Saturday, December 4, 2010

Snake Goggles

"A snake spat poison in my eye. Twice. Now I wear goggles."
This is Harry Wibowo talking, one hand resting on his round belly. He runs the Depot Cobra Rejeki snake restaurant in Malang, East Java. The two snake-spitting incidents happened ten years ago when he first got into the business

"My eyes were puffed for 24 hours and I couldn't see," he recalls. "But even now, a decade later, my eyesight is not clear."
Harry's been selling snakes since 2000. He keeps them in chicken-wire cages raised from the concrete floor on hexagonal paving stones.

He says he buys them for Rp 30,000 ($3) each and keeps 20 in stock. He sells up to 50 snakes a month. "My wife Fifi cooks them in our restaurant. They're good with Javanese spices and chili paste."
Occasionally someone wants to buy a live snake. "If a local magic man determines that a patient needs to make a snake sacrifice in order to be well again, I'll tape shut the snake's mouth and sell it to the customer. Then they'll kill it as part of their treatment."

In the cage the snakes are sitting upwards as though listening to us. Their pearly undersides catch the last of the light falling through the skylight above.
Today the snakes are shedding their skin. "It's a painful and difficult time for them," Harry says. "As they are in a cage, they cannot rub themselves against the ground or rocks to help the shedding process."

Putting his goggles on, Harry picks up a wooden stick and lifts one of the snakes from the cage. He tugs and tears the shedding skin from the snake like someone picking at sunburn. The snake hisses and spits.
"What do you feed the snakes?"
"Nothing. Customers don't want to bite into their cobra snake and find a partially-digested mouse inside."

In Jakarta, try the cobra palace.

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