Yesterday, after cycling 80 km from Caldera, I decided to camp along the Pacific coast. I left the Ruta 5 road and pushed my bicycle through sand. After scouting for a bit, I chose a location behind giant rocks and pitched my tent on a flat sandy ground. For dinner, I cooked my favourite dish – chickpeas with Pakistani spices.
As I was about to take the first bite of the chickpeas, a man and his wife appeared out of nowhere. “Happy afternoon! How are you doing? You should not camp here. There are rats here!”, the man said in one breath.
“Even here? There is nothing to eat here. It is just all sand and rocks” was my reply.
“Just be careful!” he warned me and then the couple left to take a stroll along the rocky coast.
After having dinner, I packed all the food items tightly in a bag and fastened it on a tripod. The sweet loaf of bread, that I saved for breakfast, was hung high on the vertical face of a rock.
The sun slowly dipped under the horizon. The gentle breeze blew from the ocean and there was soothing sound of waves crashing on the coast. I crawled into the tent.
At night, I was awoken by a ruffling sound. “A rat tossing my stuff around?!” I thought to myself and gave a loud shout. It became quiet afterwards.
I immediately came out of the tent with the headlamp and inspected the bags. I couldn’t see any damage. I then looked at the bread hanging on a rock. It was also in its place. Suddenly I noticed something jumping behind the bushes. I focused my headlamp on it. The movement stopped but I could see two tiny dots reflecting the light. One big rat!
I picked up a stone, took my time to aim and threw it as forcefully as I could. I missed by a few inches. “Damn it!”, I yelled.
The nimble rat hopped from one rock to another before finally disappearing.
“This monster was after my breakfast!” I took off the bread from the rock and began to find a safe place to keep it, but then I again saw the rat; this time sitting on a high rock and staring back at me. I picked up another stone. As I was about to hurl it towards the rat, I noticed two more reflecting dots nearby. Another rat! As I looked around, I could see many rats jumping around. It appeared as if they had been commanded to take strategic positions in a battleground.
I looked at the first rat. He was rubbing his hands as if suggesting, “I cannot wait for the fun to begin!”.
After seeing so many rats hopping around I felt they were doing the dance of death around me on the beat of a drum. That moment, I could almost sense what the rats might be talking about.
“For centuries, it has been a tradition here,” said the old rat after a cough,” that if you have a meal here, you must invite us too.”
The other rats nodded, out of respect.
“Mommy, I want to eat that sweet bread with nuts”, insisted the baby rat, named Jerry, to its mother. The mother rat was angry, “Shut up, Jerry! Your daddy was about to die for that goddamn bread!” Jerry began to cry.
“Let’s attack him! I haven’t eaten anything since lunch”, a young rat proposed.
“Where will you take this bread. Inside the tent? ha?? We will cut holes from all sides of the tent”, another shouted.
“On behalf of our rat community, I propose one solution. That is: you must surrender this bread to us! If you do so, we promise no harm will be done to you or to your belongings,” the wise rat spoke in a weak but authoritative voice.
It was not possible for me to stay awake all night and keep the rats away. So I placed the bread in the bushes, far from the tent. It became all quiet at once and I went back inside the tent and didn’t even go out again despite having a strong urge to pee.
In the morning, I woke up as soon as the first rays of the sun hit the tent. The first thing I did was to go where I had placed the bread. There was no sign of bread, not even the bread crumbs. “The monsters had even eaten the polyethene bag!”, I couldn’t contain my disbelief.
With no bread to eat in the breakfast, I ate only a couple of biscuits with jam and began to push the heavy bicycle through the sand towards the road. I felt like hundreds of tiny eyes were watching me through the cracks of the rocks. Pushing the bicycle became even heavier with the realisation of having lost to the rats.
A rat suddenly passed in front of me, hopping.. and I could almost hear it say, “Ah, was nice to meet you, come back soon!”