At a Rainbow Gathering in La Palma, one of the Canary Islands, a pair of travelers meet with the karma of an abandoned dog.
The Rainbow Gathering in the Canary Island of La Palma was the first I’d ever attended where I didn’t freeze to death. Instead of the usual setting on top of a mountain somewhere exposed to the cruelest winds available, our hippie camp was down on a beach where towering Atlantic waves pounded the shore relentlessly.
All around us were black volcanic cliffs in a permanent state of disintegration, the occasional pebble dropping on our heads as we stood in a circle chanting OM before each meal. In fact, La Palma was essentially one large rock crumbling into the Atlantic, held together only by the masses of green plants that distinguished this island from its arid sisters that formed stepping stones towards Africa.
Narrow, winding roads linked together the nondescript villages and the weather changed every 20 minutes with the micro-climates created by the mountains in the center of the island. It could (and in fact did) get seriously stormy on one side of the island while we basked in sunshine just 50km away.
The Rainbow was the usual mix of music around the fire, heart-to-heart sharing and rather specious New Age philosophies that are fortunately rarely put to the test. One morning I asked a Russian guy not to put his lips to my water bottle but instead to drink it like everyone does in Asia, suspending the bottle a few inches from the mouth and pouring.
“Oh, do you believe in that?” he asked with evident sympathy for my paranoia.
“Do I believe in bacteria and infectious diseases? Well, yes.”
“I think that all the diseases are present all the time but if you stay in balance inside then you stay healthy.”
I tried, in vain, to explain that while, yes, if you stay healthy in mind and body you’re likely to avoid many illnesses, there are still things like malaria, tubercolosis, dengue, herpes, syphilis, typhoid, influenza and amoebas – to name but a few – that are likely to strike you down whether you make yoga every morning or not.
Another girl was gracious enough to allow me the right to continue running a website for the time being but looked forward to the imminent future when we would create our own telepathic internet.
Words failed me.
There were many other souls there though who were a little more grounded and made good company. One of them was an English girl called Leah who was followed everywhere she went by a scruffy pincher dog called Vindalf. A skinny creature with shaggy black and grey hair, he barked at anyone who passed by and reminded everyone of his owner, a psychologically-disturbed German who’d left the same day I arrived, much to everyone’s relief. The downside was that he’d abandoned Vindalf to the Rainbow and the unfortunate animal had chosen Leah as his new owner whether she liked it or not.
“I’m not really a dog-person,” she explained, “But you can see all he really needs is a bit of love. He only barks because he’s afraid – that’s why his tail is between his legs all the time.”
As the Rainbow drew to an end we went for a walk to the nearby village to see if anyone there felt like inheriting a nice pincher. The locals were nice enough to hide their smirks but we were told of a German woman who cared for lost dogs and cats in a nearby village. With scarcely a car in sight to hitch a ride, we walked for 6 hours up through glowing green hills and pine forests to where the toothless goat herders assured us was la casa de la senora aleman. We imagined a kindly old woman who would take one look at us and hustle back to the kitchen to bring out pitchers of cool lemonade and apple crumble before welcoming Vindalf into her fold.
“And what are you doing here?” a rather stern woman asked us in disbelief when we eventually found the right house. “I’ve got 70 cats and 45 dogs already and one of them just gave birth this morning to 6 more. As it is I have to send 90% of them to Germany.” And no, she didn’t want another four-legged guest.
She did give us instructions on how to take a dog on the airplane and a girl called Ocean volunteered to find Vindalf a home back in England. After talking to the vet and establishing that there were no animal welfare organisations on the island, we were all set to go: we had to buy a cage for 90 euros, fix it with the airline and then the vet would give Ocean a bunch of sedatives to force down the dog’s neck a few hours before take-off. A call to the airline revealed that there were no quarantine facilities at Bristol airport, however, where Ocean was landing. Neither Leah had direct flights to the UK and options seemed to be running out.
We hired a car to see the rest of the island and naturally, Vindalf came with us.
‘Quieres un perro?‘” I asked of anyone who sent even half a pitiful glance in our direction. We thought we’d lucked out for a few moments with a pair of Spanish hippies but they were about to go traveling and couldn’t afford to take a dog with them.
We spent the night in my flimsy tent on a bit of waste ground beside the road and just as a hurricane blew in to besiege the island. We lacked a fly sheet and somehow managed to make camp on top of a large rock that certainly hadn’t been there when we first laid the canvas out. The sides of the tent blew in and dripped water on our sleeping bags and Vindalf sniveled miserably beside the entrance, his wet fur making the air quite unbreathable.
Around 2am I discovered the restaurant we’d eaten at had given me food poisoning and I abandoned the tent for the car where I was a step nearer making frantic dashes for the bushes.
“Let’s check into a hotel tonight.” we agreed in the morning, damp and sleepless.
We spent the day hoping a home might magically appear for Vindalf who seemed quite unaware of his precarious future. We left him in the car to go and eat some pizza that evening and checked into a cute, little pension, beside ourselves with the luxuries of hot showers and dry blankets. But when we went to check on Vindalf at midnight we found him in utter panic at having been left alone for a few hours. He whined piteously and jumped up and down against us, happy beyond belief that we’d returned. We winced at his show of undying friendship.
“There’s no way he can last the night in the car. He’ll chew up the seats.” I reasoned. Leah nodded; we both knew this moment was approaching but the timing couldn’t have been worse – the gale winds had grounded all aircraft for a couple of days now and now the rain poured down mercilessly.
“Ok, let’s go and get his passport so that he still has half a chance of getting off this island.” she said and we hurried back to the pension while Vindalf chased playfully at our heels. “There’s no chance we could smuggle him into our room, is there?”
I considered it for a moment but the decision was made for us by Vindalf who slipped through the bars of the gate and ran up the stairs to awaken all the guests with a series of impertinent barks. I dragged him back down again and the manager followed me with regret written all over his face at having rented a room to such a pair of hopeless hippies. We explained the situation and he gave us a piece of string to tie Vindalf up somewhere. Now that the dog knew where we lived and how to get in, we couldn’t just let him loose on the street.
We walked sadly through the city with Vindalf on a length of string. We’d planned to tie him up in the shelter of the town hall but saw the Spanish hippies fast asleep there as they waited for their 4am boat. It just wasn’t on to leave a howling dog tethered nearby. We walked on, by now thoroughly soaked and eventually came to a plaza with benches where we’d seen the old men sitting and arguing earlier in the day. We pulled out a mass of cardboard from the nearby paper-recycling bin to construct a makeshift shelter for our soggy friend and tied him securely to the bench, his passport and health certificate in a glass jar just above him.
The police turned up before we could complete the operation and as we looked pretty suspicious I went over and explained the situation.
“Ah, you have to call the civil police. We’re the municipal police and don’t deal with this sort of thing.”
“Look, it’s midnight and I don’t know where we are – can you call them for us?” They conferred for a moment.
I shrugged and walked back to where Leah was saying a sad farewell to Vindalf. Then we turned around and walked down the hill. The moment was so tense we could almost hear it. Vindalf realised to his core that he was being abandoned for the second time in a fortnight and this time his luck was out. He released the most pitiful and unabashed series of howls imaginable, each one passing through our drenched bodies as we made our way through the stormy midnight streets, not a soul in sight.
I put my arm around Leah and we exchanged such small commiserations as we could, reasoning that we had no other choice. But the karma lay heavy on us and a more traumatic parting could scarcely have been imagined.
It’s a dog’s life.