“There’s seaside with a white pebble beach which looks out on the Brijuni islands. The Brijuni were President Tito’s playground, with a safari park with zebras and an elephant. You must visit.
“In the other direction, if you take the paths through the fields, you reach Makso’s private beach. Some of the paths are overgrown, so you must be careful.”
Mel remembered his concern as she cycled round the edges of the fields. Sun settled on the lavender which exuded its pungent scent. Mel filled her lungs, overjoyed to be alive.
The further she got from the house, the more scrubby the land became, with weeds and endless winding paths. She followed one, heading for the sea.
She’d set herself a challenge to pedal to Makso’s private beach.
When she’d settled in, she would love to bring a picnic and bathe in the sea as she had done in Sorrento.
The paths got narrower and Mel felt her legs brushed by grasses which clattered in the spokes. The way became uneven, but the bike was up to it.
As she rounded a bend, she stopped, startled. Over to her right, above the sea, appeared a collection of around 20 small round houses. They were nestled in a dip, as if someone had built them to stay hidden.
She remembered them from her guidebook. Trulli houses could be ancient and were built of bleached stone, with slate-coloured roofs. Curious, she thought, that anyone should live out here miles away from civilisation. There wasn’t a shop, a telephone box or a road in sight.
The only way to the trulli was along these unmade paths. What did these people do for a living?
Pondering, she resumed pedalling. It wasn’t much longer to the sea. As she rode, she looked back. The trulli were totally hidden.
The way became more difficult, but she was determined to complete her mission. The sun climbed in a cloudless sky and she began to sweat.
Mel pedalled madly, becoming increasingly disorientated. She only saw the snake crossing her path out of the corner of her eye, but it was enough to make her shriek.
Her yell rang through the air. She slammed on her brakes and crashed into a pile of thorn bushes. As she lay, the snake turned. Mel stared helplessly at it. It opened its jaws.
She went to scream again when she heard a man’s voice.
“Don’t move a muscle.”
Mel stayed silent.
“Don’t make any sudden movements and you’ll stay safe. Can you get up?”
Mel eyed the snake and the snake eyed her.
“Yes, probably.” Then she gasped. “My leg’s bleeding. I’ve been bitten.”
Gradually the young man moved into view. He frowned intently at her bleeding leg through heavy-rimmed spectacles.
Over his shoulder was a leather bag. He wore workman’s clothes, jeans and a denim shirt. He brandished a stick between her and the snake.
“Stand up slowly. Use my arm to steady you.”
“Is the snake poisonous?”
“Difficult to tell.” He didn’t bat an eyelid. “I don’t know what they look like. What I do know is that the nose-horned viper isn’t keen on water.”
With that, as if in slow motion, he took out a bottle and handed it to her.
“Here, give him a good sprinkling.”
With shaking hands, she did as she was told. The snake slithered into the undergrowth.
She clung to the man’s hand for support, her legs like spaghetti.
“Was that a poisonous one?”
He washed her calf with the bottled water.
“He did have the telltale zigzag markings and that little nose like a hook.”
“You said you weren’t an expert!”
“Sometimes I lie to protect the innocent.”
She laughed despite her anxiety.
“Have I been bitten?”