Upon the advice of my cousins — who are seasoned veterans in the field — today I headed over to Bangkok's Pantip Plaza shopping centre, and perused the extensive movie, music and computer-related wares on offer there. Three hours and several thousand Baht later, I was satiated. I've been waiting a looong time for this opportunity, and there's no way I was going to let it pass by un-seized. Should be enough DVDs to fill up every sleepy Sydney night and boring long weekend for the next year or so. Plus, enough music to make a year's worth of never-ending bus commutes and long queues fly right by. Attention all friends back in Sydney: you know I owe you, so please grab and burn at will when I return. Amazing how they keep the prices so low here in Thailand, and yet manage to sell nothing but 100% genuine, legitimate MPAA-endorsed goods :P.
Like Madrid itself, we were feeling extremely lazy and tranquilo today: so after our paella lunch, Miguel, Emmanuelle, the Aussie Indian girl (Shomare) and myself cruised over to one of the city's many cinema complexes. We decided to see American Gangster, a new Ridley Scott film starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. Very well-produced movie, although quite violent and a little disturbing. The film was dubbed: and although I've by now seen plenty of Spanish-dubbed movies, the "Spanish Spanish" took quite a while to get used to (all that lisping and rapid-fire talking, it hurts my poor Peruano ears). Miguel obviously had no problem with the dubbing; but Emmanuelle and Shomare didn't understand much of what was happening. They just came along for the ride.
Soon after my first ever view of Mt. Etna this afternoon, I turned off the road that follows the northern ridge of the Monti Iblei to Sortino, and took a lesser road that winds north out of the mountains, towards the tiny foothill village of Pedagaggi. At this point, it was getting rather dark, and it was well within my standard rough-campsite lookout period of 4:30-5pm daily. I was fortunate enough to find a suitable spot almost immediately after taking the Pedagaggi turnoff: a little farm just next to the road, which had a packed-dirt driveway leading down to the house (with the gate wide open); and a grassy area to the right of the driveway, which was shielded from view of the house by a little hill, and which was also reasonably hidden from the main road. I was also doubly lucky, because — although I didn't know it at the time — there was nothing nearly as good further down the road, when I continued the ride the next morning.
While cruising down the SS514 this afternoon, I followed what has come to be my standard rule of rough camping these days: from about 4:30pm onwards, keep a sharp eye out for possible camping spots; and stop at the first decent one that I see. Actually, I saw an abundance of good spots at around 4pm, back when I was whizzing through the flat orchard fields a bit further north. But at that time, it was too early to call it a day; and by 4:30pm, I was struggling through a somewhat more rugged hilly section, and the number of appealing spots of private property nearby wasn't all that high. Anyway, before I got completely desperate, I managed to find a little spot in someone's farm on the upper side of the highway. It was someone's private garden, really: as it was on a hillside, it was kind of terraced, and I camped a few terraces down from the house itself (which was adequately out-of-sight, to my good fortune); I prefer fields whenever possible, but this was all I could scrounge up. Anyway, it did me for the night, and I snuck in and out unnoticed; and it actually turned out to be fairly quiet and comfy.
Not long after the cement incident this afternoon, the day started growing late, and I started looking for tonight's illegal camping field. The coastal road east of Sciacca is a prime area for the prospective squatter: lovely farms and villages, all easily accessible from the main highway, and all offering divine sea views and sea breezes. I turned onto a side road a few minutes out of Sciacca, where I decided to go with a large grove of trees (there seemed to be grapes growing on the trees — but they were trees, not vines), shared by several nearby houses and overlooking the sea. Great site, and a pleasant night to follow a slightly crazy day.
Although I haven't always been a good boy on my trip, so far I've managed to avoid any trouble with the law. I've been a victim of crime before, and I've gone to the police before; but today it was the police that came to me. After I accidentally found myself on the A29 autostrada (freeway) this morning — headed west from Mazara to Campobello — I suddenly and unexpectedly found myself getting pulled over by Sicily's Polizia Stradale ("Highway Police"). As I (pretty much) knew, it's illegal to cycle on an autostrada — and once you get on them, it's impossible to turn around, and impossible to get off until the next exit.
By the time I made it to the resort-ified coast south of Marsala this afternoon, it was getting late, and daylight was in scarce supply. This would have worried me, except that the weather was fine and warm; and the low west-coast horizon of the sea kept things light-ish for longer than usual. I found plenty of signs directing me to a proper campsite in the area: but these signs turned out to be incredibly inaccurate and confusing; and by the time I finally found the campsite (after riding around lost for ages), it was thoroughly shut down for the season anyway. What is it with Sicily in November, and shut campsites? Apparently, there are so few of them, that it's barely worth bothering to even try camping legally around here (and if you're not in a campsite, it's not legal). So I found an empty field a few streets away, and pitched ye 'ol tent there instead.
By the time I was done visiting Segesta this afternoon, I had very little daylight left, and thus precious little time for stopping and finding a campsite. Thankfully, however, I didn't need to go very far, or to look very hard: all around Segesta was rolling farmed countryside, much of it perfect for rough camping, and packed with little dirt trails and often-unfenced fields. So I only rode for about 20 minutes more — crossing under the nearby autostrada and train line in the process — before I found a spot that was just right for me. Nothing grand: just a little vineyard, with a long road leading into the heart of the fields, and with a fence that was missing in many places; and with plenty of nice, green space amongst the vines for pitching my tent, and far enough away from the farmhouses to afford some privacy as well.
After meeting the locals in Prizzi, I continued my tour of Sicily's mountainous Mafia heartland this afternoon, by riding through the town of Corleone. Despite the fact that the town's name is infamously recognised worldwide — thanks to the classic Mafia book and movie, The Godfather — there really ain't much to see here. Basically, I rode through Corleone, and now I can say that I've been to Corleone; that's about all, as it's a plain and unexciting (and somewhat run-down looking, in my opinion) highland town. From Corleone, I continued cycling for as long as I could this afternoon, until the day grew dark, and I found an empty field on the side of the road in which to camp it rough for the night once again.
From the town of Roccapalumba, this afternoon I kept cycling through the highlands for as long as I could, until it was getting dark and I simply had to camp somewhere. I managed to make it just short of the town of Lercara, where I found a field that was between several properties (houses, workshops, and such), and that didn't seem to be claimed or used by any of its neighbours. I guess it was vacant — anyway, the neighbours saw me camped there, and they didn't try to kick me off, or to hassle me in any way; so stay there the night is what I did. The field was a little bit close to the highway (traffic noise), and there were leeches crawling around in the grass; but otherwise, it was a good spot to squat for the night; and I had a nice view of the countryside all around, and of the city of Lercara lit up ahead of me.