I continued my exploration of greater Ko Tao today; but unlike yesterday's adventures, today I just wandered around on foot. From my new base at Chalok, I donned my hiking boots (which I haven't been wearing much, of late), and covered some serious ground. Ko Tao's a pretty small island, and virtually everywhere is reasonably accessible on foot: this makes walking a good option for reaching most places, especially considering how much safer it is than motorbike-riding on those horrific dirt roads.
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.
Things haven't gone exactly according to plan today: due to my bike's snapped axle, I had to end the day's riding far earlier than planned; so my hopes of reaching the Monti Iblei now have to be postponed until tomorrow. When I realised that I'd just missed the morning opening hours of the bike repair shop, and that I'd have to wait all afternoon to get my bike fixed up, I decided to find somewhere to dump my shwag for the rest of the day, and to put my feet up for the night. I checked in to the nearby Caravaggio B&B, a nice little place several blocks away from Ortygia (hence somewhat more affordable). I then had the whole afternoon to explore, enjoy, and relax in Syracuse.
From my field near Sciacca, I continued east along the coast this morning, and passing by some random possible gum trees along the way. It was rather a hurried exit I made this morning, as the neighbours on the field spotted my tent — however, they didn't seem annoyed about it, they even walked past and said "good morning". Nevertheless, I didn't want to hang around and test their hospitality further: so at 7:50am, it was my earliest on-the-road start so far. The morning ride was glorious: as with yesterday, the Sicilian south coast continued to grace me with easy terrain, fine weather, gentle winds, and romantic Mediterranean scenery. My first stop for the day was the seaside Greek ruins of Eraclea Minoa.
To finish off my travels for today, this afternoon I stopped by the Greek ruins of Segesta. Located smack-bang amidst rolling countryside — near the town of the same name — Segesta is a large and impressively well-preserved temple (and ampitheatre), and is believed to be about 2,500 years old. It's also, as far as I'm aware, the first set of ancient Greek ruins that I've ever seen in my life; and it seems to be that it was a very good place to be introduced to it all. I reached the archaeological site rather late in the day (4pm), so I wasn't able to take the shuttle bus up to the hillside ampitheatre. However, I had plenty of time to explore the temple, and to admire both the ancient construction and its pleasant rural surroundings.
Following the awesome speedboat ride, most of the day today at Iguazu Falls was spent wandering around the catwalks, and taking in the up-close views of the many minor falls that make up the national park. The six of us saw falls big and small, fat and thin, long and short. Plus, plenty of cool animals, and a great little train ride across the park. The catwalk system is very extensive, and quite impressive: you can walk right up to the edge of many of the falls, over numerous bits of water. Photos and video below.
After my random friend Chisco, and his stoned mates, stumbled home to their beds for the afternoon, I enjoyed a nice relaxing afternoon of reading in the town's lakeside park. Couldn't be bothered to do much else today, as I was fairly buggered after yesterday's climb up the volcano. The lakeside in Pucón is the perfect place to chill and unwind for an afternoon: what with the divine weather, the chirping of the birds, and the still blue waters, there's definitely so much serenity there, it's just not funny. Haven't stopped and inhaled the palpable beauty of a place this much, since my stop at a very beautiful place in Mexico, once upon a time.
This afternoon, Patrick and I continued on from the village of Zumbahua, to the main attraction of the Quilotoa Loop area: Laguna Quilotoa. When we got to the lagoon, we admired the view from the top, and then we decided to complete the walk down into the valley (i.e. the ancient volcano crater) where the lagoon lies, and back up. It doesn't look like that big a walk — but it actually turned out to be quite a hike: took about ½ an hour to walk down, and another hour to return to the top. Beautiful place, with serenity abounding.
Went and had a look at Monasterio de Santa Catalina today, a 400-year-old monastery and convent in the middle of Arequipa. Apparently, it's the only monastery in the world that's considered to be "a city inside a city". It's also still fully functioning, and inhabited by the same order of nuns that began it in Renaissance times. Interesting to see the antique sleeping rooms, the beautiful architecture, and — bizarrely — the ingenious laundry system that they have inside. Worth a wander, if you're in Arequipa and have an hour or so to spare.