Foam sprayed up onto the faded red sides of the Tarifa Ocean Ferry as it cut its way through the Strait of Gibraltar. The torrent of aqua bubbles coming from the whirring engines, attracted bottle-nosed dolphins who clicked and whistled as they played chicken with the ferry, criss-crossing its bow with their tremendously powerful elegant dance in the water. A joy leapt into my heart as I watched these creatures. As I observed them, they exuded a pure energy of playfulness.
It was midday, and the sun was just reaching its highest point in the sky, beating unusually hot rays down onto the metal railing at this time in late October, making it unbearable to touch.
I was peering out over the glittering water to catch a glimpse of our destination. A few moments passed, and I saw land emerging from the edge of the horizon. I was so excited, I felt like yelling out my discovery for the whole ship to hear: “Land Ho Everybody!” I raced back inside to the table booth where the rest of my family sat; all occupied with different tasks. Dad was writing an email, Lalika was defending his domain on a zombie apocalypse game and Mum was trying to block out the swaying so that the sea sickness would go away. “I can see it!” I said, trembling with happiness.
“What?” asked Dad looking up momentarily from the screen.
“Spain!” I said, “I can see it!”
Dad looked up again and smiled. “We’ll be there soon enough,” and surely we were. I don’t know whether it was my excitement and my mind racing all at once or another worldly effect, but the 45 minutes seemed just to fly by.
The stewards were already calling for the passengers to prepare. We disembarked to find the atomic tangerine city of Tarifa. The sun had gone behind the clouds, but I still felt a certain glow emanating from the people around me. Making our way through the quiet streets on a Saturday afternoon was a welcome relief from the constant rapid racing energy of the Moroccan cities we had left behind us, at least for a short while. After receiving an invitation from a very good friend who lived in the beautiful desert hills of Andalusia Spain, we decided, due to our proximity, to jump at the opportunity and make the two hour journey from Asilah, across this most famous narrow channel of water. Strangely, I had felt as if we were coming home; as if after a long and tiring journey I was finally entering the familiar threshold that I was longing for.
We rushed, with our backpacks on, to make the final direct bus for the day. After a certain mishap of mistaking the bus we were supposed to take, five hours and two servings of gelato later, we were on our way to the city of Algeciras, situated directly opposite The Rock. A few light showers had soaked the sparse greenery that we sped past, making our way into the hills. Everywhere I looked, beauty stared back at me: the clear azure water of the sea, the marigold rocky mountains, the rare heliotrope colored desert flowers. Then the magnificent mammoth Rock Of Gibraltar itself came into view, and I was glued to the window, taking in all my surroundings with eyes as wide as a golf ball.
A few minutes later I found myself boarding another bus, heading to the city of Jerez, where our dear friend, Kingsley, would be awaiting us. Unfortunately, due to our earlier tribulations with the buses, by the time the silver and red bus began its expedition down the highway, the alizarin crimson sunset was pushing its way through the clouds in one final burst, beginning to lose its light. For the rest of the journey, we were in the dark.
I remember disembarking the bus and making our way outside to be greeted by the cool wind and then the warm but blinding headlights of a car. Then a man with flame colored hair jumped out of the driver’s seat and greeted us with joyful smiles. “Welcome to Andalusia!” said Kingsley with a cultured English accent, mixed with that slight tinge of Spain.
“Thank you!” Dad began “It’s been wonderful…”
“And magical!” I cut in.
“Finally we meet in person.” Dad finished.
We boarded the car and drove through the black night, devoid of the moon, to the city of Arcos de la Frontera. I felt the smooth highway fall away from under the car, and we were then rumbling down a dusty and rocky road. At the end, I saw a rich red earthen coloured rendered house, glowing in the golden light of the porch lamp. I could make out a stunning garden patch that reminded me of the cover of a book I had once owned about Adam and Eve, mixed with the mystical descriptions of The Secret Garden.
We entered the warmth of the home, and I immediately felt only pleasant energies residing within.
“My dog, Fuko, is out at the moment, but he will love to meet you once he returns. He is out galavanting, as I kept him in the past few days because he was naughty and tracked mud inside everywhere after staying out all night last time. He is now enjoying his regained freedom,” said Kingsley with a laugh.
It was past 10pm once we sat down in the warm and cozy living room by the blazing fire and after a yawn from both Lalika and I, Mum shepherded us straight off to bed, saying “How are you going to enjoy yourselves tomorrow if you are not rested!?” Even though I agreed with her line of reasoning, after getting into bed, my tiredness simply vanished.
Lying quietly for about half an hour and listening in on the adults’ conversation, I heard a soft rustling coming from outside the door. At first I thought that one of my parents was entering the room, and so I snapped my eyes shut in a split second and pretended to be asleep. But after cautiously re-opening my eyes, I became extremely curious. I hopped out of bed, trying to make no noise and then carefully poked my head around the corner. More rustling ensued along with the pitter patter of small feet and nails on the dark slate tiles. It took a few moments for me to realize what this creature was. After my eyes had adjusted to the foyer’s darkness, I saw a smokey black dog with big brown eyes staring back at me, his head tilted to one side.
I dropped to my knees, forgetting all about being quiet and beckoned for the dog to come over. He came running, and he jumped into my embrace in a matter of seconds. “You must be Fuko!” I whispered, petting him as he jumped up and down in happiness. “Fashionably late I suppose,” I said giggling to myself.
“Is that you Fuko!?” I heard Kingsley cry out. Letting the dog jump out from my lap, I ran back inside the room and hid under the covers. I heard my parents becoming acquainted with Fuko and then slowly hearing the fuss die down. Ten minutes later I saw a small black nose peeking in from the door. After giving Fuko one last belly rub, I fell back into bed, content at last to fall asleep.
In the morning, after a delicious breakfast, we sat outside the house under the latticework on which the grapevines weaved their way around, where the October sun of the Southern Mediterranean warmed us, and we just joked about. It was here that I noticed three very cute, interesting little dogs blaze around the corner all at once. The gauge of the front gate was not small enough to stop them from entering, rather just enough to slow them down, and once they had pushed through, they resumed their speed in unison running towards Fuko who was sitting on the front porch. The thing was, they didn’t slow down when they reached him and their collective momentum of force impacted in a collision that sent them all tumbling over, Fuko included, into a ball of dog parts. They were up in a flash though and instantly running as if they were playing a version of tag.
“The architecture of the building bore the familiar sacred geometric shapes of the architecture of Moorish genius. I was amazed that such a beautiful sanctuary, so peaceful and serene existed here.
I felt like this place was founded on some ancient source of energy, and I was taken back to a much more ancient time while I walked these halls.”
With my curiosity peaked, I immediately asked Kingsley, who they were. He replied that they appear to be Fuko’s friends from up the road. I was enchanted by their fervour and started to notice a dynamic between them. They were playing with such exuberance, it was as if we weren’t even there. They were running back and forth, in and out of the property, the gate now open, allowing them unhindered access. It had taken quite some time before they started to settle down on the porch with us. Even then, I noticed that the smallest one was still jumping about like a hot Mexican bean, trying to engage Fuko to play. What happened next made me laugh in an instant.
Fuko simply lifted his paw and gently but intentionally put it with force on the neck of the young dog, pinning him in an instant to the ground. The littlest dog placed his tail between his legs, but as soon as Fuko let up, he was at him again, like a wound-up ball of perpetual energy, constantly ready to explode. I noticed just how patient Fuko was, never losing his temper with the young dog, all while letting him know who was in charge. ‘Wow,’ I thought, ‘what an amazing bond exists between these dogs’ and as we headed to get into the car to enjoy the township of Arcos de la Frontera for the day, I couldn’t get the thought of these little dogs out of my mind.
As the car pulled away from the gate, I looked back to see Fuko turning left whilst we were turning right. Surrounding him were the three little dogs, and they began to chase each other playfully as the car slowly rumbled down the road. Anxious to keep sight of the little band of friends, I scrambled to the back window to see the four dogs who were now racing across a field towards the hills where endless fun reigned supreme. “I do believe I know where you were last night Fuko,” I whispered to myself, as an image of Fuko and his dog family came into my mind, romping through the night, as rebellious as a bunch of teenagers. As the canines disappeared from my sight, an idea began to form in my mind.
Our first destination of the day was a place very special to Kingsley, and we were honoured that he was sharing it with us. When we stepped out of the car, we found ourselves in a compound with landscape gardening that rivaled The Alhambra. Scarlet fish leapt from the looking glass pool as we made our way around this secret wonder. The architecture of the building bore the familiar sacred geometric shapes of the architecture of Moorish genius. I was amazed that such a beautiful sanctuary, so peaceful and serene existed here.
I felt like this place was founded on some ancient source of energy, and I was taken back to a much more ancient time while I walked these halls.
I began to think about the dogs again and this city and how I imagined them exploring every nook and cranny of its ancient walls. I felt that they too were free like us as a family, and they had chosen to live their lives as a great adventurous journey, very similar to ours. As we walked through the rest of the citadel, we began exploring the individual craft shops that lined the streets and in each one, we discovered a unique and exquisite piece of art made by the talented craftsmen of Arcos. We concluded our tour by making our way to the city’s lookout from where we could see the rolling green farmlands of Andalusia.
Here, a man had set up a small stall, saying that for a donation, anyone could hold the magnificent live birds he owned. I was drawn to a mystical white owl with an intense gaze of piercing blue eyes. Seeing that I was enjoying myself so much, the owner picked up a smaller brown owl that reminded me of a doe from the spots on its back, and dropped it neatly onto my head. I felt the strong claws that held so much power, sitting on my arm and scalp and smiled in delight.
We then got back in the car and took a quick detour to the glittering water banks of the lake to the south of the city. As we walked and spoke, the ancient whitewashed stonewalled citadel of Arcos de la Frontera stared at us in the background, beckoning us to enter.
It was a short drive up to the prominent citadel and we began our exploration, clattering down the narrow cobblestone streets, making our way to the city’s inner sanctum.
It was here that Kingsley shared with us one of the secrets of the sisters of Arcos. No, this was not some Harry Potteresque order, but rather the sweet work of the cloistered convent of nuns, who sell baked-goods through a secret little hole in the wall. We rang the bell of the amber stone convent and placed our order from the little menu hanging from the door, having to bend over to speak through a small square opening in the ancient and heavy wooden gates that guarded the entry to this mysterious bakery. We waited for a few minutes and the sister returned with two packages of almond sweets, packaged in two little brown paper bags, that were pushed through a little secret door. They appeared to have been baked freshly that morning. This would be a wonderful treat to enjoy after lunch.
We made our way through the narrow cloisters and came to a strip of restaurants, stopping out the front of Kingsley’s favourite Pizzeria. I noticed the honeysuckle vines growing around the door, its tubular flowers dripping their sweet essence in a late autumn bloom. We sat down outside in the sun and enjoyed a real Italian Pizza lunch, as the proprietor was from the South of Italy. As we ate, I wondered how many people had walked these ancient streets. The streets were so narrow that the restaurant’s tables were placed right at the edge of the cobblestone road. It was a road actually in use and while we ate, and a car approached, I almost felt like we would have to get up and move the table, but each time the car passed within centimetres of my Mum and Dad’s seats, so you might say, everything was well calculated here. It was not as if the cars were speeding, but it was indeed a new experience of alfresco dining.
When we returned to Kingsley’s, I contemplated how lovely the whole day had been. We noticed Kingsley was starting up his petrol powered earth tiller and Lalika and I ran over to investigate. Kingsley explained that he was about to plant grass and that if we liked, we could assist him. There was no need to ask twice and with a wave of energetic inspiration Lalika and I followed Kingsley behind his tiller. As I strew the peach colored seeds into the spongy textured soil, I had the feeling that I was planting something that was tying my roots into this land. I was creating a connection through the Earth. Now all I had to do was wait for those new blades of grass to push through the earth and I knew we would return.
The next day I was awoken by the maize colored sun streaming in through the window and immediately felt a pang of sadness. Today we would have to leave. When we had left Morocco, we had agreed on only a few days, and now it was time to return to the exotic African country and our rented apartment in the seaside city of Asilah. But before the upset of having to pack and say goodbye, we put on our walking shoes and went for a stroll through the sunny autumn fields of Andalusia’s Arcos.
Taking Fuko along with us was a joy, and we enjoyed the walk down the dusty, cracked roads just as much as he did. “I wish we could stay here forever!” I said suddenly, throwing a stick for Fuko. He raced down the road at a breakneck pace and returned it with the same speed and agility. I had been observing Fuko and his characteristics for the past two days, taking in everything about his calm personality and fun loving nature. I almost imagined that we had a telepathic connection. It was as if he was speaking to me of the double life he led, in one instance the cool, collected and quiet companion of his English caretaker, but also, the reckless, daredevil lifestyle, enjoying secret adventures that only his canine friends could know of. I would undoubtedly miss this dog whom I had so connected with.
I knelt down to give Fuko an embrace that he returned with a few licks of joy and a nuzzle. He looked up into my eyes as if he knew this was goodbye. “I’m going to miss you Fuko,” I said. Then Fuko turned away from me and joined his company of doggie friends. They surrounded Fuko in a tight throng and then all of them turned away from the world of humans and trotted off into the sunny pastures of Arcos de la Frontera.
“Whenever you come back to Spain, give me a call as you are always welcome here,” said Kingsley with a smile as we loaded our luggage into the car.
“Thank you,” we all said.
“And you’ll be back soon!” he continued. “You’ll come back to see the grass we planted has grown green, and the flowers will have bloomed. Believe me, you’ll all be back soon.”
I nodded in agreement as Kingsley’s voice faded into a sunny memory. I sat on the bus with The Rock Of Gibraltar coming back into my view. I glanced out to the inviting, glittering water, and suddenly I felt a little piece of my mind open up, everything was sliding into place. I gave a gasp and blinked a few times in shock. I then began scrambling for a notepad to write on.
“What is it!?” asked Dad, surprised at my sudden rush.
“I need to get this down.”
“Get what down?”
“This!” I held up the small note I had scribbled ideas onto about dogs and mansions and mysteries.
“What is it!?” repeated Dad.
I took a deep breath and smiled before replying. “This will be my book! The one I will write! I can almost see the cover now and I can see it taking us on new adventures!”
Dad stared at me speechless, his eyes were sparkling, but he managed to point to a picture I had drawn, asking who that was.
“That’s Fuko!” I had drawn the smokey black canine. He was my main inspiration for adventure and freedom, and the main character for my novel. “I have an idea like never before!”
I knew what had to be my next step, for just like the sun, I knew a new dawn would be rising for us.