With that image fresh in my mind, Alan continues to lead us on, making frequent plunges into the bush to see red-bellied macaws, blue-headed macaws and woodpeckers.
Against all odds – as far as I can tell – we make it to our next adventure, which is a canoe ride through an estuary to Lake Sandoval.
The oxbow lake was formed when a portion of Rio Madre de Dios was cut off from the main river and therefore created an eco-system unique in the world, Alan explains. This too, he adds, is a favoured spot for anacondas.
Fortunately, we don’t encounter any. Instead, we see a sloth in the treetops and a rare poison dart frog. The reeds surrounding the shore pulsate with bird life. Herons, ibis, hoatzins and a grey-necked wood rail all make an appearance. A family of endangered river otters frolick in the water.
When we arrive back at the lodge, we feel as if we’ve had a week’s worth of experiences – and it’s only 11 a.m. The heat has become oppressive. Most of our group heads to the organic cotton hammocks for a nap. I spend about an hour watching a man knock lemons from a tree with a stick.
After a buffet lunch, it is time for our next outing: the Anaconda Walk at the Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica. (I am beginning to think Alan has a death sentence. Or just doesn’t like us.)
We climb stairs to a height of 10 storeys, then cross a series of six bridges high up in the canopy. For once, I’m not the most phobic one in the group, though I do recall flipping through a book at the airport and reading about a green tree viper which is particularly lethal to humans because it’s well-positioned to strike at heads and necks.
Many people in the group are afraid of heights. The elder statesman of the group – an architect from England – talks one person after another across the narrow, swinging bridges.
It’s a beautiful walk in the treetops – but the creatures remain hidden.
Sometimes, Alan says, they see emerald tree boas. Or a monkey will pop out. “You have to be patient in the Amazon,” he says.
Back at the lodge, we’re becoming increasingly full of bravado. Then Alan tells us about our next outing. After dark, we’ll go for a night walk in the jungle. That way we’ll have a better chance of seeing spiders, insects and snakes, he explains.
“Spiders, insects and snakes,” says the young groom on honeymoon. “That pretty much sums up everything I don’t like about the jungle.” He opts to stay at the bar.
The rest of us meet in the lodge’s research centre, where Alan displays deadly snakes in jars. One of the pickled specimens is a coral snake that almost got him when he didn’t notice it curled up in the centre of a plant.
Alan seems obsessed with Anacondas so I ask him about one of the other fearsome serpents of the Amazon – the Bushmaster. It’s large, aggressive and armed with lethal venom. “Yes, we see them and sometimes we capture them around here,” Alan says, gesturing to the blackness just beyond the circular beam of our flashlights.
And with that, we head off down a narrow path.
Lit by the artificial light of our torches, the jungle feels almost like a film set. We push through the foliage to see a praying mantis, a golden orb spider, a poisonous caterpillar and two stick insects mating. Our beams catch the bright eyes of an opossum.
After 30 minutes or so, Alan asks us to turn off our flashlights so that we can experience the full darkness and intense sounds of the rain forest.
We stand frozen for an eternity of about 20 seconds. “If you feel something slithering across your feet,” Alan says, “try not to move.”
The lodge has never seemed so warm and welcoming as when we make it back that night. We sit in the glow of the candlelight and trade stories. But we head to bed early because we have a predawn wake-up call.