Day two of my three-day rock climbing course stepped things up a notch. Yesterday was good fun, but nothing serious: just a few non-technical climbs on beginner runs, where I was teamed up with various people doing no-frills half-day sessions. Today, my venerable instructor Let taught me the most important and the most basic of technical climbing skills: how to perform top-rope lead climbing. It's very different to simply scrambling up carefree, with a rope above your head the entire time: more thrilling, but also far more scary.
With the dive course now finished, it's time to get out of Sairee, and to start exploring a bit more of Ko Tao. To kick off the exploration, today Adam and I rented a quad bike, and took it for a spin. A quad bike costs a fair bit more than a regular scooter motorbike to rent — but it's a much safer option, if you plan to tackle the shockingly poor-quality dirt roads that criss-cross most of the island. Short of running them off the road, quad bikes are extremely difficult to crash or to damage — whereas you can easily (and people regularly do) damage a scooter on a poor road, in which case you'll likely be facing a hefty repair bill. As I was still very much recovering from last night, Adam did most of the driving.
I've never had any burning desire to jump on a motorbike. I've always thought of motorbike riding as a dangerous, punked-up, reckless activity — not really my cuppa tea. And if I ever was to ride a motorbike, I sure as hell never imagined that I'd do it for the first time here in Thailand — surely, the craziest place on Earth in which to try it without prior experience! But motorbike riding is a very popular pastime in Thailand — not to mention the cheapest and quickest way to get around — and so, due to peer pressure from my friends Marie and Claire, today I threw all my fear and common-sense to the wind, and gave it a try. It was a terrifying and nerve-racking adventure, but there's no denying that it was absolutely wicked good fun.
While camped in my field near Pedagaggi this evening, I was cooking up some dinner in my tent, when I caused a lightning-quick and most disturbing accident. I turned on my little gas cooker (i.e. opened the gas valve, used a cigarette lighter to ignite it), and a massive flame shot out of it, ½ a metre straight up in the air. And this was inside my tent! The flame usually leaps out a little bit when you first ignite it — but not this much. Needless to say, the flame touched the walls of my tent: and it burnt a hole right through my front tent flap. Fortunately, the hole wasn't too big — only about 20cm in diameter — so I was able to patch it up (as an interim measure), with a large tract of trusty 'ol duct tape. The hole is sealed for now, but I'll have to get it fixed properly when I return home next year.
This afternoon, our three-day hike of the Cañon del Colca was almost finished. We'd finished our relaxing visit to the hot springs in Chivay (and the great buffet lunch), and all that remained was to complete one last bus journey, back to Arequipa. And that proved to be the hardest part of the whole tour. Because Arequipa is currently a city under siege: the protests that I saw on Tuesday, before I left on the hike, have gotten much worse; all roads in and out of the city are now blockaded by angry mobs, and every man and his dog is now up in arms about life, the government, and everything. This made our journey home very interesting indeed.
After we finished our tour of the Potosí mines today, we had some fun outside. Our tourguides got three of our packages of dynamite, ammonium nitrate, and fuse; ran about 50m down the road with them; and then ran back before they exploded. One of the packages got stuffed inside a cute little teddy bear. Poor little guy left this world with a big bang. Check out the video here.
At the end of today's death road ride, we had a very cool river crossing, that we all blazed and splashed through at full speed on our bikes. And the fine folks at B-Side were kind enough to capture the whole thing on video. Check it out.
Arguably the most famous, and the most popular, tourist attraction in La Paz these days is the death road bike ride. A 3000m descent, from La Cumbre to Coroico. Downhill almost all the way. And fatally dangerous for much of the distance. Today, Chris and I did the ride, with B-Side Adventures (great company — but horrible web site). And we survived, and loved every minute of it.
The pampas has many strange and wonderful animals — monkeys, dolphins, and alligators among them — but what most people really come here to see is the anacondas. The legendary water-snake monsters — that can (in parts of the Amazon basin) grow to as much as 10m in length, and that have long been the subject of adventure books and horror movies — are certainly a sight to see. And this morning, our group went on a romp through the swamplands, and found two little baby ones! Even these young critters had a formidable mouth of teeth, though.
If you want to face death on the side of a forested cliff in the middle of the night (and possible live to tell the tale), then catch the night bus from Pilcopata to Cusco. It was the same incredibly bad road that we took to get to Pilcopata on Monday; but it was wet, it was uphill, and it was pitch-black. Massive unsealed pot-holes, in the dark. Hairpin cliff-side bends, in the dark. Passing oncoming vehicles on a road thinner than Kylie's waist, in the dark. Next time, I think I'll walk back.