A CLOSE encounter with a 6 meter anaconda in Ecuador was far more enjoyable, and calmer, than my previous experience with a snake.
Before leaving for my South American adventure, I was running along a bike path in Brisbane when my primal instincts screamed “looked down”. And there it was.
I was about to step on a brown-coloured snake slithering slowly across the concrete. At that point I was confident of breaking the world record for long-jump as I took a giant leap into relative safety. I still don’t know whether the snake was poisonous but I sure as hell wasn’t hanging around to find out.
It was a different kind of buzz in Laguna Grande, about a one-hour boat ride from Cuyabeno Lodge in El Oriente, a vast area of flooded rainforest in the Amazon Basin.
As our motorboat approached the anaconda curled in a tree, I was already scrambling for my camera. In Australia we have sharks, spiders, crocodiles and the world’s 10 deadliest snakes, so what harm could this seemingly docile serpent inflict?
I’m not sure why, but travellers sometimes tend to be more blase about potentially dangerous situations in exotic locations.
Our group swam freely in the piranha-infested lagoon and rivers, with hardly a murmur raised. It was only weeks later when I researched piranha attacks that I allayed any fear, although perhaps that should’ve been done before heading to the jungle.
According to one study, humans are more likely to be bitten in a boat while unhooking piranhas from their fishing lines than while swimming. It was a difficult theory to test because out of five people in our group, only one managed to hook these meat-loving fish with razor-sharp teeth.
Obviously experience makes a difference because our pot-smoking guide was reeling them in.
Much friendlier animals, such as pet monkey Melissa, can be found back at the camp. Thinking about the possibility, real or not, of being struck with rabies, I never felt totally at ease holding the moody but lovable Melissa, yet it was pleasant having her around. It’s not every day you wake up from a hut deep in the Ecuadorean jungle to be greeted by a sprightly monkey en route to a hearty breakfast.
It was especially enjoyable watching Melissa play-fight with resident rottweiler Sylvester, who was less agile but had more bite than his opponent.
Plenty more fascinating creatures can be seen in El Oriente but you need to keep your eyes peeled. It’s not like the Galapagos Islands where the wildlife is, well, not very wild at all.
Over four days of cruising through the river and walks into the jungle, we spotted a sloth, toucans, pink dolphins, tarantulas and nimble monkeys that jumped from tree to tree. I was delighted to be surrounded by these creatures but I really wanted to see caimans, similar to crocodiles, lurking in the dark. And time was running out.
Lurking in the lagoon
It was my last night in this tropical wonderland and I was resigned to missing out, but luck was on my side.
Our guide told us to look for red eyes glowing in the dark. Sure enough, we weren’t to be disappointed and spotted several caiman on the way home from the lagoon. The two Swiss girls in our party weren’t too pleased about the locals snaring a juvenile caiman with a rope and hauling it onboard but the frightened critter was soon back in the water without too much fuss.
It’s brilliant getting so close to these dangerous creatures and staring them in the face, but I can do without any nasty surprises on my evening jogs.
Accommodation: Expect to pay about $280 for four nights at Cuyabeno Lodge, including basic accommodation, meals, excursions and airport transfers. There is no electricity but camera batteries can be recharged through a generator.
Getting there: LAN Airlines flies from Sydney to Quito. Fares start from $1363. From Quito, a return flight to Lago Agrioql will cost about $190.
Insurance: Comprehensive travel insurance is compulsory.
Visa : No visa is required for Ecuador for stays of up to 90 days.
Essentials: First-aid kit, insect repellent, torch, toilet paper, hiking boots, Spanish phrase bookTravel Tips: Ecuador Destination Guide