Going downhill in the Cape Verde Islands

Lush vallies of cassava, maize, cane and cabbage

Lush vallies of cassava, maize, cane and cabbage

(Guest post by Juliet Bothams – biography at end of piece)

I’m 1600m up a mountain, whimpering. No, not whimpering. Weeping. Around me the fortress walls of Ribeira da Torre rear copper-coloured to a sapphire sky. Before me, a long way down, are lush rolling foothills where rock and thatch villages nestle ever-so-tinily amongst plantations of coffee, cassava, banana.

Seven kilometres away tropical Atlantic rollers scatter shards of light across the deep indigo ocean. The view is awesome. Inspiring. But I couldn’t care less. What I could care about is getting down alive.

‘How are you doing?’ my husband shouts into the wind, somewhere above and behind me. I can’t see him. The path is so steep and the hairpins so tight it’s impossible to know where you’ve come from or where you’re going. And it’s slippery. I’m crouched on the track with no idea when I’m ever going to be brave enough to stand up.

But then my Guardian Angel appears.

Eldie checks out the route

Eldie checks out the route

She arrives as a small wire-haired terrier, black and tan, striking markings round her eyes making her look like a masked robber. Her tail wagging jauntily over her back, she comes trotting up the path, skipping carelessly over boulders, oblivious to the gaping geographical maw waiting to swallow us all whole.

Head cocked, ears pricked, she scampers up to me and … nips my leg! What a good game! Very pleased with herself, she does it again. That gets me moving!  She guides us down the precipitous switchback, back and forth, back and forth, grinning and nipping.

She is utterly charming, coquettish and very brave. She shares our picnic and our water, she snacks on lizards and crickets, crunching noisily while their tails and legs waggle hopelessly. She’s just the distraction I need: I forget my terrors and wild imaginings of tumbling into the void.

Finally back on my feet 300m from the top of the Ribeira de Paúl on Santo Antão. The smile is one of relief, having got down the first hideous stage with the help of Eldie.

Finally back on my feet 300m from the top of the Ribeira de Paúl on Santo Antão. The smile is one of relief, having got down the first hideous stage with the help of Eldie.

We call her Eldie, short for Little Dog, and enjoy the three hours in her company until we arrive triumphantly at the first village. But what to do with Eldie? She can’t come with us, we’re on holiday, hiking in the Cape Verde Islands. We feel a betrayal looming.

Two young men are walking towards us, working tools over their shoulders, bulging sacks on their backs.  Cape Verdeans are polite and friendly.

Têm um cachorro bonito!’ smiles one of them.

‘She’s not ours,’ I correct him. ‘She’s just adopted us. We found her up there,’ I indicate the top of the Ribeira.

‘She’s abandoned then, um cão sem abrigo. Good thing she’s found you!’

‘But we can’t take her to England! We won’t be allowed,’ I blurt.  ‘But you’re right, she’s very friendly, and very polite, and very clever!’ And then as an afterthought: ‘Couldn’t you offer her a home?’

The young men look dubious. Eldie cocks her head and pricks her ears. They exchange glances. They nod.

We last see our Guardian Angel riding high on a sack, tail wagging, licking and nipping at a chocolate-brown ear, peering over her shoulder like a masked robber as she disappears from view.

Thank God for a happy ending!

Copyright©Juliet Bothams 01March2014

Juliet Bothams

Juliet Bothams

JULIET BOTHAMS – THE LAST FEW YEARS

After 37 years of penal servitude in corporate business, 33 years of blissful conjugal relations and 20 years of financial profligacy I decided to call time on work. Now I am free as a bird to do as I like, as long as what I like is well within my nowadays straitened financial circumstances. Thankfully writing hardly costs a penny piece and so, as I have spent a great deal of my life telling outrageously tall stories, I thought I’d try my hand at short ones instead. And travelogues, poems, diatribes, letters to the Times and Telegraph; you name it! I live in a small village in Hampshire on the Hangers Way and a small village in Portugal surrounded by orchards, and have clocked up 38 years of marriage to the same amazing man who saw something of promise in me all those years ago. Ever the optimist and patient to a fault, he can still see that glimmer and hopes that one day it will turn into something useful.

 

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