Today was the third and final instalment in my three-day climbing course, and it was one hell of a daunting conclusion. The main topic of the day was multipitching: that is, learning to ascend walls that are too high to climb with a single rope (such walls are more than 50m), and/or that consist of multiple sections, each of which has a different "pitch" or angle. Multipitch climbing is an extremely complex procedure, as it involves a pair of partners taking turns at belaying each other up and down (multiple times, depending on the number of sections that the wall has), switching yourself between various ropes, securing ropes in such a way that they can be switched, and learning a whole heap of new knots and rope configurations. It is, in my opinion, far too complicated to learn in one day; and it's also quite unnecessary to learn, unless you're already a strong and experienced enough climber to actually tackle multi-pitch walls. I barely remembered a quarter of the details of what I was taught today; but nevertheless, it was worthwhile being exposed to some of the more advanced techniques in rock-climbing, and it was interesting to learn how the pros do it.
For something completely different, this afternoon I continued doing what I started this morning: more fun climbing! We were a group of four this afternoon (plus Let as our instructor): Martina, a crazy Korean guy and his wife, and myself; and instead of the "1-2-3" wall, this time we headed over to the "Diamond Cave" cliffs, up on the northern side of Railay East bay. The climbing continued to be extremely fun, and to pose few real technical challenges. It also, however, continued to be utterly exhausting — by the time we were done for the day, I was wasted.
And it's called Sairee Beach, Ko Tao. I'm blurting out the secret — so consider yourself privileged. This place is heaven. For our first day on Ko Tao, Alex, Caroline and myself spent most of the day semi-conscious on Sairee Beach, letting the water lap at our feet and the sun pour down on our backs. We managed to fit in some time for shopping around, as well — and after some quick research, we've booked our 4-day PADI Open Water course at what we hope is a good place. It was a chilled evening: just a few drinks at one of Sairee's super-mellow beach bars, sprawled out on the island's ubiquitous cushion-and-mat "seating", before exhaustion overcame us and we crashed into bed. If the rest of my time on Ko Tao is going to be like this, then things are looking real good indeed.
Last night, I caught a nice 2nd-class overnight bus from Bangkok (along with my mate Jutta; and this morning, I arrived in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand's largest city. The bus last night was quite luxurious (very comfy seats, snacks served in-trip), but not exactly perfect: they played a loud and annoying Thai movie for half the night; and the air-con was on far too strong, which meant that I almost froze to death in my t-shirt and shorts. As such, I barely slept during the trip, and I arrived in Chiang Mai groggy and exhausted. Still, it's very nice to be here: after the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, Chiang Mai (although still a big place) is refreshingly serene and peaceful.
It was a long evening, getting out of Barcelona and back to London tonight. A long bus ride to yet another dodgy Ryanair airport. A long wait once at the airport. And an extremely long delay once we'd arrived back in dear old Inglaterra. Exciting, ridiculous, and heated at times. But most of the way, just long and extremely tedious. Travelling in Europe during the Christmas-break rush, and getting stuck right in the thick of that rush, simply ain't fun at all.
Over the past few days, I've been developing a bit of a cold. The birthday runs yesterday didn't help, either; although I was already coming down with something before that happened. Anyway, I guess all that partying over Christmas and New Year has finally caught up to me: I am officially sick with the flu now. Mainly just gunk in the 'ol nose and throat — hopefully it won't get any worse than that. So I'm going to have to take it easy, until I shake off whatever it is that I've caught.
Having managed to get my new emergency passport this afternoon, I had no reason to hang around in Rome any longer (nor anywhere to stay in Rome); so I continued on to my next destination: Pisa. The train to Pisa was an easy three hours, with a change in Florence: I got the high-speed "EuroStar Italia" from Rome to Florence, which was nice but absolutely packed — I can see why they have compulsory reservations on the EuroStar trains. From Florence, it was just an all-stops local train to Pisa Centrale — I pulled in there at about 8:30pm. And when I arrived, I found the famous city to be completely enveloped in a thick fog. Not to worry: the fog didn't stop me finding my bed for the night; and it had all cleared up by the next morning.
After a long but pleasant day's riding, this evening I rolled into the lovely coastal town of Sant' Stéfano di Camastra. Call me a lightweight, call me what you will: but there seemed to be no camping options whatsoever around here, and (after roughing it last night) a B&B simply looked too tempting to resist — so I splurged out, and stayed in a B&B in town. And I can't say I regretted it at all: the cost was hardly much more than that of a hostel in Rome (after all, this is rural Sicily, and this is seriously off-season); and the hot shower, comfy bed, and delicious breakfast certainly did me good. What's more, the owner was very nice (although communication was a struggle — ye 'ol language barrier again), and her daughter was quite good-looking.
After a crazy day of trains and ferries, I've made it to Messina, my first stop on the island of Sicily. Messina is a nice enough town, but certainly nothing special: there's nothing here to attract tourists; apart from the fact that if coming by ferry, it's the main way in. Anyway, although I'm all geared-up for camping during my Great Sicilian Ride, I decided to just stay at a hotel here in town tonight: by the time I reached Messina, it was already too dark to get out into the countryside; plus, I need to buy food and other supplies, and I need to finalise the setup for my bike.
I was rather silly today, for my first day in England: I arrived at The Generator at about 7am this morning; and once there, I promptly went to bed. "I'll just have a nap for a few hours", I told myself, "my alarm's set for 10am". Big mistake! My alarm didn't wake me, of course; and when next I woke, I discovered that it was 2 in the afternoon. Oh s$%# — perfect recipe for jetlag. Should have kept myself awake all day today, and crashed in the evening. I guess that being in The Americas for so long has made me forget about jetlag, as it's been a while since I had significant time zone differences to cope with. I can only hope that it will only take me a few days to recover from my mistake, and to adjust to GMT.