Known variously as "Thai salad", "spicy salad" or "traditional salad", "Papaya salad" is one of the few Thai foods that I'd never tried and never heard of, prior to coming to Thailand. And now I know why. Tonight in Mae Hat — just before leaving Ko Tao — I sampled a plate of this infamous dish for the first time. I'd been warned that this is "the spiciest dish in Thailand": and as such, I naturally went ahead and asked them to prepare it pet pet ("very spicy") for me. Big mistake: it really is the spiciest dish in Thailand, and perhaps in the entire world. The stuff probably isn't even legal back home. It's a delicious salad: but brace yourself before trying it, because it will blow you away.
After I left Ragusa this morning, my lovely sunny day turned stormy. Really, seriously stormy. It turned so bad, in fact, that I can say without a doubt that this was the worst day of my trip in Sicily so far — weather-wise or anything-else-wise. The road between the two Baroque, south-eastern Sicilian towns of Ragusa and Modica is not very long — a mere 10km's at most — but it may as well have been 1,000 this morning. When I began tackling the road at around 10:15am, the sky was partly cloudy, but didn't seem to be all that ominous. Boy, was that a wrong forecast — ten minutes out of Ragusa, not only was it suddenly freezing cold and pouring with rain; it was also intermittently hailing! If it weren't for the miracle of two Sicilian angels rescuing me from my plight, I may well have soaked, frozen and sorrowed myself to death on this road; fortunately, an unexpected act of kindness prevented at least that.
There's one thing that stands out in my mind, more than anything else, about today: it was really bloody windy! Today's riding was plagued by the worst, the strongest, and the most unpleasant head wind imaginable; and it stayed with me all day long. As I rode west from Lercara to Prizzi, through the Sicilian Mafia highlands with my semi-flat tyre; as I continued north to the infamous town of Corleone; and as I set up camp in an empty field for the night. Always, the wind was there: it was utterly relentless; and it battered not only my body and my bike, but also my spirit. Bad wind is the worst thing I've come across so far on this trip, and all I wish for is that it will end soon. It feels like every metre forward is a struggle against the forces of nature, which are impelling me to just give up and go home. Arghhh!
This morning I rode out of the lovely tourist town of Cefalù — which unlike yesterday evening, was now gorgeous and sunny — and headed west along the coast, towards the city of Términi Imerese. And all I can say is that — despite lovely weather — it was an evil morning, and I'll remember Términi as an evil city. It ended up being twice the distance that I thought it was, from Cefalù (I guess the map wasn't 100% accurate), and the journey took twice as long as I thought it would (over 2 hours, instead of 1 hour). When I got there, I had to make use of the local post office — and as I expected, dealing with the Italian postal service was hardly a fun experience. I went into several cafes and asked for a hot chocolate — but all anyone had was cappuccino, so I had to subsist on that. The city's roads were the worst I've encountered so far on my trip: they're steep; they wind uphill; they're narrow and cobbled; they're poorly signposted; they're largely one-way; and they're utterly traffic-jammed. Plus, I had great difficulty finding my way out of the damn place: the road south, into the mountains and towards the town of Caccamo, proved most elusive indeed. Thus it is that I dub Términi Imerese a place of great woes — not a place about which I hold any fond memories.
Last night I had a solid and luxurious night's sleep in Sant' Stéfano, and this morning I had an amazing B&B breakfast (my first ever B&B experience, if I'm not mistaken — and it was great). But even all that couldn't prepare me for this morning's ride: from Sant' Stéfano, I decided to take the road south into the Monti Nebrodi; and boy, was it one excruciatingly hard slog! The road began on the coast, just outside the town — and until it got well past the mountain village of Mistrella, it was no less than 4 hours of constant, uphill cycling. It damn near killed me. Plus, it was quite a hot day, and the sun was pouring down on me the entire time. Fortunately, it was a very good road (if rather winding), and the scenery was gorgeous; nevertheless, it was hard to appreciate all that, when my entire body and soul was screaming for relief.
For today's Boston regional outing, my dad and I went and visited Salem — possibly the biggest tourist spot in Massachusetts (apart from Boston itself). And why? Because of the witches, of course! As all history buffs should know, The Crucible (which I studied in high school). These days, tourists flock to Salem for the trial re-enactments, for museums portraying the tragedy of bygone years, and for Halloween celebrations that are unrivalled by any other town in America.
Following the crazy bridge jumping, the other major stop on today's ride to Puyo was the Pailon Del Diablo waterfall (lit: "The Devil's Cauldron"). The waterfall that I canyoned through yesterday was big and impressive; but this one was the fiercest and the most concentrated stream of water that I've seen in my entire life. The name couldn't be more fitting: if the underworld had mountainous jungles and crystal-clear waterfalls, this is what they'd look like. The waterfall is so fierce, that the air is filled with misty spray for about 50m in all directions; and where it hits the pool at the bottom, it looks like a volcano spouting white lava. This is why my nickname for the Pailon Del Diablo is: "Christmas in hell".
Today, I went on the famous tour of the mines of Potosí: the No. 1 thing to do here in Potosí, and the main reason why tourists come to this town at all. The tour was very dark, very cramped, very asphyxiating, and very disturbing. The mountain of Cerro Rico currently has 15,000 miners working in 400 mines, in positively hellish conditions. The mountain has been constantly mined for over 400 years. Experts predicted about 10 years ago that the mountain had about 7 years left, before the whole thing came crashing down, due to its foundations being literally "undermined". And it's still going.