Piece of advice: never take directions from a gay Austrian. If only I'd followed it. After spending this morning once again chilling on Moondance beach, today I tagged along with my friend Robert, who wanted to show me the next beach along on the island, where he claimed there was nice swimming and a great restaurant. Only problem was, Robert thought he could take a "shortcut" up the hillside, and onto the main track that leads to this beach. And as anyone (named Murphy) can tell you, a shortcut is the longest possible distance between two points. Several steep cliffs, spiky ferns, bulging ant-nests, enveloping spiderwebs, and thick bush-clumps later, the truth of this rule was quite thoroughly proven. Although our intensive bush-bashing did eventually pay off: at long last, we finally found the road that we were looking for. Nice views along the way, too.
Thailand, the land of smiles. Hot, cheap, and plenty of fun; plus, it's the final leg of this epic 12-month trip of mine. As of this afternoon, I've finally made it — I may well be the last Aussie on Earth to visit Thailand; but better late than never, as they say. My introduction to the nation's capital — the endless metropolis of Bangkok — was appropriately crazy and surreal. I got lost. I sweated like a pig. I held on for dear life in a tuk-tuk. And somehow, I survived. It sure is good to be here.
I had a mad pre-dinner Venetian adventure this evening: I attempted to go to the supermarket and buy some wine (to do with dinner), and to find a public call centre (for ringing my Uncle in Switzerland, who I'm supposed to be visiting tomorrow); however, I failed to do either of these things. Instead, I narrowly missed various shop closing times, got extremely lost in the bowels of Venice, and ended up completing an epic run through the cobbled alleyways — and miraculously finding my way back to the hostel — in order to get back in time for dinner. Anyway, it all ended well: I collapsed back into the hostel in time for another night of delicious pasta (plus more wine — not everyone missed the shop closing times); and after that, the crew (some old faces from last night, some new ones tonight) went out onto the streets, bought a large quantity of beer, wine and sangria, and got wasted by the Canal Grande: what a bunch of yobboes we were, drinking on street in Venice! Nothing quite as fun as doing something completely uncultured and improper, in one of the great cultured and refined cities of the world.
It was a strange start to the day this morning — one bizarre obstacle after another. I woke up bright 'n' early at Agricasale — after a night of fairly heavy rain (luckily I stayed quite dry inside my tent) — to find the place quiet and deserted, and the main building (with the dining hall, reception and kitchen) locked shut. This wouldn't have been a problem: except that I left my camping dishes inside the kitchen last night (on the drying rack), and that I couldn't leave without them. It took me a few minutes to find someone who worked there — two guys rocked up in a ute at about 7:15am — and it took me another hour to convince them to wake up the head of the site (Conrad, I assume), and to acquire the key and let me in. Then — after I finally got out of the place — I realised that apart from being at the bottom of a valley, I had no idea where I was (thanks to last night's "Follow me!" ride in the dark), and no idea how to get back onto the main road. Oh, what joy :P.
Not much to report about the majority of today's riding, as it was fairly uneventful. This morning I rode east (and slightly north) from Agrigento, headed inland and slightly into the mountains. I intended to take the highway directly to the inland city of Caltanissetta: but the signs out of Agrigento were a bit confusing, and I ended up instead taking a lesser route, which detoured through the town of Favara. Not to worry: I found the main highway soon enough; and it was a small and scenic (and less heavy-in-traffic) detour. The rest of the way to Caltanissetta — on the SS640 the whole way — was incredibly boring. I shouldn't complain, as the good-quality road, the tail wind, and the fair weather helped me eat up plenty of distance. But seriously: the boring (and rather arid and ugly) countryside, the lack of towns or buildings, and the repetitive (if gentle) ups and downs, combined to make this one of the most uneventful legs of my ride so far.
It was a pretty big day today — visiting Iguazu Falls (Argentina side) and all — but I couldn't rest quite yet. First, I had to leave Argentina, and cross into Brazil for the evening. This turned out to be a lot easier than I'd feared, mainly because I chose to take an easy mode of transport: taxi! After a bit of bargaining, I managed to negotiate a ride straight from the Hostel Inn, on the Argentina side, to Hostel Paudimar, on the Brazil side. And all for just 40 pesos (US$13 or so) — not too much more expensive than navigating numerous bus lines, and certainly a lot less hassle.
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 my 5th and final day hiking in the mountains, I intended to just go and visit the famous "Laguna 69" (no idea why it's called that — but it is a cool name!), which is about a 2½ hour walk from my campsite (from last night) of Cebollapampa. Nothing more: simply visit the lagoon, then come back. But instead, I accidentally took the route up the mountains, to the Pisco high camp. Anyway, all turned out well in the end, and I had a much bigger and better day than I originally bargained on.
As of tonight, my beloved little blue Nokia 3100 mobile phone is MIA (Missing In Action). I think it fell out of my pocket, when I got out of a taxi this evening. Very sad, and very much a pain in the a$$: people have been calling me (and vice versa) on it every day while I've been in Cusco, and would have continued doing so for the remainder of my time here, were my phone not lost. I've already tried calling and SMSing it numerous times, but so far, with no response. I still have hopes of recovering it, but the chances of that happening around here are pretty slim. Looks like I might have to say goodbye to my phone, and move on.
After getting lost yesterday, Jack and I woke up this morning in Juan's house, feeling very grateful to have found a bed to sleep in, but also very eager to get back to Cusco. And, thankfully, after a bit of breakfast and a morning walk, make it back we did. Civilisation never smelt so good.