Updated: Apr 8
It was my second full day in Brisbane, and I wanted to spend the afternoon on the Riverwalk, an 870-meter-long pedestrian strip bordering the Brisbane River. Before starting the fifteen-minute journey down Main Street to the Thornton entrance, I made a pit stop at the convenience mart up the road for my usual Subway lunch: a veggie flatbread sub toasted with white American cheese and topped with lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, extra cucumbers and pickles, mustard, and chipotle mayo. I added a bag of Ms. Vickie’s Jalapeño Kettle Chips and a couple of juicy nectarines on the side to complete the meal.
I must have been starving that day because I tore into that sandwich as soon as I left the store, devouring half before I even reached the River Terrace bus stop five minutes away. I put the other half away to save for later and ripped open the Ms. Vickie’s to go to work on those crispy kettle chips. My hand was fist deep in that bag, pulling out one flavorful chip after the other to stuff into my face. I was oblivious to the world around me because I was too busy mindfully enjoying my chips, rocking out to my music, and lost somewhere in my head, per usual.
A few minutes later, I crossed over River Terrace and approached a section of trees above me, sitting atop a stone wall encasing Kangaroo Point Park on the left. As I walked and dined, the biggest snake I’d ever seen in the wild lunged from one of the trees to pounce on a possum hobbling on the sidewalk. Actually, I think the possum was already dead, but that’s neither here nor there. A full-grown carpet python at least 8 or 9 feet long jumped out of a tree mere steps before me! I almost choked on my chip!
What in The Crocodile Hunter was going on here? I knew Australia was well known for its snakes, spiders, and other predators but not in the city―in broad daylight, no less! I thought that as long as I stayed away from the outback, I would avoid any terrifying encounters. Nope. Had I arrived at that spot just three seconds earlier, that python would have landed on my head or at least touched my body somewhere. I’m sure I would have panicked and instinctively bolted to the right, running directly into six lanes of traffic, causing massive accidents and becoming roadkill. What an awful ending to an otherwise incredible trip that would have been.
Thankfully, the landing was proximate enough to startle me but far enough for me to react rationally. Plus, a guy was approaching from the other direction and arrived at the same time to witness this event and keep me calm. It felt like we had walked onto the National Geographic filming set and were unknowingly cast as extras. I froze because I’d never seen anything like that and was unfamiliar with snakes. I didn’t know if it was venomous or if it would attack, feeling threatened. The man assured me we were safe since the snake was in its most vulnerable state while it feasted.
The panic within me eased and was instantly replaced with curiosity. Now intrigued, I packed away my chips and whipped out my camera to record this spectacle along with the guy. You can’t pay for that type of wildlife entertainment. I’ve seen snakes eating on TV before, but I’ve never seen them gorging right in front of my eyes a few feet away. This seemed like it should have been an anomaly, even for Australia. However, the man explained that snake sightings in the city had become common that year due to excessive heat and other conditions driving them away from their natural habitats.
Even seeing a possum in broad daylight was strange to me, coming from the States where their cousins, opossums, are nocturnal. The furry creature was full-grown and plump, but it was no match to the ever-expanding mouth of the python. Now thinking about it, maybe the possum was already dead since there was absolutely no movement coming from it. Perhaps the hunt started in the trees since they’re both arboreal animals. Or maybe the possum was listless because the python used its thick body to squeeze the life out of it. All I know is we stood there for over twenty minutes recording the snake scoffing that marsupial down, starting with its head, working its way along the thick midsection, then finally gulping its clawed feet and bushy tail. The python left no crumbs. And to see the possum making its way through its stomach, bulging the interior as it remained fully intact, was truly impressive.
Once the last hair of the tail was swallowed and the python’s mouth shut for the first time since it started eating, it sat there for a short moment, seemingly contemplating what to do next. I think it had “the itis,” and it needed to find a cool tree to take a nap. The snake ignored the small crowd watching its every move and turned to slither along the perimeter of the wall before sluggishly maneuvering up a rock bed towards a shrub garden. I wanted to see if it could make its way up the wall with that extra cargo in its belly, but it just disappeared behind the bush. I guess the show was over.
The guy and I said goodbye, then proceeded in opposite directions. I resumed my journey to the Riverwalk, again snacking on my kettle chips. This time though, I was an owl nervously inspecting all the trees and airspaces before I passed underneath them. Fool me once.