Saturday, July 27, 2002

California here we come. Right back where we started from.

It's coming to the end of my month long stint in California (and bits of Nevada) now, and a lot has happened, but I've yet to be transformed into one of those traveller types. I'm not going on about how much love there is in my food. If there was any, I probably just mistook it for salt anyway. Our dining experience has been mostly fastfood anyway - thats terrible I know but is the quick and easy option. If I ever have another Burger King meal it will be too soon. We had a nice Happy Days style dining experience in "Mels Diner" in San Francisco, where they recorded some scenes for the George Lucas film "American Grafiti"

After many tearful farewels (I have that effect on people ;) ) , including a trip to the Mediteranian Cafe, which must be the MOST mediteranian cafe in the whole of London I finally made it to LA and met up with Joanne. The LAX airport having reopened after the shooting the day before! The shooting happened the floor above where I got in.

The thing about LA is that everything is BIG. Big cars, big roads, big food, big people. Driving around felt like the computer game Grand Theft Auto 3 - its the peppy radio ads that do it. "I want my baby back baby back baby back ribs" is the ad that is on the most and has infected my mind. We drove around a lot and took in the various sights - Santa Monica, Venice Beach, Sunset Boulevard, UCLA .

I went to Universal studios on which was pretty funky, but very hot. I enjoyed seeing the backlot tour which showed a lot of the scenery from some old school films including the clock tower from "Back to the Future". They were filming "The Hulk" at the time of the tour, but the shoot was closed to the public. Also at Universal was the rock musical "Spiderman Rocks" which was a little bit gay - there was this whole flirtation thing between Mary Jane and the Green Goblin to the No Doubt tune "Hey Baby", for example.

Leaving LA, we met up with Mel had a 12 hour drive along the scenic highway 1 from LA to Sanfrancisco. There were some really stunning views along the coast, passing lots of interesting places. This included Gilroy , " the garlic capital of the world" apparently - it boasted the catchprase " mmm... garlic!". I think they were being serious.

San Francisco is a lovely hilly city. Its a lot less hot than LA and is frequently covered in fog. The centre of the city is made up of several very distinct districts. Its like they designed a block in isolation and then plonked them down all next to each other - the financial, slum, chinatown, warf, gay and druggy areas all sitting next to each other. We did a lot of walking about which was interesting but tired out my poor wee feet. At one point we wondered into the slum area of Tenderloin which was a tad unnerving, but wasn't too bad. The fog obscured the views of the city a little - the fantastic views that are meant to be seen of the Golden Gate Bridge" and from "Twin Peaks" couldn't be seen.

I went to visit Alcatraz - "Wish you were here" and all that (boom boom). It lies just north of Sanfrancisco and it must have been a pretty spooky site when it was still open. We had a tour with headphones telling tales of prison life as we wandered about. A few days after the trip, I was able to see "The Rock" and "Escape from Alcatraz" films which was a little freaky - seeing the sights that I had just seen a little while before in person.

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Next stop was Yosemite Park, a beautiful National Park East of San Fran. We stayed 3 nights and slept in a canvas cabin - a kind of tent/cabin hybrid thing. The sights around the park were beuoootiful, but it was too hot for too much hiking. We took in the sights and cooled off at the pool. We managed to see coyote and deer, but no bears or mountain lions. The park is famous for its bears - and you have to store all food and smelly things (such as toothpaste & suncream) in special bear boxes. The first night we stayed there I woke up in the night and heard these rushling & breathing noises outside and saw this gian shadow on the side of the tent. I convinced myself that it was a bear outside and was a little freaked out (I'm still not sure if it was or not). Anyways, the next couple of nights I slept much better with earplugs in.
- was paranoid from the noises in the night - thinking bears were gonna come get me.

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Next we drove though Death Valley (where it gets so hot that thermometers can actually burst). We stopped along the way ata little town called Beaty. The most entertaining thing about the drive was passing all the brothels (3 along an otherwise deserted freeway) on the way there. "Shady Lady" brothel for all those tired mother truckers missing home. I don't really have too much to say about Death Valley as essentially its just hot and a desert and not too much else. So hot that it was painful to get out of the nice airconditioned car.

There aren't too many petrol stations in the desert though. We rolled into Vegas on our vapours. On the radio station the DJ was freaking out that it was raining, because it was so unusual.

We've been staying at Circus Circus in Las Vegas, which is a casino based on a ... circus theme. Its got a big indoor amusement park and a big top area, where circus acts perform every half hour. We had a look around most of the casinos, but didn't really get up to any gambling. The headache inducing "ding ding ding" of the machines was pretty annoying, and the fatties with their bucket of change, continually feeding it into the machines really put me off. Most of the casinos are pretty spectacular and have free attractions to lure you in. Weve went to Rio (with a carnival syle show in the sky), Mirage (which has Seigreid & Roy's beautiful tigers and dolphins - definitely a highlight so far), Trasure Island (with its mediocre pirate battle), the Venitian (with its mock up venice, complete with gondalas), Flamingo (with its manky looking Flamingos and Penguins), and Cesars Palace (with camp looking roman soldiers). Vegas is also famous for its buffets, and we had one at the Saharah - lots of food piled on with as many repeat servings as you want. I could feel myself getting fatter before I even started.

Vegas is also famous for its big shows (particularly magic), so Jo and I went to see the magicains Penn & Teller's show at the Rio. I really enjoyed their TV shows sho was looking forward to it. The show was pretty cool, and they performed their famous catching the bullet trick. Afterwards they came outside to meet the audience, so we were able to meet them and get photos taken with them.

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We had a day trip to Zion National park, which is just a little bit to the North East of Vegas in Utah, and had a bus tour, taking in the scenery. Jo got a little ill (probly from bad water) and we extended our time in Vegas so that she could recover a little. One diverting afternoon was spent trying to find STA travel on Marlind Parkway. Hours later, we found out the rouad we were looking for was MARYLAND. Curse the Americans and their slightly different accents.

We spent a couple of days in Palm Springs, taking it fairly easy and took a trip up the Arial Tramway (which has the largest revolving cable car in the world apparently). Joshua Trree National Park is very close so we had a drive around there. We saw a whole bunch of the Joshua trees (looking like something out of a Dr Seuss book) and Jo stood on a bit of a cholla cactus - owchie!

We're now staying at Mel's uncle's house in La Habra (Orange County near LA) before heading to New Zeland on Sunday.

Take it easy now,