On Wednesday I went window shopping; and today, I made the big purchase. As of now, I am the proud owner of a €50, second-hand, "Giant" brand mountain bike! As I suspected, I was able to purchase the bicycle, plus all its accessories, from Porto Portese — the dodgy Roman market to handle all your shopping needs. Got the bike from a funny old dude called Alfredo, who runs a little repair shop in the alley that makes up most of the market, and who permanently has a ciggy in the corner of his mouth. It doesn't look too crap: hopefully, it will get me around Sicily.
That's it for England: this evening, I flew out of the country, and now I'm in Rome! As with the US, England has been nice and easy: no language barrier; everything home-like and familiar; and really, nothing that took me radically by surprise. But then again, England's also boring, it's expensive, and the weather is foul. It's quite funny: although this is the first time I've been to England, I feel like I may as well have been here a thousand times before, as it's so socially and culturally similar to Australia, and as I've learned and heard so much about it for my entire life. Anyway, now I'm in Italy, and that should be far from boring: new language; new cuisine; and new craziness.
Well, that's it. After six long and incredible months, I'm done with South America. Today was my final (half of a) day on this continent, and I spent it most unspectacularly, performing a convoluted three-legged flight that got me out of here: São Paulo to Lima; Lima to San Salvador; and San Salvador to New York. After sleeping in São Paulo airport last night (got in about an hour or two of shut-eye — wasn't that bad), my first flight took off at 6:30am. My third flight didn't get in to New York until 11:30pm — over 16 hours later. Wasn't the quickest or the most convenient way to fly north: but the airline — TACA Int'l, the same guys that I flew from Quito to Santiago with, about 6 weeks ago — was quite good; and the ticket (which I bought before I left Sydney) was pretty cheap.
When I went to the dentist two days ago, my check-up revealed that I had a cavity. Today I went back to the friendly, English-speaking folks at Dental Argentina, and got the cavity fixed up. Only took about an hour, and I hardly felt a thing. Ah, the miracles of local anaesthetic. Once again, they were very professional, very well-equipped, and very cheap. And hopefully, I don't have to go to the dentist again for a while :P.
I've been meaning to go to the dentist down here in South America for some time. In many countries around here, the service is incredibly cheap, and also quite professional. Seeing as The Clan has some brochures for a good dental practice here in BA — and seeing that I didn't have much else planned for today — I decided that it was a good time to pay the dentist a visit. The place I went to was Dental Argentina: very friendly and English-speaking people there; and quality, affordable work on your teeth, to keep 'em nice and sparkly. Plus, it can all be claimed back later, on ye 'ol comprehensive travel insurance.
One thing that Santiago should really be proud of is its underground train network, the metro. Very fast, very modern trains. Quite safe and clean at all times of the day and evening, inside the stations and on the trains. Really frequent services, and thus not too crowded on the lines. And quite cheap, too: only about $0.50 a ride (and they accept int'l student cards, so show yours at the ticket booth if you have one). I've been using it to hop around town, for my past two days here in the city, and I've found it to be useful and enjoyable. Certainly better than the trains back in Sydney — althought that really ain't too hard!
The food here in Chile is nothing amazing. It's no gourmet cuisine: the main things on offer are hamburgers and empanadas (meat-filled pastry pockets). The portions ain't huge. And, of course, it's expensive: approaching the prices back home, for food in take-away joints (and let's not even talk about the restaurants). So, it looks like I'll be eating sparsely and sparingly, for this week in Chile. Need to save up my appetite, anyway, for the non-stop steak-eating that will no doubt take place for the duration of my upcoming time in Argentina.
An American guy showed Tony and I a great little restaurant tonight. It's in the middle of Quito's overpriced, tourist-infested Mariscal Sucre district; and yet it's full of locals, and there are only two things on the menu: shawarmas, and beer! Only $1 each, respectively. The shawarmas taste great (be sure to smother them in the provided chili sauce), and they're best eaten on a 1-1 ratio with the large-size Pilsener beers. Relish the chow, get a bit drunk, and enjoy the local company. Nargila pipes (known as pipas around here) also available, if you're into 'em.
Got back to Huaraz this evening, from my 5-day Santa Cruz-Llanganuco hike, to discover that Jo's Place is full. I'd asked them to reserve me a bad for tonight, when I left on Wednesday: but they said that they couldn't make any guarantees, as they were already booked in advance for 28 de Julio (Peru Independence Day) weekend. Anyway, I begged the very-hospitable Mrs. Jo to find me somewhere — anywhere! — to crash for the night; and she let me sleep in the cantina (the breakfast kitchen / dining room). I didn't care where I slept tonight; I just cared that I slept. Which I did. Soundly.
For our first dinner tonight in La Paz, Chris, Pascale and myself found a great local joint, that gave us soup, juice, and a plate of steak and rice, all for just Bs. 3.50 (about $AUD0.50)! Not bad tasting, either (and we didn't get sick from it, as a further bonus). As Chris said: "I think that this is the cheapest meal I've had. Ever. In my whole life." I can probably say the same for myself. Apart from the weird payment system, it was one hell of a cheap and awesome dinner.