A Traveler’s Victory Story: How I Dominated The Habu Snake

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Travel blogger Maila Bourisk of MailasMantras shares her story of overcoming one of her greatest fears while on a trip, snakes!

The Habu Snake: An extremely irritable, venomous pit viper that can grow up to 8 feet in length. The Habu is native to the Ryuku Islands, specifically Okinawa. If bitten by a Habu, the viper’s victim must find immediate care for an injection of antivenin, with serious risks of losing the limb that was attacked, or in the worst case, death. The Habu is often found lurking in caves, desolate rock piles, and usually asleep in trees or bushy areas. However, they are often seen in the cities, nocturnally slithering through street gutters, and entering into homes in search of mice or small rodents. This is one badass snake that no one wants to mess with.

The Habu is notorious for its choleric disposition, so what else would the Okinawan’s do but create a Habu Sake, known as Habushu to the locals, to eternally bottle up it’s rather feisty spirit. The beverage be purchased in most convenient stores on the island with the rest of the Sake and Awamori, the traditional liquor of Okinawa. However, the Habushu will have a snake drowned inside. Yes, it is perhaps an aggressive, inhumane effort to tame this beast… but legend has it that the Habu Sake is known to infuse those who partake with extra male libido, since the Habu Snake has the stamina to mate for as long as a full day. But for most, it is just a cool story and an even better souvenir to bring home if you can get it through customs.

I learned about this extremely irritable predator right before I was supposed to leave to Japan. My adrenaline was high and my fear of snakes took over and I just couldn’t do it. I researched these snakes night and day. I had so much paranoia about the Habu, that not only did I have a nightmare featuring one extra large aggressive viper, but when I arrived in Okinawa for the first couple of days I envisioned the sneaky slithery snakes attacking my ankles from beneath the car. I even ran at lightning speed from my car to the door of our apartment a couple times just in case. Even though the fact gathering was all very informative, it was fairly misleading for me to read into at such an extent, and only hindered me during the first few days.

Before I left to Japan, I had a conversation with the host family that I lived with in Italy about my apprehensions regarding the Habu Snake. They related to my hesitancy,  and told me about the preconceived notions they had before the first time they visited the States. “We would run from the squirrels in New York City”, they explained, because they had heard they could potentially carry Hantavirus. And in California, they were constantly on the lookout for Rattlesnakes. And the truth of all of it became clear to me… The chances of me seeing a Habu Snake in Okinawa were rare, but my chances of getting bitten were slim to none. It took me a day or so after arriving to finally to calm this overreaction and the heart palpitations. I reminded myself that I had yet to see a Rattlesnake in California in the past 7 years, and that we often look at foreign countries through a looking glass, altering the reality, magnifying fear, and creating anxiety about travel where it doesn’t need to exist.

From that point on the plan was to find that fear and go live there, by exploring the jungles of Okinawa to the max. So we hiked and river trekked, climbed ropes and bouldered until we found the magnificent sight that is Tataki Falls. We realized this is a place that most tourists do not know about, as we were the only ones there for most of the morning, and found it all without a tour guide.

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There was a rope swing too!

We hiked through Daisekrinzan in Kunigami at the most Northern point of the island, and even spotted a snake during our hike.

View from the top of the hiking trail. 

View from the top of the hiking trail.

Maybe not a Habu, but these guys definitely know how to camouflage themselves with the vines...

Maybe not a Habu, but these guys definitely know how to camouflage themselves with the vines…

We kayaked through the beautiful subtropical Yanbaru Mangrove Forest, known as “The Galapagos of the Orient.”

Our tour guide was so informative. Make sure you time it so you go at low tide!

Our tour guide was so informative. Make sure you time it so you go at low tide!

We got a chance to sea kayak during our tour through the mangroves too. 

We got a chance to sea kayak during our tour through the mangroves too.

We scuba dived off of Cape Maeda, played with the fishies, and learned that the sea snakes are more afraid of us then we are them.

Don't touch the sea anemones.... or your hand will turn black. 

Don’t touch the sea anemones… or your hand will turn black.

 

And I even took a shot of the Habu Sake, which was the final step in overcoming my irrational fear, and it tasted like a Fireball, yum. 🙂 Take THAT Habu Snake.

 Follow Maila on instagram here!
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