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Despite the warnings, we linger in this section of black water, primarily because piranhas have a reputation for tasting damn delicious.

We sling old-school wooden rods over the boat side, using raw chicken as bait; the dark waters explode once more. Lightning-fast scales divebomb the hooks and I lift the rod from the water, unfortunately sans lunch.

These buggers are smart. I repeat the process, hooking more raw flesh on to my rod and plunging it deeper. I’m about to give up when a sharp pull on the rod hints of success.

I yank hard and a six-inch whiskered catfish comes flying out of the water, almost slapping Jorge clean in the face. It’s not razor-toothed or particularly terrifying, but it’s an edible start to my fishing career.

A tribal exchange

After devouring our freshly barbecued catch back at base camp, we depart to visit a local indigenous tribe.

The boat weaves silently between six-foot reeds and tall spiraling trees dangling vines – which I’m tempted to swing on – while others drip with bulbous red fruits pock-marked by peckish scarlet macaws.

Everything is comically surreal in its hypercolour, as though I’ve stepped into a Disney movie.

Thirty minutes and not a single tourist later, we’re hiking through undergrowth and sliding along muddy paths laced with intricate spider webs.

I’m not in any rush to see anything eight-legged. As if reading my mind, Jorge is quick to point out that “when you’re this deep into the jungle, there’s always an element of surprise”.

Comforting words. I’m just happy I can still hear frogs belching in the undergrowth; the noise a reassurance that an anaconda isn’t close by. Five minutes and one near quick-mud fatality later, we spy a sleepy arachnoid shuffling up a tree trunk. Anyone who says furry animals are cute clearly hasn’t done a stint in the Amazon.

Continuing up a trail that’s now a virtual mud flow from recent precipitation, we’re led into a clearing where 18 indigenous locals and a tribal elder are gathered.

Makeshift wooden shelters built into a concentric circle frame the space. The elder says nothing, but nods simply at us before smudging red splodges of pigment – squeezed from the local sumac berry –  on to cheeks, foreheads and chins. “This means you’re welcome, and signals to other tribes you’re friends of the Yaguas,” Jorge informs us.

We proceed into the clearing and watch as the tribe initiates a fertility dance, which we’re soon dragged into, boy-girl-boy-girl, conga-style. Chanting ensues.

The elder then lets out what can best be described as a war cry. He makes a beeline for me, points to my retro Casio watch and smiles suggestively. “Do you want to make an exchange?” Jorge interprets.

The elder has already begun gesturing between his magnificent corona (crown) of red and blue macaw feathers and my well-worn eBay bargain. I have no clue what the time is anymore.


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