I've heard the stories, same as everyone else. But I must admit, I never took them that seriously. Well, I should have believed — because every tale that ever passed by my ears is 100% true. Bangkok really is full of 50-year-old American men, walking hand-in-hand (or hand-somewhere-else) with 19-year-old Thai girls. And despite the blatant grotesqueness and desperation, most of them stroll the streets loudly and proudly, with no shame whatsoever. It's cliché, it's oh-so-stereotypical, and it's downright sad — but when you look around you, it's undeniable: this is the true story of "Thai love". This is one strange, sleazy and deplorable place: never before have I seen romance being so widely touted to the highest bidder.
While camped in my field near Pedagaggi this evening, I was cooking up some dinner in my tent, when I caused a lightning-quick and most disturbing accident. I turned on my little gas cooker (i.e. opened the gas valve, used a cigarette lighter to ignite it), and a massive flame shot out of it, ½ a metre straight up in the air. And this was inside my tent! The flame usually leaps out a little bit when you first ignite it — but not this much. Needless to say, the flame touched the walls of my tent: and it burnt a hole right through my front tent flap. Fortunately, the hole wasn't too big — only about 20cm in diameter — so I was able to patch it up (as an interim measure), with a large tract of trusty 'ol duct tape. The hole is sealed for now, but I'll have to get it fixed properly when I return home next year.
Deep in the mountains of south-eastern Sicily, there is a place of ancient and foreboding mystery. The place is called Pantálica: a giant necropolis consisting of thousands of tombs, in the form of body-sized holes cut into the sides of sheer cliffs and precipitous rocky overhangs; and constructed around 2,500 years ago by a civilisation that we know almost nothing about, and that has long since vanished from the face of the Earth. Pantálica would have to be one of the most bizarre, the most isolated, and the most disturbing places that I've visited on my world trip so far. Most fittingly, the necropolis can only be reached by one long and winding road, that stretches tenuously to the site and back again — the only way in, and also the only way out. This afternoon, I headed east from the village of Ferla, and boldly embarked upon this road. It was a strange and lonely journey: but I lived to tell the tale.
This afternoon I continued riding south, from Caccamo, into the hilly region that is the traditional Mafia heartland of Sicily. One town in particular — a place called Roccapalumba — gave me very bad vibes when I rode through it. Normally, the locals here in Sicily are quite friendly: but not around here. Everyone in Roccapalumba was giving me harsh, unfriendly, suspicious stares as I whizzed through their town; made me feel very creepy indeed. Lots of funny old men with dirty faces and beady eyes; young dudes on motorbikes with big tattoos on their shoulders; and signs for strange nearby attractions, such as "planetarium observatory". Glad I'm not spending the night here; I only wish it weren't so late in the day, as I'm inevitably not going to make it too far for my evening's rough camping.
When my flight landed in London Heathrow this morning, I was greeted at the baggage carousel not with my baggage, but with an amusing (if slightly worrying) message. Behold the Heathrow screen of death! What's going on, anyway — one of the world's biggest airports is using Windows? No wonder the terrorists are getting through: at this rate, Al-Queda will be CTRL + ALT + DEL'ing aeroplanes right out of the sky.
Went on a morning trip into town (i.e. into Ica) from Huacachina today, to check out the famous Museo Regional de Ica ("Ica Regional Museum"). Chris and I explored the museum's three sections: a history of the region's pre-colonial cultures, and their artefacts and politics; the colonial section; and the most famous section of all, the "anthropology section", which is filled with skulls and preserved mummies of the ancient peoples of the area. All was very interesting; although the third section was downright gross.