I fumbled for the tent zipper and Jack, our 40 kilogram Husky/Retriever/Grizzly Bear cross, charged through the delicate nylon and mesh openings like a bull in a china store, excited as ever to start a new day.
It was December in the south of Spain and our ‘house on top of the hill’ was surrounded by a panorama of frigid mountains awaiting the first glow of sunrise. A scattering of empty bullet cartridges lay haphazardly on the bare earth around us, the remnants of a trigger happy hunting season.
Our course was set for the bright lights of Sevilla and it started with a 23 kilometre stretch of isolated road re-shaped forever by the mining company Rio Tinto.
[Side rant: Rio Tinto, which translates to ‘Red River’, is named because of highly acidic pollution from acid mine drainage… way to go public relations department! In recent years Rio Tinto has won the Worldaware Award for Sustainable development. We are unsure if the award was due to its involvement in Papua New Guinea which triggered the Bougainville separatist crisis, it’s work with the Ranger Uranium Mine near Kakadu National Park in Australia, the ‘severe environmental damage’ from mining in Indonesia, or just being the third-largest coal mining company in the world (2008), one of the fastest triggers of global warming and all of the natural and political catastrophes that entails. I’m sure the ‘Red River’ public relations department will be more than happy to answer.]
We pedaled deeper into the desolate nowhere, gaping at entire mountainsides upturned and left in tiers like a giant rocky wedding cake. Besides some stunted re-growth and some opportunistic herbs the place was silent and empty. Or so we thought.
As we coasted down the other side of the pass a purple patch of Spanish lavender had me pulling off the roadside on a whim for a snack break. When Zoa pulled in behind me, we noticed a blur of movement from our peripheral vision. We were used to seeing animals darting for safety, but this animal was sprinting straight towards us! What was it? An angry rabbit?
Nope, it was a dog. A tiny dog, completely emaciated, with its ribs bulging out of its shivering body. She looked startled and desperate, like something out of a war zone, not far from death’s door, and after a quick snarl at Jack and Paco she jumped straight into the back of our dog trailer, as if to say wherever you are going, I’m coming with you.
A closer inspection revealed swollen teats, a bloody behind, and big sores on her body which had not healed properly and had started to become infected. A permanently attached hunting collar showed her name to be Daza, with a phone number written on the back. We had ridden through town after town of stray dogs in Spain, but what was she doing out here in the middle of nowhere, so far from any homes? She must have become lost during a hunting trip.
Daza greedily lapped at our dwindling water supply and wagged her tail furiously when we laid out the last of our dog kibbles. We wrapped her up in a blanket and fastened her into the basket on the back of my longtail cargo bike, leaving Paco and Jack to take it in turns riding in the trailer and trotting down the hill beside the bike.
With the nearest town over 15 kilometres away, it was slow going and frustrating to have to constantly use the brakes after working so hard to enjoy the benefits of gravity. But one look at poor shivering little Daza put our frustrations back into perspective. Paco was less forgiving at having to give up his basket to the new dog on the block, and we spent the next three hours listening to him whimpering with unprecedented emotion at the indignity of it all.
After finally rolling into town we used some basic Spanish and sharply honed miming skills to locate the only ‘farm animal’ vet in town where I was greeted by a sharply dressed young man in glasses, who called the number on Daza’s collar. Phew, problem solved.
Wrong again. Apparently the collar must have miraculously clamped itself shut around her neck because infuriatingly the owner claimed to know nothing about a missing dog. Like a piece of trash thrown out of a passing car window, it seems poor Daza was abandoned to fend for herself in a landscape devoid of life.
After seriously considering the logistics of adding a third dog to our bicycle journey, we reluctantly decided to hand Daza over to the Civil Guard and hoped they would find her a loving home. We have often wondered about Daza, where she ended up, and whether we should have taken her along on our bicycle trip. Whoever said ‘it’s a dog’s life’ didn’t come from Spain.