Wednesday, February 25, 2009

San Francisco

We arrived in San Francisco on Monday night after a long but scenic drive from L.A. and spent the night with a couchsurfer called Brenda. The recent weather here has been rain and more rain, so when we woke up yesterday morning to blue skies we had only thing in mind, the bridge. After dropping off our hire car, we caught the BART (Bay area transport) an excellent tube system to downtown San Francisco. We wandered aimlessly for a while and then were drawn up the steepest street which had old school trams running up and down, a great photo opportuntiy I thought, it was. By accident we stumbled upon China town and the smells were of course delightful, it was great to see the hustle and bustle created by ethnic communities in our western world. At this point I was already falling in love with San Francisco and its steep streets filled with characters and life. We passed over 'Nob Hill' and dropped down towards the piers and Fishermans Wharf, a mecca for tourists. Its funny, I don't actually consider myself a tourist even though thats what I am and so I get frustrated when I see hoards of tourists. I guess I can't always be off climbing isolated peaks. Fishermans Wharf was full of bars, reataurants and tourist shops and was really quite nice and immaculately kept, it was great to be near the ocean, I love the smell of fish and chips, the clattering of masts and the bird shit...

At this point the bridge seemed miles away and thought about catching a bus. We continued on foot passing alot of homeless and just bums with signs reading, 'why lie, I need a beer any spare change?', this is a common sign here in California and it seems to work, 'Kerry pass me that marker pen!!!'

We finally made it to the Golden Gate Bridge and walked across it taking in the great views of the bay. Along the way we stopped and chatted to some workmen, they told us that there is about a suicide a week on the bridge and that very morning someone had jumped which was really sad. The Bridge itself is a man made beauty and we loved it so much we walked back, well there was no choice really.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Road Trip!!!

After waiting nearly 2 hours to get my hire car, a standard economy car, I was given the keys to a black sports Mustang. As I cruised down the Las Vegas strip the smile on my face could have bridged the Mersey. This 4 litre engined beast was the fastest thing I'd ever driven and I was enjoying myself. I picked Kerry up in my new ride and we headed east on our road trip, passing the Hoover Dam.
Our main objective was to see the Grand Canyon, but after spending the night in snowy Flagstaff, Arizona, we headed a little further south to Sedona, land of red rocks, the scenic drive from the high mountains down to the red desert was breathtaking, but the temperature remained chilly. We camped in the valley on our second night and guess what, the rain came and made big puddles. At 2am we abandoned ship and jumped into the Mustang where we actually had a decent sleep. The rain in the valley was snow on the hills and lots of it. We gained elevation as we headed towards the Grand Canyon and were greeted with a blanket of snow.
Luckily, the roads were well ploughed and we did eventually make it to the Grand Canyon where we were able to see...nothing. It was the most miserable day imagineable but we remained patient and of course were rewarded. Occassionally the cloud broke and rays of light hit the red rock of the canyon below and then just before sunset the whole canyon revealed itself and I was blown away.

With great relief we headed out of the park and back on ourselves to find a place to stay. Meaning a place to park and sleep in the car. It wasn't hard, we parked around the back of a Holiday Inn and I braved the cold outside to boil some water for a pot noodle dinner, I'm sure Michael Palin didn't do this.
We woke early for sunrise at the canyon but the weather had other ideas, altough we did get a glimpse of the sun in between blizzards. On our last stop out of the park at a viewing tower, the weather was again kind to us and the canyon was again on full show. I loved the moodiness of the canyon in this light, a perfect blue sky day would have been to easy, and I left feeling that we'd been given special permision to see a great natural wonder.

We left the Grand Canyon very happy and as we headed east the weather improved instantly as we continued our road trip but the forecast was bad with more snow predicted.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Change of plan!

So, after 13months on the road, we're both really tired and the money is now getting short. So, we have decided to head... no not home, but to New Zealand, possibly in the next week or two. This means no Canada and certainly no Alaska. It also means not much more of the States. We had planned to head up the west coast to Seattle and then onto Vancouver but we have honestly just run out of steam. The states have been brilliant and we have managed to stay with friends and couchsurfed but it's still a difficult place to travel around and personally, I cannot be arsed anymore. So a much needed period of work will do two things, boost the bank balance and renew our energy and passion for travelling. I'm sorry this isn't a very funny or inspiring post but it reflects the current mood. We will now head to San Fransisco and cross the Pacific ocean downunder to New Zealand.

A few of my favourite pictures.

Here is just a few of my photos I have taken both on my travels and before I left. I hope you like them.

Camping under the stars.

Old car Havana, Cuba.

Red car, Havana

Heavy snow in the Rocky Mountains

The Mall, Central Park, New York.
A Peruvian child shyly watches us strangers pass by...

Amazing mountains surround us on the Santa Cruz trek, Peru.

Lightening in Nicaragua.

The Thames, London.

The Pier Head, Liverpool.

Park and ride, Havana.

Times Square, New York.

The Tower Bridge, London.

Rio by night, view from Sugar Loaf Mountain.

A tree trunk in the Rocky Mountains, Colorado.

The erupting Volcan Santiagito, Guatemala.

'Another Place', Liverpool's Crosby beach, home sweet home.

Sailing on the Beagle Channel in Tierra del Fuego.

Iconic London red bus and the city skyline

La Paz, Bolivia, the highest capital city in the world. A truly mind blowing landscape.

A Cuban grannie puffing on a huge cigar, what a character.

Above the clouds on a trek up a volcano in Guatemala

The three towers hide behind the lingering clouds in Torres del Paine, Chile.

Iguazu waterfalls seen from Brazil looking across into Argentina.

Hope you liked them, Neil.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Viva Las Vegas!

I guess I can keep this pretty brief, Las Vegas is basically the Blackpool of the States. It's all about gambling, beers, sex and big swanky hotels. It's not my cup of tea but I'm here so of course I'm going to enjoy myself. The main reason we are here, is to see Barry Manilow, no seriously, it's true. Kerry has been a fan all her life thanks to her mum, thanks Bena!

Right now, we are couchsurfing about 15miles outside of Vegas, which has been great. We are staying with Mike and his two kids, Jordan and Julian. It's been really relaxing after a week on the road and gives us some internet time as we have a ton of stuff to sort out. Tomorrow we'll head back into Vegas where we'll be staying in the Excaliber hotel for three nights and then its off to L.A.

On Thursday it was Kerry's 32nd birthday and we had loads of fun on the fruit machines, drinking and then saw a tribute show at night. The tributes were The Temptations, Justin Timberlake, Whitney Houston and of course Elvis, it was a great show. I'll leave it here for now and if anything happens in our last three days I'll update this.

Monday, February 2, 2009


Next stop, Boulder, Colorado and more friends to stay with, Drew and Erin who we met on a trek in Patagonia. We took the Amtrak, infact I started writing this on that journey. It took about 22hours but the train was fantastic, loads of leg room and a lounge carriage mostly made of glass with great views. We arrived in Denver and by chance saw the start of the 'stock festival', which is mostly just country folk either on horseback or walking cattle and shouting 'yeeeeehaaaaaa' but the locals seem to like it.

We headed to Boulder, a uni town, and spent a few days chilling with Drew and Erin, went cycling on the towns excellent bike trails and then last Saturday went snowboarding. We both took to it really well and Drew said I was a natural just before I fell over and hurt my back. Boulder is right on the edge of the Rockie Mountains, and there are some amazing places to stay up there but your talking 50quid a night minimum, so I decided to email a couple of places and ask 'do you need a hand with anything in exchange for food and a bed'. And so we ended up here which is where Im finishing this email, its a beautiful log cabin with hot tub and right now its snowing heavily outside. The owners Bill and Juanita are brilliant, we do very little here and we get alot in return. On Wednesday we went snow shoeing in the national park, in places there were 4ft of snow, in others there were 400ft drops and Kerry cried as she started to slide towards such a drop.
This weekend we have a group 'scrap bookers' staying with us, these ladies collect lots of photos and then during this weekend they will creatively cut these photos and put them into an album, one of these ladies is now sat infront of me snoring away infront of the fire, I think all the excitement has finally taken its toll.

We had a great time with Bill and Juanita in the lodge and they were very generous. We went saw plenty of Elk roaming the streets of Estes Park and tried a beer by the same name. We also had a great day out snow shoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Our time came to return to Boulder and back to Drew and Erin's place. It was great to back with them and that following weekend we spent in the mountains at their friends place. I really loved my time in Boulder its my kind of place. In the town itself there are miles of bike paths separate from roads and it makes getting around, excercising and walking a real pleasure. This definately helps keep the weight off the locals in this already active town and the traffic off the roads too.

On our last night out in Boulder we hit the town and finished in what the locals called a 'dive bar', needless to say it was exactly my kind of bar. We had an amazing time in Colorado thanks mainly to Drew and Erin, cheers guys, hope to repay you some day.


From New York, we got a ride share to Chicago, meaning we just chip in with petrol and tolls, it was a fourteen hour drive, the last four of which in heavy snow but we made and headed to Joe's place just outside of town. Joe is a fella we first met in Ushuaia, the tip of Argentina, he was cycling most of the continent and then again in Bolivia, Peru and lastly Colombia, all by chance, and so kept in touch and he kindly invited us to stay with him during our stay in Chicago. Chicago was bitterly cold, with highs of minus 5 celcius and lows of minus 20 celcius. Our highlights here included having a coffee on the 96th floor of the John Hancock building- scary, having a real Chicago pizza(its more like a pie without a lid), going to see Dirty Dancing, "nobody puts Baby in a corner!" on Broadway, ice skating and a night out in the 'hood.

It was our last night in Chicago and Joe, a blues fan, found a free gig in the local paper. He gave us directions to meet him there and so we went off sightseeing downtown. At 8pm or so we jumped on the Loop train and headed to this bar called Gene's Playmate Lounge. After the first few stops leaving downtown, we were the only whites on the train, no problem, Joe said it would be mainly blacks in the bar. We get off the train and ask the ticket office where is this bar. She had no clue and told us we're in the wrong neighbourhood and we should head home. Well, not easily deterred, we headed on out to look for the bar and it did seem pretty edgy. Cars were slowing down checking us out and Kerry was getting a bit freaked out then I spotted the bar, both feeling relieved we headed on in. There was Joe sat having a beer so we sat down. Sure enough the only whites in a pretty quiet bar which had a kind of caberet/social club feel to it. Over comes the waitress to take our order and ends each sentence with 'baby'. And I ask if there's any specials and got a puzzled look in return, "you say what baby?",
'av yer got any in on offer?'
So, she's speaking jive and me scouse, neither of us really understanding one another but eventually I got a beer (there were no specials) and we had a laugh about it, so I spoke jive for the night as her scouse wasn't too good. Slowly the characters wandered in from the streets, an old boy in black suit, white polar neck and black trilby hat too cool to say hi, just a tilt of the head. He sits at the bar with a neat whiskey and lets the crowd acknowledge him and they come to him, you can tell he has power. Next through the doors is a cool kid in a fair coat, the band kicks off but only after giving shouts out to most the people in the joint, including us, 'friends from England' I play it cool too and acknowledge our host with a tilt of my head, like I'd seen moments earlier, I was getting with the vibe and actually feeling cool too, then I remembered I was wearing a Bolivian alpaca jumper with lamas that looked like reindeer circling, maybe I'm just not meant to be cool.
Our first singer was dressed like Michael Jackson in Thriller, black leather pants and shiny red shirt, most of the buttons undone, piano player in grey suit with a white scarf that looked like a pianos keyboard, then in walks Notorious BIG, a huge fella in grey suit, jacket down to his knees wearing a bowler hat. By now were singing the blues and people are letting there emotions get the better of them and shouting things like, 'yeah baby', 'I feel it baby', 'Alright brother'. Everyone was having a good time in there and most people said hi to us, and we left with most people saying bye too, I actually didnt want to leave, I felt like I was in a 1980's movie, it was great and a really different experience and on the way home Joe bought us a square burger.