I've been "doing the hostel thing" for almost 10 months now: and for the most part, I've really enjoyed it. Most of my hostelling experience has been in the areas I've travelled the longest this year: that is, Mexico and South America. Down there, hostels are super-cheap, super-friendly, and super-casual. Wherever you go in Latin America, you'll always find somewhere that has a free bed (and it's usually somewhere good): this means that you can rock up in a new town, wander into one of the local hostels, and stay there until you decide to move on. You have total flexibility as to where you want to go, and how long you want to stay there. That's backpacking, the way it should be. I can count on one hand the number of times I had to book a hostel in Latin America, or the number of times I was turned away due to lack of space there. But here in Europe, it's a different story: around here, true blue backpacking simply ain't possible anymore.
After a long but pleasant day's riding, this evening I rolled into the lovely coastal town of Sant' Stéfano di Camastra. Call me a lightweight, call me what you will: but there seemed to be no camping options whatsoever around here, and (after roughing it last night) a B&B simply looked too tempting to resist — so I splurged out, and stayed in a B&B in town. And I can't say I regretted it at all: the cost was hardly much more than that of a hostel in Rome (after all, this is rural Sicily, and this is seriously off-season); and the hot shower, comfy bed, and delicious breakfast certainly did me good. What's more, the owner was very nice (although communication was a struggle — ye 'ol language barrier again), and her daughter was quite good-looking.
This officially marks the end of a major part of my trip. That is, the America part. Because although I'm now 8/12 months through my trip (that's 2/3 through, for those of you that can dredge up your memories of high school mathematics, and of simplifying fractions :P), I've spent the whole time so far in America — whether it be North, South, or Central, it's all "The Americas". Tonight, I fly east over the Atlantic (the first transatlantic trip in my life, I might add), and I leave the Americas behind, to begin my adventures in Europe. It's been great hanging out here — the lack of jetlag for 8 months has been particularly welcome — but the time has come to fly onward, and to start actually making this a round-the-world trip, rather than just an up-and-down-America trip.
It's been seven years since I was last in New York City. During my previous visit, in September 2000, I went up the famous twin towers of the World Trade Center, and I admired the then-fabulous view from the 110th floor. Today, for visitors to New York — courtesy of a small but extremely cruel and misguided group of radical individuals — that is no longer possible. Instead, thousands of visitors every year make the "pilgrimage" to what is now known internationally as Ground Zero. Today, I became one of these pilgrims, as I returned to this most confronting and tragic of sites. And like everyone else, I went there to mourn, to show support, and to pray; but mainly, just to see what the world's most famous hole in the ground actually looks like, and what they're doing with it.
After almost two weeks in BA, staying at The clan, my time here has finally come to a close. This afternoon, I had my final lunch with Oly, my final chat with the Swedish chick, and my final bit of hanging out at the bar. I've had a blast here, but I think it's also about time I was moving on. And now that the Jewish New Year events are all wrapped up, there's nothing holding me here anymore.
After six years of skiing, and after one week of snowboarding, I can now say with confidence that I've experienced both of these alpine sports, and that I'm able to talk about them a bit and to compare them. So here's a few reflective points in favour of snowboarding, and a few more in favour of skiing. I'm not making any decisive call here on which one I think is the better — just spelling out my views on the advantages and the disadvantages of each. The verdict, I leave in your hands.
Since Máncora is only 2 hours south of Tumbes (Peru's northernmost major town), you would have thought that it would be fairly easy to find some transport from one to the other. But apparently, on Sunday afternoon, this is not the case. Einat and I ended up waiting over an hour for a combi, and even then, we only just managed to squeeze onto one (it was already ridiculously overcrowded, and we just made it worse). There were also no afternoon buses to be found. Anyway, at least we eventually made it out of this funny little beach resort town, and got to Tumbes, which is the gateway to Ecuador.
After almost two months of travelling together, eating together, freezing together, drinking together, endeavouring to find women together, and stinking together, the time has finally come for Chris and I to say goodbye, and to once again go our separate ways. Through Peru, Bolivia, northern Chile, and Peru once again, Chris has been an amazing travelling companion, as well as an amazing friend. Tonight, I leave Lima by bus for Huaraz; Chris, on the other hand, is flying to Bogota, Colombia, in two days' time. So — for the first time in quite a long time, now that I think about it — I'm once again all alone, and on the road in a strange and exotic faraway country.
After more than three months, I've now completed a massive circuit of Andean South America, covering southern Peru, western Bolivia, and northern Chile. As of today, the loop is complete, and I'm back to square one: Lima. This was my first stop in South America, back on Apr 1st; and Chris and I have finally managed to drag ourselves away from the paradise resort of Huacachina, and to get on up here. So far, Lima's looking OK. I think I'm going to have more fun here this time, than I did on my last visit.
It seems that the recent troubles in Arequipa have cleared up a bit over the weekend, and that the roads in and out of the city are once-again open. For now, anyway. Not sure how long they'll stay open (it's still pretty volatile around here); but Chris and I seized the opportunity this evening, and grabbed a night bus to get us out of Arequipa, and over to the city of Nazca. Apparently, Nazca has been pretty much free of riots and roadblocks, so we should be fine there. Vamos a ver (lit: "we'll see").