There's no Austrian dish more famous than schnitzel, and I could hardly visit the country without trying it at least once. This evening at Yoho, I ordered a plate of Weiner schnitzel for dinner (lit: "Vienna schnitzel"). Unfortunately, it wasn't actually made of veal, as a true Vienna cutlet should be (hey, we're talking hostel food here :P); but then again, at least it was chicken, as opposed to pork (which I've already been forced to eat once too many lately, and which apparently can be found in many Austrian schnitzels). Not bad: but I'm afraid that Il Bolognese, an Italian restaurant in Sydney's humble suburb of Boronia Park, still takes the "best all-time schnitzel" prize hands-down.
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.
It was already getting dark by the time I was done with Capo di Milazzo this afternoon — so I knew I didn't have much time — but my map had a campsite marked along the coast towards Tindari, and I was determined to reach it for the night. As it turned out, I really didn't have enough time: it was quite thoroughly dark by about 5:15pm; and I was still on the highway (with nothing but my little headlamp to light up myself and the road ahead) at 6pm! Riding in the dark was no fun at all: but as I saw it, I really had no choice. Anyway, I finally saw a turnoff with some "camping" signs marked on it (thank G-d the "tent" symbol is universal); and at around 6:15pm, I reached "Camping Bazia". Only to find that the site was shut — only open in peak season, it seems.
Today was the first day of my life that I tried snowboarding. And as such, I was pretty keen on getting lessons. I'd heard that you can get group lesson and board hire combinations, up here at Cerro Catedral. Well, let's just say that the ski/snowboard school situation here at Catedral is nothing like what I'm used to, and nothing like what I was hoping for. It's an absolute mess, and an expensive one at that. There are almost 10 separate, privately-run ski schools operating at this place — there's no official, resort-run "Catedral ski school" (unlike what every ski resort in Australia has) — and none of these schools are cheap. None of them operate proper, public group lessons, either. Well, I'll be daymed if I'm shelling out megabucks for private snowboarding lessons — don't need them, and can't afford them.
At 1am this morning, Tony and myself — led by our trusty guide César — began our climb up Volcán Cotopaxi. Very quick "breakfast" (well, you gotta call a 12:30am wake-up meal something), and then we were on our way. We did our very best: but sadly, fate did not intend for us to reach the summit today. Close — oh, so tantalisingly close! — but no cigar. Ah well — as we say on Earth: c'est la vie.
Baños ain't got the name for nothing, you know: the place is surrounded by hot thermal baths. This afternoon, Patrick and I decided to check some of them out. Unfortunately, we didn't end up having a dip after all. First, we got a bus which dropped us off at the wrong baths (cold and dirty ones), which we weren't too keen on hopping into. Then, when we finally reached the only baths in town worth going to (called Piscina de la Virgen), it turned out that they were closed for the afternoon (for cleaning, I think), and wouldn't open again until later in the evening. Bit of a pain. Ah well, maybe I'll try them another day.
After our interesting hike to the cheese factory, today's hiking continued to be fun and scenic, even if not quite what we expected. By consulting the photocopied map that we'd been given, by the kind folks at the Cloud Forest Hostel, we figured that we needed to continue along the road that we'd been walking down, in order to reach the cloud forest. This turned out to be completely wrong. We did, however, eventually make it to the cloud forest. We think. Maybe. OK, perhaps not really.
For our second day in the Quilotoa Loop area, Patrick and I decided to do the popular hike from Chugchilán, to the "cheese factory" in the countryside nearby, and then on to the cloud forest. We had a great morning's walk, through a fairytale countryside of rolling hills and quaint little farms (although it was uphill most of the way). We were also blessed with great weather (not something to be taken for granted, here in Ecuador). However, the visit to the cheese factory turned out to be — well, somewhat different than expected! In short, it looked more like a house than a factory; and we saw little or no evidence of cheese, or of cheese-making, in the immediate vicinity.
Although I have no particular problem with my lodging at Sol y Mar, I have been persuaded to change the hostel that I'm staying at, for tonight (my final night) here in Máncora. The ever-indecisive Einat can't stand the unreliable water and the crowded little dorm of Sol y Mar any longer; and she's convinced a Canadian girl called Erin, and myself, to come with her to the HI down the road. Personally, I really couldn't be bothered moving for one night; but then again, I couldn't be bothered arguing with Einat either. This place is much nicer, but it's a bit more expensive as well.
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?