Lunching with Lizards
13 Nov 2006
LUNCHING WITH LIZARDS
The midday sun bathed Madeira in its warmth and dazzled on the water a hundred feet or so below my perch, where I lay on the crisp grass and inhaled the aromatic drift of a dozen exotic plants. Ahead the island narrowed to a fragile peninsula, where a single glance took in cliffs that fell abruptly on either side into the pounding surf. Thanks to Paddy’s book I’d already completed one three-hour walk along that nose of land in the morning, and reckoned I could manage another in the afternoon – if I didn’t fall asleep, that is, lulled by the lazy cry of seabirds.
Paddy Dillon can be persuasive. Lord knows what he’s like in mid-project, but when it’s complete he’s unstoppable. Madeira had been his most recent enterprise, and when his guide came out, it did so to justifiable acclaim. Sharing the Cicerone stand with him at an Outdoor Show, there’d been no escape. A day’s ear-bashing – Madeira this, Madeira that – had my head buzzing. Normally I’d have resisted on principle, but his enthusiasm won me over.
So I booked a flight and spent a week exploring Paddy’s Madeira – rising early each morning and dashing from one side of the island to another, walking its mist-wreathed mountainous heart, ambling alongside the levadas, scrambling over cliffs and becoming almost drunk with the fragrance that assailed my every movement. In the evening I’d stroll down to the harbour through an avenue of sweet-scented jacaranda trees, dangle my feet above the tide and, drink in hand, reckon Paddy was right: Madeira’s landscape truly is ‘one of exceptional beauty and ruggedness’. Like him, I was hooked.
So there I was, stretched out on a May-warmed fringe of turf, thinking that a couple of bread rolls and a hunk of cheese for lunch would set me up for the afternoon’s walk.
Moments later a five-inch lizard appeared, testing the air to sample a strange smell. I dropped a crumb. The lizard approached, dabbed with its tongue, appreciated the taste, attacked it with tiny jaws, shook it, chewed and swallowed. Hmm, tasted good.
Another crumb fell. The lizard pounced, turned it with his nose, took it in his mouth and raced away.
News spread fast: “There’s free food on the clifftop.” With that a second lizard appeared; this one with a green streak down his back, tongue darting, twitching, tasting. Then another, a sandy-brown fella this time, with bandy legs and a dinosaur’s tail. A third appeared, and a fourth, and before I knew it I was surrounded by nine or ten lizards of different sizes, varying shades and degrees of agility, but all with a common hunger for bread and cheese. My bread and cheese.
So I lounged on the grass and barely moved as one creature after another scaled the north face of my rucksack, clambered over the water bottle, then my legs, up my arms and across my shoulders. Lizards everywhere, or nearly everywhere, tongues dabbing for a crumb.
I began to laugh and the lizards froze. One cocked his head, another fell as my body shook, while a third – a six-inch salmon-pink reptile with bulging eyes – stared in my face from my right shoulder and did not like what he saw. In a flash he was off, and though I didn’t hear it, a cry must have gone out: “Make haste, lads, it’s a nooman.”
Moments later I was alone on the clifftop with what was left of my snack. But my appetite had gone with the lizards, so I broke the remains of my bread into tiny crumbs and wandered away. It was, after all, their clifftop not mine.
If only Paddy had warned me. I’d have packed an extra roll for lunch.