A month ago, here in the Peruvian Amazon, I walked into a village on a lake where a one meter baby boa constrictor was being tormented by a ring of children and adults. They claimed it deserved the smacks in the head with sticks because its long neighbors at their swimming hole ate their chickens, and, if allowed to attain full length in a few years, it would eat their children. I pulled an elderly man aside to ask just how big boas, which are actually anacondas, get.
He launched into a colorful description of the species, naming the amiable yellow and aggressive black as the largest, the rosy and green as the rarest, plus a handful of others in the boxes of water around Iquitos that made me believe he knows boas.
The small snake in the ring was nearly dead and writhing now, and the children complained that if they let it grow to four meters, and about 8” in diameter, it would start taking their puppies. And, the mothers protested, if they let such grow to seven meters they would start stealing the children when they bathed. I asked the old man how big the largest anaconda he ever saw was. He circled his hands in exasperation, looked about, and then pointed to a one-meter girth tree trunk and claimed, ´That thick! I saw it.´
Inspired by this encounter, I´ve been enquiring about boas on dozens of ensuing hikes in the environs of Iquitos, and the information matches down the line. Thirty minutes away on the outskirts of Iquitos Island, yesterday a small girl at a pond said that she has seen all colors and lengths of boas up to four meters, ´And they all have teeth!´ I asked her father if it was safe to bathe in the swampy pond, and he joked, ´For gringos!´
The largest boa he has ever seen once swam out this 300 meter swamp into the Amazon River. Like the other, his arms wouldn’t make a large enough circle, so he looked around and pointed to a 40´´ thick tree trunk for the girth. Another eye-witness verified that this Loch Ness creature swam out the lake before the low water trapped it, and into the great Amazon, where it raised its head out of the water at a passenger ferry nearly its 25-meter length, and then dove underwater.
Nearby, and a five minute walk from my Belen hotel, a 12´ long boa swam the Itaya River as I crossed the other day to get to the other side. Down the road, a few years ago, I walked past a thatched house on stilts and a young man climbed the makeshift ladder down to tug my elbow, asking, ´Do you want to buy a pet snake?´ I inquired where, and he led me a few steps behind the raised hut to an outhouse. I opened the door gingerly, with a creak, and peered in.
Five feet from my nose, the 14´´-wide head of a juvenile yellow boa raised blinking its tongue at the intruding sunlight. It was so beautiful and strong with the grace of youth that I wanted to reach out and pet its head, but rather stepped back and admired its full 12´ length. ´It´s yours out the outhouse for $20,´ offered the teen, and I was tempted. The snake was young enough to train to jump hoops and fetch the newspaper, and and perhaps later in full growth could employ about the villages as a money maker to eat smaller chicken and puppy eating anacondas. However, how was I to get it back to Iquitos? I had walked a day and a half on the old Nauta trail, and the serpent was too small yet to ride. So, I left the boa to outgrow its cage.