Day 4. Smile, you are on the island – Sorria, você esta na ilha
As predicted, it was still raining when the couple arose at eight in the morning, the air so heavy and moist that even the birds and local fauna sought protection from it, leaving an almost unnatural silence in the air as Kris and Tanja made a quick dash to the dining room and main part of the pousada, the way unfortunately uncovered.
The plump owner had prepared, what appeared to Kris, a typical European style breakfast of cold sliced meats, cheese, bread and jellies, yoghurt and cereals, juices, hot and cold milk and tea and coffee, plus some sliced fresh papaya, just to prove that it wasn’t Europe.
Tanja helped herself to a little of almost everything except the sliced meats, but Kris just poured himself a cup of coffee, taking it black and sweet. For him, ever since he had left home at seventeen, breakfast had always consisted of coffee, strong, sweet and black, and a cigarette or two. As they each enjoyed their respective repasts, other guests trickled in for their own.
Due to the inclement conditions outside, the majority of the guests milled around the communal areas inside taking advantage of their enforced proximity to socialise with each other. There was Dougie and Bruce, a pair of young Australian guys who had been travelling and working in South America for six months and were on their final leg, Melinda and Mike, an English couple from Essex who were enjoying their first trip beyond European shores, Isabella, a young American girl with a funny, pixie like face who had been working at an orphanage in Bolivia and who Tanja had met the previous day and Carlos, a Bohemian Brazilian in his late 30s who said that he came to the island at least every few weeks to escape the rat race of São Paulo. All were bemoaning the weather, the most vocal being the couple from Essex who were vociferously claiming it was some kind of conspiracy as they had left England to escape the rain.
Kris was naturally a very optimistic person and couldn’t stand whingeing, so decided to try and placate them by proclaiming that the rain was not going to last too much longer.
Melinda, with her fake orange tan and overly bright make-up, turned to him with a sneer on her lips.
“And wot are you?” she snarled, “a bleedin’ wevver man?”
Despite her vile manner, Kris smiled to himself; if only she knew, he thought. He was reminded of one occasion when he was at university and had arranged to go for a game of golf with Jeremy, a classmate. The day had started with showers and when his friend had arrived he was expressing doubts about going. Kris had told him not to worry, things would be alright, they wouldn’t get wet. Jeremy, familiar with Kris’s powers of prediction, put his faith in him and decided to go nonetheless. Arriving at the golf course, they could see that some players were getting wet, whilst others were huddled under large umbrellas and Jeremy really wasn’t sure about playing. Kris laughed his doubts off and again reassured him that they would be fine; they would not get even a drop of rain on them.
Deciding to totally trust him, Jeremy proceeded full of confidence to the first tee with Kris and prepared himself to play the long par four. The tee, although slick with moisture, was free from precipitation. Throughout their round, they noticed many pairs of players under umbrellas as the rain fell from the sky around them, and they could even see the rain falling around them, but Kris and Jeremy managed to complete the entire 18 hole course without, as Kris had predicted, a single drop of rain falling upon them.
“You’re spooky, man,” Jeremy told him at the conclusion of the round. “It’s almost as if you controlled the weather.”
Kris said nothing, merely smiled for he was wondering the self-same thing. Was he predicting the rain or was he in fact controlling it? He had no idea, but was simply pleased that his prognostication had proved to be providential and the pair could finish their round of golf without being hindered by the inclement conditions that afflicted all the other golfers.
Tanja had gone back to their room for a shower so Kris stayed in the communal area with his laptop connected to the hostel’s wi-fi, checking on his emails and social network sites, all the while searching through his stored collection of videos, looking for a couple he had that he wanted to show Tanja. As he clattered away on the keyboard, Isabella, the American, decided to come and chat with him. She had not only met Tanja yesterday, but it seemed they had also struck up a friendship and he could see why. Isabella was very likeable and he fell into conversation very easily, all thoughts of Tahlia had seemed to evaporate from his mind the moment he had landed on the island.
Kris and Isabella chatted about everything under the sun from her work with children in Bolivia to what she did back in the States. He was not quite sure what sparked it, but she asked him if he had heard of Derren Brown.
“You’re not gonna believe this,” he said, an impish grin illuminating his face. “But I was just looking through my videos to show Tanja one of his tricks.”
“You’re kidding, really?”
“No, not at all,” he told her and explained his fascination with the awesome power of the brain and Brown’s ability to manipulate it.
He showed her one of the videos he had selected, the one where Derren had managed to get an orchestra to play Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, while just making sounds with their instruments, not knowing what tune they were meant to be playing. This was the tune chosen by the conductor, which he was supposed to transmit to the orchestra without using his normal modes of communication and with his hands tied behind his back. At the conclusion of the trick, not only were the conductor and orchestra amazed, but so was Isabella. Kris explained that there was nothing magical about it at all and proceeded to give her his explanation of how he believed it was done based on his previous experience with Derren.
After chatting cheerfully for a while longer, Isabella enquired as to what he and Tanja were going to do that day. He explained that they were planning on taking a hike to Lopes Mendes, a beach about two miles away as the vulture flies, but due to the trail twisting and turning up and down the terrain, it would be significantly more. seeing as she was on her own , he invited her to join them . As she had not made alternative plans of her own, she eagerly agreed and asked him to wait for her as she would go and get organised now.
It was almost 10.30 by the time the trio were ready for their trip, but the sky was still heavy and leaden and the rain was still falling heavily. After a few minutes of simply standing around chatting, the precipitation perceptively easing, Kris suddenly seemed to come to attention.
“Right,” he said authoritatively. “Let’s go.”
Both Isabella and Tanja looked at each other, reflecting back a quizzical expression, and then both turned to Kris.
“But it’s still raining,” they both chorused in unison.
“Don’t worry, we’ll be fine,” he said confidently and casually strode to the door.
“Come on,” he ordered over his shoulder at the two girls still rooted to the spot.
As if accustomed to taking order, the girls suddenly shook themselves into action and followed after him. A fine mist was gently falling as they went outside to catch up with Kris who was confidently walking towards the gate with not a thing to protect himself from the elements.
“Come on girls,” he again ordered. “Time waits for no man,” he said. “Or woman, as the case may be” he added marching off purposefully.
As the girls hurried after him, the drizzle petered out until it stopped altogether. The girls looked up to the sky in unison and then at each other and gave a shrug of their shoulders; it looked like he was right again!
The topography all around them was rugged and mountainous, clothed in a rich cloak of verdant green, the tops of the peaks shrouded in low cloud. Tendrils of vapour could be seen emanating from the very forest itself in places as the smoke-like wisps wafted upwards to join their brethren above. The sun then chose to show its smiling face through a gap that had opened in the previously solid layer of pale pewter coloured cloud. The arrival of the sun brought forth a smile from the trio and they set off for their trek to Lopes Mendes.
In a short while, there was no further sign of civilisation as the threesome became enveloped in the forest, the well-trodden trail climbing ever upwards. The late morning air was hot, heavy and humid and Kris found the going much tougher than he expected and had soon worked up a good bead of sweat upon his brow; his years of heavy smoking and drinking and lack of exercise coming to the fore. Tanja, a hardened and avid hiker, seemed as sprightly and unaffected as if she had just stepped out of the shower; Isabella showed a few signs of stress. The two girls chattered continuously, but Kris preferred to save his breath for breathing.
As they came to the top a rise the companions paused to take a sip of water and savour their surroundings. The forest was alive with the sounds of, what were for the tourists, exotic birds, insects and other local fauna. As Kris took a swig from his water bottle, he cocked his head to one side to better hear a strange sound he could discern in the distant. To him, it sounded similar to the roar of a crowd at a hockey game in.
“Can you hear that noise?” he asked and the two girls paused to listen, and then agreed that they could. “What do you reckon it is?”
“Maybe it’s howler monkeys,” Tanja ventured. “I read on the net that they have them on the island.”
“I don’t have a clue, but it sounds like a crowd at a football or baseball game to me,” Isabella offered.
“Yeah, I thought the same thing, but I think you’d be hard pushed to get a big enough crowd here to generate a sound like that,” Kris added.
After a short stop, they set off again, all three constantly turning their heads from side to side, taking in the sheer beauty of the virgin forest. Tanja took the lead with Isabella hot on her heels and Kris taking up the rear, but soon stopped suddenly when Tanja let out a cry.
“Oh my God, look at that,” she cried, pointing to the trail in front of her. Slithering straight up the centre of the path, oblivious to their presence, was a creature resembling a headless snake that approached 3 feet in length when it fully extended its ribbed body.
“What on earth is that?” Isabella asked completely awestruck and amazed.
Kris only needed a quick glance to identify it as an earthworm, and once having done so it became obvious to all, but the two girls had never seen one that huge before.
“I’ve only ever seen one that size, actually it was a lot bigger than that, when I was in Australia,” Kris told them. “Megascolecidae, is the scientific name for the Australian monsters and this one is probably related,” he added.
They unslung their cameras and clicked away at this unusual creature to prove to their sceptical friends that it was real and not just some wild fisherman’s tale, left the bicho unmolested and in peace and continued on their way.
After an hour on the trail the trio topped a rise to be met by an amazing vista of the ocean beneath them; the irregular curves and turns of the coastline giving the impression of many mountainous islands and the humid and vaporous air distorted the colours giving the scene a cool, moody blue flavour.
It was now all downhill and the going was far easier than it had been and their first checkpoint was visible in the distance: the small stretch of sand known as Palmas. This beach, when they reached it a few minutes later, reminded Kris of some of the beaches he’d seen on some of the lesser developed islands in Indonesia; there were roughly made homes that bordered the beira do mar which had a charm all of their own. It was obvious that many of them acted as shops during the peak season, taking advantage of the tourists who flocked to their shore, offering the inhabitants at least a modicum of income for six months of the year, but the majority were now closed. An old man manned the solitary stand that was open and Kris ordered himself a can of Guaraná, Brazil’s original energy soft drink, made from an Amazonian berry. He wondered if Tanja had any interest in this berry as well as the açai, but said nothing. The girls chose not to buy anything, preferring to stick to their water. He lit himself his first cigarette of the journey to accompany his drink and puffed away serenely.
He then noticed a sign which brought a smile to his face; obviously its intention.
“Hey girls, have a look at this would ya,” he called.
Even Isabella was able to understand the sign and the two girls smiled too when they saw it.
The three paddled through the gently breaking swell, their shoes off and slung around their necks as they literally cooled their heels in the refreshing water. Tanja soon took charge, informing the others that they couldn’t stay long as they had limited time to reach their final destination, spend enough time there to enjoy themselves and then make the journey back to the pousada before it got dark. For Kris, it made little difference whether they only reached as far as Pouso, the next beach on the way to Lopes Mendes or Lopes Mendes itself. Again, Kris was glad that she was not his girlfriend as her acting so bossy and ordering him around would surely have caused yet another fight. Nonetheless, he acceded to her demands, put his shoes back on after brushing off the fine grained sand that stuck to the soles of his feet and the three once again hit the trail.
Kris had been glad of the rest as the first part of this trail was incredibly steep and tiring and he now felt like he almost needed to physically lift his legs with his hands as his lanky legs took great strides to climb the thick, unevenly spaced roots that made up the majority of the upward path. By the time the trio reached the first peak of this part of the trail, even Tanja was showing signs of exertion; her thin, sweat soaked summer top clung to her skin, clearly defining what was not so hidden beneath, but this moved Kris not at all. Attractive she may have been, but she would be hell to live with he had concluded and she held absolutely no interest for him; desire was kindled by more than just looks and the most beautiful looking woman in the world could appear ugly the moment she opened her mouth. Isabella as well was looking a little frazzled.
The twisting, tortuous, torturous trilha continued up steep mountain sides and down difficult descents either side of the various peaks they encountered, the sheer ruggedness of which kept each person concentrating on their own circulation, both vascular and aerial, so much so that there was little or no breath left for verbal communication.
Quite unexpectedly, the trio discovered that they had arrived at Pouso. This part of their journey, although tough, was a lot shorter than any of them had imagined. There, on the beach, they found two casually dressed locals nonchalantly resting against a small dinghy and a much larger boat anchored offshore. The two velhos eyed up the three tourists and their eyes shone with anticipation as they approached.
“Bom dia, pessoal,” − Good morning people − one of the pair called in greeting, waving at the trio as they traipsed towards the shore.
“Bom dia,” they chorused back.
“Me diz uma coisa,” − Tell me something − Tanja asked. “Quanto tempo para chegar a praia Lopes Mendes?” − How long to get to Lopes Mendes beach?
He turned to his companion with a thoughtful expression, hand rubbing his chin and asked: “Pedro, o que tu acha?” – Pedro, what do you think?
His companion lifted his eyes to the left pensively for a moment before responding.
“Ai cara, eu acho que pelo menos quarenta e cinco minutos, né?” − Ah man, I think that at least forty five minutes, no? “
“No minímo, no mínimo, talvez uma hora. E muito longe.” − At least, at least; maybe an hour. It’s very far. − This was the intro for his sales pitch.
“Que tal nós levamos-lhes por barco?” – How about we take you by boat? – He asked nonchalantl, as if he would be doing them a favour.
Tanja shook her head derisively. “Não, obrigado,” she informed them politely, but definitively, “a gente vai caminhar.” – We’ll walk.
She was extremely determined and once she had her mind set on doing something, then she would do it. She had set out to hike to Lopes Mendes and that was exactly what she was going to do come hell or high water. If the others wanted to take the boat that was fine, but she was walking and that was that!
“Ok, let’s go then,” she, the self-designated leader, informed her companions. “If it’s still an hour to get there, we don’t have much time at all.”
Unable to argue with her logic, Isabella and Kris accepted her authority and joined her as she headed for the trail that would take the trio to their destination. As from the other starting points, Abraão and, Palmas, the only way was up and into the thick forest that blanketed the island. By now, the rain was long gone but its presence was still felt as the hot sun evaporated the remnants from the jungle, leaving the air thick and sticky.
Surprisingly, Kris found himself in the lead with the two girls taking the rear, chatting animatedly between themselves, his legs now feeling stronger and his energy level high despite his lack of breakfast. As they crowned a peak, he stopped and suggested a snack and a drink, producing a pack of sesame seed crackers from his back pack and offering them around. Due to the high humidity of the day and the steepness of the slopes, he had drunk almost the entire contents of his 1.5 litre water bottle and was somewhat concerned about the return journey. Nonetheless, he downed the last mouthful in one draught.
The air was still full of the distant sound of the monkeys calling out to their prospective mates or warning off potential intruders, and various insects announcing their presence, including the almost unbelievably loud chirruping of the cigarras – cicadas, at times exceeding one hundred decibels.
“Have you girls ever tried Jaca?” Kris asked inquiringly as the thought of jack fruit suddenly popped into his head.
The girls looked perplexed having no clue what he was talking about. He explained that it was called Jack fruit in English and recounted the tale that Tahlia had told him after she had spotted one in a market in Vancouver, whereby she told of the reforestation that had taken place in Tijuca national park, where many of these exotic trees had been planted. Her family had originally come to Rio from Vitória to help with phase two of the reforestation project that was designed to help restore the natural water sources and which had worked magnificently. He described the immense fruit the trees produced which could weigh as much as 30 kg, likening them to the durian fruit he had tried in Southeast Asia, but without the durian’s infamous odour for which it was banned from many hotels.
“Does it look anything like that?” Isabella asked, stopping in her tacks and indicating a huge tree just to the right of them at the edge of the dense forest.
“What?” He asked, following her arm and recoiling in surprise when he saw a jaqueira – jack fruit tree – heavily laden with yellow/green, spiky fruit of varying size, ranging from big toe sized to monsters which must have weighed close to 30 kg.
He laughed, once again surprised by the serendipitous situation he again found himself in.
“Yep, exactly like that,” he replied, a huge smirk lighting up his features.
“What a coincidence,” Isabella said with surprise and Kris reminded her of the coincidental incident involving the video back at the guest house earlier that morning. Kris then recounted other coincidences that had occurred with him and Tanja since his arrival in Rio. Tanja nodded her head to acknowledge these, but there was a puzzled expression marring her mien.
“I really don’t know what to make of this. I’m a rational, logical scientist,” she explained. “I use and trust scientific methodology; it’s what I am trained in…”
“Don’t forget that I am as well,” Kris reminded her interrupting.
Ignoring his interjection, she continued. “But I just don’t know what to make of Kris. He’s told me so many unbelievable stories, and I have seen some of them with my own eyes.”
It was obvious that her world view had been severely perturbed and she was struggling to fit these coincidences into it − there had been far too many for it to be just random intersections of seemingly interrelated occurrences. There had to be a simple explanation, but what? She had no idea and this disturbed her deeply.
“Come on,” Kris commanded with shrug of his shoulders, assuming the lead position, while Tanja battled with her inner demons. “We don’t have time to dilly dally around here. We’ve still got to get back before sunset,” he reminded them.
The two girls adjusted their backpacks and hurried after him.
After a few minutes, Kris perceived a new sound in the air and raised his hand signalling them to stop. He cocked his head from side to side to locate the source of this new sound, suddenly striding purposefully once he had identified it. The girls looked at each other with a question mark punctuating the air between them, but they cautiously followed after him.
Kris pushed his way through the heavy, verdant undergrowth and stopped at a narrow ravine through which ran a crystalline clear mountain brook, filling the air with the gentle babble of splashing water. Removing his now empty bottle from his backpack, he kneeled down and proceeded to fill it.
“You can’t drink that!” Tanja exclaimed horrified.
“Just watch me,” he said, smiling broadly back at her and tilted the now full container to his lips and swallowed almost a third of the contents.
“You don’t know what’s in there; there’s all kinds of microscopic life.”
“You mean like cryptosporidium? You forget, I’m a biologist too. I know exactly what to expect from the contents of fresh running water,” he reminded her.
“Sorry, I did forget,” she said blushing. “But you’ll get sick.” She sounded genuinely concerned for his state of health.
“Nope,” he said in negation, shaking his head from side to side. “I don’t do sick. In fact I can’t remember the last time I was sick. I think I must’ve been about eight years old.”
“But everyone gets sick at some time; there’s always viruses in the air.”
He refilled his bottle and explained his theory about how physical health was closely connected to mental health.
“Have you noticed people, how when they complain that they are getting sick and then, lo and behold they do get sick?”
Both Tanja and Isabella nodded in agreement.
“Well, I believe that our minds are the most powerful biological computers on the planet,” he explained. “We are the ultimate programmers and the commands we input, our biological computer performs.”
Tanja looked at him dubiously, but Isabella didn’t know what to think, this was just so out of her field of experiences.
“We programme our brains that we are getting sick and the brain obeys and we get sick. Me, on the other hand, I do the complete opposite. At the first sign of symptoms, I programme my brain that I will not get sick and will not put up with this and therefore my brain reacts accordingly and I don’t get sick.
“Bullshit!” Tanja barked, being unable to restrain her disbelief. “It’s not that simple, you can’t programme your body not to encounter viruses and bacteria.”
“You’re absolutely correct,” he told her. “But you can programme your body how to react when it does meet these pathogens, but hey, I’m not trying to convert you,” he said trying to pacify her. “You wanna get sick? That’s your choice; no skin off my nose. I prefer to remain happy and healthy.”
Tanja didn’t know what to say, her mouth opening and closing like a fish out of the water. Isabella, on the other hand, watched this exchange like a spectator at a tennis match.
“Look, let me give you another illustration to show how we programme ourselves,” he continued. “You know what abseiling is, right?”
Tanja nodded her head in agreement “Sure, I’ve done it many times in the mountains of Croatia and Slovenia,” she said, but Isabella shook her head.
“Otherwise known as rappelling; where people go down cliff faces by rope,” he explained and Isabella’s eyes lit up with understanding.
“Right, a few years ago I went abseiling with a group of guys, but one of them was absolutely shit-scared. He said he couldn’t do it because he was certain he would fall. We all tried to convince him that it was impossible, that he couldn’t possibly fall,” he told them, Isabella and Tanja saying nothing, merely focusing on his story, rapt.
“Just to prove that it was impossible to fall, I got myself hooked up and threw myself off the cliff with my arms sticking out. He saw me suspended in mid-air, hanging like a crucified Christ, not falling one iota and this mollified him somewhat, but he was still shit-scared. Anyway, to give him his dues, he tried to overcome his fear and panic and decided to do it. Ah, the power of peer group pressure,” he added. “But this guy had still programmed his biological computer to make him fall and, fuck me, this dude found the only way possible to do it.”
“What do you mean?” Tanja asked in disbelief. “You can’t fall!”
“That’s what I thought,” Kris responded with a short laugh. “But this guy found the only way possible. He inched his way over the edge and froze, just hanging there. We all encouraged him, but nothing we said could help him overcome his fear, then he proved us all to be liars by falling sideways into the cliff face! Had he stood his ground solidly and walked backwards down the cliff face, he would have been fine, but he was determined to fall and that’s exactly what he did, albeit sideways.”
The two girls simply shook their heads in disbelief.
“Speaking of fear,” he continued, “I heard it once explained as an acronym − False Expectations Appearing Real − which pretty much sums up how I see it.”
As he had been telling his tale, the trail had taken yet another downward turn and twisted through the dense forest until the trio unexpectedly found themselves blinking in the bright sunshine on the Lopes Mendes beach.
“Those lying little bastards,” Isabella exclaimed with a thin smile growing on her lips.
The final part of their journey had taken little over fifteen minutes!!! In total, their hike from Abraão, via Palmas and Pouso had taken the trio the best part of two hours and fifteen minutes through the rugged mountainous terrain of the island.
Lopes Mendes was a long curving almost horseshoe shaped bay with approximately a mile of narrow golden sand, reminiscent of Copacabana, Kris thought, but with infinitely less people. As far as Kris could tell, excluding themselves, within this one golden mile of sand, sea and jungle, there was probably a total of six people!
The early afternoon sun was already sliding behind the mountainous terrain and shadows were beginning to encroach on the sand. The fact that the three friends had to allow themselves sufficient time for the hike back to the pousada notwithstanding, they would have little time to take advantage of the sun on the beach.
All three were hot and sticky from their exertion and were eager to rinse off in the cool crystal waters and lost no time in divesting themselves of their clothing and racing into the water.
After a refreshing dip, the glaring sun found the three friends basking in its warm glow, not a care in the world as the rays warmed their skin anew and invigorated their souls. Had you told Kris that he would be feeling such peace in his soul within three days of having his heart wrenched and torn asunder he would not have been able to credit it.
The three friends soon became restless when the sun announced its departure by casting shadows upon their features and they finally decided it was time to retrace the trail they had trodden. As before, they were accompanied by the bizarre, crowd like chant of the howler monkeys deep in the heart of the forest.
They soon passed the two seadogs who had tried to trick the three of them into taking a trip in their boat and Kris just looked them in the eyes and silently shook his head sadly in their direction as he passed.
Kris again found himself the trailblazer, as the two girls kept up an easy pace chatting between themselves. The prior exertion he had really felt at the beginning of the journey had now passed and his lungs and muscles had eased for the return journey and had he felt like chatting he could easily have done so, however he was, like most males, not interested in the type of gossip that females find so fascinating. With a casual glance over his shoulder to check on his new found charges, he noticed that they had stopped, Tanja just behind Isabella, removing a shoe. He sauntered back to Isabella and started talking with her while they waited for Tanja. He mentioned that he was surprised that they had yet to see a single one of the thousands of monkeys that purportedly populated this Native Atlantic rainforest.
“Did you see that?” Tanja cried excitedly and the other two quickly turned their heads and went over to where she was still standing to see what the matter was.
“A monkey just jumped over my head,” she cried, eyes wide with excitement.
Isabella frowned at Kris as she thought of their conversations only seconds ago, before looking above Tanja’s head in an effort to try and spot one.
“Where?” she asked, scanning the canopy and lower branches without success.
Another marmoset chose that moment to leap over Tanja’s head, quickly followed by another and two even smaller ones, expertly catching the thin branches and swinging up onto them. As the friends enjoyed the spectacle of the marmoset family indulging in some entertaining monkey business, Isabella spotted a large dog coming around the bend on the trail and instinctively clung to Kris’ arm for protection. She had been petrified of dogs ever since she had received a less than friendly nip in the face from a pit bull when she was two years old and had been scared stiff of them ever since. The mutt, of highly dubious parentage, was soon joined by two more, none of which appeared to have collars and Isabella naturally assumed they were savage island strays and now moved behind Kris for safety. He, on the other hand, stupidly, in her opinion, moved towards them, arm outstretched in friendly greeting.
“Kris, no…!” Isabella yelled at him, rapidly releasing her grip from his arm and seeking refuge behind Tanja. “They’re gonna bite you!”
Kris was nonplussed and continued towards the three wild animals without seeming to show a trace of fear and squatted down on his haunches, hand still outstretched in a peace offering to the approaching canines.
The lead dog made a sudden forward movement and Isabella let loose a shrill scream as it launched itself towards his face; Kris never once showed a trace of fear. The dog’s maw was wide open, its sharp and savage canine teeth gleaming with the slobber that dripped from within. This brought back memories of the time when Kris was a child and a German shepherd had leapt over what had seemed from his child-like perceptions to be an enormously high fence with plenty of space to spare, its mouth gaping as it readied itself for the attack. Kris had felt so much fear at that moment that he had literally shit his pants when that savage beast had hurled itself towards him. He had fallen to the ground under the onslaught and awaited the imminent end of his life. Obviously, it hadn’t ended his life and the crazy dog had merely opened its massive jaws to disengage its slobbering tongue onto his face as he fell prone to the floor, merely interested in playing with him, not tearing him to pieces. It had seemed so scary to Kris then, but the dog had only wanted to befriend him! Since that time, Kris had learned to read the language of dogs and most other creatures too, both wild and domestic and was confident of his abilities. It could even be said that he had developed a certain rapport with them. Unfortunately, those around him had not benefitted from his experience and had no idea of his abilities. This was one of those moments! Firstly, Isabella was terrified and her fear was transmitted to Tanja as well, but Kris appeared as cool as a cucumber.
Kris braced himself to meet them, but with his heart humming with confidence as the head hound hit him straight in the chest with its massive paws. Due to his position and relative instability, he fell over easily and the savage dog assumed control. The girls screamed in unison, assuming and accepting the worst. Kris, on the other hand, reflected a picture of serene calmness.
The girls could not bear to witness the carnage and their eyes, as if choreographed, slammed shut the moment the dog’s seemingly snarling snout snapped around his face and then … silence!
Laughter followed − Kris’s laughter! Both Tanja and Isabella opened their eyes to find him on his knees and stroking all three dogs as they leapt joyfully around him, tongues lolling, tails wagging furiously. At the sight of this, Tanja came forward to offer her own hand to the dogs, but Isabella maintained a steady distance, preferring to leave the beasts well alone. After a few minutes of fun, frolicking in the mottled sunshine that pierced the forest canopy, the trio set off on their journey again, now accompanied by their three new companions, walking along the side of the trail, never straying too far from their sight. If the three hounds happened to stray too far around a bend, they would wait there until their new charges caught up with them and again happily trot to and fro, sniffing at the undergrowth and chasing small birds and lizards.
Suddenly, there was an almighty uproar from all three beasts as they began barking furiously at the foliage in the forest. Kris went to see what the ruckus was all about with Tanja hot on his heels, Isabella however, maintained a guarded distance.
When Kris bent down to investigate the disturbance he suddenly stretched his arm backwards towards Tanja, raising his hand in a warning gesture.
“Stop!” he commanded. “Get back.”
Tanja ignored him and simply continued on her way to investigate. Who was Kris to tell her what to do?
“What is …” she began before noticing the long, slender shape of a pale green serpent slithering adjacent to the path. It measured at least three feet in length and would have been as thick as Isabella’s slender wrist if she had been game enough to bring it closer for comparison.
“Is it poisonous?” Tanja asked, as if Kris was the expert, but his speciality was not South American snakes.
“I have no idea,” he said, simply shrugging his shoulders. “But I assume all snakes are venomous unless I am 100% certain of the opposite and treat them as such.”
“Great philosophy,” she said smiling, showing the snake the self-same respect that Kris was, but nonetheless showing that she was not scared.
Isabella was a different creature and, upon hearing the word snake, had shrunk even further away from the creature. The dogs made mock attacks on the snake, withdrawing their heads at the last moment as the green serpent turned and hissed at them. This suggested that maybe they knew something that their three charges did not. Finally, the creature growing weary of the fuss changed directions and slithered away into the underbrush.
Along the length of the trail, a number of different brightly coloured borboletas – butterflies, pale lemon coloured, striking black and red and china blue amongst them, flitted around in the moist jungle air and the three friends admired their beauty and grace as they flew.
“Look at that one over there,” Kris said pointing to a black and yellow swallow tail. “Come to me,” he called twisting his wrist so his palm was now facing up. “Come on, come to me,” he cooed gently.
Both Tanja and Isabella stared in total disbelief when the swallow tail fluttered towards him and gently alighted in the centre of his outstretched palm.
“Off you go,” he said after a few minute’s, lifting his hand up and the butterfly shook its wings briefly as if a shiver of pure pleasure washed over it and then launched itself into the humid forest air, fluttering around the three for a few moments before disappearing into the verdant canopy that surrounded them.
Tanja never stopped being amazed by Kris and the more she got to know of him, the more awed she became. She had known him a little less than a week, yet he had astounded her and forever changed her life more than any other human being she had ever known.
The sun was already well hidden behind the massive mountains as they descended the final few feet of the trail and the air was now significantly cooler with a definite bite to the breeze that blew from the cool blue ocean. The guest house was but a short walk from the end of the trail and the six companions plodded wearily towards it, arriving at the gates after a few minutes walk. The three guide dogs arrived first and simply waited at the front gates as if they knew that this was their destination and their job for today was done. Kris and Tanja gave the three dogs a final pat; Isabella choosing to forego this final ritual and once the three intrepid hikers had closed the gates behind them, the dogs gave them one final look and trotted off, tails wagging happily.
On the road to the pousada, Tanja again decided to test Kris’s ability to tell the time without a watch.
“Ok, what time is it now?” she asked suddenly.
“You’re not gonna believe me when I tell you,” he told her laughing. “It’s eight minutes past five.”
“No way,” she squealed. “You’re right, I don’t believe you,” she told him distrustfully. “You have got to be kidding, right?”
Smiling smugly and shaking his head no, he passed his cell phone to her, again without verifying the results of his prediction. Her face fell when she saw that it was indeed eight minutes past five.
Isabella simply looked on uncomprehending, trying to piece together the story from what was said.
“I’ll fill you in later,” Tanja told her.
“So, as you can see, it’s not just me that it’s happening to,” Kris pointed out.
“What do you mean?” she asked with a puzzled expression on her face.
“Well, for three days in a row, you have picked the same time, even down to the same minute, to ask me the time. I’ve had nothing to do with it.
“Yeah, but you guessed it right time every time,” she told him, trying to absolve herself of any responsibility.
“I knew the time, not guessed, but I didn’t force you to choose that time,” he pointed out.
This was getting a little to close for comfort and she was continually being forced to confront things with Kris that she simply was not ready for and fell silent. Perceiving her inner conflict, Kris let her be and the trio continued to the pousada in reflective silence.
The guesthouse was a hive of activity with many of the guests back from their day’s adventures and now preparing for the evening. Isabella told them that she was going to have a shower and would see them later for dinner. Tanja, agreeing that was a great idea did likewise leaving Kris in the midst of the multitude of island visitors.
Kris went from group to group, exchanging stories and recounting his tale of the unexpected guide dogs and the way they had warned them of the presence of the snake and was somewhat surprised to discover that it was a common theme amongst the guests. He was soon to learn that this theme, however, only held true for foreign visitors and not for the Brazilians staying at the pousada. He let this fact sink in for digesting later. He was curious, why did the seemingly stray dogs on the island feel the need to accompany, guide and protect the tourists? None of the others he spoke to told any stories similar to his snake tale, so the island was obviously not really dangerous, so why? And why did they only accompany foreigners and not Brazilians? He had no idea but would let it simmer below the surface, adding further details as they became known before coming to a final conclusion.
Kris, during his first meal with Tanja, had not perceived it, but he was soon to discover that both she and Isabella were that strange breed of creature known as vegetarians, but not your normal, everyday garden variety vegetarian, but that type that also eats fish and seafood. What was that all about, he wondered? Either you were a vegetarian or you were omnivorous and ate animals as well as plant life and he had yet to see a single fruit or vegetable with eyes swimming around in the ocean!
Due to the dietary predilection of the two girls, their dining options were severely limited on that small island. Sure, there were seafood restaurants, but they charged like wounded bulls, which priced them out of the budgets of the three of them. Finally, they decided to settle for pizza yet again, but eschewed the diabolical disaster from the night before; that had been a truly horrible recommendation and Kris vowed to avoid Marlon’s advice at every opportunity; He had proven himself as trustworthy as a politician. The chosen restaurant boasted a forno da lenha – wood-fired pizza oven – and Kris hoped it was an improvement over the previous pizzeria.
They ordered a garrafa of beer while they studied the menu before finally settling on a large pizza with three toppings: calabresa, seafood and sun dried tomatoes and roquette. They repeated the order many times just to make sure the waiter had understood exactly what they wanted and ordered another garrafa of beer while they waited for their pizza to arrive.
The trio looked at each other incredulously when they saw the massive pizza when it was at last brought to the table. It was not the enormous size that so stunned them, but the toppings on its continent sized surface. In excess of two thirds was covered in calabresa oozing spicy pork fat over its edges, contaminating the other third that contained a small section with seafood and another equally tiny piece with tomato and roquette.
After deliberating about what to do in regard to their dining dilemma, the two girls decided to order a separate pizza for themselves and leave the meaty monster to Kris. The pizza was over a foot and a half in diameter and he was supremely aware that the likelihood of him eating it all was next to zero, but what was he to do?
As the trio ploughed their way through plates of pizza, which, despite not being what they had originally ordered, was extremely good, they discussed their options for the remainder of their time on the island. Isabella was meeting a friend who was arriving the next day but one so would be occupied from then on, but she would be free tomorrow. Tanja wanted to climb Pico Do Papagaio, the second highest mountain on the Island, which rose to an impressive 959 metres according to the map she had laid out on the table, and so named because it was said that the peak resembled a parrot’s head. Kris did a quick calculation to convert it to feet and whistled – approximately 3150 feet; he really was not that interested in scaling its impressive heights however, but would probably humour her and keep her company anyway, he thought wistfully to himself, but that was a decision for later. For the immediate future the three decided to take a boat to Lagoa Verde in the morning to do some diving in the cool, crystal clear turquoise water. Tanja became very animated and excited about this and expressed a burning desire to dive with the sea turtles, but she was not confident that she would get the opportunity as, according to her guide book, there would be very few turtles around the island at this time of year, as they generally only gathered for mating later in the season. Kris reassured her that her wish would be fulfilled, but she was highly sceptical; she didn’t know Kris well enough to take his word, especially about something he could have no way of knowing. Well, tomorrow would tell; tomorrow would tell.
The two girls managed to finish their pizza between them, but Kris had not been able to do the same with the behemoth he had inherited. Wondering what he could do with what was left as he simply abhorred waste, a consequence of his parent’s frequent reminder of the starving children in Africa whenever he couldn’t manage to eat all of his dinner, he spotted a couple of apparent stray dogs playing on the rua just outside the restaurant. He may not have been rewarding their inadvertent guide dogs of that day, but it would be a symbolic gesture of thanks to let them have it. He hurled the huge pieces of pizza onto the ground where the dogs were playing and they wasted no time in devouring Kris’s beneficent blessing.
With the meal finished, the three friends decided to return to the pousada and turn in for the night; all three well fatigued from their day’s exertion and wanting to be rested for their diving trip the next day. Kris hadn’t exercised as vigorously as this for many years and was sure his legs would remind him of this day on the morrow. Normally, he was a creature of the night and hadn’t gone to bed before midnight since his early teens, but he had no trouble getting to sleep that night, falling into a fitful slumber almost the moment his head hit the soft pillow.