On Pumpkins and Labradors

Traveling is an intrinsic part of my life and I enjoy every minute of it, even it means running after trains or boxing my way through crowded stations. Traveling alone is nothing new to me and I have to say I rather enjoy it. But traveling around Germany with my cat Champagne is a whole new ballgame. It is one thing to take her along everywhere I go in Berlin, where she absolutely enjoys riding the trams, buses and subways, but this is the first time we are road-tripping with the high-speed bullet train (remember that she is a veteran intercontinental plane traveler who always arrives unfazed and with no jet lag).

She is the coolest travel cat ever, taking it all in stride while sitting in her backpack. Naturally, we attract a lot of attention from all ages, especially when the seemingly innocent backpack moves and a wide-eyed cat stares out at them. Champagne remains very quiet throughout the entire journey, no matter where it may lead her to, and didn’t even complain when she bounced around unceremoniously because we had to run and catch the next train.

Attracting the attention of humans is no problem for the cat diva, and going by her responses, she actually enjoys it. Being shadowed by suspicious dogs, on the other hand, is not her cup of tea. We visited a pumpkin farm yesterday and I had planned to let her out and let her explore on the leash, but as soon as we we set foot on the farm the Labrador on duty was on high alert. He greeted me in a friendly enough manner but upon closer inspection sniffed something very different and started shadowing me around in a nose-to-butt manner. At some point he figured that the object of his interest was in the backpack I was carrying and his attention shifted immediately. Champagne, who had remained calmed so far, and meows only in emergencies, gave two cautionary snorts, which the canine of course did not understand. In the three years that I have had Champagne, this was the second time I heard her hiss angrily at someone, the first time being when she was approached by two excitable pug-beagle crossbreeds (yes, they looked at strange as it sounds). The owner of the pumpkin farm noticed the situation immediately and let the disgruntled Labrador away, much to his annoyance. He did not appreciate losing to the cat.

For the nine months that Champagne and I lived in Manila last year, she tagged along with me each time I went to Manila bay to photograph the sunset or the road trips to Cavite. It was during these expeditions that I trained her to walk with the leash, which took patience and a lot of encouragement. At first she developed the stranger-danger-flop, freezing to a standstill and flopping down on her belly if she felt threatened. Little by little she figured out that for as long as she is attached to the leash nothing bad can happen - well, unless she is attached to a leash while standing in the water and a wave washes over her. In Berlin she has been reluctant to walk with the leash because of all the dogs we encounter, but last night along the river promenade she reached a new self-confidence level.

I let her out of the backpack, attached the leash to her harness and let her walk around. In the true spirit of being my cat, she walked determinedly in one direction without having a clue as where she was headed, navigating on sheer instinct. After the first tentative steps, she got the hang of it and realised we had the entire area to ourselves, except for the cyclists passing by. Otherwise, my curious cat had no problems stopping by people munching on sausages or fries to sniff the air and then walk on, just like a dog. Most had to do a double take before they realised this was a cat inspecting them!

Not even the ride in the back seat of top-down car speeding down the Autobahn unsettled this feline. She is well behaved in restaurants and offices, will make an occasional comment in stores, and looks out windows with great interest. In any case, I feel we have reached a turning point in our travel relationship and she is enjoying herself thoroughly.