Yesterday I was halfway there. Today I made it all the way — I've landed in paradise, on the scuba-mental island of Ko Tao. Only took two nights, two buses, and a 5-hour ferry: and let me tell you, it was worth it. My second night bus left Bangkok yesterday evening — after my little pre-bus adventure had concluded — and the ferry from Chumphon to Ko Tao departed at about 6am this morning. Now that I'm here, I've got a feeling that I won't be leaving for a while.
It's 6:30am, and I've just pulled into Bangkok, tired and hungry after a night on the road. I'm wandering around the streets near Khao San Road, looking for a quiet café where I can grab some breakfast and read a book, while I wait for the city (and for myself) to wake up. I'm armed with my hefty backpack, and perusing the menu of an early-bird café, when a scantily-clad Thai girl runs up to me (out of nowhere), drapes her arm around me, and starts caressing me. I pretty much literally had to run away from her, before she gave up on offering herself to me, and left me in peace. For heaven's sake: if a bleary-eyed backpacker at the crack of dawn isn't safe from assaults by whores, when who and when the hell is safe?
This morning marked the beginning of my trek in Doi Inthanon national park, the area south-west of Chiang Mai that's home to Thailand's highest peak, and a rich jungle-covered region that's home to several remote hill tribes. I got picked up from my guesthouse at 9:30am this morning: and to my surprise, I had to take my big backpack with me, and drop it off at the agency's office — apparently you can't leave your luggage with the guesthouse, unless you book the tour with them! I've never seen things work like that before. There were 7 of us in the back of the small pickup truck that was our lift — half of our group, which is 15 strong — and it was a quiet, sleepy and rather cosy ride out of Chiang Mai. We were all too tired, and too reserved, to introduce ourselves properly: we saved that for when the trek began.
Very early this morning, my amazing three-week detour down to Sicily was concluded by a devastating and highly expensive little episode. On the night train from Messina back to Rome last night, I was the victim of some serious theft — by far the worst theft I've suffered anywhere this year. I didn't anticipate it at all; I observed nothing of the incident itself; and I had precious little help or support in the aftermath of it. Lovely welcome back to the tourist trail and to civilisation, eh? I can at least say that it could have been worse; although sadly, not much worse. They took a hell of a lot.
I don't know how the hell I did it — I don't know who else to thank, so I'll thank G-d — but after the reunion drinks and the crazy adventure last night, I still managed to wake up at 5am this morning (tired and hung-over), and to jump on a train out of Rome at 5:45am. And what do you know: 11 hours, 3 train trips and a ferry ride later, I was in Sicily! It was a long day on the train — and with my crazy bike with me, I was quite the unorthodox passenger — but I got through it, and now the adventure of a lifetime can begin.
This morning I woke up at 8am, in order to make my 9am tour to the Argentinean side of Iguazu Falls, one of the biggest waterfalls in the world. After last night's adventure, however, this early start was not very fun. I really should have gone to bed early last night — it was so stupid of me to have gone out pubbing all night! Anyway, I somehow managed to drag myself out of bed, to check out of the Hostel Inn (since I'm going to Brazil tonight), and to wolf down some breakfast, before falling into my seat on the bus. And it was lucky that I did manage all that: because I definitely wouldn't have wanted to miss the breathtaking sights that I saw today. Iguazu Falls are bloody amazing.
At 1am this morning, Tony and myself — led by our trusty guide César — began our climb up Volcán Cotopaxi. Very quick "breakfast" (well, you gotta call a 12:30am wake-up meal something), and then we were on our way. We did our very best: but sadly, fate did not intend for us to reach the summit today. Close — oh, so tantalisingly close! — but no cigar. Ah well — as we say on Earth: c'est la vie.
Patrick and I discovered that the main way of getting out of the village of Chugchilán, is by catching a bus that heads for Latacunga — via the very poor road that goes through the village of Sigchos — and that leaves Chugchilán at 3am! We weren't too happy about it, but we had few other options — and it meant that we'd be back in Baños nice and early, without losing the day — so we took the graveyard-shift bus this morning. Not a fun ride at all: but hey, now we've done the full circuit of the Quilotoa Loop; and now we're back in Baños, in time to party all weekend long!
I arrived in Huaraz at 6am this morning, and I discovered once again that in this part of the world, things change very quickly. Some places move. Other places close down. Out-of-date Lonely Planet guides can't keep pace. And at the break of dawn, after spending the whole night on a bumpy bus, it's all just a bit too much to handle. Welcome to Huaraz — can I sleep now?
This morning, we arrived in Nazca from Arequipa, and went straight to the little airfield just outside of the city, to do a flight over the famous "Nazca Lines". This is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Peru: enormous lines that an ancient civilisation dug into the desert ground, and that are in the shapes of animals and of geometric figures, when seen from the air. As with many other tourists, my verdict for the Nazca Lines was not amazing: too expensive; hard to see the lines; and a really nauseating flight, in a teeny old plane with a crazy pilot. Something to tick off the list, but definitely not the highlight of my trip.