Marie and Alex are a Franco-Brazilian couple with three pre-adolescent children named Loulou, Gabriel and Gaspar. They make their home on a 36-foot sloop called Sargaço. I befriended them on the Island of Pines and one fine tropical day we decided to explore the nearby islet of Brosse and spend the night. A camp fire on the beach and a magenta sunset provided loads of ambience. The kids particularly enjoyed the fireworks they choreographed with burning sticks after it got dark.
Then it was time to take the dinghy back to the mothership for a delicious spaghetti supper. I turned on my head torch and got the dinghy ready. Suddenly I noticed a sea-snake in the water, twisting its way towards me.
“It’s attracted by the light,” observed Alex and the children started chanting “tricot rayé, tricot rayé.”
“Its bite is ten times worse that that of a cobra,” Marie informed me nonchalantly as she tucked Gaspar, her year-old son into her baby carrier wrap. “But no worries. These sea-snakes are totally unaggressive and local children even play with them. If you do get a bite, you only have 20 minutes to live,” she added to put my worries to rest.
That’s nice to know, I though, but the bloody snake just kept coming.
We eventually managed to get everybody in the dinghy minus the serpentine stowaway and motored back to the mothership for some pasta and tomato sauce.
Next morning we returned to the beach to clean up the remains of the camp fire and explore the island on foot. We encountered three tricot rayés basking in the sun after a long night hunting in the water. And every time we saw one, Loulou and Gabriel would start chanting enthusiastically “tricot rayé, tricot rayé”, while Gaspar napped in his mother’s carrier wrap, oblivious to the universe.
We made it safely back to the Island of Pines and I tried desperately to put this snake business out of my mind.
Three days passed and Marie invited me to a birthday party of her girlfriend also called Marie. Half a dozen French expats and several members of the local Kanak community showed up. I was introduced to Jérémy, a local fisherman, and hesitatingly asked him about the sea-snakes.
“They’re very shy and timid creatures. There’s only been one death from a sea-snake in New Caledonia so far,” he reassured me and added: “Sometimes when we go fishing, we spend the night on one of the motus on the outer reef and a tricot rayé would come and snuggle up to my sleeping bag to get warm.”
I choked, bulged my eyes and almost dropped my Heineken, but managed to keep my mouth shut.