We walked through the darkness, slowly, huddled together. Packed in warm clothes, with hoods pulled tight over our heads, we resembled a miniature parade of wobbly penguins. All ten torches were pointed towards the forest and small circles of light faintly illuminated the gaps between the trees. And we walked silently, seemingly in the middle of nowhere; an ambitious, adventurous pack. We spotted some geckos and lizards, whose names I fail to remember and also a blue capped rock thrush, all puffed up to roost, perched on the tip of a tree branch - after a few seconds of inevitable ooh-ing, aah-ing and pointing in its direction, we decided not to disturb the little sleepyhead. It was snakes, after all, that we were looking for. After spending two days looking at vine snakes, lush green and fantastically glossy, though they were, what we really wanted to see was a viper.
I don't talk much. So when it was dark and we were in the forest and the only sound was that of the insects and nocturnal birds and other mysterious nightly creatures, when it was not required to engage in small-talk with the person next to me, when it was almost impossible to even see the person next to me, I found, I was the most comfortable. I have never been much of a star gazer and I like to think of the stars as mysteries, rather than a bunch of rocks with names either too hard to pronounce or too long to remember. As I looked up that day, I knew what people mean when they say: the heavens smile down upon you. The sky was clear, open and welcoming and the tiniest of stars stood out on its bluish blackness. I became one with the darkness around me, as if being invisible were my second nature and for a few moments, I couldn't care less about the snakes, for the stillness that the night brought along was amazing.
Of course, when I did finally see the viper that everyone was so desperate to spot, I had to admit, the penguin-ing around was entirely worth it. The ten faint spotlights focused on the beautiful mustard yellow snake, which lay calmly, not moving an inch, the brownish patterns on its body wonderfully on display. It took a few moments before the eager paparazzi found its way to the snake, and it was then that I noticed how graceful the viper was. Its slender body was coiled to perfection around a low hanging branch and for those couple of moments, I couldn't help but marvel at how something so small could be so ferocious and awe-inspiring. And then began an incessant clicking of cameras and snapping of shutters and the Malabar pit viper just lay there, nonchalant, in all its glory, the patterns on its body now interspersed with little red dots of light. I could almost picture the snake roll its eyes at me and smirk, slightly bored of the attention but clearly used to it. (Remind you of someone?)
And so, though we didn't see any deer or bison and the pairs of bright red eyes, which we repeatedly noticed in the dark woods, belonged to civets and mongooses and not leopards, we returned to our campsite, happy. Our last night-trail at Amboli was one of the many things that made the long journey in that stuffy old bus worthwhile.