The Night of the Cobras
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s about to get a bit slithery.
“On any given day on Jalan Mangga Besar in Jakarta, dusk brings a scurry of activity from street stall owners…” Click on the link to read the piece I did for CNNGo about cobra blood shots on Jakarta’s streets with terrific photos from Melanie Wood (who has a great blog you should check out here). This post shares some of my blurry photos (pre-new camera era) and a bit of background about the whole experience. A warning for those who don’t like blood, there are some graphic photos in this post, this is, however, part of daily life here in Jakarta.
When Emily, apartment-mate and fellow journalist, and I heard that you could get shots of cobra blood in Jakarta we were both curious. Maybe it’s the journalist inside us both, but we tend to be drawn to the strange and the unusual and we were both curious to see if this was an urban legend, or if you could really sit down and buy a shot of cobra blood. Were lots of Indonesians doing this? And would said shot really improve women’s skin and up men’s sexual stamina like promised?
After walking along Jalan Mangga Besar (Big Mango Street) for some time, we settled on Dani’s stand. Dani and his assistant Beke seemed like nice guys and we got a good vibe. There was a big cage full of cobras under Dani’s tent stall and suddenly I grew anxious and started asking myself, “Is this a good idea? Should I do this? Could I get really sick?” (The post gets more graphic after the jump so be forewarned.)
But, I’d pitched the story and it had been accepted, so I had to take the leap, er gulp. As I watched Dani and Beke clean the snake, I knew it was too late to turn around. Would there be after effects? Would I suddenly feel like I needed to slither around? Or, would I have beautiful clear skin as Dani promised?
In a flash a cup of cobra blood sat before me mixed with arak, a palm liquor. There were bits of what looked like snake ligament in the drink too. Emily decided to film me taking the shot. I took too big of a gulp so some blood ended up on my reporter’s notebook. The shot tasted like the alcohol that it was mixed with and I drank it pretty fast and immediately chased it with water so there wasn’t a residual taste.
Dani told me he gets his snakes from West Java. He had a steady stream of customer’s over the two hours we were there.
After our cobra blood shot, we decided to sample some other delicacies. We decided to try cobra meat satay (known in Indonesia as sate).
Sate, the popular ones are chicken and lamb, is cooked over hot coals as the vendor fans the flames. Sate is one of my favorite Indonesian dishes so I decided meat is meat. Well, cobra meat was pretty chewy and reminded me of the bits of chicken that I find too chewy to enjoy. But when you put enough sweet soy sauce and peanut sauce on anything, it gets eaten.
There were also loads of creams, lotions, and other medicines for sale on Dani’s table.
At one point in the evening a man hopped off a motorcycle and tried to sell Dani some lizards. Dani was only interested in the bigger one, so then the guy tried to sell me the lizard. I declined. Indonesia is a hot spot for the global animal trade so you never know where people are getting things and if they are endangered or not.
And if you were curious about what is in a cobra vendor’s trash can, it’s pretty predictable:
All in all it was a fang-tastic time and I got to learn about something that is part of daily life for some Indonesians. My skin you ask? The same as before.