My adventures in the rain this morning left me cold, wet, and buggered by midday. Once I said goodbye to my Sicilian angels, Cristina and Alessandra, I decided to call it an early day, and to find somewhere in Modica where I could dry out, warm up, and get myself clean once more. From the shopping centre where the girls left me, I rode into historic centre of Modica (still with light rain) — which, as with Ragusa, is a gorgeous Baroque affair — and put my feet up. I checked in to a lovely little B&B called Camera con Vista (lit: "Bed with a View"), where I had a long hot shower, and where I emptied all of my soaked belongings and laid them out to dry. Rather than endure any more arcic-condition cycling for the day, I waited out the afternoon under the covers of a warm bed, with a good book to keep me company.
The mosaics at Villa Romana were the highlight of today's voyaging — and I'm very glad that I managed to fit them in this afternoon. However, by the time I was done with exploring the Roman mansion, and was back on my bike, it was the very late hour of 4:40pm; and the cold, dark onset of night was approaching rapidly. As I rode on towards the town of Piazza Armerina, I sought reassurance from a little brown ferret, who was promoting a nearby campground called "Agricasale" (so-called because it was an "Agriturismo" or "farm holiday" facility, and because of Villa Romana's full name being "Villa Imperiale del Casale"). The Agricasale ferret smiled at me from bright yellow signs (placed everywhere along the road); and under him was painted the instruction: "Follow me!" Pity that the little bugger never cared to mention just how much more following I needed to do, before I found the place.
Not long after the cement incident this afternoon, the day started growing late, and I started looking for tonight's illegal camping field. The coastal road east of Sciacca is a prime area for the prospective squatter: lovely farms and villages, all easily accessible from the main highway, and all offering divine sea views and sea breezes. I turned onto a side road a few minutes out of Sciacca, where I decided to go with a large grove of trees (there seemed to be grapes growing on the trees — but they were trees, not vines), shared by several nearby houses and overlooking the sea. Great site, and a pleasant night to follow a slightly crazy day.
If the morning trek to Erice was hell on ice, then this afternoon's cruise down the Sicilian west coast was heaven with icea tea. Really, after lunch it couldn't have got more pleasant. From Paceco, I cut over to the quiet coast road that runs parallel to the main highway (and the autostrada), and cruised through what is apparently known as "The Salt Road". Signs on the road claimed that this stretch of road had been nominated for some "European prize in outstanding culture and environment" — I wouldn't go that far; but yes, it is a scenic area. And with a gentle coastal breeze, abundant sunshine, and light casual traffic to keep me company, I couldn't have asked for a better way to brighten up a tough day.
Once I reached central Palermo this morning, my main task was to find somewhere reasonably cheap — and reasonably comfortable — to clean myself up after roughing it in the highlands, and to relax for the night. I ended up riding pseudo-randomly around the historic tourist centre, and looking for what I hoped would be such a place. And boy, did I score a lucky find! I stumbled across a B&B, where they were asking a price way above what I was prepared to pay, and way above the price of my other accommodation so far in Sicily. That was to be expected, I guess: Palermo's a big city, and things are bound to cost more in a big city. However, when I pressed them for a cheaper option, they offered me a spare apartment around the corner for the night — not sure what the deal was with this place, if it belonged to a friend who was away for the weekend, or if it was a vacant holiday apartment, or whatever. But I didn't care: not only did they give me this gorgeous apartment for the night; they gave it to me for a very reasonable price, and they threw in breakfast at the B&B to boot! So as far as a night in Palermo went, I didn't do too badly at all.
I'm making no secret about it: I didn't come to England to see the Queen, I didn't come to watch the theatre, and I certainly didn't come to enjoy the weather. I came for the curry! Found an excellent Indian take-away joint, a fair way down the main street of Bath, that does some Mutton Vindaloo to die for. England, thankyou for imposing your unfair colonial rule on India all those years ago: because India is now getting its revenge, by invading England back; and they're bringing their curry with them. Best dinner I've had in months.
A good Thai curry is pretty hard to come by in South America (although on occasion, it can be found), so I've been suffering some serious Thai withdrawal. That's why tonight, for dinner in the city where any and every cuisine is available 24/7, I couldn't help but go for Thai. Went to a little joint up near the bottom of Central Park, on 9th Ave, and got some great chicken and stir-fried vegies, in a spicy coconut-milk soup. I'll save the Indian for when I get to London. And I'll save more Thai for... well, for Thailand!
After I arrived in New York this evening, and got through immigration, my first order of business was finding a hostel in which to spend the night. Considering that it was 12:30am by the time I got past the gates, I was kinda dreading this a bit. I hadn't made a reservation anywhere, as — unlike for the South American hostels — none of the hostels here in New York accept simple "online booking requests"; all that they accept online is a live advance credit-card payment, which I wasn't prepared to make. Anyway, I knew it wouldn't be fun searching for a bed at this hour on a Saturday night; but I never imagined that it would be this hard! I had the phone numbers of 6 different hostels: I called all of them; and of the places that I called, 3 didn't respond, and the other 3 were fully booked. Apparently it's Columbus Day long weekend here at the moment, and New York is packed with visitors. Just my luck, eh?
I woke up at Hostal de Sammy this morning, and went downstairs for breakfast. And oh my g-d, they have CEREAL!!! Unlimited, crunchy-as-can-be corn flakes, with delicious full-cream milk. I never thought, in all my life, that I'd get so excited over a bowl of cereal: but after 5 months of subsisting on the only things on the menu that they have for breakfast, further north — continental (bread, jam, juice, tea), or americano (same, with fried eggs) — it was like a dream come true. I couldn't stop eating the stuff (got through 3 bowls, no probs).
Took it easy for my first day in the land of Ecuador today. Apart from eating, sleeping, and blogging, Patrick and I just did some laid-back exploring of the town of Baños, and checked out what's on offer activity- and tour-wise around here. Baños is a beautiful little town: only 12,000 people — but I'd say it could accommodate that many people again, in tourist numbers. It's also in a beautiful part of the world — lush green, jungle-covered mountains and waterfalls all around — and it seems that there's no shortage whatsoever, of things to keep oneself busy around here. Don't know when I'll be able to tear myself away from this place, but it won't be anytime soon.