it,” she writes, almost as an afterthought. “I didn’t know whether it was poisonous or not, but the beast had a flat head and as I know some of that kind are poisonous I took no chances.”

Producing a scalpel from her medicine chest, Violet immediately began some impromptu field surgery, cutting across the bite and pushing into the wound permanganate of potash, a disinfectant. “I wasn’t happy for a little time,” she writes, unhappily.

Yet still Violet remained calm. Rooting around in her luggage she then found a mirror and, for the first time in many weeks, examined her face to see if the snake’s venom was doing its work and whether perhaps she was “going black or grey or had a queer colour on my lips”.

The result was somewhat encouraging. “Except I seemed a great deal thinner, with big dark rings under my eyes, nothing seemed to be amiss - foam at the mouth was lacking and all my other imaginative ideas,” she writes.

“I decided on coffee, a walk and sleep, and if I was going to die it was a fine spot for it and I was at peace with the world - so any way there was nothing to worry about.”

And Violet was right: there was nothing to worry about.

Next morning she woke early, still very much alive. Despite an intensely painful leg, Violet 
and her Indian companions broke camp at 6am, their usual time, and headed west towards the distant peaks of the Andes.

* Read more about Violet's hair-raising journey in her classic travel book Up the Amazon and Over the Andes