Los Llanos (The Plains) is a vast flat wildlife-filled area that covers nearly a third of Venezuela and stretches into Colombia.
We haven’t even boarded our boat before pink freshwater dolphins appear in the river. As we glide through the water, we see a gathering of capybara, the world’s largest rodent. The largest are around three feet long, but they’re actually quite cute, more like little round bears than rats, especially the young. The river we’re on is usually a road for cars during the dry season. In a tree above the river, we see a Hoatzin, a strange bird with a sharp Mohican haircut, guarding its nest. (There are over 350 bird species in Los Llanos). Also in the trees: butterflies, dragonflies and a Macaurel snake, the constrictor coiled in some branches.
The boat speeds up as we enter the larger Cano Guaritico River that runs through Venezuala. It is a hot sunny day, with black vultures soaring high above. Turtles bask on tree trunks jutting from the river. Iguanas laze in tree branches. Capybara wade through the long grassy swamp waters, sleek fur shining in the sun. The world’s largest rodent, reaching three feet in length, they’re actually quite cute, more like little round bears than rats, especially the young.
“You have capybara coming out of your ears, there are so many,” says Javier. “They breed like mice.” There are big-beaked jaburu, Orinoco geese and pinkish dots of scarlet Ibis on the plains. A burrowing owl earns its name, digging out a hole in the dirt road. It stops what it is doing to watch us pass, looking quite proud of its work.
Caimans slink into the water, or float ominously among the hyacinths, hidden, waiting for something to come into jaw’s reach. And then it happens. Open jaws, a quick struggle and both hunter and prey disappear under the surface of the water, that soon is still again as if nothing has happened.
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