Day 7. Pico Do Papagaio
Kris’s eyes blinked open, bloodshot and heavy, his sight hazy through his crusted lashes. He could just make out Tanja’s blurry form sliding off the top bunk bed, mobile phone in hand, trying to silence the annoying shriek of the alarm. After rubbing his eyes to clear them, he could see that she looked as rough as he felt.
“Morning,” he muttered through dry and chapped lips, smiling at the sight of her hair stuck up like Bozo the clown.
“Morning,” she mumbled back at him as she stumbled towards the bathroom, emerging a few minutes later looking decidedly more human.
“So,” she said firmly, “are you climbing Pico Do Papagaio with me or do I have to go alone?” Her words were couched in such a way as to make it a challenge rather than just a mere question.
Pico Do Papagaio? Kris thought to himself and then suddenly remembered that she had planned to climb that beast today. His brain was not ready to respond instantly and he had to take a moment to think about it. The idea, this morning of all mornings, was about as appealing as having someone giving him a swift kick in the nuts, but he didn’t want to say no immediately.
“Er,” he managed to mutter as he tried to wrap his tongue around an adequate response. “I’ll tell you after breakfast,” he finally managed to say, buying himself time to think about the implications and ramifications of his decision.
“Ok, whatever,” she said, trying to sound as unconcerned about his decision as possible, but it was obvious that she would be very disappointed if he said no.
Kris had his usual breakfast of coffee and cigarettes, however he also drank two glasses of mango juice, one cup of hot milk, which he poured thinking it was cold, burning his tongue on it in the process, followed by a nicely chilled cup of milk; his mouth was desert dry, the result of dehydration from his night of excess. Tanja, to Kris’s astonishment, filled her plate many times over with fruit and bread and cheeses. His stomach turned at the mere thought.
He paced the perimeter of the building, smoking cigarette after cigarette, contemplating his options. He really had no desire to scale that monstrous mountain, but at the same time he didn’t want Tanja to be forced to climb it alone. Not that it was as dangerous as some of the peaks he had climbed back in Canada and Colorado, but that wasn’t the point; he felt an almost gentlemanly compulsion to protect her, which was ironic seeing as she had shown herself to be better equipped at handling the tough terrain of the island than he was himself.
She could see that he had come to a decision when he came back into the dining room to refill his coffee cup for the third consecutive time.
“Well?” she asked looking at him hopefully, uncertain of what his decision would be. “Have you made up your mind yet?”
He looked at her a moment before answering, adding to the suspense of the situation.
“Yep,” he drawled slowly, dragging out his decision to the end.
“Well?” She asked impatiently.
“Let’s do it,” he said finally. “Let’s conquer that mother fucking mountain,” he told her through a huge grin.
She squealed with delight and leapt from her chair, wrapping her arms around him and surprising the hell out of him with a friendly dry kiss planted firmly on his equally dry lips. She then checked herself, a flush of embarrassment growing on her flustered face, as if she was ashamed of her show of emotion.
This was something Kris had noted on his global adventures: those from colder climes seemed to be cool and reserved and less inclined to express their emotions, whilst those from warmer climes, take Brazil for example, were much warmer and friendlier and much more open to express how they really felt. This had been a constant open sore between him and Tahlia; she had frequently accused him of being a cold and unemotional fish and of not caring for her. It was nonsense of course, as he had tried to explain on many occasions, it was just a cultural difference between them and she either had to accept it or move on. She had chosen to accept it.
“Right, let’s get our stuff ready,” she informed him. “We have a big day ahead of us and the guidebook says it should take us about seven hours to get there and back so we had better get our asses moving.”
He thought her use of the American vernacular seemed alien and foreign coming from her mouth, but said nothing.
With their back packs packed, the pair passed through the dining room again and Kris helped himself to some bread rolls, a hand of small bananas, cheese and other goodies, surreptitiously slipping them into his back pack, wrapping them in his spare clothing to protect them from being crushed.
The mid morning air was the warmest start to the day of their time on the island and the couple decided to stop at the first supermarket to stock up on extra water. As the couple left the store, they almost walked straight into Carlos, the balding, bespectacled bohemian Brazilian they had met on the first day.
It didn’t take them long to discover that they would be treading part of the same trail today as each other so they decided to team up until their paths diverged. Carlos was pleased to discover they spoke his native language, but he was eager to practice his excellent English skills and responded to their Portuguese comments and questions in his accented English.
What a bizarre situation, Kris thought as Carlos was explaining life in Brazil under the dictatorship in English as both he and Tanja spoke Portuguese, so he decided to drop the charade and reverted to his own native language as well.
“You are going up there?” Carlos asked, pointing up at the great stone topped mountain peak.
Involuntarily, Kris followed Carlos’ pointing finger. Was he really going to scale that beast? A cloud scuttled across the face of the sun, briefly dimming the early morning air. A cold shiver rippled through Kris, rolling from his scalp all the way down his body to his toes. And then, appearing from nowhere, a black dog was suddenly at their side, tail wagging, tongue lolling to one side as the trio traipsed the red soil of the trail.
“Sai daqui,” Carlos suddenly entreated the dog, reverting to his native Portuguese and urging the dog to leave with a swift kick of his right leg.
The dog moved expeditiously to avoid contact with Carlos’ booted foot.
“No, it’s ok,” Tanja said suddenly, reaching down with her hand and gesturing for the dog to come to her. “He can stay with us, we don’t mind.”
“Well, I hate the damn things,” Carlos retorted, moving so the couple were between him and the pesky intruder, “and so do most Brazilians.”
A light bulb went off above Kris’s head as he connected the dots. So that’s why the dogs only stayed with foreign tourists; it all made sense now. In defence of the four legged beasts, Kris told Carlos of their past experiences with dogs on the island, but he seemed less than impressed with story.
“They’re just pulga infested opportunists,” he retorted haughtily, referring to dog’s predisposition to fleas, an import from the Europeans which had hitched a ride on the many rats that had immigrated to the country with the first invaders.
They discussed everything from Brazilian politics to art, religion, music and drugs, at which point Carlos pulled out a baseado and arced it up, luxuriating in the smoke that filled his lungs and after a few tokes, offered it to Kris, who gladly accepted it and drew deep of the drug himself. Tanja, on the other hand, politely declined, so Kris handed it back to Carlos and the two shared it until its bitter and rough end which left Kris coughing and spluttering.
Although private vehicles were prohibited on the island, the road they now took was much wider than the trails they had previously traversed and was obviously used and, judging by the ruts in its surface, by heavy vehicles at that. The quiet of the still morning air was then broken by the rumble of a heavy diesel engine approaching from higher up the road and it moved inevitably towards them.
A bus bearing the logo of the Federal University or Rio de Janeiro rounded a bend and would have run the trio over had they not been prepared for it, clinging to the very edge, hugging the verdant mountainside. The bus was crowded with the same students Kris and Tanja had seen previously. Obviously their field trip was coming to an end and they were now heading back to the port of Vila Abraão to give their leave of the island.
A large sign jutting out of the side of the mountain, partially obscured by new growth, announced their arrival at the start of the steep climb to Pico Do Papagaio. It was so innocuous that Kris and Tanja would have walked past it had it not been announced. The sign advised them that they should expect a return journey of about seven hours.
Kris stared at the trail that lay so ominously in front of him and gulped with dread. The opening stretch would require them to ascend the thick, tortuous, twisted roots of the tall trees that forested the sheer mountain side, which rose like an insane staircase before them. The first track they had trodden on day two, which Kris had thought so arduous, now seemed like a cakewalk in comparison.
“Have a good climb and be careful,” Carlos said, taking Kris by the arm and embracing him warmly, and then kissing Tanja on both cheeks and embracing her in turn.
The pair thanked him and wished him well on his day’s adventures as he turned and continued on the road.
Kris was not too eager to scale this monumental mountain, but his protective instinct was even stronger than his distaste. He didn’t want to leave Tanja alone to climb Pico Do Papagaio.
The uninvited guest sat on his haunches ready to join the duo on their arduous ascent.
“Right,” Tanja said firmly, taking the lead and stepping up onto the trail. “Let’s kill this damn mountain!”
Kill the mountain? Kris was a little unsure what she meant, but finally decided she meant let’s conquer this mountain as he had said earlier and had somehow misremembered and joined her on the trail. Their new companion trotted behind, tail wagging furiously. The chunky roots that were to be their first steps up the most difficult section of their quest were unevenly spaced, varying between one and three feet apart and the hikers were required to cling to the higher roots to help haul themselves upwards. Even with his long lanky legs, Kris found the going tough and wondered how Tanja, with her shorter, squatter legs was faring. Their newly acquired canine companion however, bounded effortlessly from root to root, seeming to revel in the rigorous task.
The living organic fibres of the forest roots soon gave way to the cold, inorganic bare boulders that had doubtless cascaded to their current resting place after the relentless action of nature had worked upon them, causing gravity’s inevitable power to release them from their former position. The reddish brown boulders lay one atop the other in a jumbled heap.
The air was so thick, heavy and cloying with its high humidity that it could be seen in the hazy distant hills and peaks and both Kris and Tanja were perspiring profusely as they climbed; lacking this ability, the dog merely panted, its tongue protruding.
After ten minutes of hard climbing on the steep rocky slope, Kris called Tanja to a halt, his breath coming in short laboured gasps. Tanja, however, appeared only mildly perturbed by the exertion. Likewise, their four legged companion seemed to be unfazed and grinned happily at the two amigos. Reluctantly, Tanja acceded to his request, but it was obvious that she would prefer to keep going.
“Right, let’s go,” she ordered after a few minutes. “We can’t stop here all day if it’s a seven-hour hike!”
Kris would have loved to linger a little longer and certainly had no desire to obey her orders, but he knew she was right and held back the acerbic comment that lay at the tip of his tongue in response to her command.
This time, it was the black dog who took the lead. The great boulders had now given way to a hard packed clay path shaded by the verdant forest that consumed the mountain side. Though the trail climbed steeply, the going was easier than either the tree roots or bare boulders and the trio soon arrived at the top of an unexpected rise; the dog arriving first, squatting on its haunches awaiting them.
Again, Kris requested a pause and a frown darkened Tanja’s fair features, but again she silently consented. The two took the opportunity to slake their thirsts, Kris drinking far deeper than Tanja. Once satisfied, Kris asked Tanja to pour some water into his enormous hands, cupped like a bowl, to let their escort drink too. The dog eagerly accepted the invitation and noisily slurped up the proffered water. Kris’s hands made an excellent bowl and very little of their precious water supply was wasted.
Although the trail was now downhill, it was scarcely easier than the uphill section had been as it too was incredibly steep and stretched the tendons in the back of their legs tightly as they descended. Adding to the difficulty, the narrow trail was criss-crossed by various twisting trunks which necessitated either climbing over or under them. With his height, Kris found it more convenient to climb over rather than under them as Tanja did.
Besides having their unexpected cheerful canine companion, they also had another uninvited constant companion – that of the strange, crowd-like roar of the howler monkeys.
The steep downhill section soon gave way to another precipitous rise which Kris did not cope well with. His shirt was now soaked with sweat and clung limpet-like to his body. In this windless environment, it afforded him no cooling advantage, instead seeming to constrict and confine him.
“Sorry, but I’ve gotta stop again,” Kris gasped painfully, unable to go any further.
Again Tanja frowned at this further delay, but her expression soon turned to concern when she saw him totter unsteadily on his feet and slump to the ground.
“Kris, what’s wrong?” She cried in alarm.
His blood sugar level had been falling rapidly as he exerted himself and, as he had foolishly foregone breakfast, his short-term energy supply was now exhausted. He lay on the ground with his eyes closed and his breath coming in short, sharp gasps. Their canine companion seemed as concerned as Tanja and circled him continuously.
After a few minutes, his eyes blinked open and he pulled himself to a sitting position and a look of relief passed over Tanja’s face.
“Sorry, I just felt so weak for a moment,” Kris said, a look of chagrin burning on his face.
“I told you should have had some breakfast,” she said reprovingly.
Why must women always do that, Kris wondered to himself, reproach you with the obvious? Is that really going to change anything?
“It’s ok,” he said, ignoring her rebuke and reaching into his backpack. “I came prepared,” he concluded with a grin, pulling out a hand of deep yellow bananas.
A look of relief washed over her face. She had been worried that she would have to either abandon her hike or abandon him and she strongly felt that if push came to shove she would have chosen the latter.
The bananas that Kris had scoffed down, one after the other, worked like a miracle as the carbohydrates from the sweet fruit were rapidly absorbed into his blood stream and his blood sugar level rose steadily and rapidly. Five minutes later, it was if nothing untoward had happened at all and Tanja breathed a huge sigh of relief when Kris announced that he was ready to continue. Even the black dog seemed relieved and ran in tight circles around him, giving a few short yaps of approval.
Taking the lead, Tanja decided that it would be better to ease her pace a little on his behalf, but Kris had other ideas as he pushed past her to take the point position, but their canine companion had his own ideas and pushed past her as well, almost knocking her off balance in the process, before pushing past Kris as well to take the lead.
“If you must,” Kris said to the dog, chuckling to himself.
If anything, Kris was now moving even faster than at the start of their hike, completely restored by his sweet snack and the trio climbed various peaks and wended their way down various vales, but inexorably climbing higher and higher up the imposing Pico Do Papagaio. Their rest breaks now became far less frequent than at the beginning of their climb as Kris acclimatised to the task at hand. Their faithful companion maintained the lead position throughout.
At one point, the trio reached a bifurcation and Kris stopped to consult with Tanja as to which of the two paths to take. The hound had no such doubts, trotting along the right hand fork, but stopped when it noticed that the humans were not following behind. He gave a little yap of encouragement, but the stupid human beings ignored him. Undeterred, he padded back to their position and gave them a more insistent bark before wheeling around and walking back along the trail. Tanja and Kris were still rooted to the spot so he gave two more encouraging barks and waited patiently for them.
“I think he’s trying to tell us something,” Kris said with a chuckle and set off on the right hand fork where the dog waited.
Having the decision made for her, Tanja had little option other than to join them, though she harboured some doubt that it was the correct path. Their canine companion had no such doubts as he guided them towards their destination. They encountered three further forks in the path, but Kris put his faith in the dog as it continued to lead them unhesitatingly.
Kris stopped suddenly and put his hand up to signal Tanja to do the same when he heard an unexpected sound. Tanja stopped and listened, hearing it too. It was the sound of voices. Just then, another couple appeared on the path in front of them heading in their direction.
The other couple, obviously Brazilians, without their own guide dog, bade them good morning and told them that the peak was only a further ten minute walk or so and continued on their downwards path. Tanja stared after them as if the wind had been taken from her sails.
“Now that’s really undermined our achievement,” she said irritatedly.
“What do you mean?” Kris asked.
“Well, I was so proud of us for our achievement so far, even more so considering we’ll reach the peak in only an hour and half or so,” she replied.
“Yeah, I think, under the circumstances, we’ve done a great job, but why are you so disappointed?”
“Did you see what they were wearing on their feet?” she asked with a look of disgust on her face.
Kris laughed. “Yeah, those crazy Brazilians, it’s almost as if Havaianas are an essential part of their uniform, but hey, we should still be proud of ourselves. I know I am,” he concluded.
“I suppose you’re right,” she said with a sigh and the trio continued on the final leg of their trail, the dog still taking the lead.
Ten minutes later they were finally at the base of the bare rocky structure known as Pico Do Papagaio, but which Kris thought of as Pico Do Cachorro, even more so now as they were accompanied by their own guide dog. The vista there was simply stunning giving them an uninterrupted view of the entire island with distant peaks shrouded in mist. Kris felt an enormous sense of achievement, especially considering what had happened to him earlier at the start of their hike.
“Fantastic job,” he said to Tanja and gave her an enormous and affectionate hug. “And thank you,” he said, leaning down and giving the dog an affectionate stroke of the head.
“Ok, let’s go” Tanja said abruptly.
“Huh, go?” Kris asked totally puzzled, “but we’ve only just got here,” he said
“Not back, silly,” she told him with a laugh. “There!” she said pointing to the very top of the bare rock peak.
This really took Kris by surprise. He hadn’t even contemplated climbing that as well. It was so steep and sheer and they had no ropes or climbing equipment with them.
“Are you serious?” he asked in disbelief.
“Of course I am,” she told him indignantly. “You don’t think I climbed all this way only to stop here do you?”
He was filled with a feeling of enormous dread and certainly had no desire to climb that rock as he stared up at its steep stone sides.
“Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m going up there,” she told him defiantly and proceeded to do just that.
With a deep sigh Kris followed after her, clinging to the rock wall tightly. A wave of vertigo washed over him and he stopped dead in his tracks. He simply couldn’t go any further.
“I can’t do it. I just can’t do it,” he told her feebly, feeling incredibly unmanly at that moment, but even that was not sufficient to spur him on.
“Suit yourself,” she said and continued climbing.
“I’ll just stay here with our faithful guide,” he said as he lowered himself back to the base of the great rock.
Their companion, who had so faithfully guided them from the start of their climb, seemed happy enough to stay with him. The sun was hot on his exposed skin, so Kris searched for a spot in the shade, finally finding a narrow ledge where he could rest. The dog followed him and curled up at his feet panting slowly.
After resting comfortably for a few minutes, the dog became restless. Kris stroked the faithful canine in an effort to comfort him, but it soon began whimpering and attempted to climb the steep stone wall. Kris grabbed him and hauled him back down and the dog’s whimpering grew louder and more intense. The dog finally wrenched himself free from Kris’s grasp and again started scaling the stone, its claws audibly scratching on the surface as it ascended.
“Hey Tanja,” Kris called out. “The crazy dog’s coming up to see you. I guess he’s worried about you.”
“He is crazy,” she shouted down to the unseen voice below.
“I know,” he shouted back. “I tried to hold him, but he wanted none of that.”
A moment later the air was rent by a short scream followed by a sickening thud as something smashed into the solid rock above him and a sharp sound echoing off the rock face like a branch being snapped.
“Tanja!” Kris screamed up at her. “Are you…”
His words were suddenly cut off as a heavy, dead weight from above slammed into him and he was unceremoniously knocked to the ground, his skull smashing into a rock and then, blackness, oblivion.
The dog raced down after Tanja, leaping down from the rock when it was a few feet from the base of the peak and running relentlessly forward, carried by gravity, finally slowing its momentum as it collided with the low undergrowth and turned back to the bloodied couple sprawled on the ground, limbs twisted awkwardly, obviously snapped and broken. There was a dark crimson pool of blood growing around Kris’s head staining the earth around it.
Kris pushed himself to his feet, shaking his head to clear his thoughts, trying to figure out what the hell had happened. Surprisingly, he felt no pain. Looking down at Tanja’s broken body, he knew she was in very bad shape. There was no way she would be able to climb back down the mountain by herself. But who was that? He saw another person laying next to her, a man. With a shock he realised it was himself!
He studied the male body on the ground that he used to inhabit and wondered if he was dead, because he certainly didn’t feel dead, in fact he felt more alive than ever.
Their faithful companion, who had been licking Tanja’s face suddenly turned towards him and barked. It wasn’t a bark of fear or anger, more like a simple bark of recognition, of acknowledgement.
“Come here, boy,” Kris called and the loyal dog obediently obeyed.
He tried to stroke the canine’s head, but his hand simply passed straight through it.
“Hey boy,” Kris said encouragingly. “Go and get some help. Go on, off you go, there’s a good boy,” he commanded.
With a solitary bark, the guide dog turned around and tore off down the path down towards the tiny town of Abraão. As Kris watched the dog disappear into the forest below, certain that it was going to get help, he felt himself being drawn inexorably back towards where his body lay and slipped silently back within the biological cage again.