A close encounter in Los Llanos

by Sara Partington

©Sara Partington

Raoul smiled broadly. After 30 fruitless minutes of searching in the baking sun, I think he had given up a sighting. While we had seen brooding spectacled caimans, families of cute capabara, the huge rodent relations, part guinea-pig part bear-skin, and flocks of scarlet ibis rising spectacularly into the blue sky as our boat passed, the prize emblem of Los Llanos had so far eluded us.

Yet, now here was proof of Raoul's tales of metres-long anaconda snakes, one of the reasons why his attentive, slightly apprehensive, half-dozen guests had travelled out to the seasonally-flooded western plains.

©Sara Partington 

"A female, and she has eaten well, maybe a capybara," he said with almost paternal pride. "Sometimes they gorge so much that their skin splits - look at the scars on her skin."

Uncertain, we edged closer on silent tiptoe and took a few nervous snaps. The anaconda did not move save a careless flick of her black forked tongue to smell our approach in the air. "This is the safest time to get close to an anaconda" continued Raoul. "She will not want to eat us and does not want to move too much."

Emboldened, we approached and circled her, holding our collective breath with fascination and respect.  She was half-coiled into a collapsed spiral, with her tapered pointed tail and elegant flat head each poking out. The sun glinted on her brown, shining scales, varying in size from my little finger-nail to a penny at largest.  On closer inspection though, in fact she was a mosaic of colours: black, yellow, rust-red, brown, even tinges of green, and with some healed scars running along her body just as Raoul had said.

©Sara Partington 

We bent down to look her in her dark unblinking eye and I swear she slightly raised her snout in acknowledgment. Her tongue now flicked in and out more quickly as she assessed whether anything risked troubling her peaceful afternoon of digestion.

"We must still take great care though; she may be feeling vulnerable to attack. Her bite is not deadly poisonous but you will certainly feel it," Raoul warned. "I am surprised she is here on the grass rather than in the water where she will be cooler.  I think perhaps it is very recent that she has finished swallowing her lunch."

And, right on cue, the snake started slowly to uncoil, almost so that we might better admire her full length (and tell-tale swelling of her recent meal).  "12, maybe 14 feet" guessed Raoul.  "Females are bigger and stronger than the males..."

Slowly and deliberately, and now looking entirely relaxed at our presence, she worked her elegant body across the grass until it started to soften into puddles where she paused, seeming to savour the moisture on her skin.

 ©Sara Partington

Then, with a sudden, swifter burst of speed, she slithered towards the deeper water and, virtually silently, disappeared into the muddy lagoon, leaving us a close encounter to remember.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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