Europe is famous for being a small place with an awful lot of languages. Going through three or more language regions in one day is perfectly possible: and in the past few weeks, by hopping around on the trains, I've done just that. It was pretty intense in Switzerland, what with its German dominance, its smaller pockets of French and Italian, and its general nation-wide efforts at English. It was a little less full-on in Germany, where German is spoken by everyone around the country, and where almost everyone can also speak reasonable English. But upon arriving here in Belgium, it dawned on me just what a ridiculously over-linguified continent this is. And I'd say that as Europe goes, Belgium is about the most extreme example of language craziness to be found: the nation split virtually in half with the Flemish (i.e. Dutch) and French divide; smaller pockets of German in the east; and the whole place also being highly fluent in English. What with the plethora of languages to be learned, it's amazing they have time to do anything else at all around here.
These two lads are flat-sharing here in London's Mile End area, and they're being kind and hospitable enough to host my mate Jack, during his week or so in the city. Max is a London local, and Joel's originally an Irish boy. Max met Jack a few years ago, when he was backpacking round the world, and when he crashed at Jack's place in Adelaide. Now he's returning the favour. Great blokes.
It seems that wherever I go on this continent, I simply cannot get rid of the guy. When I walked into The Clan this morning, who should I meet yet again, but my old travel buddy Chris! Nah, actually I was really happy to see him — it's been a while since we parted, back in Lima, and plenty has happened in between. Chris will be in town for a few days, before he heads off to explore various other places in Argentina. Today was also a day of reunion with Oly, who I last saw not that long ago in Quito, and who's going to be down here in BA for the next few months, trying to get some freelance web design work. Plus, I bumped into various other people that I haven't seen for a while — such as one guy that I met back in La Paz, and another that I met in Cusco. Seems like all the '07 PEB veterans have come down to Argentina — time for a big reunion party!
My fifth day of boarding down the runs of Cerro Catedral was the best day so far. The weather cleared up a bit today — it was still overcast as hell, but at least it wasn't raining or snowing — and my skills on the board are only getting better. Yesterday was the first day that I really started feeling confident on the board — so today was all about having fun! I tried going down some "red" runs (an Argentine special — they're basically hard blues), and even a few blacks ("chicken style" all the way, for now). It's still really hard doing proper turns on those steep bits, but I'm getting there.
Since I got back to Lima yesterday, I've been on a ridiculously hectic roller-coaster ride of bumping into old friends from previous stops on my trip. In particular, it seems that right now, it's Cusco in Lima. Everyone's just hanging around the big city this weekend — and because the gringo haunt of Miraflores is only so big, everyone's bumping into everyone. It really is a very, very small world, when you're a backpacker in South America.
I first met Chris over two months ago, during my blissful week of sea and sun in Tulum, Mexico. Since then, we've travelled different paths, but we've kept in touch, and we've kept track of each other's whereabouts every now and then. Chris, 35-year-old backpacker-slash-British-web-developer and cheerful chap, has now made it here to Cusco; and tonight we had a reunion and caught up on old times.
Carlos Joel Delgado Pizarro is a young guy studying computer science at university, here in Cusco. Carlos was told about me (and vice versa) by — who else — the king of Linux and of Linux-folk here in Peru: my friend Antonio Ognio (from Lima). I met with Carlos today at my host family's house, and we had a good old chat about Linux, open-source, programming, the state of IT and of open-source in Peru, and even Drupal (a bit). Plus, I managed to talk with him in Spanish the whole time! Not bad, especially considering that I really wasn't feeling too good today (more food poisoning). Great guy, and a many with many questions.
Of all the faces from back home, Mitchell's was about the last I expected to see. I've known Mitchell for literally my entire life: he was born one day before me, in the hospital bed next to mine. And tonight, 21 years later, I bumped into him in the bar at Loki, here in Cusco. Actually, it was he that recognised me. Anyway, he's almost at the end of his trip: he's already been here for a while, and he was in Europe and North America for a while too; and soon he's going back home.
When I was at the 2007 OSCMS Summit in San Francisco 2 weeks ago, my friend Ian Ward told me that I must visit Ayacucho — where he lived for 2 years, and where he met his wife — and that I must see his friend Abimael. Abimael is an English teacher and a post-grad student at the university here in Ayacucho, although he's never lived in an English-speaking country; in fact, he's never been outside Peru! In between these commitments, Abimael was nice enough to spend some time with me, and to show me around Ayacucho a bit.
In the two hours that I spent in Miami Intl Airport this afternoon, on my way from San Francisco to Lima, I observed that there are only three groups of people here. Group one: African-Americans. Group two: Hispanics. Group three: orthodox Jews. I half-fit into the last of these three groups (Jewish, but not terribly religious), which was kinda good. I think I ran into the Pesach crowd when I got here, because I saw literally hundreds of religious Jewish families, in the 15 minutes or so that I was walking through the airport. Looks like the entire Jewish population of New York (and related cities) has flown down to see the grandparents for Pesach!