There's only one thing you really must see when you visit Pisa. I'll give you three guesses what it is. If you answered "the cemetery", or "the art gallery", then you're a knob, and you've obviously spent most of your existence living in a cave in Chad. And you've got one more try. So do yourself a favour, and don't make me pull out my electric cattle prod in frustration at you: tell me that you gotta see the tower! Since I had the entire day at my leisure today, here in the beautiful city of Pisa, I naturally spent at least some of it admiring the lovely and architecturally precarious landmark itself.
One thing that's really struck me, during my time in Sicily so far — but I assume it would strike me almost anywhere in Europe — is the amazing way in which old meets new around here. Europe is such an endlessly rich historical region: the cities are sometimes thousands of years old; patchwork farmlands have remained virtually the same for generations; and relics of past civilisations abound everywhere, from lonely mountaintops to musky caves. They've managed to preserve all of this history remarkably well; and yet amidst it all, they've also laid gleaming train tracks, industrial-strength power and communication lines, and wide tarmac freeways. It's a constant, in-your-face contrast and clash of eras, everywhere you go — but somehow, it all fits together — rather than conflicting, the interwoven old-new, natural-artificial tapestry of the European landscape is forever complementing itself, and giving an image of harmony and logic. How do they manage it?
Once I finished my three-legged train journey to the southern tip of Italy today, all that was left was to catch a ferry, across the small channel that separates Sicily from the mainland. The ferry goes from Villa San Giovanni — a small coastal village in Calabria — across to Messina, one of the larger cities of Sicily. I don't know why they've never built a bridge or a tunnel over to Sicily: but anyway, the ferry is quite cool; not only do pedestrians ride on it, not only do cars and trucks drive onto it, but they even take the trains straight across on it! As for me, it was just my crazy self and my crazy bike that made the journey.
Very awesome place: a hotel on the edge of the Salar de Uyuni, built almost entirely out of salt! For the first night of our salt flats tour, we stayed in this ingenious and quite luxurious place. Impressive building, great rooms, and nice food. They also sell Chilean and Argentinean wine (which we bought, and drank — and it was good, unlike Bolivian wine).
Bought one of these beautiful little packages of cup-and-five-dice, just on the edge of the Salar de Uyuni, as part of my three-day tour of the area. Made entirely out of salt, which is then fired in an oven, and glazed and painted. The dice were used for many a game of Yahtzee over the course of the salt flats tour.
During our bus journey from Copacabana to La Paz this morning (after first buying our tickets), we had to cross over Lake Titicaca at one point, where the lake is very narrow, and where you'd otherwise have to drive around for a very long way. They have a pretty cool ferry system at this spot, where they ferry cars &mash; and buses! — across on wooden rafts. They also ferry people across, on little motor-boats. Fun little interruption to an otherwise eventless journey.
Our first stop on this morning's boat ride was Los Uros, the famous floating islands of Lake Titicaca. The Uros people constructed and moved to the islands hundreds of years ago, in order to escape Inca domination on the mainland. The islands are artificially built out of reeds, which constantly rot and need to be replaced, in order to keep the islands in existence. Amazing place, and certainly a very unique setup.
After our visit to the Inca ruins of Moray this morning, we of the Hampy crew continued on this afternoon, and walked the short distance from Moray to the Salinas (ancient salt mines) near Urubamba and the Valle Sagrado ("Sacred Valley"). I already visited the Salinas about a month ago (with Jesus); but it was definitely worth visiting them a second time. With over 4,500 man-made salt pools on the side of the mountain, it's both an ingenious and a breathtaking site to behold.
For a nice little Sunday day trip, this morning we of the Hampy crew (including the complete Pilcopata jungle crew) went on a visit to the ruins of Moray, between the villages of Chinchero and Urubamba, about 1½ hours north of Cusco. We grabbed a local bus that was headed to Urubamba, then got off just before the descent into the Valle Sagrado ("Sacred Valley"), and flagged down some taxis to take us the rest of the way to Moray. Spectacular set of ruins, as well as an intriguing and ingenious example of ancient scientific experimentation at work.
Last Sunday morning, Jesus and I went to Pisac and checked out the markets, but we didn't make it to the ruins. This morning, we returned to the Valle Sagrado ("Sacred Valley") and to Pisac; and this time, we overcame all hurdles, and made it up to the Inca ruins that overlook the town from high above. Temples, citadels, stepped hillsides... all I want to know is, what took us so long to get there?