Finally sussed out You Tube. We’re in the process of uploading video clips to our You Tube page, we’ll post the link to our page soon, once there are a few to look at, but for now….
Apr 22, 2008 in India
Finally sussed out You Tube. We’re in the process of uploading video clips to our You Tube page, we’ll post the link to our page soon, once there are a few to look at, but for now….
It’s taken a while for this last post and yes we have been back in England for over 3 months! But as the date is now the 27th February exactly a year since we left, it seemed right that the book should be closed, to come full circle in 365 days.
Absolutely shattered with virtually no sleep on our ‘red eye’ flight from Las Vegas we arrived into La Guardia airport in the New York borough of Queens at around 5.30am. We had pre-booked our first night a few days ago as rooms were being booked up fast, mainly due to the New York marathon happening on the weekend we were there. We weren’t having much luck over the last week with events, if its not Halloween it’s a bloody marathon!
Driving from the airport from Queens into Manhattan at dawn the surroundings again like so may places in America felt so familiar, but New York felt almost like home even though we’d never been before. There was a chill in the air, not much traffic around, and the sun was just about casting its light across the Manhattan skyline. New York was just about to come to life.
When we arrived at our 81st street hostel we weren’t ready to go anywhere and all we wanted to do was sleep. As everyone in the dormitory was leaving for the day we crashed into our new beds and got some rest.
Sabrina has two Uncles living in Queens, so we had arranged to meet up with them while we were in New York, we didn’t quite expect them to turn up at the hostel knocking on our dormitory door within a few hours of arriving. It was good to see them and we headed out together and grabbed a burger from a nearby restaurant whilst catching up. They were all for us staying with them over in Queens but we were only in New York for a few days and it was much more practical to stay in the hostel then to stay a 20 minute tube ride away.
As with all the other places in America we’d been to, walking around New York was truly surreal. Catching the subway downtown to Times Square was almost like a journey we’d done a hundred times before. Walking up the subway steps and emerging in the incredibly busy 52nd Street or Times Square you can’t help but be blown away by the size, the lights and the amount of people. Every now and again the Empire State building would appear standing proud as the landmark of New York and we’d also catch glimpses of the beautiful Chrysler building.
The marathon was on the next day so New York was almost closed to traffic, It was a chilly fall morning so was a perfect time to walk through Central Park. Joggers with or without dog taking a morning run or warming up for the marathon racing all around the massive 6 square mile park.
There is so much to do in New York it has to be taken in bits, after our wander through central park we took the subway down to Battery Park in the very south of Manhattan to catch the Ellis Island ferry. Sections of the subway were closed because of the Marathon so the last half mile or so was on a bus. Security was super tight and the large crowd waiting to board the ferry were ushered through a large white tent with x-ray machines airport style. While we waited we chomped on a large cheese stuffed pretzel whilst catching our first glimpse of the Statue Of Liberty across the water of New York harbour.
Once on the water the views looking back to the familiar Manhattan skyline were superb. Looking at the height of the buildings that were there its hard to imagine the twin towers soaring high into the sky , it was hard to imagine just how tall they were. As part of the short journey over to Ellis Island the ferry took a short detour around Liberty Island to get a closer look at the Statue Of Liberty and the masses of people that visit the island.
Ellis Island was the main entrance point for immigrants into the USA from 1892 until 1954. Upon closure up to 12 million people passed through Ellis Island, although the peak years had passed long before the actual closure in 1954. We spent a few hours there taking the audio tour around the immigration buildings learning a bit about the history of the island and the history of New York.
Sabrina’s great grand parents passed through Ellis Island many years ago and due to the harshness of the immigration rules one of their daughters was ill from the ferry journey over to New York and was detained. Eventually she died from Pneumonia a few short months after landing in America. Some of Sabrina’s family stayed in New York and some eventually returning back to the UK. It’s crazy to imagine 12 million people with dreams of making a better life passing through that one building being examined and questioned, families being split up and families being reunited. After departing the ferry back from Ellis Island we walked the short distance north up to the World Trade Centre complex. Obviously the whole area is a building site and blocked off the pedestrians but there are areas you can have a look into the vast space where the twin towers once stood.
With a list of things to do a hundred items long we crossed off another and took the subway up Greenwich Village. The legendary West 4th Street was the Subway exit point and after a short walk we found ourselves right in the heart of bohemian Greenwich Village standing at the West 4th Street and MacDougal Street junction. The Greenwich village landmark Café Wha? helped launch the musical careers of Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen and The Velvet Underground among many others. Another club that made Bob Dylan famous is the Gaslight, sadly there was no longer a club at the address but just seeing these buildings and imagining the scene back then was enough. As well as being the street on the Freewheelin’ cover, Bob Dylan’s first flat was actually on West 4th Street, oddly now an adult shop but still there and great to see.
The next morning was another fresh New York morning and our Ney York breakfast of scrambled eggs, hash browns and bacon followed by strong black coffee went down a treat.
December 8 1980 John Lennon was shot dead outside the Dakota apartment building on the corner of 72nd Street and Central Park West which was just around the corner from our hostel, we took a small detour on our way down town and walked to the apartment building. Right opposite the building in Central Park is the memorial garden Strawberry Fields where fresh flowers are laid every day in Lennon’s memory.
For an unrivalled view of New York a trip up the Rockefeller Building or ‘top of the rock’ is a must and allows you to view the Empire State Building along with the rest of Manhattan. It was a chilly but crisp day and the views were amazing, seeing the narrow grid road system cutting through the skyscrapers on Manhattan island. The whole Manhattan island was visible with the enormous Central Park lying in the middle of the island.
It was nearing Christmas and although the tree hadn’t been erected at the bottom of the tower outside the Rockefeller Plaza the other symbol of a New York Christmas was there; the ice rink. It was a bit dizzying with all the sights. The Rockefeller Ice Rink was right on the famous shopping street of Fifth Avenue which was near the world famous music Hall; Radio City, there was always something to run across the road to see. A remarkable building was Grand Central Station, a massively grand and beautifully maintained building with an amazingly decorated exterior.
Throughout our trip we had been to numerous China Towns so we had to visit NY Chinatown, as usual a bustling series of streets with shops selling cheap tat and cheap food and fruit stalls. Lying right next to Chinatown was Little Italy where we had some cheap food. The weather was really nice and the heat was getting up so we sat out on the street soaking up the bustling NY street life.
We had agreed to visit Sabrina’s Uncles before we left so we got the Subway for the 20 minute ride over to Queens. By the time we took the subway it was dark and Manhattan was all in lights as we emerged from under the river into Queens borough, displaying why it is one of the most spectacular looking cities in the world. We spent a few hours at their house and had dinner there leaving early enough to pay another visit to Greenwich to walk through the legendary streets. Already stuffed from our late lunch and the big chicken dinner we’d just had we skipped the food and just had a few drinks before the Dylan gig, oh forty years to late for that one.
Waking up on our last day was horrible, our 8 ½ month journey was almost over, one more day. As we moved our bags down to the storage room a random piece of paper that I’d not seen in months just suddenly dropped on the floor with details of our February 27th flight from London to Delhi. Later on in the day sat on a subway train a couple of Indians were sat opposite with a huge box with a Rajasthan address written on. Completely random things that if it wasn’t our last day we wouldn’t have though anything of it.
We had our last breakfast at our new favourite coffee shop and then set off shopping. It was our last day we had some money left so as the dollar was weak and the pound was strong we went searching for things to take back home. Our taxi to the airport wasn’t until 5ish so we had most of the day to hunt out bargains and get back to the 81st street hostel. We did plan on finishing shopping earlier and getting back to near our hostel and having a last meal and drink at one of the nice restaurants around there but near 4pm we were rushing around like crazy around the streets of New York and eventually got back about 4.30pm and chose a bar just around the corner from the hostel and had a quick couple of drinks. After many many months of travelling, many drinks in many different countries we sat down and congratulated each other on what we’d done and sank a couple of well earned beers on Columbus Street.
Our taxi drive to JFK airport was slightly stressful as it was rush hour and the driver wasn’t in any rush as we waited for a half hour outside a posh hotel for a couple that never turned up. Most of the journey after that was spent arguing with the driver! Once in the airport we then had the problem of baggage weight. On top of our already bulging backpacks we had bought a load of clothes including three pairs of trainers a pair of boots and some records that I’d picked up in California, we needed to work out how to get all this through without having to pay extra. The answer was to wear everything we could, throw away any rubbish, keep our heads down and hope for the best. Our bags were bang on the limit but our hand luggage was bulging with two pieces of luggage each plus a bag of records. With our heads down we sailed through the first security check without drawing too much attention and breathed a sigh of relief at the other end! Short lived though we must have attracted some unwanted attention when we had our luggage all over the airport floor as when we went to board the flight we were both picked out of a line up of people to have our hand luggage checked, hearts beating fast we went over & after a quick rummage through the bags we were sent on our way.
So, our final flight was here, our ticket book was empty, the circle was almost complete. The journey was over, this journey anyway - plenty of time for another one.
We arrived into Las Vegas through the back streets as we turned off too late off the freeway. It didn’t take us too long to reach the crazy surreal world of the Las Vegas strip. The strip is the world famous section of Las Vegas Boulevard South, with remarkably most of it is actually within the township of Paradise rather than Las Vegas. The southern end has most of the action and most of the casinos, hotels and tourist shops. Within twenty minutes of arriving we saw our first Elvis posing for photos on the sidewalk. Driving down the strip is dangerous as its impossible to keep your eyes on the road with all the sights. The spectacularly designed hotels with elaborate landmarks; giant pyramids, the Eifel tower or the rivers of Venice, all rising from behind the palm trees that line the boulevards, it was like Disneyland.
TOD Motel was north of the main strip, past the landmark of the north end; the Stratosphere, which is the tallest tower in Las Vegas complete with a rollercoaster at the top. Located very near to downtown Vegas, the old Vegas, we were right along side all the famous wedding chapels, as well as the liquor stores and lesser known strip joints. The room was sold as a kitchenette, now common sense would surely say that the kitchenette would come with kitchen utensils i.e. cutlery, pans, cups etc. In Vegas however things are different and we didn’t have anything, we had a cooker and fridge but no plates, cups, cutlery, pans, the kitchenette was useless. Sabrina complained and the lady said she would see what she could do and explained that most people stay in the motel for weeks and months rather than days and usually arrive with their own gear which isn’t surprising as there were all sorts of odd characters hanging around and made us feel a little uncomfortable, with all the promises of riches that Vegas can give its not surprising the amount of people that arrive here with romantic visions of winning their fortune in the casinos or earning it in one of the Vegas shows.
The car was due back the next day so we took a last drive and cruised down the strip passing all the landmarks only ever seen on TV - Caesars Palace, Mandalay Bay, Casino Royale and we also spotted the Bellagio where we were to pick up our tickets for our Cirque Du Soleil show we had booked. Just off the strip was the impressive Hilton complex, a stark contrast to our budget downtown motel. We picked up some supplies (beer, £6 for a crate of Bud!) from a supermarket frequented by local oddballs a mile or so out of town. It wasn’t a nice place with down and outs being thrown out by security and harassing customers so we swiftly picked up what we needed and wheel spun off the car park.
Arriving back in the motel room, we had been given a little present from the manager. She had gone out and bought brand new sets of plates, pans, cups, mugs, cutlery and storage tubs especially for us. It was a bit of a shock we didn’t expect the owner to do that but wow what a great result.
We were reluctant to leave the car at the motel overnight but decided to and take the car back the next morning. Night came and we had a few Buds in the room (it is amazing how many Americans didn’t understand when we asked for Bud in a bar and only twigged when we put on an American accent!) and set off walking down into the strip. Most of the night was spent near the legendary Circus Circus which was still at the north end of the strip. We were attracted by dollar drinks at the Slots-a-fun casino, the amount of slot machines, flashing lights and card tables was a bit overwhelming at first and Slots-a-fun is a small casino. Beginners luck though was running through our veins and with a bit of perseverance on one 5c slot machine we won a bucket full back totalling $45! We cut the money and run - to the next casino. Not many were offering cheap drinks though but we took a look inside the bustling Casino Royale which seemed a bit more for the big timers as slots-a-fun looked like a casino that was full of people who weren’t allowed in any of the other casinos. We won a few more dollars in Casino Royale but didn’t want to be out too late as we had to return the car early the next morning so left before midnight. It is great just to watch all the action at the Craps tables and Black Jack tables trying to understand, especially with Craps, what the hell is going on.
On the way back we caught one of the famous free Vegas street shows at Treasure Island. A massive show involving life size pirate ships, fireworks and dancers. For a free show it certainly was spectacular and did draw a massive crowd having a peek from both sides of the boulevard.
Our first night went down as a success with us being forty dollars up from when we left the motel!
Early next day we returned the car to the Hertz office inside Caesars Palace. We weren’t told where though and Caesars Palace is the size of Wales, so it took us about thirty minutes to find out where to go and then we were took on a tour inside from a member of staff to find the key drop off point - it was huge. Like all the other hotels Caesars Palace is also one almighty casino and it was way more upper class than the ones we had been in with 5c machines nowhere to be seen. The gambling never stops, time doesn’t control these people, if they have money then they gamble.
It was a shame to hand the car back as we had such a great time over the past few weeks. There had been annoyances though, we never did quite understand the pre-pay fuelling at gas stations, how do you know how much you’ll spend? As our cards didn’t work at the pumps it was the only way to pay. And the Americans, with all their super confidence do not have an ounce of patience. There were good things though like as long as the road is clear you can turn right on a red light at junctions which is a genius idea and something that the UK should look at, turning left though obviously. Driving an automatic was also a pleasure after the initial weirdness of having nothing to do with your left foot. Also America doesn’t really do roundabouts so have a four way stop junction with priority given to whoever arrives at the stop sign first, remarkably everyone adheres to it.
We picked up our show tickets from the extremely posh Bellagio and looked at some of the sights then spent a little time looking at some of the shops on the strip and inside a strange shopping arcade made to look to feel and look like early evening with a darkening sky and even a full on storm every hour.
It was Halloween so the streets were full of people dressed in costumes. Dress code for women in Las Vegas is minimal at the best of times but as the night arrived on Halloween it was an excuse to lose more fabric and bare more flesh although a lot of it was a real scary sight!
We grabbed a few drinks before arriving for our show, we had booked tickets online a few weeks previous to see one of the best shows in Vegas , O by Cirque Du Soleil.
Inside the Bellagio theatre, the stage was smaller than we thought for such a huge Vegas show especially a Cirque Du Soleil show but the entertainment began soon enough and the curtain raised and the show began. The stage floor dropped and a pool of 1.5 million gallons of water appeared where the stage was. For the next 90 minutes we were entertainment with a spectacular combination of synchronised swimming, trapeze, high diving, unimaginable body contortion, fire displays and of course a couple of clowns to raise a few laughs after each acrobatic display. No cameras were allowed inside so unfortunately no pictures but for a brief trailer go here:
Alongside the spectacular visual feast, musicians played a soundtrack that was flawless and had the most amazing vocals, all played live inside two glass enclosures either side of the stage. The tickets weren’t cheap by a long way but we were in Vegas and what is Vegas without a show, it was worth the money.
The Bellagio is also home to one of the most famous free shows on the strip; the dancing fountains. Show time is about every fifteen minutes and is a must on a visit to Vegas. Fountains in front of the Bellagio ‘dance’ to the sound to music, enhanced by lights, usually either a Sinatra classic or a classical piece. The automated show really does draw a huge crowd and is a real must see.
We left our one wild night till our last, maybe not wise as we had to leave our motel early but the best nights aren’t planned! With a little perseverance we were up after using the slot machines again. Later on we hovered around the roulette and black jack tables. We felt a bit stupid as we had been turning down offers of drinks from the waitresses walking by in the casinos as we thought we’d have to pay extra tips to the waitress - doh! It wasn’t until we started chatting to the guys around the tables that the drinks are actually free! We didn’t place any bets for a while but hung around and looked interested in the games whilst grabbing free wines and whiskeys from the waitresses every time they wondered past. With a few of the free drinks down us we dabbled at a game of roulette. With no skill whatsoever, just pure luck we managed to piss off the other more hardcore players as they lost their money we managed to get ourselves a nice little pile of chips! Luck really was on our side as well as the double figure dollars we won on the slot machines earlier we walked away , well staggered from the roulette table with $65 and a night of free drinks.
Vegas treated us well although the next morning we felt rough as hell and asked the motel manager to allow us to stay on for a few more hours so we could sleep a little more. She did accept and we cabbaged out on the bed watching US TV sitcoms until we had to leave in the afternoon. We had booked a flight previously from Vegas to New York but the flight wasn’t until later that night so had a lot of time to kill.
Our flight was a long one as we touched down in Denver first then continued on another flight to New York. Denver appeared out of nowhere looking like an illuminated circuit board continuing for miles. It messed with our bodies a bit as we didn’t get much sleep on the flight. And so it was we landed in NY, the greatest city in the world (so the Americans say).
We never planned to make it any further than the Grand Canyon so to be in north Arizona with two days to spare was amazing and gave us the chance to explore an area around Page that had been recommended to us by a couple we met in Santa Barbara. Amongst the many sights in the within a couple of hours drive we set out to find the Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon which were local to the town of Page.
A few miles south of the town on Route 89 we found Horseshoe Bend, a horseshoe shaped meander of the Colorado River. There was a little hike through a ¾ mile red dust landscape that took us to a very steep cliff top lookout over the massive canyon. The views were outstanding and the drops were very steep. Sitting there in the quiet overlooking such a great sight was calming. It was impossible though to get all the bend on one photo, it was far to large, it took a bit of experimenting to get the best shots. We spent a bit of time there just looking at the views in awe, thinking about the last few months and what we had done, seeing places we probably will never see again and trying to take it all in.
We briefly chatted with a friendly German who gave us some advice on how to get to our next destination of Antelope Canyon which was another sight that was highly recommended to us. The pictures we had seen of the canyon looked unreal and had to be seen when the sun was at its most powerful to really be believed.
Antelope Canyon is much photographed slot canyon located on Navajo land near Page. It’s a very narrow but deep canyon formed by the wear of water and sand being blown at high speed through the sandstone. Entrance was expensive as we also had to pay for a Navajo guide on top of the entrance fee. The guides fee wasn’t mentioned on the board and at $20 each was pretty hefty. Our Navajo Indian guide took us in a jeep through a mile of sand passing numerous cows (?!) to get to the entrance of the canyon. It was just past midday so the sun was high enough, although due to the month a little weak, to show off the canyon to full effect.
Even Arizona gets a healthy amount of rainfall and when the rain comes it really does pour. The canyon is formed when high winds rush the water and sand through the canyon at high speeds forming the smooth walls. Depending on the scale of wind and rain the level of the floor of the canyon can vary, a lower floor displaying more of the marble like walls of the canyon.
Inside the canyon was only a couple of metres wide but over 10 metres high with narrow openings at the top which ethereal shafts of sunlight beam down from. Smooth sandstone walls looked incredible and more manmade than naturally formed.
Our guide was really good and helped us out with the difficulty of taking pictures in such a unique place even giving us a much needed tripod to use. Inside it was dark because we were inside a more or less closed canyon but because of the light shooting through tiny gaps in the ceiling it did make photography difficult and the tripod was essential. The canyon really was spectacular and well worth the money to see it, we’d never seen anything like it. Nine months on in the trip we were still excited about every day and still seeing new things that we’d never seen before. The video to the Britney Spears song ‘I’m not a girl’ was filmed inside the canyon but I bet she didn’t pay for a guide!
In the late afternoon from Page we drove past the scenic Lake Powell and Glen Canyon dam, actually longer than the more well known Hoover Dam but not as deep, and across into the state of Utah to the town of Kanab where we found a decent if not old looking motel. We got some food at a Mexican place across the road from our motel. Having crossed the state border of Utah we were now subject to a capped 3.2% alcohol level, being a Mormon state its law. The food was pretty average and the visit turned into a bit of a fight as the waitress automatically added her 18% tip. We had been used to leaving tips for good service but out of choice not compulsory. Checking in the menu is also did state that 18% service charge is NOT added to the bill, so we got the waitress to remove it from the bill, paid for the food and left expecting to be chased down the street for a tip, it was the first time the whole tip thing in America was a problem.
From Kanab we were about 25 miles from Zion National Park, on the way we took a diversion to have a quick look at Coral Sand Dunes, there was an entrance fee which we didn’t want to pay so we just looked from a lookout at the red dunes before driving on.
In the peak season in Zion cars are not allowed into the park and have to be left outside in favour of using the park transport system. October was off peak so we were OK to drive into the park. The entrance was quite dramatic as we drove through the dark 1.1 mile long Zion-Mount Carmel tunnel to exit amongst sheer rock faces where the road has numerous switchbacks taking us down to the canyon floor. We took a drive to a few viewpoints involving short walks, the best of which was the half mile return walk to Weeping Rock, where water ‘weeps’ out of rock above an overhang . It was cool to see and walk underneath and had some great views of the park with all its vibrant ‘fall’ colours.
The main walk was a 3 mile round trip to the emerald pools, a fairly easy hike through trees to a series of ‘emerald’ pools at different levels. The lower pool being the biggest as it collects the water from the other pools at higher levels was a big lush alcove with water seeping down the sandstone. The trail got steeper as it head up to the higher pools and provided superb views, though the pools were far from being ‘emerald’.
One thing that was instantly noticeable about Utah was the amount of children, it was common to see parents with 6 or 7 kids in tow. Mormons while being anti-drug, anti-alcohol and anti-caffeine and pro-sex and ‘To become a God, one must first prove one’s “virility” by having as many kids as possible in this life’. Unbelievable! For an interesting read on Mormons have a look at http://www.wildutah.net/2-12-02/htmldocs/Mormon.htm
A great tip for US national parks, which we weren’t initially told is that for $80 you can get access to all National Parks in the USA. We had paid three fees for previous National Parks totalling around $65 so we showed our receipts and got ourselves a year pass and entrance to Zion for $15, shame we weren’t going to anymore parks though! Its still good value though and good that you pay only for the car and not per person.
Out of Zion we drove to the patriotic town of St George and fair size town right near the Arizona/Utah border. The next day we would drive back through the north western corner of Arizona and back into Nevada. Our national park trips were finished it was time for the hedonism of Las Vegas for our penultimate adventure. We had already downloading the soundtrack to Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas for our drive in.
From Beatty, Nevada we were 115 miles from Las Vegas, but we were not going just yet. The fairly uninteresting Route 95 took us the all the way through the Nevada desert and out of nowhere the sprawling concrete metropolis of Vegas appeared. We took the bypass and drove over Vegas, getting a quick glimpse of what was in store for us in a few days, and took Route 93 out heading south east into Nevada. Spanning the borders of Arizona and Nevada, Route 93 crossed the Hoover dam, the traffic was really bad so we didn’t see much but we drove right over the famous dam, that without Superman’s help wouldn’t be there today.
Route 93 was also fairly uninteresting and the road was perfectly straight for at least fifty miles, all the way to Kingman. We were aiming to get to Flagstaff but in our motel voucher book we had been carrying with us we realised that the town of Williams was actually closer, cheaper and better situated to drive to the Grand Canyon than Flagstaff was and time was getting on so around 8pm after a full days driving we found a motel and rocked up for the night.
Situated on a stretch of the historic Route 66, the famous America road that originally ran from Chicago to Los Angeles., Williams was full of all American steakhouses and saloon style bars.
The next morning was a cold one and the temperatures over night reached below zero. We were about 25 miles from the south rim of the Grand Canyon National Park, a really boring 25 mile drive climbing all the way to an elevation of over 7000ft to the South rim of the canyon. It didn’t take too long and before long we had parked the car, on the side of the road though as the tiny car park was obviously full and had our first glimpse of the Grand Canyon. That first sight of the canyon was real spine tingling moment, the sheer size, ten miles wide and up to a mile in depth, is pretty hard to comprehend until its right in front of you.
The information office was about a five minute walk from where we parked, so we paid a visit and had a look at the many walks available inside the canyon. We decided to spend a day driving to the many view points and then do a hike the next day into the canyon.
Desert View Road ran east along the south rim to the east rim and had numerous view points along the way offering different angles on the canyon and as time went on, the sun cast different light in the canyon. Unfortunately controlled fires had been set on the north rim and the resulting smoke hung above the canyon and worsened throughout the day. This coupled with the drifting smoke from the recent California wildfires affected the visibility in the canyon too.
After viewing the canyon from quite a few viewpoints we went back to a couple of the best as the sun set to witness the changes of colour in the land.
We drove back to the canyon the next day after a freezing night in Williams, parked the car up and jumped on the shuttle bus to the start of our trail. The hike we were doing was the South Kaibab Trail, a popular scenic trail into the canyon. In the height of summer the trails into the canyon can be dangerous and have been fatal. Temperatures soar in the area in the summer months and inside the canyon can be considerably higher than on the rim and with hikes reaching into double figure mileage, and very few water facilities, people who are not fully prepared can end up severely dehydrating in the heat.
Our trail was actually 7 miles long but we were only doing a mile and a half down to Cedar Ridge before hiking back uphill to the top. The trek was stunning, twisting and turning down into the canyon with fantastic views. Tourists, taking the easy route down would pass us coming up the trail on the back of mules led by a real lasso slinging cowboy.
We had our lunch at Cedar Ridge and took in the truly awesome views out into canyon that were reminiscent of classic American cowboy territory. The Colorado River looked tiny meandering through at the bottom of the canyon. We sat just perched on the edge of a rock, staring out into the scenery, watching ravens gliding silently and effortlessly through the canyon. The hike back up from Cedar Ridge was a tough one as the sun increased in heat but by about two o clock we had got back where we started and used the rest of the day to drive to our next town.
Driving away from the canyon towards the town of Cameron we passed dozens of Navajo Indian souvenir stalls selling all sorts of traditional hand made Indian crafts. Travelling further out the canyon narrowed and the road offered super views of the beginnings of the Grand Canyon, a deep and narrow Little Colorado River gorge. The beauty was that there were no tourists anywhere, the sun was setting and cast a beautiful light into the gorge and all over the Arizona desert landscape. We drove north at Cameron all the way to Page near the state border of Utah. The scenery really did turn into the classic American western terrain that we see so much in westerns. As the sun set a bright red colour was cast all over the desert flats and mountains, it was unreal.
Arriving in Page the first thing that hit us was all the churches. The road leading into the town had church after church, over half a dozen churches, all of different Christian faiths one after the other.
We found an independent motel on the street of little motels in the old quarter. The room was a really good deal at about $45 and included a kitchenette. We were told we should check out a Halloween fair that was happening across the road so we went and checked it out. It was only small and was more or less over but did have hundreds of decorated pumpkins on show. Not your average ‘scary face’ pumpkins but superbly carved and elaborately designed pumpkins. As we had moved deeper into America, the accent had begun to change and a little American drawl had been introduced.
After our night at the El Rancho motel in Bishop we woke up to a perfect day and set off on the long straight drive through the Owens Valley and through the towns of Big Pine, Independence and Lone Pine, all desert towns sounding like sets for John Wayne movies.
The land was flat and dusty and flanked on either side with rugged mountains with the higher peaks topped with a touch of snow. Whilst visiting the visitor information office in Lone Pine we were shocked at how quiet the area was. It had an eerie silence even though the main highway was only twenty or thirty metres away, HGV lorries and tankers would pass in silence. From here on in we were warned to have a full tank of fuel, I suppose a mobile phone should have been on there to but, oh well.
We were still a hundred miles away from the centre of Death Valley and with all the perfectly straight roads leading into the valley seemingly with no end we really did seem like we were on the road to nowhere. It was classic empty dusty desert American terrain with miles of nothing except knee high desert shrubs and the occasional Joshua Tree. We were kept entertained though by a fighter jet soaring past above the car, the roar bouncing off the mountains and echoing all around. He was showing off a bit we thought as he twisted and turned above us, we were the only car on the road after all.
After passing through the main town of Death Valley; Furnace Creek, we continued on to our motel for the night. We were staying in Beatty, a small town just over the state border in Nevada. It had good access to Death Valley and was cheaper than staying inside the park.
Just before arriving in Beatty though we came across a real life ghost town in the desert; Rhyolite, in 1904 was a thriving gold mine town with a population of 10,000 people but in 1910 the population had dwindled to 675 and by 1916 the electricity was switched off and the town abandoned. Still there today though are remains of the old train station, school, bank and jewellers. Right outside the ghost town was a really cool and wacky and slightly odd and spooky sight, the Goldwell Open Air Museum. Surrounded by nothing but dry desert and mountain landscape were a number of bizarre sculptures that really have to be seen to be believed.
Arriving into Beatty we passed our first trailer park and on into the baby Las Vegas complete with a few casino lights and a wild west feel.
Before we left Beatty the next morning we had to fill the car up for our journey into Death Valley. From Beatty a straight ten mile road cut through the flat desert landscape and led to a steep and winding road over the mountains into Death Valley itself and then on to Furnace Creek, a total distance of about 25 miles. Furnace creek with an elevation of around two hundred feet below sea level holds the record of the highest temperature in the USA and the second highest recorded temperature in the world.
Zabriskie Point looked over the most incredible terrain, known as badlands, of mustard coloured peaks. It was here that U2 shot the cover of their Joshua Tree album. The views were incredible and really felt like we were on another planet.
Dante’s peak was a short drive from Zabriskie Point with the last quarter mile being a steep climb to a view point over the whole of Death Valley and a great view of the massive salt plains. In total silence we sat and looked over the valley and really felt detached from the world, the only company we had was a lone raven.
Our surroundings were totally unreal and the heat was severe, although it was fall we were in Death Valley and the sun was intense and it showed in the heat reflecting off the insanely straight roads. We drove towards Badwater, the lowest point in the USA but before we stopped off at an area known as the Devils Golf Course. The Devils Golf Course is a large area of knee high roughly formed salt crystals that was formed when a lake that used to cover the area evaporated and left behind minerals.
Badwater is 282ft (855 meters) below sea level and is the lowest point in the USA and to make tourist realise what that means a sign was placed high on a cliff saying ‘sea level’. It was here that the heat was the fiercest and took our breath away. Bizarrely at Badwater was a small pool of water. Here we were in one of the driest places on earth staring at a pool of water. We took a walk out on the salt plains before taking a drive through an area known as Artists Drive, a scenic drive with views of colourful mineral deposits in the rock formations.
We drove back to Zabriskie Point at sunset to view the area in a different, softer light before driving back to our motel in Beatty. That night we had burger and fries at the local casino/restaurant and had our first dabble on the slot machine in preparation for our time in Vegas. Along with a few free drinks each from the casino bar we came away a few dollars from the machines, which got us excited about playing with the big boys in Vegas!
With half a tank of fuel down from the previous day refuelling was a must again, luckily is only £1.50 a gallon! With so many weird and wonderful things to see in Death Valley we probably could have stayed another few days but we just had one more day to see the things we didn’t fit in the previous day.
A couple of mile return walk through the Mosaic Canyon in the intense heat made us sweat a fair bit. The walk took us through a narrow canyon with polished marble walls on both sides created by thousands of years of water gushing through the passage. Salt sediments still cling on the walls from the time, many many years ago when a lake covered the area. Now the canyon is used a natural outlet for water that falls in the higher peaks to flow out of. There are so many places in the valley where you find yourself in absolute silence and the Mosaic Canyon was one of them and was the highlight of the second day.
A further 40 miles north was the Ubehebe Crater or Heebeejee Crater as we called it, a massive crater caused thousands of years when a volcano erupted, the resulting crater is half a mile wide and up to 237 meters deep. The crater was really in the middle of a desert wilderness with no-one else around and with the right soundtrack was truly like starring in own road movie. Nearby was Scotties Castle, yep a castle, well kind of. Built by local con man Walter Scott with money conned out of his millionaire friend who thought he was buying a share in a goldmine.
Driving back from Scotties Castle as the sun began to set was spectacular. The moon was rising and the surrounding mountains and scenery turned a soft red. While we were in Death Valley I was constantly thinking of a photo I remembered as a kid and where, now I was here, it would have been taken. I think I knew so we drove back just before the sun completely disappeared to take some sunset photos of a famous perfectly straight Death Valley road. It was hard to be overwhelmed at times driving through the US and at times we would get smacked in the face with the realisation of where we were. Considering the USA was only on the list as a place to go because it was on the way home, we both really fell for the country and only half way through our visit were thoroughly enjoying America.
It was about 3pm by the time we left San Francisco. And we raced east heading towards Yosemite.
Our destination was Midpines, a small town about 20 miles from the entrance to Yosemite National Park. We had had twelve days touring the cities, towns and beaches of California and now it was time to explore the inland beauty of the USA’s third largest state.
We arrived at the Yosemite Bug hostel at night and upon check in were told that they didn’t have room for the next night which meant we had to sort another place to stay the next morning. They recommended a motel further up the road, we went down the next morning and checked in with the crazy Chinese man who owned it before driving into the national park.
The smaller hills on the drive in were replaced by larger granite mountains rising sharply behind the trees. Following the road into the park was a small river with boulders bigger than houses lying in the bed. Granite mountains increased in size the closer we got to the park and inside El Capitan, the largest granite monolith in the world, dwarfed them all. Twisting through the forest the road had towering fir trees on both sides and would suddenly would open up with views of the mountains of Yosemite.
We had chosen our walk for the day and decided to take the trail up to Vernal Falls along the mist trail which was a popular 4km round trip. The colours in the forest along the trail were stunning, with the season being fall in California it was a perfect time to visit Yosemite. Gigantic fir trees and colourful Maple trees were all around, the park was at its most colourful with the vibrant orange, yellow, red and green leaves on the trees and a perfect clear blue sky. The colours looked fantastic against the huge grey and silver of the granite mountains.
As we approached the falls we had great views of the valley and the mixture of colours. Vernal falls, although quite dry, dropped over 300ft over an almost vertical granite face. The trail had been fairly easy but the last section was all a steep uphill climb but as we climb the views of the valley on the way up kept us going all the way to the top. Once at the top it was easy to break away from the tourists and find a quite spot near one of the pools and relax a while watching the squirrels run around and take in the amazing scenery. The hike to the top took two hours and the beautiful views made it well worth it.
Although we had moved into a motel down the road we went back to the Yosemite Bug hostel and got some pretty average food from the café, it was cheap though. At night the motel we went back to looked like one of those from the movies where no-one gets out alive. Although the old Chinese man was as crazy as a field of British cows I think we would be alright.
One day wasn’t enough so we drove back in to Yosemite the next day choosing to set of in search of the Giant Sequoia trees that were in the area. We chose a trail that began off the Tioga Pass a road that climbed steeply above Yosemite. We were following some vague directions form a leaflet so when found the trailhead we didn’t really have any idea how far we would have to walk to see the Sequoia trees. With the heat beating down and a clear blue sky we set off on the path with our lunch in hand and hoped we wouldn’t get lost as the path wasn’t that easy to follow in parts. A fire must have happened recently as most of the trees over 8 feet were burnt to a crisp. It was nice to be away from the hoards of tourists and be allowed to be amazed at the scenery in peace and silence as we walked the dry mountain path. We walked for two hours past gigantic Douglas Fir trees, keeping our eyes out for any black bears along the way as they are known to roam around Yosemite, a few times being startled by what seemed like branches breaking but was probably a squirrel.
Being away from the tourists really gave us a feel of the size and beauty of the park, although the pervious days walk was excellent, there is nothing like finding your own way and seeing things no-one else is seeing.
It seemed a shame to have not seen any Sequoias seeing as we were so close, we found another trail that was only one hour return so before we drove on to our next town we stopped by the trail and took another short walk. The Giant Sequoia is the world largest tree and can grow over 300ft, 30ft in diameter and can be over 2,500 years old. They don’t look real they are that big like they have lifted out of an other worldly fantasy film.
After two days in Yosemite we were heading for our next destination and our next national park of Death Valley. To use as a base to enter the park we headed to the town of Bishop. Along the way the scenery turned from the mountains forest of Sierra Nevada to the flat land as neared Death Valley. The sun began to set as we neared Bishop and the sky lit bright red as we reached Mono Lake to make a surreal and beautiful setting. The rest of the way to Bishop was in the dark, we found the El Rancho Motel to be cheap and rocked up there for the night.
Armed with an array of summer of love classics on the stereo we drove on north to the city where it all started; San Francisco. The route up was lined with huge pumpkin patch’s for the run up to Halloween, which is huge business in the US much bigger than in the UK. We took our time driving up and arrived late afternoon and nearly ended up driving straight over the golden gate bridge away form the city. The bridge was enormous and painted a rusty red colour, we had a look from a viewing point before heading into the city to find a motel a couple of miles from downtown. We were stuck a bit as we had the car. We didn’t want to be too far out of the action but then again didn’t want to pay the car park fees for the time we were there. The next day something had to give so we moved into a hostel in a not-so-classy area of the city with lap dance bars, it luckily had a secure car park right next door so we paid to leave the vehicle there. The hostel was within walking distance of most areas including the piers, North Beach and Chinatown so was ideal although we had to share with a grumpy New Yorker who didn’t like being woken up in the morning.
We couldn’t resist a walk to another Chinatown while in San Francisco so we spent a bit of time around there looking at more crappy Chinese souvenir shops. The thing that instantly hits you when in San Francisco are the streets, the unbelievably steep streets, some clocking in at over 30 degrees steep and having steps at the side to help pedestrians walk up them. The sense of being in a film continued with the famous trams travelling down the iconic steep streets and familiar skyline with both modern high rises and older Victorian buildings, it was like being an extra in Bullit, we expected to see Steve McQueen whiz past us or come hurtling over one off the hill crests. A trip up Coit Tower offered stunning views of the city and of the bay and a chance to see the cities grid layout from above.
San Francisco is famous for its micro breweries so we stopped off at a small pub and sampled some locally brewed beer. Traffic and peopled passed as we sat on the street drinking the beer, it wasn’t quite Hanoi though! The beer got us oiled up for a night out so we head over to a bar that we had seen advertised ran by progressive dj’s Jondi & Spesh. The bar which was set in an art gallery was pretty cool and although we looked out of place with our scruffy clothes on we stayed for a few drinks at pretty reasonable prices before heading back to the hostel for our free grub! A few hostels we had stayed in had given away free food and when you want to sae a few dollars its best to take advantage of it so we traipsed back and stuffed ourselves on the Mexican fare that was laid out.
A night in San Francisco is not complete without some live music so after a close your eyes and pick a band moment we head to the Rickshaw Stop a few miles from the hostel to see a band called Black Fiction. The Rickshaw Stop was a really good venue and was complete with a few familiar Asian rickshaws inside. Black Fiction and support were really good with the headline act sounding very Doors. On top of the great music the beer was pretty cheap which made for a really good night out.
Aside from a rich musical history, steep roads and the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco is home to the infamous island prison Alcatraz. Our usually safe method of never booking anything nearly worked again but ultimately failed as the sign at the ticket office displaying the next boat time changed from later that day to the day after while we were in the queue! It messed our plans up a bit as we had to pick the car up the next morning so to make sure we were back for the car we booked on the earliest trip the following day at 9am.
With our plans scuppered we head off to explore the fisherman’s wharf area and the piers. We felt a little rough from the night before so took it easy walking around the hundreds of tourist stores and restaurants that line Pier 39 and surrounding roads. Seafood was obviously the big draw here with crab, lobster and the San Francisco delicacy Clam Chowder being offered everywhere. Intrigued as to what clam chowder actually was we ordered a couple from a little food stall near the pier and it turned out to be really delicious. A white soup strangely tasting of chicken instead of seafood was served up in a bread bowl and tasted great, like a hot broth to warm your bones on a cold winters day and did the trick for our delicate stomachs.
Around the pier we came across a huge seal colony right on the pier. Hundreds of seals lazing around on various platforms in the bay very close to the pier. Its fascinating to watch the creatures, the males being as loud as they can trying to attract a female mate.
We didn’t plan on taking a boat trip out in the bay other than the Alcatraz boat but we got attracted to a great offer of $10 each for an hours cruise around the bay and under the Golden Gate bridge. It was a great use of $10 and the trip took us right underneath the famous red steel suspension bridge. A fascinating fact about the bridge is that there is enough cable used on the bridge to circle the world three times at the equator! Another interesting fact is that over 1500 people have leapt to their death from the bridge since its construction. The bridge is huge and its impossible not to be impressed. As we passed directly underneath it was bizarre to hear the echo of the boats PA system. It was great to get some interesting angles of the bridge that we wouldn’t have otherwise got. The other side of the coin was that we got stunning views of San Francisco from the bay.
Alcatraz called the next morning and we left the hostel first thing and made the short walk to the pier. Alcatraz was a chilling place from the start and the audio guide was great and helped a lot to add to the atmosphere of the prison. Home to such infamous criminals as Al Capone, Robert ‘Birdman’ McLeod and Machine Gun Kelly the prisons history is world renowned.
We still hadn’t visited all the places we wanted to visit, in the city so just before we left we drove down to the famous Haight Ashbury area. It was there where the summer of love really started in 1967 where the hippie movement started. It was rude not to visit the Amoeba Music record store on Haight Street.
One last thing before we left was to drive over the golden gate bridge to the Marin headland. The toll was free going north to the headland but fee of $5 was charged on return to the city, a small price to pay for a lifelong memory of a journey over one of the great bridges of the world.
San Francisco was great, the centre wasn’t that big that its overwhelming, its got a great history and has a great vibe still today. We picked up the car after visiting Alcatraz and head out of San Francisco driving east towards Yosemite National Park.
Getting on the busy six lane Interstate 5 in LA was an experience but we managed OK and once on in the few times that there weren’t cars darting in and out of the lanes the cruise control came in handy and allowed my feet some free time to relax.
We arrived into San Diego in the mid afternoon and navigated ourselves with the help of some free maps into the Gas lamp District in downtown. There was no free parking in the cities so we had to park the car up for 24 hours and checked into the USA hostel for two nights. The district was small enough to walk around and had a great atmosphere along with lots of cool and interesting buildings which looked all the better in the soft late afternoon light. We walked past a classic car showroom in the district and in the window was the Delorean from Back to the Future with its distinctive doors opened high, sadly no flux capacitor inside though. As the sun disappeared we sat and had some cheap beers and complimentary nachos and dips on fifth avenue. Later we managed to stumble across a bar with a live band playing some cool dub/reggae music that seemed to fit in with the relaxed atmosphere of the city really well.
A trip to San Diego is not complete unless you do the border crossing. Not just any border crossing but the busiest border crossing in the world and one of great contrast probably not seen anywhere else; the crossing into Tijuana, Mexico. The journey was quick and after a 45 minute trolley ride we were in San Ysidro right on the border. A short walk later, following the crowds, we found ourselves on Mexican soil, no passport stamp, no security check by anyone. From the USA, one of the richest nations in the world to Mexico, a developing nation the difference was instant and was reminiscent of Asia again with beggars and street sellers lined up along the walkway to downtown Tijuana. Along with cheap beer, cheap tacos and cheap tacky souvenir was a whole host cheap pharmaceutical shops selling all kinds of tablets from the household drugs like paracetamol to Prozac and Viagra at incredibly cheap prices. We spent a good few hours wondering around downtown Tijuana soaking up the completely different atmosphere. We got some cheap Mexican food, burritos and tacos and dollar Coronas before buying the obligatory bottle of real Agave Tequila and heading back across to the USA. The crossing this time was a bit more thorough and the authorities were checking passports and shopping bags.
We only had a short time in San Diego centre but it was a good experience and we’re glad we drove down to experience another Californian city. We got back to the car after Tijuana and head to the outer area of the city driving around the cooler beach areas before finding a nice hostel to stay at for a night before the drive back north.
Coming off the Interstate a bit too early around Laguna Beach south of LA we crawled along route one north past Los Angeles for a couple of hours eventually passing the city and hitting the sun drenched (and money drenched) beach side town of Malibu. The views of the ocean were, it was just a whistle stop tour and off we head up the Pacific Coastal Highway Route 1 en-route for Santa Barbara.
Just before sun down we reached Santa Barbara, another money hotspot along the California coast. Immediately it had a Mediterranean feel, relaxed with whitewashed buildings. Santa Barbara has lots of money and a huge marina full of big yachts, it was kind of like Beverley Hills-On-Sea. A walk around in the day made the city seem even more like a Spanish town. The sun was out shining on the bright white painted shops and churches with palm trees lining the streets. It was a nice place to be and was completely different to the other places we had seen. We would have like to stay longer in Santa Barbara, it was a great town and we met a couple of nice people in the hostel too but we wanted to move on and keep with our plans of seeing the things we set out to see in good time so moved on after two nights.
Next stop was San Louis Obispo, home of the worlds first motel (now disappeared). It was another nice town to drive around but it was just a stop off point to find a motel and rock up for the night.
From San Louis Obispo up to Monterrey we followed the Route 1 all the way and passed along the famous Big Sur coastline. The road hugged the coast and had outstanding views of the cliffs and beaches and of the Pacific Ocean stretching out to the west. On one of the beaches we stumbled across a massive sea lion colony. These weren’t the average sized ones that we saw in New Zealand these were humongous fat beasts just lazing around in the coolness of the sand. Hundreds of them sprawled out using there flippers to throw sand on their bodies. The whole coastline was really beautiful and was a joy to drive, even if it was on the wrong side of the road. Racing further up the coast we stopped a night in the musically historic city of Monterrey.
San Francisco was getting closer each day………
The city of angels - Los Angeles is big, we hadn’t seen a city as impressive from the air since flying into Delhi, the city is enormous and never ending. We were supposed to be picked up from the airport free of charge by a shuttle provided by our hostel but it wasn’t there and later we found out that there was no longer a free pick up, so we had to fork out $30 for the journey through the traffic to the West Hollywood hostel. The a/c trip along the highways was a busy route, passing huge 4×4 vehicles from classic US manufacturers as Dodge, GMC, Cadillac and Lincoln was a real ‘welcome to America, land of the free and home of the gas guzzling 4×4’.
The hostel wasn’t the best but it was OK for a few nights before we head off on our road trip to discover America. It was well located to the main sights of LA so it served its purpose as a good base to see the city.
Although the season was officially fall (autumn) the weather was hot and the sky was clear. A market slash car boot sale was on at a school across the road from our hostel so after dumping our stuff in the dorm we checked it out. We were in a big Jewish area so there was a lot of Jewish shops and cafes but all kinds of people were in the area; cool indie guys and girls, gangster types, eccentric Jews, the beautiful ones dressed like their idols, skateboarders, ageing hippies, actors practising scripts on the streets absolutely everyone lived together here.
From the hostel Hollywood Boulevard was about a 20-30 minute walk. The street is famous for the walk of fame, the stars on the sidewalk which is fun to look at at first but most of them are unheard of. Mann’s Chinese Theatre is what attracted most of the tourists on the Boulevard with handprints and signatures of the stars from today and days gone by imprinted into the sidewalk. It was a bit surreal walking in LA as it almost feels familiar because of its constant air time on TV at home. Passing roads like Melrose Avenue, Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Strip we were literally transported into an open air film set. The mush photographed Hollywood sign stood high in the hills surrounding LA and was visible from the Kodak Theatre, home of the Oscars.
Sunset Boulevard was nearby to Hollywood Boulevard and was next on our itinerary on our first sightseeing day but we were shattered from walking around since the morning so only made it a short distance along the huge boulevard which stretches for miles. On Sunset Strip cruising in a vehicle is an offence, a fine is handed out if your car passes markers more than four times in a two hour period - crazy.
We head back up to Sunset for a night out on in the world famous Viper Room once owned by Johnny Depp and where his buddy at the time River Phoenix died outside and shot the club into the news. The night at the Viper Room was cut short however after a short and poor set by a local band everyone was told to leave and re-queue at the front door as a special guest was to come on stage. We waited for a short while outside on the street to see if we could get back in on our original admission price, black stretch limos pulled up outside and whoever it was entered the club (French band Justice, we later found out). It was all a bit pretentious and we didn’t bother to queue back up to be told ‘your names not down’ as would be the case so walk up the boulevard for a bit having a look at the other famous clubs on Sunset like the Roxy and the historic Whiskey A Go Go which hosted bands like The Doors, Buffalo Springfield and Love and also Van Morrison, Frank Zappa, Kinks and Led Zeppelin!
Beverly Hills was also pretty close so we decided to walk, it was a mammoth walk in the LA sun but it saved us the taxi or bus fare and its almost impossible to get lost in the grid road system. Beverly Hills and tall palms go hand in hand and they line all the sidewalks in the city and Lamborghinis, Corvettes and giant 4×4 Cadillac’s whiz past on the road. Eventually we found Rodeo Drive, the world famous shopping area of the very rich and famous. The area just oozed money. We didn’t see anyone famous but its hard to keep your eyes open in case you do. It was weird to adjust to the fact we were in La La Land, the world that is never off our TV screens and the stars were all around us somewhere. We didn’t see any sign of exaggerated plastic surgery although did hear a conversation from a doctor talking about his new book before jumping into a yellow Lamborghini. We also saw a local celebrity TV news crew chasing after someone but we didn’t see who. We spent a couple of hours wandering around soaking it all in before sitting down for some food in what looked like a super expensive Italian café. A complimentary pesto bruschetta was devoured before a gorgeous pizza while we watched the rich and the beautiful pass by on their daily lives.
After the heavy day of walking we wanted to sit down for a bit and grabbed a cab to the Arclight Cinema to watch a movie seeing as we were in Hollywood it was a must do. The Darjeeling Limited was a new movie about a train journey across India, it was quite apt really so we had to watch it. Right next door to the cinema was Amoeba Music, the worlds largest record store. It was late after the movie but the store was open till 11pm so we browsed around the massive store for an hour before hiring another Russian cab driver to drive us to our hostel.
The next day we picked our car up from Hertz a short cab drive away. We booked online a compact economy car. The saleswoman though tried selling us the dream of cruising along the freeway in a convertible with the top down and wind rushing through our hair. We quickly put a stop to that, it turned out that we were to get an upgrade anyhow to a giant Ford Taurus. The words compact and economical don’t really seem to exist in the American vocabulary. The car looked wrong though with the wheel on the wrong side, no handbrake and with no gear stick just an automatic lever. Driving the automatic was easy enough and quickly learned to not use the left foot. The automatic handbrake was a cool feature and took a while to learn to trust it. It was a bit daunting to think that we had to drive in Los Angeles for the first time driving on the right side of the road but just follow everyone else and you can’t really go wrong.
First thing we did was head out of the city, Los Angeles was cool but there was so much to see out of it that we head straight down Santa Monica Boulevard to….. Santa Monica and the beaches. It was one straight road so it was impossible to get lost.
Santa Monica was a nice place with an enormous beach and a nice promenade walk to nearby Venice Beach. After having seeing no stars in Beverly Hills or Hollywood we got our first break on the walk from Santa Monica to Venice where Vince Vaughn cycled past of a funky bike, we nearly dropped our Burritos when we saw him.
Just south of Santa Monica lies Venice, a district of LA built to replicate the Venice in Italy and was and still is home to musicians, artists and writers. Writers and musicians like Jack Kerouac and Jim Morrison hung around Venice in the 50’s and 60’s and actors like Nicholas Cage and Julia Roberts (and Vince Vaughn!) live in Venice today. Arnold Schwarzenegger made it famous here pumping iron on Muscle Beach which lies in Venice, an open air gym for the gym freakz to show off their muscles. Along the main boardwalk that runs parallel to the beach are souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants and street stalls selling artistic wares some off the walls and some pretty cool. In the middle of it all Hip Hop artists walk around with portable CD players trying to get people to buy there CD for five bucks. Every kind of person walk the Venice boardwalk including the local crazies including the worlds greatest wine-o singing a little ditty of ‘Jingle Bells Jingle Bells, help me get drunk, help me get drunk’. Venice had a great feel to it and we spent quite a bit of time there and decided to stay over a night in a hostel near the beach.