30 April, 2006

Route 66

It's difficult to stop everyday and write an entry for the blog. Most motels have free hi-speed wireless connections, but I haven't got a laptop to utilise this.. so I haven't managed to find anywhere yet.

Until Amarillo... Its quite a big city in Northern Texas. Famous for the Cadillac Ranch and also the song made famous by Peter Kay for comic Relief... Anyway we went to the visitor centre today to ask where we could use ye olde tinternet. We were told the Public Library or Schlotskys Deli.. The library used PCs, but would not let anyone plug in an external device, and schlotskys use iMacs.. So i have 200 photos on my camera that I can't move to my iPod.. Thats why you don't have any piccys!!

Anyway I am going to write some entrys soon.. I am pre-dating this to the 30th April (the day we started our 9 day journey across to Fairport, NY via route 66) .. I will, when I get decent internet access, tell you what has happened each day on our amazing Route 66 adventure..

Back in LA..

Img_4101 After a great drive back down the Pacific Coast Highway, via one of the Central Coast wine regions, we arrived back in Long Beach. Ordered some pizza for us all, as a thank you for Danni and La Rue for showing us around California and also Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon!!

The next morning we said goodbye to them both, and headed on the LA Metro to Koreatown to pick up our driveaway car. They had two cars leaving Los Angeles. A Volvo S60 was heading to Chicago, and a Toyota Matrix was heading to New York. As the Toyota had a smaller engine, we went with that. However we weren't allowed to take it until Sunday. So for the rest of the day we explored Hollywood!

Hollywood, the place where movies are no longer made (Its Burbank now..), but it still has its walk of Stars, and some touristy places.. We even did a tour of the L. Ron Hubbard Exhibition. Ron is the founder of Scientology (well, actually he just came up with the principles of how to lead your life) and its quite a decent exhibition. You can't just wander around, its a guided tour. Anyway its quite interesting... Unfortunately Scientologys got its problems. Some people think its an organised business masquerading as a religion!! Apparently his son also said that "99% of what my father ever wrote or said about himself is totally untrue" ...

Headed on the Metro buses to Venice Beach that night and stayed in the Cadillac Hotel. Its a dorm, but its got a great location. Next morning we wandered the Venice Boulevard, and I met up with Jasper and his mates later for a beer and a catch up!

Now, we were meant to pick the car up Sunday.. but we thought as long as its after close of business Saturday, it would be ok!! So after a long bus journey downtown, and then a metro to Koreatown, we picked our driveaway up at 5pm and drove on to Barstow, CA...

Route 66 here we come!!

29 April, 2006

San Francisco

We arrived in San Francisco late that day and found a great place to stay, right near downtown. We have been having a few problems on the way, in that we have to get La Rue (Dannis dog) a place that allows pets, even if we don't declare it.. So finding a place in Downtown is always good news.

The next day after doing some much needed laundry, we headed to the Golden Gate Bridge. This bridge is pretty impressive... I took loads of photos as usual, and we walked to the first pylon. I am not that keen on heights, so it was pretty hard!

Later that evening we bought some tickets for San Francisco Giants Vs New York Mets. These baseball (Rounders!!!) tickets cost $20 and we had great views (See Flickr photos for more) Unfortunately the Giants lost 4-1...

The next day we headed to Fishermans Wharf first thing to get tickets for Alcatraz, and then me and Zena went for a walk through North Beach, Chinatown and Union Square. We got a tram back via Hyde Street and also the worlds crookedest street.. and we had to run for the boat to Alcatraz. We missed our scheduled departure, but were fortunate to get the final boat across. Its pretty amazing at Alcatraz, and I felt as if I already knew where I had to go... I realised from constantly playing THPS3 - Tony Hawks on Sy's PS2... I had that level nailed! :)

25 April, 2006

Giant Sequioas

Img_3898_1An early start for our trips to Sequioa & Kings Canyon NP and hopefully Yosemite. It's a great drive whichever way you go up to the National Park, and we were a bit concerned when we saw snow and mist on the edge of the road on the way up.
By the time we had got to the Giant Sequioa Museum, there was nothing to worry about. We had passed a few Giant Sequioas on the way up, but the museum was covered in snow and had an amazing Big Tree Trail.
If you look carefully you can see me in between these two huge trees!!
These trees are beautiful. They are so big and so old, with some of them more than 2000 years old.. I kept repeating, "Wow.." After a walk around the meadow where there must have been 50 of these Sequioa trees, we headed to the biggie... General Sherman!
Yes, a tree named after Sherman - Snowboard Meister of Yellowsnow fame! Its absolutley massive. 1300 tons.. more than 2300 years old, 31m in circumferance, 83m tall... its the largest tree in the world!

We left at 12:30 on the way to Fresno, and then Yosemite. But by the time we had got to the bottom of the hill, which was misty and snowy it was 2pm.. no time for Yosemite. On to San Francisco...

24 April, 2006

Death Valley

Img_3858The Grand Canyon was amazing, but we had to be gone by 16:30 to make it to Las Vegas, so that we could stay the night and then head on to Death Valley. It was at least a 6 hour drive...

I drove the interstate for a while, until it got dark, and we had arrived in Kingman. Then Danni drove, back across the Hoover Dam and onto Vegas about 9pm on a Saturday night. We started looking for a motel. We discovered quite soon that Vegas was pretty full.. so we drove onto the next town.

That was full too... So we drove onto the next town. Guess what?? Yep, no beds. We finally arrived in our destination which was Beatty, Nevada and the entrance to Death Valley. We went around every Motel and even the casino. No Beds available. We had one option left...

Zena had asked in the casino, jokingly, if it was okay to sleep on the lounge bar floor. The bartender said as long it was okay with his relief, then yeah! So after a few beers and some apple pie, me and Zena grabbed a sleeping bag and sleeping sheet and got some shut eye. Until Danni woke us up. She had slept in the car, but at 4am decided she needed the toilet, and locked herself out of the car..

We couldn't phone AAA (as they were 2 hours away in Vegas), and we couldn't phone the local Sheriff department until 7.. so Danni had to sleep on the floor next to us!! The Sheriff's Deputy came round at 7, and we headed on... to Death Valley!!

Death Valley National Park has the hottest, driest and lowest records in the USA, with an average rainfall of 2"... It was pretty cool to go around, but don't go in the summer... We saw salt flats, the Devils Golf Course and of course Badwater - the lowest spot in the USA.

After we had finished in Death Valley, we thought we may have time to get Sequioa National Park in California, but we arrived in Vallisia at 6pm. Everyday I have thought we could do more driving than this, but America is one big country!!

23 April, 2006

Grand Canyon

Img_3822_1One of the seven wonders of the Natural world, the Grand Canyon has to be seen to be believed! As we are doing a few National Parks in the USA we decided to get a $50 annual pass, and when you have three on the list (Grand Canyon, Sequioa, Yosemite), it already saves you money.

I wasn't expecting the sheer vastness of the canyon. The rim is at 7000 feet, the basin is a mile deep in places , and its 277 miles around.. As the official Grand Canyon website states,

"This canyon is a gift that transcends what we experience. Its beauty and size humble us. Its timelessness provokes a comparison to our short existence."

Unless you spend a few days there, all you can really do is drive from viewpoint to viewpoint, and some short walks. If you get the chance to ever go, try and book a day long mule ride that actually takes you inside the canyon itself. We walked about 2 miles in total, it still look us ages, because we were constantly taking photos. Also I was slightly petrified of slipping in.. The most asked question for Park Rangers is, "How many people die here each year?" (it ranges from one to many)

"If you don't have a photo, then you don't have a memory" is Danni and Zenas new phrase, which is taking the mickey out of me, as I am constantly taking photos. I must admit thought that the USA has some of the most memorable views ever.. Lucky people, you live in a great place.. No wonder only a quarter of you have left, there is loads to see inside your country!!

22 April, 2006

Route 66 to Williams, AZ

Img_3786 We left Las Vegas on Friday morning, on our way to the Grand Canyon. As it takes more than 6 hours to drive there, we decided to take a nice drive via the Hoover Dam and also a small section of Route 66.

Hoover Dam was built back in 1936, and its a pretty impressive structure. It provides water and electric to some of Arizona, Nevada and Los Angeles County. There is a big security check on the way in. We decided to not pay the $11 entrance and just explored the top instead. We soon arrived in Kingman, AZ.

This has a great Route 66 museum and its also the end of the longest uninterupted stretch of Route 66. We headed on through, and it wasn't long before we saw tumbleweed and trailer parks! We soon hit Hackberry, which has an old store and even older cars.. it was like stepping back in time! The next town, had without doubt the best Cheeseburger I have tried yet in the USA (forgot the name of the town!!)..

We finished the day by arriving in Williams, Arizona. This is the town for budget motels, and is one of the Gateway towns to the Grand Canyon. We went to the Route 66 Diner, and then Danni and Zena went out for a few drinks. I wish I had.. they had a so much fun!

21 April, 2006

Viva Las Vegas

The City of Sin.. The first stop on our 12 day tour of California, Nevada and Arizona.

..and what a place!! As we are taking Mr La Rue (Danni's Dog) with us on our trip, we couldn't book into any of the Casinos, so had to settle for a Super 8 Motel. Perfectly fine though, but its one street behind the strip, this is where you spot all the seedy aspects of Las Vegas.

We arrived in the evening, so were lucky to see Vegas lit up at night time. Its amazing! We went out late that night to Caesers Palace (a Roman Themed Casino), and had a nose about this fabulous casino. The next day went to Red Rock Canyon which has amazing geology.. and later on went Downtown, which was the original spot for the Casinos back when the Mafia ran the town. Tried a classic 99c Shrimp Cocktail...mmmmm!

The next day we headed out to explore more of the town. We started at Luxor (an Egyptian Themed Casino), whose 41.5 billion candle power can be seen over 200km away.. Then it was on to Excalibur (a King Arthur themed Casino), New York New York (Guess the theme..), MGM Grand, Belaggio (Famous for its fountains and also where Oceans Eleven was filmed), Paris Las Vegas (half scale model of the Eiffel Tower), Casino Royale (white trash central) and finally the Mirage (where Roy of famous Vegas White Tiger act, Siegfried and Roy got mauled).

I played a few slot machines, and at Casino Royale I played a little Roulette.. I lost it all :) but the best thing about Vegas? If you are gambling the drinks are free! just leave a $1 tip..

14 April, 2006

The Longest Day

Thursday 13th April 2006 - One of the longest days of my life..

Img_3375 Yesterday we flew into Los Angeles International (known to all Angelenos as LAX .. pronounced lacks). Our first US destination, and nearly my final stop. Why? Well some criminal with the same name as me is currently wanted by the FBI..

I know that I am not wanted by the Fed's, but the Customs guy who checked me into the USA didn't. I was asked to "follow me please sir" and placed in the Secondary Inspections department at LAX. Zena followed me but was not allowed to sit with me... I had to wait an hour whilst they phoned Washington DC and confirmed it wasn't me. I was pretty nervous throughout... not because I was a criminal, but because of the Salad Bowl I bought in Fiji without a certificate and receipt.. ooops! That was the excitement of the day!

Anyway Thursday started with me and Zena leaving the Beachouse and heading back to Nadi on the Bus. Unsurprisingly the bus went nowhere near our hotel, so we waited at Nadi Airport for an hour until the free bus came to pick us up. Took us back to Nadi Bay Hotel, where we were going to shower and collect our left luggage.

We got a taxi back to the Airport later and after checking in, had a nose around Duty Free. I saw some Mount Gay Rum for F$5 for a 200ml bottle, and I also got some Kava... its semi-narcotic, so was a bit worried if I would have problems getting it into LA..

As usual our Air New Zealand flight was freezing, in a crappy 767 with no individual TV screens. Tried to sleep but woke up during Chicken Little. Must have flown in a time warp during the journey as we arrived 8 hours before we left! wtf?!? ;)

We were met by Danni and then given a quick tour of LA. Started off by heading to Santa Monica Pier, and then we went to Beverly Hills and looked around the shops on Rodeo Drive! Zee loved it! Then we headed to The Standard which is downtown.. It had wonderful views of the Skyscrapers. Had a few Vodka Tonics, and then headed back to Long Beach where Danni lives.

By the time we got home it was nearly 1 o'clock in the morning, and we had a Thursday that lasted nearly 40 hours... We were both shattered zzzz

13 April, 2006

Fiji overview…

If I could have any superpower it would be hindsight. (or xray vision..)

We really loved Fiji, but I wished that I could have had some advice about where I should NOT have gone... there is so much to do everywhere you travel, but sometimes you just want to chill out on a holiday and have it all easy and perfect!

If someone had told me, "Don't bother with that Pass; get one way tickets. It works out cheaper" or "Don't bother with So and So Resort, the food is terrible" I would have asked why, and followed some local knowledge.

Thats one of the problems with going somewhere in the first place. Actually choosing the right places. Normally a combination of the Guidebooks, and recommendations means you can find a great little spot, but at sometimes you end up at a dive! Even the Guidebooks get it wrong sometimes (or they make a place soo amazing, that it is best to avoid..) I don't want to miss the pleasures of travelling, like finding that amazing restaurant/beach that no-one had ever been to before. I just want to avoid the blunders or errors that loads of travellers have come across..

I appreciate that to experience good things, you must have also suffered horrible things. Its a part and parcel of life. I just hate getting exploited :) Some of the locals see a foreign face, and its "Ker-ching.. $$$$'s".. perhaps we have been doing that for so long, its time for some payback!

Anyway.. Fiji. If you are going anytime soon, dont bother getting a Bula Pass as it definitlely works out cheaper going one way between a couple of nice resorts on different islands. Also I would avoid Sunrise Resort if you can (unfortunately its very heavily promoted by the Travel Agents in the Airport) The buses in Fiji are perfectly acceptable to get around, at very cheap prices. Dont expect to have drinking water anywhere. Let alone electricity or Internet!!

If you want a little luxury for a few days, go to Oarsmans Bay on Nacula Island, Yasawas. (F$81 pppn inc meals) Also we found the best budget resort on the Yasawas Islands as White Sandy Bay (F$55 pppn inc meals) In Nadi, the Nadi Bay Hotel is great (F$26 pppn with AirCon), and on the Coral Coast, spend a few nights at the Beachouse.. its superb. Went for three nights and spent a week! (F$25 pppn F$8 meals)

12 April, 2006

The Beachhouse

Sunsetfrontbeach_1 After our ten days on the Yasawa Islands and rapidly running down our budget, we decided to head back to the mainland and head to the Coral Coast, and one particular little resort we had been recommended. The beachouse..

Wow.. if only we had a little advice before we came to Fiji.. We would have just come here for a budget trip, and White Sandy Beach and Oarsmans Bay on the Yasawas. Three amazing spots!!

Its a great spot. About two hours away from Nadi (approx F$7 on the bus) and another two hours on to Suva. Owned by a kiwi couple, but run by the local village.. its really easy to relax in the numerous hammocks, and maybe make a little coconut jewellery if you want! Still even though relaxing is on the cards daily, we still have managed to vist the local town of Sigatoka, and also the capital Suva. We did some souvenir shopping, and I managed to get a salad bowl at a bargain F$25, until I saw a similar one in Jacks (massive souvenir store) for F$15...

Met a few great couples here.. Matthew and Sarah-Jane from McKay, Australia (formerly London), Andy and Rachel from SE London and Ian and Vanessa (from London).. I am seriously falling in love with the great Sunsets, and the really comfortable dorms! AirCon is just not needed when the fans are so great!! plus its half the price of the islands. Only F$25 per night, and the meals are priced really well, and optional..

Anyway we leave tomorrow. Shame, but we are catching Thursday 13th April 23:20 flight (NZ 20) Nadi - LAX. We get in at 15:00 the same day? whats that all about.. we actually go back in time ;)

06 April, 2006

Bounty - a Taste of Paradise

Fiji_102_1As we have been so impressed with the snorkelling in the Yasawa Islands, we decided that we were going to White Sandy Bay and snorkel a plane wreck.
We got to the resort of the island of Naviti, and it was beautiful. Traditional Fijian Bures, and we went for a double here (its only F$20 extra per night). We arrived that day for a traditional Fijian Lovo, which is when the cook the meal underground. It was damn tasty...
Unfortunately they couldn't get the fuel for our snorkelling trip, so after a couple of nights there we moved on to Bounty Island.
Its the home of Celebrity Love Island (the reality TV show for third rate celebrities), and costs F$87 per night. I thought it was a bit over priced compared to everywhere else we have been, especially when we were put into a warehouse as our dorm with no mossie nets. The food wasn't even that good. Here we also discovered that there is a bout of Conjunctivitis going around Fiji at the moment, with one in ten travllers getting it ( I woke up today with a sore eye..) I have also grazed my foot playing volleyball and stepped on some coral, so i have a little limp on my left foot... (sympathy please)
Anyway we explored the island by canoe, and eventually stayed the whole day on the pier used in the TV show. Loads of sword fish in the water meant it was a day of sunbaking. Also that evening I got forced to sing Viva Las Vegas in the karaoke, and came first!
The following day saw us take advantage of our Free night on the Wana Taki Cruise, so we headed up to meet the big boat. We were actually given a double instead of a dorm for the night.. Its ok! Its nice to be off sand for once.. and to be in air con!
Anyway we are back in Nadi now, and are heading for the Coral Coast this aternoon..