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.
Conrad is — as far as I could tell — the owner of Agricasale, the campsite where I stayed tonight. Conrad's a very nice guy: not only does he speak good Spanish (he too has travelled extensively in Latin America) and some English / French (as well as Italian); not only did he insist I join him for dinner in the dining hall; but he also refused to charge me for my night's camping! Conrad greeted me when I arrived at the site this evening — stressed and worn out as I was, and in the pitch dark — and was happy to have me as the sole guest of the place for the evening.
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?
"The Prizzi gang" is the friendly, local folks whom I met today, upon collapsing into the hilltop town of Prizzi after a wind-buffeted morning's ride. There were the owners of the cafe on the main drag: English-speaking, they've returned to Sicily after living for many years in the USA (you know New Yaahk — Braahklyn?), and they're very hospitable to tourists. There was the gang of "local boys": none of them were at school (apparently it was a teacher's strike today — but I don't think they attend much anyway), so they were just hanging around the cafe. And there were the quintessential random old men, who were also hanging around the bar, and who insisted on helping me change my flat tyre (they're all experts on bike repairs, of course). Cool crowd, and as Sicilian as anything I could ever imagine.
I awoke in my field near Gangi this morning, to find a dog waiting patiently for me right outside my tent. When I saw him there, I nearly jumped out of my skin! He disappeared while I was breakfasting and packing away; but when I rode away, he appeared again, and he started chasing after me. This was one hell of a fast dog: I was cruising down the highway; but he easily kept up with me, and he didn't give up until after I'd reached Gangi. He was so speedy, I decided to call him "Gonzalez". Poor fella — guess he was just lonely, and wanted some company.
This North African balloon-maker and clown caught the train down with me this afternoon — from Paola to Villa San Giovanni — and then stayed with me, on the ferry across to Messina. It was hard to communicate with him — my Italian sucks, and his English is no better — but he's a really friendly guy, and we were buddies while our paths crossed today. The first thing that I did in Sicily, was go for a coffee with Wahmoud.
Back when I went river rafting in Ecuador, about three months ago, I met three Italian guys, who live and who go to university here in Rome. Tonight, I managed to meet up and to have a reunion with two of them: my old mates Tom and Fede! Sadly, I couldn't meet up with Ben, as he's on exchange in Scotland at the moment. Anyway, the three of us managed to free ourselves up for this evening, and to catch up on old times. It was a bit of a struggle finding each other — it took us over an hour to spot each other at the Piazza Venezia in central Rome — but once that ordeal was over, we shared a few good beers, and had a few good laughs. Nice to see some old faces, here in this crazy new country that I'm visiting.
Natalie's the young, space-cadet English girl who lives and works at Gulliver's House, here in Rome. She's been here for about 3 months now, and she's not sure exactly how long she's staying for. She's extremely nice, but she's totally spaced out: not sure if she's stoned, or just a very tranquil person. Anyway, she's very welcoming to all the guests at the hostel, and she's always happy to give advice about what to see and do in the city.
These two lads are flat-sharing here in London's Mile End area, and they're being kind and hospitable enough to host my mate Jack, during his week or so in the city. Max is a London local, and Joel's originally an Irish boy. Max met Jack a few years ago, when he was backpacking round the world, and when he crashed at Jack's place in Adelaide. Now he's returning the favour. Great blokes.