We have seen smaller specimen and, less frequently, even larger anacondas close to Yopal, capital of the Colombian department of Casanare, where we operate. To be sure to find it we set out on a trip to the La Aurora nature reserve each dry season to look for our giant reptile friend. A two hour drive to the small town of Paz de Ariporo and then another two to three hour drive off road on dust treks into what feels like a mix of the end of the world and the middle of nowhere, get us to the 10,000 ha reserve. Staying at a rustic ecolodge right on the river Ariporo we set out in an old and rusty jeep with one of the reserve's owners to find the Great Anaconda.
Clouds of dust swirl behind us as we speed over a bumpy trek, stopping now and then to take a picture of a prairie owl, of Orinoco geese or of the odd capybara and spectacled caiman sunbathing by a lagoon. Yellow grass against pastel blue skies, scrubby bushland meeting almost desiccated waterholes and tough as concrete savannas dotted with skinny zebu cattle, these are the images of Llano summers. Scarlet ibises and roseate spoonbills are colourful specks in the otherwise sepia savanna.
We roll up our trouser legs and wade in. The men, one of the reserve's owners and a worker, poke around in the marsh with long branches. "We need to find its head", one of them explains. "When we find the head, we need to grab it. The head is its most dangerous part, that's where its teeth are, that's the part we need to have control of."
Next they find the anaconda. They keep poking it gently until they are sure to have located its head. Now the two men bend over rapidly, dig deep into the green carpet and grab the anaconda's head. One pulls it by its head, the other by its tail and slowly the entire reptile emerges and is set free on a bank of mud where it unfolds in all its extent and grace. A giant snake, a little unsure, a little disoriented at first, slowly moves across the mud. Its tongue flickers, its tiny black eyes and little nostrils, its pattern of large black and yellow dots on green, its shiny skin and the tip of its tail - all laid out before our eyes like the mystical creature she is.
The specimen before our eyes is about four and a half meters long, I estimate. "Six!", everyone but me agrees and underpins a common trait, that of people overestimating the size of an anaconda. While anacondas may grow larger than six meters, no evidence exists. Anacondas keep growing throughout their lives. Quite possibly in regions less accessible, such as the depths of the Amazon forest, larger varieties exist. While many horror stories and local legends go round, anacondas are not known to attack or even be capable of swallowing humans. Caimans, capybaras, deer, calves and other 'smaller' mammals are commonly on their menu.
With their long branches the men eventually direct the anaconda gently towards the marsh again, where it slides into its protecting carpet of greens, no more than a gentle giant with merely a fearful appearance as long as her strength and personal space are respected.
Left in awe, we will talk about this encounter forever, and possibly, over time let the anaconda of our memory grow bigger and bigger... one for the campfire!
How to reach us: Daily flights into Yopal from Bogotá
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