Today was the third and final instalment in my three-day climbing course, and it was one hell of a daunting conclusion. The main topic of the day was multipitching: that is, learning to ascend walls that are too high to climb with a single rope (such walls are more than 50m), and/or that consist of multiple sections, each of which has a different "pitch" or angle. Multipitch climbing is an extremely complex procedure, as it involves a pair of partners taking turns at belaying each other up and down (multiple times, depending on the number of sections that the wall has), switching yourself between various ropes, securing ropes in such a way that they can be switched, and learning a whole heap of new knots and rope configurations. It is, in my opinion, far too complicated to learn in one day; and it's also quite unnecessary to learn, unless you're already a strong and experienced enough climber to actually tackle multi-pitch walls. I barely remembered a quarter of the details of what I was taught today; but nevertheless, it was worthwhile being exposed to some of the more advanced techniques in rock-climbing, and it was interesting to learn how the pros do it.
I'm usually not too bad at absorbing useful snippets of the local language, wherever I go. But the Thai language is a different story: it's Really Hard™ to learn. So far, I've been going at a rate of about one commonly-spoken word per week, and I'm struggling to maintain even that. I've got kop-khun khap ("thank you") down pat, as well as the famous sawadee-khap ("hello" / "goodbye"). I'm working on sabadee-mai ("how are you"), sabadee ("I'm fine"), and sabai ("good"). Also picked up a few food-related words, such as gai ("chicken"), goong ("shrimp"), khao ("rice"), and kha ("coconut"). Plus, being here on the island has helped me pick up some geographical terms, such as hat ("beach"), ao ("bay"), and of course ko ("island"). But it's slow going, and the Thai words have a habit of being awfully slippery against my memory.
We completed the theory component of our Open Water course this afternoon, with a final class (held by Lucy, another one of the instructors) teaching us about the use of dive tables. When you go diving, your body absorbs a higher-than-usual amount of nitrogen (depending on depth and time); and dive tables are used to calculate how much nitrogen you've absorbed (approximately), and to help you keep within safe nitrogen level limits. Lots of theory about such things as: pressure groups; nitrogen quantity; minimum surface intervals; and total bottom times. Once the class was done, we'd been taught all the required theory for the course, and so we were ready to undertake the final exam.
I'm relieved, and a little amused, to find that "the old tour agency game" that I played so many times back in South America, can be played here in Thailand as well. And the rules are virtually identical, too. Here in Chiang Mai, it's the usual setup: there are a hundred different agencies, all offering similar activities, and all quoting slightly different prices. But in the end, they all ring up exactly the same people who actually run the tours, and they all send you on exactly the same tour; and really, it's all exactly the same thing. So you may as well just visit 5 or 10 of them, pick the one that quotes the cheapest price, bargain them down further still, and go for it — because the price and the agency doesn't matter in the slightest, it's all the same tour. Thailand also operates by the standard "book when you get there" rule: it's cheaper to book things when you arrive in Chiang Mai, than to book them from Bangkok (same as booking in Cusco vs Lima), as more cities away only means more middlemen, each of whom will take a cut as they call the next friend down the chain. C'mon, Thailand: you think I started backpacking yesterday, or something? I know this game, you don't fool me!
Having managed to get my new emergency passport this afternoon, I had no reason to hang around in Rome any longer (nor anywhere to stay in Rome); so I continued on to my next destination: Pisa. The train to Pisa was an easy three hours, with a change in Florence: I got the high-speed "EuroStar Italia" from Rome to Florence, which was nice but absolutely packed — I can see why they have compulsory reservations on the EuroStar trains. From Florence, it was just an all-stops local train to Pisa Centrale — I pulled in there at about 8:30pm. And when I arrived, I found the famous city to be completely enveloped in a thick fog. Not to worry: the fog didn't stop me finding my bed for the night; and it had all cleared up by the next morning.
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?
Over the past three days, I've spent a lot of time working on the new English content for the Amigos web site. I've gotten a lot written, but there's still a fair bit more to do. However, I'm afraid that I won't be doing the rest. Due to an unexpected clash of personalities in the office, my time spent volunteering for Amigos has come to an end. I'm happy with what I've accomplished here, but I can do no more.
Cusco is the heartland of the ancient Incan Empire, and of the Quechuan race; and as such, the majority of people in the Cusco area still speak Quechua as their native tongue. When I got a taxi across town today, my driver decided to share a bit of basic Quechua with me. It's a bloody hard language, and I couldn't really remember any of the phrases he taught me. But at least he was trying to teach me, and I was trying to learn.
Jesus is the founder and the director of Amigos, and he's a very complicated guy. He has enormous talent, diligence, and ambition; yet he has many fears, doubts, and dilemnas to contend with. He genuinely wants to help and to serve the kids that he works with; yet he also indulges in the luxuries of high-class Cusco that most locals cannot enjoy. And he's technically the boss, above and in charge of everyone around him; yet the people around him are his best friends, closer than his family, and he hangs out with them and parties with them, and he treats and respects all as his equals.