Katharina is one of the many European travellers that I met, whilst backpacking down in South America. I must admit: until I met her again this evening, I'd kinda forgotten who she was, or where I'd met her. But seeing her again sparked the recollection that she's a fluent Spanish-speaking German girl, who volunteered for several months in Peru; and that I met her while chillaxing on the beach in sunny Máncora, in northern Peru. Katharina lives here in Dresden (where she's currently wrapping up her master's thesis in geography), and it was primarily to catch up with her that I came here.
This afternoon I arrived in Turnhout (northern Belgium) to see my friends Stef and Annick, who are half of the original Belgian Front. As with seeing Regine in Cologne last night, this was a reunion with 2 of my 10 amazing companions from the Salkantay hike, that I did in Peru back in April. Stef was there, waiting for me at tiny Turnhout train station when I pulled in; and soon after, I also saw Annick, as well as the couple's little niece Karlijn (who they're looking after for the weekend). Good to see that The Front is as crazy and as fun as ever.
Occasionally known as Gerhard Killesreiter, Killes is a resident of the town of Freiburg (in Baden-Württemberg), and is also one of the oldest, most-valued, and most central members of the Drupal developer community. Seeing that I was passing through his neck of the woods, I was lucky enough to get a hold of Killes, and to meet him in person for the first time. Despite his fierce reputation as a "blunt, rude newbie-killer" when online, Killes is actually a very friendly and easy-going guy in real life, and he was more than happy to take me out for a tour of his town, and for some dinner and drinks this evening.
Over the past two weeks here in Sicily, I've met more than my fair share of locals. The main contact has been during my morning visits to the local coffee bars in town — but I've also struck up conversation with them at tourist sights, in supermarkets, and in hotels and B&Bs. Usually, the first thing they ask is: "da dove venite?" (lit: "where do you come from?"); and then when they see my bike, they invariably proceed to give me a wide-eyed stare, and to ask incredulously: "dall'Australia, in bicicletta?" (lit: "from Australia, by bike?"). After about 5 seconds, they realise just how hilarious the notion of cycling from Australia to Italy is — at which point they proceed to burst into laughter, as though it was the funniest joke in the world, and as though they were the first ones ever to think of it. Which of course they weren't, since I hear this exact same joke 10 times every day, and since (therefore) I find it neither original nor amusing at all. After that many repetitions... I'm sorry, but it's just daym lame.
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.
It was a strange start to the day this morning — one bizarre obstacle after another. I woke up bright 'n' early at Agricasale — after a night of fairly heavy rain (luckily I stayed quite dry inside my tent) — to find the place quiet and deserted, and the main building (with the dining hall, reception and kitchen) locked shut. This wouldn't have been a problem: except that I left my camping dishes inside the kitchen last night (on the drying rack), and that I couldn't leave without them. It took me a few minutes to find someone who worked there — two guys rocked up in a ute at about 7:15am — and it took me another hour to convince them to wake up the head of the site (Conrad, I assume), and to acquire the key and let me in. Then — after I finally got out of the place — I realised that apart from being at the bottom of a valley, I had no idea where I was (thanks to last night's "Follow me!" ride in the dark), and no idea how to get back onto the main road. Oh, what joy :P.
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.
"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.