I’m abruptly awoken on Halloween’s eve to the ruffling and shaking of my tent pitched deep in the Peruvian Amazon. A thick coat of alarmed chicken skin rips down my back and across my arms. “ JAGUAR,” my mind races after spotting tracks on our trail earlier in the afternoon.
No jungle cats here, just my boyfriend.
Relieved and slightly agitated for the head rush, he reassures my nerves announcing we are going shining for Caiman. Right now.
Groggily, I pull my Malaria armor over my first line of mosquito defenses and head to the river. Pushing away our peke peke from shore, I’m still not sure what to expect from this little outing.
Let me set the scene for you. It’s nearly a full moon but it’s the distant lightning storm that faintly illuminates the banks of the Amazon. Its also, I quickly come to realize, the only light we are equipped with, save two small headlamps that are supposed to spot alligator hideouts while simultaneously steering the driver clear from floating debris. The jungle is teeming with life and while it disrupts the natural activity surrounding us, I feel slightly comforted by the obscenely loud engine pushing us downstream and chasing away gators.
Naturally, as in all low budget sci-fi and horror movies involving animals of prey and fanatical tourists, the motor stalls and we drift into a floating tree stretching across the river. As we idly sit entangled in the tree’s embrace it’s brought to my attention that we have no oars or paddles.
What kind of operation is this? I think, hoping we have enough cause to give up the hunt and make our way back to the campsite.
And then away they go. Hacking away in the pitch dark, Jay and our navigator Kushu fashion themselves a paddle of sorts out of the tree blockade, leaving me to reassure myself that we are not tearing apart some large reptile lair where hungry alligators are waiting for us to fall into their laps. Or jaws, rather. My stomach starts to hurt, the sweat is not far behind and I’m over it. I’m just really over it.
“ ¡Allí! ”
Oh. Dear. God. They found one. And the satisfaction of having its eyes reflecting back at us is not enough. We have to get closer I’m told. Like, what are we going to do up close and personal to a Caiman? How is this sole stick going to hold up against an alligator’s angst when we invade his space and he’s ready to eat us? This is some real Steve Erwin shit right here.
Our sixty-something guide springs up into the tree and just as I close my eyes and fear the worst I hear a splash, grunt and heavy thud. He’s back in the boat grinning from ear to ear. Two seconds tops and we have a Caiman in the boat.
Turns out, he’s a little guy. Cute as reptiles get, too. No need to have worried, Kushu tells me. The three to six meter gators don’t come out until two in the morning. Needless to say, we went out the following night all in the name of spooky fun!
*No Caimans were injured during our adventure and were released back to their natural environment.