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How to find an anaconda in the Amazon

Published August 20th, 2015

Snakes. The word alone is enough to send some jumping on top of the nearest couch, table or person; and I guess I can see why… They slither, they bite, and they can sometimes kill. They can also be absolutely beautiful. My girlfriend even pointed at a red one we recently spotted beside a river saying, “He’d make a lovely handbag”!

Handbag meat? Not here in the Amazon

This wasn’t a trip to find your average run-of-the-mill jungle python however. We were going for the Holy Grail, the king of serpents, the largest snake in the world; the mighty anaconda.

Our quest began in Quito, the capital of Ecuador. We booked plane tickets to Lago Agrios, the gateway to the Amazon. After disembarking onto a heavily guarded runway we breathed in the sticky, aromatic, jungle air. One night was needed in this sleepy little town before the tour, so we found a bite to eat. Chinese food - known locally as Chifa – was apparently a local favorite and it turned out to be some of the best we’d ever tasted, who would’ve thought that Chinese food was killer in the Amazon?

The next day started abruptly due to a faulty alarm clock – or faulty alarm setting person. We hightailed it into a taxi. Language barrier struck. I drew a picture of a bridge on the back of a napkin and our driver sped off. After meeting our (waiting) group we boarded a bus for a couple hours drive further into the Amazon.

Friends of the Amazon

The final form of transport to our lodge turned out to be a motorised canoe. We winded through the thick jungle for roughly two hours spotting monkeys, a sloth, butterflies and a bevy of tropical birds.

Caiman Lodge was the most basic accommodation available in the area. We didn’t want to be one of those bubble wrapped tourists in the fancy place! Actually, The fancy place was full. It was a blessing though as Caiman was absolutely perfect. Super relaxed, clean and friendly. It even had a seven-story bird watching platform that towered above the jungle canopy. We were surrounded by wildlife; white-faced and howler monkeys paid frequent visits and cute little tree frogs hopped between our feet outside the cabins.

More friends (or foes) of the Amazon

Our days were spent roaming the dozens of rivers and lakes nearby looking for birds and animals in our canoe. We were there in dry season, which made it perfect for finding caimans (members of the crocodile family). One was almost five meters long! On the first day we reluctantly hopped from the safety of our boat onto the muddy shore. An anaconda was seen around these parts the day earlier. Here we go.

When I say muddy, I mean sink-up-to-your-waist muddy. We’re trudging around looking for a giant man-eating snake and I couldn’t even take three steps without falling over! Rox got so badly stuck it took three of us to pull her out. Lucky for her, the anaconda wasn’t around. She would’ve been an easy catch.

Before heading back to base for dinner we took a stroll through the jungle. Our guide, Miguel taught us all about natural medicines along the way and even made a mushroom stew for his stomach ache.

The next day we visited a local community where we helped make yucca bread. Then we chatted to a real Shaman who performed an Ayahuasca ceremony and played a game of darts with us… Poisonous blow darts to be precise.

I was getting nervous. Last day and still no Annie.

We headed back to the same muddy area where Rox got stuck to have another look for the beast. Water levels had visibly dropped since day one and our vessel was scraping the bottom in some areas. That was fine though, because more mud flats means more spots for a giant snake to bask in the sun.

... and bask she did; say hello to the modest five-meter anaconda

It was complete silence. Our group of six is intently scanning the banks. Finally someone broke the silence with a shriek – the Holy Grail; a ‘smallish’ five-meter juvenile female anaconda was chilling out only two meters from the waters edge. The canoe wobbled as cameras whirred and clicked. I slipped into my gumboots and hopped out and into the 45cm deep murky water. Squish. I made my way to about halfway between the boat and the snake.

I looked back, everyone’s still in the boat, except for Miguel.

Miguel the fearless leaders and Matt (R) braving the confines of the boat to get a closer look...

The giant snake moved. Miguel nearly jumped out of his boots. Everyone laughs because he’d been playing it so macho cool the whole time.

We spent about twenty minutes watching. When we finally cruised off into the sunset I quietly ticked another one off my bucket list; spot an anaconda – tick.

Matt having his bucket-list moment, it's not everyday you get that close to a man-eater!

I can’t wait to head back during the wet season to see even more of what Los Amazonas has to offer.

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Matt Castell

If you could make travel a full-time job would you? I am. I've been called a "jack of all trades" many times over the ten or so years spent wandering the globe. Always looking for new skills to learn, whether it be lion taming or flying helicopters... I'll give it a go! Being a Travel Agent for Student Flights has been the top pick so far though!