I'd heard that instead of just giving them money, it's a much better idea to give the kids in hill-tribe villages some stationery that they can use at school. This is similar to the custom for tourists in other parts of the world, such as on the islands of Peru's Lake Titicaca. So before I left Chiang Mai on Tuesday, I bought a few pens, a few pencils, and some blank exercise books. Didn't get a chance to offer these to the kids last night; but I cornered two little boys this morning, and they eagerly accepted the precious educational gifts. I Hope they get put to good use.
I found a little semi-street-vendor restaurant for lunch today, in downtown Chiang Mai, where they serve a delicious 20B Pad Thai. When I sat down and tucked in, a local kid sat down at the table next to me. He indicated that he was hungry and that he hadn't had lunch, and he asked me for 20B. I sympathised with the poor kid being hungry; but I know the rule: "if someone says they're hungry, don't give 'em money — give 'em food." So instead of giving him the 20B, I gave it to the restaurant lady, and asked her to cook up another Pad Thai for the kid. He didn't seem very happy about this — clearly he wasn't hungry, and he wanted the money for something else — but stuff that, if he wants lunch then a plate of noodles couldn't do him any harm.
One of the people staying at Bob's (apart from José) who wasn't completely stoned, was a friendly backpacker dude from Croatia. A bunch of us were sitting and having a few drinks in the dungeon this evening; and gradually, we all decided to call it a night and to head up to bed. The Croatian guy and myself ended up being the last people left downstairs. I asked him when he was heading upstairs, and he said: "I'm staying here until they close the lounge (which is at 3am) — after that I'll find somewhere else to sleep for the night". After a bit more questioning, it seemed that what he meant was that he was actually completely broke, and that he was waiting to go to the Croatian embassy tomorrow and to beg for money (to get a flight home); and that he couldn't even afford another night here at Bob's.
Jochen, his wife and his 12-month-old baby girl are on vacation here in Sicily, and they're travelling round for a few weeks in their campervan home. I met them this evening at Sabbiadoro, where they were camped near my tent. The couple are mad about cycling: they've brought their racing bikes down in the campervan, and are getting in a few hours each day; in the past (i.e. pre-baby), they've done such ambitious cross-country cycle trips as the famous Carretera Austral (in southern Chile); and they currently own and operate a bike shop, in northern Italy where they live (they're both originally from Germany).
These two sisters live in the town of Pachino — on the south-eastern tip of Sicily — but they study at the university in Ragusa. When I hit the storm from hell on this morning's ride from Ragusa to Modica, they happened to be driving by; and thus it was that they became my (most unlikely of) saviours. They managed to stuff both me and my bike into their super-tiny, super-crappy little hatchback car; and with barely enough room to change from 1st into 2nd gear, they gave me a lift the rest of the way to Modica. I'll never forget these two Sicilian angels, who saved me when I was in strife.
I had lunch (the usual last-night's pasta leftovers) in a sunny little plaza in the town of Paceco today, just south of the city of Trapani. I had the plaza all to myself — except, that is, for a funny-looking old geyser who was occupying the bench adjacent to mine. He sure looked like a poor homeless bum: he hadn't showered since before John Lennon died; he had a beard that seemed larger and less threatened than the Amazon jungle; and he was accompanied by the obligatory garbage bags full of god-knows-what. But when I offered him an apple, he declined, indicating that he'd already had lunch for the day. Maybe he wasn't a bum after all?
This morning's ride to Geraci Siculo was a bit tough; but after that, the rest of the day was a breeze. Yesterday, I slogged through the long uphill climb into the Nebrodi mountains; and today, all that paid off, because it was a long downhill cruise through the neighbouring Madonie mountains, and back to the Sicilian north coast. Not only was the rest of the day completely downhill — it was also warm, sunny, and very pleasant scenery-wise. Like the Nebrodi, Le Madonie is also a pristine and protected area of Sicily; and it also boasts rolling farmland, lush forests, and charming mountain towns. I passed through Castelbuono — one such town — at lunchtime today; when I sat down at a cafe on the main drag there, one of the locals was even generous enough to buy me an espresso! Nothing like some warm, rural Sicilian hospitality, eh?
This evening in Pilcopata, we were wandering around the main (and only) street of town, when we saw an ambulancia parked in the middle of the road, lights blazing and loudspeakers blaring. The driver was saying through the loudspeaker that they were offering Yellow fever vaccinations to the locals, on-the-spot, and 100% free of charge. As Pilcopata is on the edge of the Peruvian jungle, I guess it is technically a Yellow fever endemic area. Great to see that they're making a real effort to try and curb the prevalence of this illness, and to protect the locals from contracting it.