It’s when our tiny wooden canoe runs aground for the second time that I start to get a bit worried.
Here we are, deep inside an Amazonian swamp in the dead of night, hoping to spot a caiman.
The caiman that hunt at night. And can grow up to 13 feet long.
Sitting duck, anyone?
Our guide, Aderlin, pushes us free from the soggy sand with his paddle. But suddenly, every silhouetted branch or thick vine that we brush past in the water starts to take on a distinctly croc-like quality.
I should have seen this coming. Any boat trip that begins with spending fifteen minutes using a plastic cup to empty river water out of our supposedly watertight, life-saving vessel doesn’t exactly scream “predator-proof”.
But then, I didn’t know we’d end up here.
It had started off easy enough – the thrill of gliding through the inky black, silky waters of the Rio Tapajós as they shimmered in the light of the half-moon.
Along the bank, we slowed as strange sounds filled the silent air – screeching, croaking, roaring, chirping, rubbing – mostly from birds and toads.
Aderlin shone his torch at the ground ahead and in the water below, but, aside from the occasional piranha floating eerily by, there was no sign of those infamous bright yellow reflective eyes.
A long hour passed and by now we really wanted to see them. Not least because I started to need the loo.
“It’s too light,” Aderlin eventually announced. “The caiman don’t like moonshine.”
I prepared myself for us to turn around and start heading back, but instead we steered to the side into a section of partially submerged, dense flooded forest.
Now, as the opaque light of the moon is petering out, the huge, winding trees have taken on strange formations that could be straight out of a jungle horror movie.
I shudder whenever a twig snaps or a spooked bird flaps wildly away.
The water has started getting thinner, and our canoe more cumbersome.
Something heavy splashes into the water in the distance.
“Ah! Caiman,” says Aderlin.
We wait a few seconds and I take a gulp, sweating, as he starts slowly paddling us onwards.
Phil shifting around at different angles to take pictures sometimes rocks the canoe so much I (temporarily) want to push him in.
For what seems like an age we move through the pitch black swamp, following the hazy light from our single torch.
“Look!” Aderlin hisses, pointing to the bank.
I see the distinctive yellow glint peeping up from the black water and my heart starts thumping.
We gently approach and finally witness the glaring, cold, bloodthirsty, wild eyes of….a foot-long baby caiman.
It was quite cute really.
But then the cold realisation seeps in…where’s his mum?
I need the loo again.