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Animal encounters

I sleep deep, waking once to check for tarantulas under my bed, then again to a sinister splash in the water beneath my cabin. Sometimes, in the Amazon, it’s best not to probe too far.

We breakfast early on eggs and coffee, and enjoy the tranquil, ethereal light afforded by a morning storm, before leaving for a waterlogged Monkey Island.

Home to 15 species of indigenous monkey, the island is a must-visit in this region.

Fifty minutes later and we’re re-enacting Noah and the Ark; large Amazonian howler monkeys, spider monkeys and a particularly pretty squirrel monkey fly into our boat from the branches above.

They land without apology on our heads and shoulders and attack the bags of bananas we’ve brought.

With 12 monkeys in the boat, plus a giant green, orange-winged Amazon parrot and three scarlet macaws, we feel like we’ve reached capacity.

Then a longboat appears through the reeds beside us – it’s a local, his son and their catch of the day: a two-metre anaconda with a body wider than a rugby player’s thighs.

The native offers it up to hold and I succumb, my eyes agog. The snake coils itself around my neck; I’m both terrified and awed.

The beast is removed and a prehistoric mata mata turtle with Batman-esque armour popped in my lap. Its dart-shaped head disappears into its shell and I can’t blame it – what with squawking parrots, gargantuan snakes and an army of monkeys, the scene is a bit much for me too.

Buzzing from our run-in with some of Amazonia’s finest specimens, we take a different route back through the river’s shimmering waterways.

A pink freshwater dolphin appears beside the boat, extending its nose amicably like a human tipping their hat to say hello. We’d been warned that spotting pink dolphins when the water’s this high can be tricky, but it seems luck is on our side.

A final toast

Jorge suggests we celebrate with a trip to the local ‘off licence’, a hut 30 minutes north that’s home to a local distiller of potent Amazonian sugar rum. Despite the fact it’s barely 11am, there’s a collective nodding of heads.

We trek over muddy hills until we reach the hut and procure three bottles of 45 per cent proof liquor that’s less than a week old. It costs £1.

Our toast happens later that afternoon, all glasses facing towards the river. To the Amazon – a place of magic and madness. It’s the lungs of the earth, and I feel lucky to have seen it breathe.

When to go: July to December tends to guarantee the least precipitation and consistent sunshine, which means better opportunities to spot wildlife.

Currency: £1 = PEN4 (Peruvian Nuevo Sol)

Accomodation: In the jungle, Albergue Tacana Comunidad Multietnica de Tacana is a tranquil guesthouse with rooms from £7pn, including breakfast.

In Leticia, No-frills hostel Casa Del Kurupira offers free wifi and decent-sized dorm rooms. From £5 a night.

A four-day, three-night tour with Maniti Expeditions costs £310 including accommodation, three meals a day, snacks and transfers.


Photos: Jennifer Carr, Thinkstock, Getty

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Welcome to the jungle: magic and madness in the Amazon rainforest, Peru
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