20.07.2010 - 02.08.2010 -20 °C
I have come to realise the USA is a bit like a busy night club on a Friday night, there is something there for everyone. It is just a matter of taking the time to look around to try and find what works for you. I started the hunt in San Francisco. I had heard from so many people, mostly Canadians, that this was a wonderful city and that I would absolutely love it. But then I was also told that since I love hiking I would love San Fran as walking around there was just like hiking because of the hills. I never asked this person if they had ever been hiking or if they were aware why most people enjoy it. I didn't fall in love with San Fran until I had been there for a few days.
My first day I spent about 8 hours walking around the main touristy spots starting with the Golden gate bridge. I got a little side tracked walking the long way to the Bridge. I found a cool little path that went up along the cliffs near the coast. Unfortunately it went in the opposite direction of the bridge, but I was too busy exploring to worry about this at first. I also got lost a few times but this was cool as I got to see some weird deserted concrete bunkers and the richer snobby areas of San Fran. I finally made it to the bridge late in the arvo with just enough time to walk across it. It was great at first but as I walked along and the barriers lowered I had to walk away from the edge of the bridge. The wind was so strong and I was scared it was going to blow me off the side. I am still afraid of heights it seems.
After the 8 hours spent walking on my first day I was not so keen to do too much the second day; but somehow I ended up covering almost as much ground. I checked out Fisherman's Warf before heading to Haight and Ashbury. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this place. I could have spent all day and my monthly budget here. But I settled for one t-shirt a necklace and a piece of pizza. I still have the t-shirt and the necklace. Not the piece of pizza. The vibe of the place was wonderful. If I could have found a hostel to stay in there I would have moved immediately. I love that I saw the more accepting less judgemental side of San Fran. Not that any other part I saw was anything but open minded, but it really shone through here. This was a definite high light for me; it was Haight and Ashbury that made me fall in love with San Fran.
On the way back to the hostel that night I stopped in at a bar to use the bathroom and decided to grab a drink while I checked out all of the cool stuff I had accumulated that day. I started talking to the guy behind the bar. He was not just a bartender it turned out! He also had a job working on the set of Mythbusters (clearly Mythbusters does not pay it's staff well). He said most of the crew employed were form Australia. This meant the two main guys from the show were starting to pick up a little Aussie slang and every now and again they would say 'You Beauty!" while filming. This apparently makes everyone else on the set double over with laughter each and every time (because nothing at all is funnier than when someone says 'you beauty') As a result of this Aussie slang that is creeping into the show I decided it was important for the guys to expend their vocabulary a little more. So I proceeded to tell the bartender quotes from The Castle with instructions that he has to get the guys on the show to say one of the lines (now that would actually be funny! You beauty!). He told me he would be able to pull it off. That would be one episode I would be willing to purchase. That's going straight to the pool room.
From San Fran I went to San Pedro..... I was not really loving the US at this stage so I wanted to go to somewhere a little out of the way to work out what it was exactly that I wanted from this part of my holiday and how I was going to go about achieving this. San Pedro was an eye opening experience for me. I had to rely on public transport and to get to my hostel I had to go through some areas that were less than desirable. I felt horrible for thinking god I hope that my bus stop is not in this area (as I had to change for connecting buses a few times). I would not have felt safe at all if I had had to get off in some of the places we passed through. I don't like that I was thinking that way, but that is how the surroundings made me feel. So far the image I was getting of America was not entirely positive. From walking through San Fran and having seen many of the homeless people sitting there with knives, including one man who had been talking to his knife, to the lady who was almost crying at my first hostel as she checked me in. She was upset because she had just received a $9000 dollar hospital bill after falling off her bike (she had not been able to say no to hospital attention as she normally would because she had knocked herself unconscious). I was failing to see how this could be the land of opportunity.
Imagine if I had received a $9000 dollar hospital bill while I had been studying. By the time I had paid off the $120,000 for my degree (well $240,000 for me as I have two degrees) as well as my hospital bill and all of the interest for my loan I would probably have been faced with the decision of choosing between saving for a deposit for a house or using my money for an around the world holiday. How is this the land of opportunity?? The idea of being in this situation makes me feel suffocated, restricted and about ready to start having a panic attack. Who is it that is getting these opportunities? I knew also that not one person I had been on the bus with that day would have had any idea of what opportunities in life they could have had to choose from if the social welfare system was more supportive of the majority, or even better, if they had been born in a different country. I would bet the rest of my money that not one of them had thought of what wonderful opportunities a further education could have brought them, let alone what it would be like to hop on a plane and travel the world for nine months the year after they graduate. I am appreciating my Australian passport more and more.
San Pedro was a wonderfully chilled out place by the beach. I enjoyed the cute little backpackers right on the beach and the blues by the beach music festival. I walked along the coast for hours on end and took advantage of the warm weather. I spent a lot of time sorting out my shit basically. I realised I might not find what it was I really wanted from the US and instead of expecting the country to fit in with what I wanted I would just have to go out there and enjoy the US for what it had to offer. So on this note I said goodbye to San Pedro and headed to Hollywood!! Bring on the big wigs, stars on the pavement and a massive sign telling you where you are in case you ever forgot! (The Hollywood sign - just in case you missed that one). I saw it all. I even did a limo tour/ pub crawl that ended with me riding my first mechanical bull. Well the night did not so much end there as that is one of the last memories I have of it. This may have been caused by the glass of vodka with a champagne top that a fellow Aussie poured for me. Who said you can't erase a person's memory completely??
Six months ago I could probably have answered that question for you; but right now, I just can't remember.
On my final day in LA I headed out to Disneyland. Theme parks and loads of people are not usually my thing, but I figured this is what you do when you go to the US. I had been told by one of the Aussies in my dorm room to check out Space Mountain and the Indiana Jones ride (not sure why I felt I should trust someone who encouraged me to drink a full glass of vodka not that I needed much encouragement). So after sitting on the tea cups ride in the Alice and Wonderland section and watching Captain EO in 3D I headed for Space Mountain. After cueing for around 45 minutes for this ride I thought to myself I wonder what this ride actually is as I had simply cued and not thought about it. It was at this point I realised that this was probably a roller coaster ride. I then though what the hell am I doing? I am ridiculously scared of roller coasters. But after 45 minutes of standing in line with only about another ten to wait I decided I was pretty much committed. And it was pretty damn incredible. On the gimmicky photo of me taken near the end of the ride I look a little pale and I had my eyes closed (much like the way I had them closed for most of the ride - yes I know the ride is more or less in the dark and I would not have been able to see anyway, but my eye lids were my security blanket). I may have had my eyes closed in the photo, but I had a massive smile on my face. That ride was awesome. If the cue had not been so long and my stomach not quite so upside down I would probably have done it again.
In the late afternoon I jumped in the cue for the Indiana Jones ride. After standing in the cue for this ride for half an hour I realised that this too was probably a roller coaster ride (mostly given away by the fact the video that was playing said it was a roller coaster ride). Clearly I had left my brain at the entrance to the theme park on arrival. I made a mental note (can you do that without a brain?) to collect it again on the way out. Luckily I loved this ride even more. It was pretty damn cool. I loved the cart we sat in and the twists and turns. I also loved the fact there was no chance the ride was going to turn us upside down. And at the end where it looked like we were going to get hit by the boulder? Well I screamed like a girl.
After this I was pretty much over the theme park. The cues and the crowds were now getting to me a little so I grabbed a cup of coffee (because caffeine is always the answer when you are annoyed and frustrated) and went and waited for my bus to head back to the hostel.
My last stop in California was San Diego. On one of my first nights there I put my name down for the tour from the hostel to Tijuana, Mexico. This was an awesome night! We caught the train to boarder and walked across. As soon as we did I got that wonderful feeling that I was in a real, proper foreign country again. Not that the US is not foreign, it really is foreign in many ways, but I love that feeling of being in a country where so many of the customs and the culture are so different to your own. I love that experience. And the custom that I experienced most that night?? Drinking tequila!! I can honestly say I have never had someone pour tequila into my mouth followed by them forcing me to wash it down with my beer as they somehow manage to squirt it into my mouth, but I now know I am not opposed to this. I drank margaritas, 2 for the price of one, then ate some food, and then drank some more margaritas. Then tequila. Then a little more tequila. Followed by tequila. I really did not get to experience too much of the culture as you can tell, but you do not cross the border from San Diego to Mexico for one night for anything much else than the cheap alcohol and good company. But I have decided from what I saw that night that Central America will be one of the top destinations for when I get the chance to travel again.
In San Diego I also made the time to check out the old town and all of the cool little shops that were here. I amazed myself by being able to walk into the candy/fudge store and out again without buying a single thing!! I walked across to one of the main beaches and found a little section off to the side which allowed you to walk along the cliffs of the coast line. I also checked out a Blues Bar and little chocolate shop that sold excellent ice cream sundaes (I checked this out several times as each time you walked in there they gave you chocolates to sample). I went to TGI Fridays on a Friday (ironic? Not really) and watched the sunset from the beach (well pub near the beach). I walked through the main park in San Diego which was right under the flight path for many of the planes heading into the airport. They were so low it was actually a little scary at first when they went over head. But then I worked out that if I stood under the spot where they had flown for a few seconds you could hear the sounds from the flight tunnel they left behind. To me this was cool. A little nerdish maybe, but still cool.
After San Diego I had been planning to head to Las Vegas, but as I had spent an extra night in San Diego as a result of the trip to Tijuana I was running out of time to see both Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. As much as I was wanting to see all of the things that the US was well known for, there was no way I was picking casinos and booze over one of the most incredible wonders of the world (and booze - there is always booze). So my last day in California ended with the start of my over night 15 hour Greyhound journey to Flagstaff. Yippee yi yay.