The average West African Basenji doesn’t move far from its home village but Rindt was a dog destined to travel. A colleague at Cameroon Air Transport had told me about a litter of Basenji pups slowly dying from a skin infection. The African owners couldn’t or wouldn’t treat it so he had bought one of the few surviving pups and urged me to rescue another. I drove up to the village in the rain forest and negotiated with the owners. In parts of eastern Nigeria and West Cameroon dogs are eaten as a delicacy so the idea of giving one away to a good home, even a dying pup, was foreign to them. The skin disease had already spread to half of Rindt’s body and she looked far from well but as we bumped back down the forest track, she began to sit up and take notice. Land-Rovers aren’t bad, are they?
The nearest vet – the only vet – was located at the government administration centre at Buea, 4,000 feet up on the side of Mount Cameroon. It was back into the Land-Rover for a steep climb through the cloud layers and out into the sunny rarefied air of Buea. The vet assured me that the skin infection was treatable and that a dip in the sea might also hasten the cure. That was fortunate because I had just built a kayak for exploring the islands in the bay and Rindt insisted on coming along. The surf was often wild and as the kayak tilted up into a wave the little dog would slide back along the deck into my lap, or when we were skimming down the other side, she would slide towards the bow and teeter there, like a diver on a high board. Her balance was impeccable, she never fell overboard but when we returned to the shallows she would dive head first into the water, to hunt the darting fish.
Tullis, my Scottish travelling companion, had a Ducati motorbike and I would sometimes ride with him on the pillion. Rindt hated being left behind so we were soon travelling three-up with Rindt between us, her paws resting on Tullis’ shoulders. She didn’t just sit there – she leaned into the corners like a veteran bikie!
When the time came to leave Cameroon, Rindt was obliged to travel in the aircraft hold. I’m sure she would rather have been in the cockpit, leaning out the window. That was more her style. We changed planes at Congo Brazzaville and at Johannesburg and each time Rindt was wheeled about ignominiously in her cage, like a piece of luggage. We whistled to her to let her know we were close at hand. Basenjis don’t bark but when they are excited they throw back their heads and yodel like a coyote. Rindt replied to our whistles with a blood-curdling howl that startled the airport staff!
She lived many happy years in Rhodesia, never missing an opportunity to ride on the back of my Peugeot ute or sitting in style in the cab with her nose out in the breeze. She still rode behind Tullis on his bike and she would come along as crew on my sailing dingy, standing in the bow like a figurehead and occasionally diving into the lake after the darting fish.
One day I was faced with a terrible dilemma. A motor racing friend had made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: to fly to England and co-drive his Chevron-BMW racing car. I didn’t want to leave Rindt but if I took her with me, she would have to stay in British quarantine for six months. Tullis was working in the bush on a health project but he agreed to take care of her. As he said, she was no stranger to Land-Rovers.
My proposed year in England stretched out to four and when I next met up with Tullis in Africa, Rindt was no longer with him. He had returned to Scotland a couple of years earlier to stay with his sister. Rindt had moved in with them after doing her ‘time’ in quarantine and had adapted quite happily, as usual. She had become part of the family and Tullis had thought it would be cruel to uproot her once more when he left. He had last seen her with his sister’s kids, hurtling down a snow-covered hill, on the back of a toboggan!