Today was a hectic day on the road — especially compared with my past week of going nowhere and of lying on the beach. Last night, I finally said goodbye to Ko Tao, departing on the night ferry back to Chumphon. The ferry set sail at 11pm, and arrived on the mainland at 5am. It was a sleeper ferry, fitted with a deck-full of bunk beds — and miraculously, I slept like a log for the entire journey. From Chumphon, I immediately grabbed a minibus (pre-booked) west to the city of Ranong, from where I did a so-called "visa run" over the border to Burma (now called Myanmar), and then came straight back without hanging around. I didn't hang around in Ranong, either: from there, I caught a bus headed south; and by 4pm, I'd made it to the city of Krabi. Lots of bussing and boating to squeeze into one day — so much, in fact, that I had time for virtually nothing else.
Today I finished my quick tour of tiny Belgium, by popping into the nation's capital, Brussels. I was originally planning to spend last night in Brussels, but I instead ended up staying in Liège with Christian. This morning, I got the train from Liège to Brussels, bright 'n' early with Christian, who's going there today anyway (for a training seminar). We caught the 6:45am train, and it was only an hour to the big city: when I got there, it was still dark (and stayed so until about 9am — dreary European winter). Too dark to begin exploring: so I checked my e-mail, and found a café for hanging out and having some coffee and waffle, before commencing my tour of the city. By 2pm, I was done with Brussels, and on my way to Amsterdam.
Seeing as how my passport was one of the victims of the train robbery on Saturday morning, today I had to go and visit the Australian Embassy here in Rome, in order to apply for a new (emergency) passport. Since the embassy's only open from Monday to Friday, I wasn't able to go until today. I had to wait around all day: but at least I had some people to keep me company; and at least they had the new passport ready for me within one day.
This afternoon, I popped into Rome's Termini train station, to buy myself a train ticket down to Sicily. Since I've just bought my new bike, I'm going to have to take that with me on the train — but I'd heard that trains in Italy were particularly bike-friendly, and that you can take your bike on most inter-city trains; so I wasn't expecting this to be a problem. Turns out that this isn't quite true: you basically can't take a bike on any of the "express" or "long-distance" trains; you can only take them on "local" trains, which stop at every little village along the way, and which only travel within regional boundaries. Eek! It's going to be an interesting trip down to Sicily.
Today was an incredibly bereft-of-fun day. Most of my day was spent on the phone, with either Qantas or British Airways, trying to get the rest of my round-the-world flights sorted out. Since my travel agent back in Sydney was unable to book all my flights when I left — as they can only be booked so far in advance — I have to book London-to-Bangkok and Bangkok-to-Sydney now. Wasn't easy: although I've paid for the round-the-world package, that doesn't guarantee me to seats on specific flights; and all the flights on those routes in Jan and Feb '08 are utterly booked out. The fact that I can only get specific super-dodgy seats on a given flight, and that my ticket is non-upgradeable, doesn't help at all. Anyway, managed to get it all sorted out — and managed to buy a Eurail ticket as well!
When I got in to Puerto Iguazú today, my first order of business was getting myself a Brazilian visa. Everyone from Australia, USA, Canada, and a few other countries needs a visa in order to enter Brazil, even as a tourist (unlike with most countries in South America). I'd head that it's much easier to apply for a visa here in Puerto Iguazú, than it is in Buenos Aires. Well, I can certainly believe that, because it couldn't be much easier up here: the consulate gave me a visa virtually on-the-spot, within just one hour! Plus, they didn't bother to check all those annoying things such as an onward ticket, an address of residence in Brazil, evidence of sufficient funds, etc. So good on ya, guys: in Puerto Iguazú, they make your life easier.
After getting through my two connecting flights yesterday evening, from Quito to Santiago, I arrived back in Chile at about 2am this morning. Let's just say that I had a bit of a "rough" welcome. They let me into the country in the end: but not until I'd paid yet another gringo tax. Which, upon stepping off the plane, I quite literally could not afford.
I've accumulated a lot of junk lately, and I've been lugging it around for far too long. So this morning, I did a big sort through my overstuffed backpack, and took out everything that I don't need to take with me anymore, or that I can throw away. All of the former, I packed into a cardboard box, and took to the local post office in Miraflores. Included in this box was a bottle of fine, semi-prepared pisco, that I'd bought at the winery in Ica, and that I wanted to send home as a souvenir. However, the post office staff wouldn't let me mail the pisco: apparently, it's prohibited to mail alcohol out of Peru. Oh well, I guess we'll just have to drink it, then!