Perhaps it was not so wise to follow the euphoria experienced in the magnificent surroundings of Monte Palace Tropical Gardens with a tramp along a footpath 18 inches wide with a vertical drop of hundreds of feet on one side. Especially as the tickets for the gardens had fortuitously included 'free wine'. That had come in quite handy for our celebrations, but it wasn't so sensible when it came to the vertiginous tramp that followed.
I cheated by crawling. I got muddy knees. Gayle cried. Sue said we shouldn't have had that last bottle of wine. I emphasised, in deference to Alan Sloman (see his recent posting), the importance of at least one lunchtime bottle of wine for all Foreign Office staff as being a pre-requisite for their ability to spend the afternoon puzzling over the strange nature of the world's time zones.
Vultures circled above us, expecting a free lunch to be offered at any moment on the blood splattered rocks far below us.*
By some dint of fortune, with no thanks to a German fraulein who marched through us shouting "Achtung", we managed to survive, and miraculously we made it all the way along the Levada dos Tournos to Camacha. By then, Mick had been given a bravery award for negotiating a 500 metre tunnel (aka 'Barry's Splash Zone') without falling into the canal, despite the fact that he had locked his head torch in the safe of his hotel room. "My Anti Panic glasses saved me" he asserted.
"You look as blind as a bat" observed the man with a blue Berghaus Freeflow rucksack, "have you seen my missing colleague?" We directed him, probably completely the wrong way, towards a non-existent garden. He's probably still out there somewhere.
The 15km walk had taken almost five hours. We had passed at least eight drowned rats in the levada, had gorged on trackside bananas and passion fruit, and had failed to convince with our Guiding Service. Then a passing taxi hijacked us from a busy bus stop and returned us to FO HQ in about 20 minutes. Gayle immediately ordered more wine, asserting "I'll fall over without it."
Afterwards we all agreed that it had been a routine, if scary, day out and that whilst being envious of the team's close-knit cameraderie, President Sloman would on the whole be pleased with the ability of his hand chosen team to survive in the field of duty.
* I later discovered these were buzzards, and that the redness in the rocks below us was caused by iron, not blood.