Tuesday, September 30, 2003
Welcome to the state of sunshine - NOT
Well, we've made it to Australia, and boy is it different to last time! Not Sydney, or even Kings Cross, where we're staying - That's just as seedy as it was 11 years ago. Amusingly we're staying next door to the same hostel as last time, so it all feels very familiar. But the weather -it's warmer and drier in England. While the UK basks in "19 and hazy" according to the Sydney Times, we are suffering 17 and wet, wet, wet. It just doesn't seem to be fair! Of course I will write more soon, but l thought I'd cheer you up with that bit of news!!
Out of touch
As you may have seen, the diary hasn’t been updated for a week and a half – that’s because we’ve been in the Yasawas Islands of Fiji, where they don’t have electricity, let alone Internet access. Normal service is now resumed!
Monday, September 29, 2003
Leaving the islands
Today we had to return to the mainland. As you can see from the photo, we didn’t all want to go! But we had a good eight days, and were ready to move on – to get back to the mainland to have a nice curry, do our laundry (and does that need doing) and pack ready for Australia. We’ll also be able to catch up with our email, update the website and (literally) recharge our batteries – after eight days with no electricity or many lights, the batteries in the laptop, the torches and the cameras are all flat as pancakes.
We went back to the same hotel we’d started in, into the same room – it’s always comforting to go back to somewhere you have been before. The children were instantly comfortable with their surroundings again – a lesson we’ll remember for the future. But hopefully when we get to Oz and buy our camper van, we’ll be taking our surroundings with us as we travel, so Charlotte’s little bit of homesickness will recede for a while. And as Sarah’s Mum and Dad will be meeting us in December in Australia, that will be something for the girls to look forward to (Emily has already decided that she’ll be sleeping in Nana’s bed!)
Sunday, September 28, 2003
Adjusting to island life
We’ve adjusted to island life pretty easily. The days start early, with everybody up around 7am, and end early – the sun sets at 6pm, and then the evening starts to wind down because of the darkness.
The latest night we had, when we went to bed at 10pm, was Fijian night. A group from the village came up to Nabua Lodge, and danced and sang Fijian songs, accompanied by a Fijian band. They wore traditional hula skirts and garlands of flowers around their neck, and gave us garlands as we watched. We’d expected it to seem a little tacky, but the music and dancing served to remind us exactly where we were – sitting on the beach in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. We really enjoyed the whole evening, and it rounded off a great week in the Yasawas.
Friday, September 26, 2003
Today we moved on, further up the archipelago to Nacula Island. We’d booked ahead, by radio, with both the catamaran and the resort, so they knew we were coming. We all piled ourselves and our rucksacks into the dinghy, and met up with the catamaran. This time we were on board for 2 ½ hours, right until the top of its journey. The transfer was a bit ropier this time, with us and our rucksacks all getting splashed by waves as we headed inshore on the most beaten-up looking boat in Fiji.
We’d arrived at Nabua Lodge, which was a bit bigger than Bayside, as it has 6 bures, and four electric lights between 7pm and 10pm. But these were just for the dining room and the toilets – still no lights in our room. It was just as quiet, just two other couples were staying. The setting was much better than Bayside, with really blue sea, and good swimming. But the tempo of the day was the same, dictated by meal times! However, the food wasn’t as good as Bayside, and the staff nowhere nearly as friendly. But it was still blissful. From Nabua we were able to make a couple of trips, one by boat to the Blue Lagoon, where we swam and snorkelled, and one to Oarsmans Bay, which is a slightly more expensive resort. It was a 1 ½ hour walk around the rocks and along the beach, but it was worth it – the beach was the best we’d seen on the islands, as there were no rocks in the sea to hamper swimmers. Oarsmans Bay was a bit of hybrid resort, because the accommodation wasn’t in traditional thatched cottages, but in modern wooden lodges, with electricity and hot showers! It attracted both backpackers, and holidaymakers from New Zealand and Australia, both four hours flight away. At both Bayside and Nabua Lodge we’d been paying $100 Fijian (about £45) including all meals, but Oarsmans would have been more than twice that, around $230 for everybody (£100). All the resorts include all meals in their prices, because there is nowhere else to go and eat on the islands.
Thursday, September 25, 2003
A trip to the village
Today we went to the island’s village with the gardener. His wife is a weaver, and he offered to take the girls to try their hand at weaving a mat. Of course, they jumped at the chance, so didn’t complain on the 40 minute walk to the village. The village was like typical Asian villages, except that this one was kept cleaner than anything we’d seen there. The houses were either traditional thatched bures, or concrete-built ones with corrugated roofs. Each had a garden marked out by small palm trees, with little pathways like roads between them all. The biggest surprise was the absence of rubbish – normally in Asia you’ll find a big pile of rubbish around every corner, but here they burn their rubbish every night. Not only does it make the area cleaner, the smoke also keeps the mosquitoes away.
Wednesday, September 24, 2003
After two days here we’ve got used to the rhythm of life – breakfast at 7:30 (as we’re the only guests we can choose our breakfast time), then dawdle on the beach until we see the catamaran pull up offshore at 11:15 – that’s a high spot of the day to see if other guests are arriving. Then lunch at 12 o’clock, followed by a lazy afternoon until tea at 4pm, then watch the catamaran again at 4:30 as it comes back down the island chain. Then we go into a frantic period of showers and general domestic stuff before the sun goes down, and it becomes too dark to do anything. Then we settle down in the hammock to watch the sunset, and then wait for dinner at 7pm. After that its straight to bed for all of us – something we’ve got used to since we’ve been travelling. In the last two months, because we’re nearly always sharing a room, we all have to go to bed at the same time, and get up at the same time. Our friend Helen Cooke would be proud to see us going to bed at 8:30pm!
Today a couple arrived on the boat from further up the chain, and it was nice to have some fellow travellers to chat to. Dinner’s a romantic affair, with lanterns and flowers on the table, and stars shining through the open sides of the thatched area. Although everything is very basic, its exactly what you might imagine a mid-Pacific tropical island to be (unless you’ve seen the luxurious resorts on things like The Holiday Programme).
It’s all a far cry from home, where you take things like electricity for granted. We’ve no radio, TV or lights, and Charlotte’s delighted that it’s limited her Maths lessons on the computer – until we get back to the mainland we’ve only got enough battery power to allow a lesson every other day! Charlotte felt homesick for the first time today, and at dinner she had a little cry when she said that she missed home, and missed her bedroom. But a game of Uno with everybody sent that thought to the back of her mind (for the moment).
The girls found two Fijian children to play with when we arrived, and so had been happily building sand castles, and hunting starfish and crabs in the rock pools. They also get special attention from the half dozen staff at the resort, with things like a tin of Milo and powdered milk appearing on the second day for them to have hot milky drinks in the evening.
Monday, September 22, 2003
The boat took us into Bayside Resort on Waiai island, which turned out to be empty of all other guests. The ‘resort’ consisted of 3 bures (traditional thatched cottages with woven bamboo walls). One had a double bed, one was the dormitory with 10 bunk beds, and the other (ours) was a ‘split’ bure, with a small divide between two separate rooms. Because it was empty, we were given the two sides, even though we’d only paid enough for one, so the girls got their own ‘room’ with a double bed, and we got a little bit of seclusion with our own room. Our room had a double bed, a mosquito net, and that’s it – no table or chairs to put anything onto, and no shelves – but we did find a couple of nails in the wail that we could hang our towels on. The girls turned out to have chosen the room with a chair, and an extra single bed, so they immediately set to laying out all of their toys (we’ve now got a small collection of Happy Meal toys, that they’re going to give away to children on the island).
The toilet block was set apart from the bures, with a separate ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ – posh eh! – and a lovely cold water shower. This was a side effect of something we found out pretty quickly – there’s no power on the islands. As the sunset at 6pm, they carried lanterns to each of the bures, which cast a dim light around – just enough to avoid bumping into things, but not enough to see what you’re doing. This is pretty basic living, probably more basic than anything we had in India, but it’s still pretty luxurious compared to the way the other islanders live. They don’t get the kind of food we were getting. At tea time we were served tea and toast, and then for dinner we had rice and a local curry. It was exactly the meals we’d been dreaming of throughout our trip in North America.
Yasawas here we come
The Yasawas islands comprise an archipelago running up the north west coast of the main island (Viti Levu) for a hundred miles. In the last three years lots of new ‘resorts’ (remember, 3 huts and a kitchen!) have been built, as a result of a daily catamaran service that covers the chain. It means that its much easier for backpackers to get out to their accommodation, with a 2-4 hour air-conditioned journey in a big boat, rather than 8 hours in an open fishing boat. Each of the resorts have their own qualities – with a mix of good or bad beaches, good or bad snorkelling, good or bad food, friendly or unfriendly staff, and either a ‘party spirit’ or quieter. We’d had some recommendations from people that had been to Fiji in the past – mainly about which places to avoid – so we weren’t setting off blind. Although travelling without the trusty assistance of a guide book makes me feel a little bit naked!
The coach for the catamaran picked us up at 8 o’clock, and dropped us at the marina, ready to catch the luxurious Awesome Adventures Catamaran. It was dead easy, and that’s where the comparisons to Asia had to end. Our journey lasted an hour and a half, dropping passengers off at various islands on the route (South Sea Island, in the picture above, was the ‘perfect’ image of a tropical island – a little sandy atoll sitting in the middle of the deep blue sea). Eventually our turn came to transfer, as we jumped into a small, bobbing aluminium fishing boat from the back deck of the huge catamaran. Both girls enjoyed the moment, but we were a bit nervous for them.
Sunday, September 21, 2003
Fiji – arriving in the developing world
Well, what a change – leaving the States, losing a day, and arriving in a country that reminds us of India at every turn. We arrived at 5 o’clock this morning, to join a huge half hour queue for immigration (as in so many cases, two international flights landed within a few minutes of each other, and overwhelmed the puny airport). On the other side of customs stood a wall of touts and ‘tourist information assistants’ – all trying to convince you that their hotel was the right one to go to. All in all, a typical Asian arrival! We headed straight to the tall, thin Indian holding the Sunseekers sign – a backpackers hotel in Nadi town which we’d had recommended on the Internet. Its always pretty nice to have a clear idea of where you want to go to in these situations, as you can wade past all of the touts just repeating the name of the place you’re heading for – their professionalism lasts long enough to point the way to the rep/tout from that accommodation. He immediately took our trolley and wheeled us out to the car park, to his van. This was like arriving for a five star resort! After a short wait while he searched out other prospective guests (no luck for him!) we drove through the countryside to the hotel – not just a pickup from the airport, but a private transfer too. We could get used to this.
The ‘hotel’ was a typical Asian one too – bars on all the windows, unfinished concrete stairways and big holes in the floor that would swallow the children completely. And friendly. So we checked in (at 6:30 am) and had a breakfast of toast and tropical fruit – what a contrast to a month of sugar-loaded breakfasts in the states. Not a Dunkin Donut in sight.
The day was taken up with wandering into town, buying fruit in the market, and finding a down-at-heel Indian coffee shop for samosas and chai, and deciding which islands we’re going to head towards. There are so many options for backpackers in Fiji, but we’ve decided already that we want to go to the Yasawas Islands, so its just a case of deciding which particular resorts (the word ‘resort’ in this case meaning 3 huts and a kitchen). Everybody has an opinion – each of the hotel staff, each of the fellow travellers, and everybody you meet. And, of course, they’re all different. By the time we have to decide, we’ve got 35 different recommendations, and none twice!
Before heading into town for a curry dinner, we booked our boat and accommodation for the first 3 nights – the rest we’ll decide once we get out there.
We enjoyed our first Fiji day, and feel really in traveller mode – chatting to fellow backpackers, and enjoying cheap-eats on the streets of Nadi.
Saturday, September 20, 2003
The day that doesn’t exist
Weirdly, I can’t really write a diary entry for the 19th September, because we are flying across the International Date Line. It means that we leave Los Angeles at 11:30pm on the 18th, and arrive in Fiji at 5am on the 20th September, after a 10 hour flight. So basically we skip the 19th completely. We’ve tried explaining this to the girls, but haven’t quite got the concept over yet – we’ll see if they really believe us when they wake up on the plane in Fiji!
Friday, September 19, 2003
We’ve been in Anaheim since Saturday night, and we’ve spent 5 days in the park. And now we’re all tired of it. Sarah got tired of it by about day 1 (well, morning 1!), but we’ve been going back every day, exploring the real Disneyland, and the ‘Disney California Adventure’ – more like an amusement park with a thin veneer of Disney. This afternoon, at about 3 o’clock, the girls all said they’d had enough Disney and could they go back to the hotel for a swim. Phew – I thought the moment would never come, especially as we’re flying to Fiji tonight, and only had 3 hours left for them to decide that enough was enough!
We’ve had a good time, and with our hotel right outside the main entrance (the Del Sol Inn), it’s been good to come out for lunch and a short break every day, or for a teatime snack before the parade.
Charlotte discovered yesterday the she liked roller coasters – we started on the kids one and worked her way up past the ToonTown one, through The Matterhorn (literally – a roller coaster set inside a mountain, with pitch black drops), and finally onto California Screamin’ – a horrendous construction of metal rails starting with a sudden acceleration upwards, some whacky turns and a loop the loop. Charlotte loved it so much that we ended up doing it half a dozen times with her.
Because it’s low season, the longest queue for the grown-up rides was 15 minutes (for Pirates of Carribean) while some of the rides that obviously have big summer queues (like the Roller Coasters and the Indiana Jones ride) had 5 minute or less queues. Some of the children’s rides had 15-20 minute queues, but nothing longer. Unfortunately, low season also means closed rides, so some of the big ones were closed for repairs and overhauls (eg Space Mountain, Haunted House, Splash Mountain etc). The Thunder Mountain Roller Coaster was also closed because somebody was killed on it last week (might also explain the absence of queues).
Overall we are exhausted – the days at Disney have been long ones with lots of walking involved – so we’re all looking forward to a break in Fiji.
Tuesday, September 16, 2003
Cruising past Venice Beach
On our drive down the coast to Disneyland, we passed through Santa Barbara (wow – a really relaxed beach town with great shops – we couldn’t afford to stop!), and through Beverley Hills in LA (okay, it was a bit of a detour, but we hadn’t seen it before, and the girls were asleep). We did the full set – Hollywood Avenue, Wilshire Boulevard, and Rodeo Drive. Rodeo Drive is being worked on at the moment, so there’s no pavement and huge piles of mud outside all of the fancy shops – Chanel & Mud, Armani & Mud etc. We decided that was reason enough not to shop there – besides Louis Vuitton is soo much cheaper in Kho San Road in Bangkok!
We got to Venice Beach in the middle of the afternoon, and wandered along to see Muscle Beach, and various ‘actors’ performing. Perhaps the greatest stand was for one of the Governornatorial candidates (the election in California is next month, and 135 candidates are standing, including Arnold Schwarzenneger, Larry Flint, of Hustler fame, oh and some politicians), who is a porn star in her day job. Her give-away posters were incredibly popular! I thought the photo captured the mood – wedding photo’s on the Baywatch set.
After 14 hours in the car, out of 24, the girls enjoyed running around the beach, and getting themselves wet and sandy. Although the promenade was tacky (think about the worst of any English seaside resort and quadruple it), and crowded, the beach was nice, with a huge stretch of sand. It wasn’t crowded either, because the weather had been so cold in the morning.
The girls also managed to do some shopping at the beach too, claiming that they “absolutely must” have sunglasses for Fiji. As they were only $4 each (they’ll last a long time then…), we let them choose their own. As you can see, they’d obviously got into LA mode immediately, and each choose a pair of hip-chick ones. We’re quite used to people looking at the girls as we walk along, but once they’d put these on, and wandered down the promenade, it seemed like everybody was looking at them. Of course, they pretended not to notice, but they both managed a little more swagger in their step! What kind of children are we raising?!
Anyway, after leaving the beach at 5pm, we finally arrived at our motel next to Disneyland at 7pm. We’d booked it by phone a few days ago, and it turned out to be great – right next to the entrance to the park (closer than the Disney hotels by half a mile!) and at $49 a night, it’s a bargain. We decided that after the long drive we needed a treat, so we went for a slap-up meal in a ‘proper’ restaurant – just a main course, which left us all bursting at the seams (John Coxeter – if you’re reading this, it was on you – thank you!). And then to bed, to start recharging the batteries ready for FIVE WHOLE DAYS AT DISNEYLAND (scream, or smile, depending on what you think of that!).
Saturday, September 13, 2003
On another big drive.
We had one last look at San Francisco this morning, because we hadn’t really got any video of the cable cars. It was a mad dash to do all three cable cars, plus two trams and two buses. Even though we were rushing around, it was still a lovely, relaxed city. We’re definitely a bit sad to leave it. We finally drove out of the city at 2:30 – the first time in the car for 5 days, which has been a nice break for us all. However, we are heading down the coast road to LA and Disneyland, so we’ve got 500 miles ahead of us in the next day.
The drive down the Big Sur was spectacular – lots of wild coast lines, with beaches hidden in the bay, and waves hitting the rocks below us. The road twisted along the coastline, occasionally coming across huge drops on the outside curves. Although the Highway 1 coast road goes for hundreds of miles, the Big Sur section, which is the most spectacular, is 90 miles long, and took us 3 hours to drive. It was 5 o’clock by the time we started it, so we saw the sunset while we were driving down. We stopped for dinner at a gruesome diner (but when the next one is 50 miles, there’s no choice), and then settled in for more driving. We’d decided we’d get as far as we could before finding a motel, so that tomorrow’s drive isn’t too long. But as we got further south (and a bit closer to LA) motels started getting more expensive because of the weekend tourist traffic. By the time we eventually stopped (just short of Santa Barbara) it was midnight, and we were paying $80 for the room! In all, we’d driven 350 miles from San Francisco, a large section along the twisty coastal road. We were all exhausted – the girls had finally fallen asleep at 11pm, and I’d found the drive a bit shattering (In fact, so shattering that I didn't finish the sentence on the website in the first version of this! And this section was piled full of typos and spelling mistakes)
When we arrived in San Francisco we’d bought the girls new shoes, because they’d both outgrown their current ones. Now came the difficult bit – throwing away the old ones. Emily threw an enormous flap, immediately putting them back on and claiming that they still fit her (despite the hobbling walk!), and refused to let them be taken out of the room. Charlotte was much more pragmatic – she just wanted the buckle as a souvenir! So we’re going to have to lose Emily’s another time when she’s not looking – as they're still vaguely decent perhaps we can give them away on the outer islands in Fiji.
Friday, September 12, 2003
San Francisco – a continuing wow
Today we went to the Exploratorium – a bit like the Science Museum, but much more practical, hands-ony. We got entry free with our CityPass, otherwise we’d probably not have gone there. But we’re really glad we did – we spent 5 hours there, playing with all of the different activities, from the huge bubble machines, to the mechanical and electrical devices and looking at the nature section. It was a great educational experience for Charlotte, and really amused Emily, so we’ve counted it as a full ‘school day’! One of the highlights was getting Emily standing inside a giant bubble. Afterwards, for a mid-afternoon snack, we stopped off at a diner – the girls rounded off the sandwiches they’d already eaten with an ice-cream sundae.
Then it was off to Fisherman’s Wharf to catch the boat trip around the Bay (another thing included in our CityPass). We sailed around the bay for an hour just before sunset, and out under the Golden Gate Bridge. Because it was a bit windy (which seems to be the weather in SF consistently), we couldn’t hear the commentary at all until we got to Alcatraz – the only bit we already knew. But it was still good, watching the scenery pass by and watching the kite-boarders zooming and jumping around (Kiteboarding is for big kids- you strap a small surfboard to your feet and hold onto a HUGE kite, and let it drag you across the water – they were doing 20+mph on these things).
Wednesday, September 10, 2003
Alcatraz – another great day in San Francisco
A week ago we’d booked our tickets for Alcatraz for this morning – we’d been warned that it gets booked out well in advance – by buying online we avoided a queue, and having to come back two days later. However, we didn’t get to choose the weather, and as we’d gone to bed last night there was a thick fog in the air, and it was raining. As we got up this morning there was still a light fog, but the sun was definitely up there shining above it. As the picture shows – it was hanging low in the bay – but the Golden Gate bridge rose through it
As we walked to the Fisherman’s Wharf, we got a great view of Alcatraz in the middle of the bay. The wind was strong, so the mist blew across the bay quickly, sometimes completely blocking the view to Alcatraz, and other times opening a completely clear view across.
As the boat took us over, we talked with the girls about how they might feel if they were going there as a prisoner, rather than just for a day trip – Charlotte got quite deep about it all, while Emily merely protested that she hadn’t been naughty, and then went on to test the boundaries of what she’d have to do to get incarcerated!
Once we were there we found it pretty impressive – a short film as introduction, and then into the jail house itself, with a guided audio tour in the form of an MP3 player hanging round our necks, with a commentary from ex-prisoners and prison-officers. It was very, very good – it really helped the prison to come alive, and the sound effects were so life-like, I ended taking of my headphones once or twice to see if the riot was on the tape or some tourists were getting out of hand.
Inside the building seems pretty small, whereas from the outside it seems huge. The cells were pretty tiny too, but Sarah and I reckoned we stayed in some similar hotel/hostel rooms last time travelled! But we only had to sleep in them for one or two nights – not twenty years.
In all we spent 3 ½ hours there, getting back to the dock around 2:30 – and went straight to look for some lunch. The rest of the afternoon was spent traveling downtown on a tram, a quick bit of shopping (essentials like underwear for the girls and a mini-tripod for the camera), and then hopping onto a cable car back up and down the steep streets to end up at the dock again.
We finished our day wandering the dockside at sunset, with a fantastic sunset behind the Golden Gate Bridge, and a perfectly clear evening. We got back to the hotel around 8pm, with the girls exhausted from all the walking they’d managed during the day. Their stamina is pretty impressive, especially in cities. In the countryside they complain incessantly about walking any distance, but we’ve found that in a city we can get them to walk a mile or two by saying that we’re “walking to the bus stop”. We’ll have to try that trick next time we’re in the wilds!
Tuesday, September 09, 2003
We continue to love San Francisco – despite the weather
The weather has decided to take a turn for the worse. Instead of blue skies and sunshine, we’ve got a miserable sea mist hanging over the city, making everything seem grey and gloomy. So a great day to do indoor things. After visiting Starbucks to upload yesterday’s diary, and check our email, we took a combination of buses to the California Academy of Science and Steinhauser Aquarium. The Science Academy turned out to be more about nature than science, including a great tableaux of African animals in a landscape setting (of course, the animals are dead and stuffed – a process which Emily wanted to know the fine details of!), as well as a room full of skulls of different animals. Again the girls were fascinated (they’ve obviously got a morbid streak), and Emily took a great deal of interest in the human skulls at different ages. The simulated earthquake was another favourite – it seemed to be much more relevant here in San Francisco than when you do the same thing at the Science Museum, especially when you’re seeing film of the area the museum stands in, being wrecked by the 1986 earthquake. The other highlight was the aquarium, which we hadn’t been too fussed about, but turned out to be a real treat. The highlight was ‘the roundabout’, where you walked up a circular ramp into something like a huge lighthouse top, and tuna, stingray and lots of other fish were swimming frantically around the outside of the glass, in an amazing display. It captivated us all, and made the visit memorable.
Then, after a spot of lunch at a café, it was off to the Legion of Honor, an art gallery in a nice park setting on the Pacific Ocean. They had the Rodin ‘Thinker’ - but sadly it was inside a tent that we couldn’t get into because of some corporate event. So we at least went there, and stood outside the tent imagining what we missed! We also saw some paintings by all the majors, including the impressionists - must be the favourites of all of us, because we’re all willing to gaze at them, having rushed past the Constables and Vermeers of the gallery. And just so you can feel as if you were there, I took a photo of the nicest Monet, of Venice (1906)
Then we did an awful thing – we went back to the same restaurant for the third night in a row! How shocking is that – we’ve got the whole of San Francisco to choose from, and we end up in the same restaurant again and again. But it was described by one restaurant critic as “the place to go if you have a caviar taste and a Spam budget” – so its obviously right for some of us!
What’s all this Starbucks stuff?
I keep mentioning popping into Starbucks for web updates and email. That’s because its where we can get online with our Tablet, which has wireless Ethernet built in. Instead of having to sit in a cyber-café, using somebody else’s PCs, we can sit in a Starbucks and do everything from the Tablet. We needed to buy a subscription to the t-mobile service, which cost $40 for the month, but then we have unlimited web access from any Starbucks. This is pretty reasonably priced compared to a cyber-café, which typically costs $10 an hour here in the States (almost ten times the cost of Canada’s cafés).
Once we walk into a Starbucks, we just open our web browser, and it asks for a username and password, and once that’s entered we’re off – we can then surf the web (for example, to update the text on this web site), upload pictures to the website (more on that later), and check our email. Basically we use Outlook for email, just like we would on our home PC, and so every email is loaded down onto our PC. We can then check it later if we want – we don’t have to sit in the café reading them. In fact, sometimes we just sit outside the Starbucks in the car and send/receive our email – it only takes 2 minutes, and we can then be on our way.
Compared to ten years ago, the difference is amazing. I remember rushing to get to Bombay Post Office to pick up our post restante mail, as we hadn’t been able to get any mail for 7 weeks, and then we’d rush down to the nearest Indian Coffee House to read what we’d received. And if our schedule changed, we’d sometimes miss our post completely (2 weeks late and it would be sent back, a day early and we’d miss it arriving). It meant that we were always 4 to 6 weeks behind on what was happening at home, no matter how big or small the news.
Now, the same feeling happens when we get to a Starbucks after a few days without email – like when we had 6 days without around Yosemite. We sat out in the car at the Starbucks in Jackson, and got really excited to see half a dozen emails from friends and family. But now, they’re only days old, or in some cases hours old, rather than weeks.
The other advantage of the Tablet is that we can plug the memory card from the camera straight into it – so if we take photo’s during the day, I can load them onto the Tablet in the evening, and then edit them for the web straight away. I don’t do anything fancy with most photo’s – simply shrink them in size to make the thumbnail and the bigger image that you get if you click on them (the originals are too huge to load onto the website and would take ages to download – they’re all around 1MB, with a 2000x1600 resolution – the big ones on the website are 800x600, and typically come in at 75k). They may take a minute or so to download with a modem, but contrast that to last time we were travelling – we had our photos with us for 2 years, and then brought all 2,000 back with us to develop and look at in one shot.
The technology so far is proving to be very robust and reliable – I don’t think I could recommend any of it highly enough – the Tablet PC for its robustness and sheer cleverness (I get stopped by people all the time asking what it is and where can they buy one), the Canon Ixus 400 Digital Camera (when you buy one, buy a spare battery and a big memory card, as you can then take loads of photo’s and delete the duff ones when you get back to your PC) and the Sony PC9E Camcorder (its so small and light, its easy to carry every day). The only disappointing thing about the Canon camera is that it already looks ancient – the special new durable metal CeraBrite finish the camera’s supposed to have isn’t worth toffee (in fact, toffee may be tougher) – but just because it doesn’t look new anymore doesn’t affect how it works. The only bit of technology I’m regretting is the CESAR CD Writer, made by Archos. I chose it because it’s battery powered, and doesn’t need a mains adapter (a pretty important thing when it all goes on my back in the rucksack). But its proving to be very unreliable – I probably waste 3 CD’s every time I try to create one. I always get there in the end (I need to write the photo’s to CD so that I can send them home) but it’s a frustrating process.
So that’s what this Starbucks stuff is all about – being in touch, being able to find out what’s going on with friends and family, and being able to keep this website up to date. But that all stops when we leave America next week – goodness knows what Fiji will offer, and when we get to Australia we’ve got to work out how we stay connected when we’re touring the country in our campervan (there’s no national network of wireless access points there, so we may have to resort to a mobile phone connection!). We’ll see when we get there.
Monday, September 08, 2003
We love San Francisco
We’d already decided we liked San Francisco by yesterday evening – the smiles seemed broader here than other parts of California, and the city streets seemed a lot more relaxed and less ‘mean’ than LA. Even the cops don’t seem as if they’re going to bite your head off if you look at them A real contrast to LA, where the average cop tries to look as mean as possible, and caused us to give them a wide berth if they were on the street. When we passed a bunch of motorcycle cops having a coffee in downtown LA, it looked like a group of shaven Hells Angels, and their mean stares were chilling.
We got up late and walked down to Fisherman’s Wharf – the main tourist trap in town. Okay, it was full of tourists, and it had loads of tacky, tacky shops, but we enjoyed the walk around, and we saw the sea lions at the end of Pier 39, and the girls loved that, and the T-shirt shops. Then it was off to Macys in Union Square to find them new shoes. Since we’ve been travelling they both seem to have been growing fast, especially their feet. And that meant a trip on the cable cars (slow, noisy, but what a way to get around).
And after a successful shopping interlude, Sarah went off to get her hair coloured and cut (the first time since we’ve been traveling), while the girls and I did some more tourist stuff. Another cable car ride, an ice cream, walking up and down some steep streets – oh and the windy street that everybody knows. It turned out to be rush hour there, with lots of cars coming down, each one with a driver gripping the wheel hard and the passenger holding a camcorder. It turned out to be one of those things that’s probably better on a film or video than in real life (didn’t Sandra Bullock jump a bus down it in Speed?), but we’ve been there, seen that and got the photo.
So San Francisco is definitely a nice place as far as we’re concerned. We love its temperature (cool), it’s people (smiley) and it’s ambience (relaxed). We love the public transport – it’s not just full of the poor and the nutters (unlike LA). And after the rest of the US seeming so soulless, its got a character. We were planning to stay for 3 days, but we’ve just extended our hotel so that we can stay for 5. We’ve also bought the SF City Pass tickets, which for $36 gives us a 7-day bus & cable car pass, and free entry to the California Academy of Sciences, Steinhart Aquarium, the Legion of Honor (Rubens, Rembrandt, Seurat, Degas, Picasso and ‘The Thinker’ from Rodin), the Exploratorium (the Science Museum on steroids), a Bay cruise (under the bridge and around Alcatraz) and the SF Museum of Modern Art. Well, we can try and get our money’s worth, and I’m sure some of those will cover quite a few of the National Curriculum things Charlotte’s class will be doing this year (“Rembrandt – a genius or what? Discuss”).
Sunday, September 07, 2003
A very special day
Well, it’s arrived – our 12th wedding anniversary – and just like our 2nd wedding anniversary, we’re traveling. For our 2nd anniversary we were in China, on a 60 hour train journey in ‘hard sleeper’ class, and we celebrated with one bottle of Becks (brewed in Quanzhou) and a tin of Lindt chocolates (made in Shanghai). Both turned out to be revolting imitations of the real thing, but after 10 months in Asia we were happy. But this time we are in the USA, home of ‘Freedom Fries’ and ‘Gourmet Hamburgers’, so things are bound to be better!
We started the day in Lake Tahoe, driving up the Emerald Bay on the lake. It was lovely, and the other 200 people standing at the viewpoint thought so too – and then we got back into the car and started driving west. (In Canada we were told that 95% of visitors to the Rockies don’t ever get more than 100 yards from their car. Well, we were in that mode this morning!)
We drove the Interstate, across the pass past Sacramento, towards San Francisco. After so many other amazing drives, this one seemed boring. We just drove past waterfalls, forests and mountain streams, and barely slowed down to admire the skyscrapers of Sacramento or the vineyards alongside the highway near Napper Valley. Mind you, we did stop for lunch at the Golden Arches (now, there’s one for the ‘wedding anniversaries from hell’ scrapbook). And we drove across the top of the bay near San Francisco, and drove down the peninsula towards the Golden Gate bridge.
And when we came round the corner and saw it for the first time, we were all excited. There was a strong breeze blowing in the sea mist, which covered about a third of the bridge, and made it seem as if we were standing on clouds. Charlotte and Emily had never seen anything like it, and were excited by the whole idea of fast-moving clouds in front of their eyes. And they were also cold, for the first time in ages.
We drove on, over the bridge, accompanied by half a dozen fire trucks (don’t ask me what that was all about – it looked like they were all out for a picnic, because they definitely have ‘working’ frowns on), and then dropped into the city along Highway 101. It took us about half an hour to choose a motel, after we’d looked at and negotiated with three different ones, and we’re paying $68 for a motel within a mile of the main sights (Fisherman’s Wharf etc). It never seems to take us long to find our accommodation, with the help of our handy motel-coupon book (pick them up at a California Visitors Centre – they’ve saved us a small fortune here) – we sometimes wonder how budget travellers must get on in the UK. Can you imagine doing the same in Oxford – driving around half a dozen hotels to find a good one at a good price? It would take half the day to just find half a dozen!
Anyway, I digress. Once settled into our room it was early evening, so we wandered down to the sea front at the marina while the sun sank (whoo, that’s chilly. It might be 90-degrees inland 10 miles, but its 68-degrees here on the coast). And then we went for our special anniversary meal. Okay, only kidding – but we did decide to spend more than usual. We ended up splurging $35 (coo - £22) on a divine meal of skewers of lamb, beef, prawns and scallops, served on a bed of salad and garlic mash – plus a carafe of wine. It was expensive by our standards, but not really compared to home prices. It was the best, and healthiest, meal we’ve eaten in the States. (If you come to SF and want a good value meal, then we’d recommend it – Asque – on the corner of Steiner and Chestnut). You can see from the photo that we drank all the wine!
We then went round the corner to Mel’s Diner for deserts and coffee. From the outside it looked like the classic 50’s style diner – jukeboxes on every table, and promises of ‘good home cooking’. But when we got inside it was a slightly different story – all the waitresses were oriental, rather than looking like Fonzie’s Mum – and the deserts were poor. But still, it made a great picture from the outside. And then it was back to bed (dragging two weary kids with us, who woke up the minute we got back to the motel, and played ‘airplanes’ while we tried to get them to sleep). And so ended our 12 wedding anniversary. Wonder where we’ll be for the 22nd? Will we be backpacking round the moon by then?
Weird things caused by states
Tahoe is a good example of a 'weird thing', created by the presence of State lines. It sits on the border between Nevada and California. Driving here last night it was easy to work out where the State line was, even though there were only small signs on the road. On the California side was a long road, lined with motels, hotels and fast food restaurants - and all of the other urban detritus that goes with that - like laundromats, wedding chapels and liquor stores. And it was all low-rise - nothing higher than two floors. And there, on the state line - literally one foot over it - were huge tower blocks of casinos. And nothing else - we drove for a mile into Nevada, and once you were past the casinos, there was nothing else but blackness.
My picture doesn't really capture it, but I tried. Its amazing - it's just like somebody turned the lights out! So Californians drive up here from Sacramento and San Francisco to spend the weekend in motels on the California side of the line, and then shuttle bus or walk over to the casinos in Nevada, to spend their real money. I met a guy at breakfast who'd arrived at 10pm, and had lost $3,000 in the casino by 2am - and this isn't a guy with money, otherwise he wouldn't be staying in a $50 a night motel! But he wasn't worried - he's going back tonight to win it all back!
Saturday, September 06, 2003
After three nights, its time to leave Yosemite. We've really enjoyed our time here, as the park is very beautiful and the girls really enjoyed it, with lots of running around and animal watching. Its a shame that the accommodation wasn't everything we'd expected, but then if everything in life was perfect, nobody would have anything to talk about!
As we left, we pulled over at a small parking lot on the exit road. There were no signs to it, and as it was 'behind us' on a one-way road, we were really lucky to spot it. But from there, we had the most amazing view of the valley - with the huge cliffs of El Capitan on the left, and the cliffs of the opposite side on the right. And in the middle is the area where we camped. A great last photo opportunity.
We're aiming North, to Lake Tahoe today. It wasn't on our plan originally, but people had said how beautiful it is, so we thought we'd make the 200 mile detour. The drive brought us down from 4,000 feet altitude, to 1,000 feet - where the air was hot and dry, and the meadows were yellow. We drove through towns with real American names, like Jacksonvile, Sonora and Angels Camp. We passed lots of historical markers, marking spots where Mark Twain lived, wrote, or stopped for coffee. We even passed Mark Twain's cabin near Angels Camp (we took the 1 mile detour, and found a chimney, a wall and a sign saying that the Angels Camp Lions Club are currently rebuilding it "in the image of the original", and that it would be finished by Fall 2002. (Yup, you guessed, not worth the detour!)
The picture sums up the drive - typically American, with red roof barns, lots of school buses, and lots of old charm in the form of cafe's, antique shops and water-pumping windmills.
We then turned East, and started climbing towards Lake Tahoe on Highway 88. Having driven down from 9,000 feet three days ago, to 1,000 feet, we found ourselves going all the way back up again to 9,300 feet for the drive to Tahoe - the lake is at 7,000 feet, but to get there we drove along the ridge line of a mountain. The air was cool - a relief after the dry heat on the drive to the hills, and clear, so we could see for miles. We finally drove down to the town of South Tahoe at 6pm, and then spent an hour finding a reasonably priced motel (at the weekends, prices shoot upwards - especially in Tahoe). Lake Tahoe spans California and Nevada, so people head here for the weekends for the nature, the winter skiing, and (most importantly for many) the casinos.
Friday, September 05, 2003
Yosemite National Park
It’s difficult to write about Yosemite without using too many superlatives, so I’m not going to tell you about the views, and the scenery and the breathtaking moments – I’ll show you some photo’s of those, and you can see for yourselves. And if you want to know about them you can go and find out in the your library (or even come to Yosemite!). Instead, I’ll tell you about the things you won’t find in a Yosemite Guide Book, and what we thought about them. But first, a picture…
Of course there are mountains in Yosemite, and no trip would be complete with going up one and taking pictures. There is a big difference to last time we traveled. 10 years ago we were younger, fitter and didn’t have two small children with us. In New Zealand we were doing 50km hikes and climbing 1,600m mountains without too much preparation. But with the girls, we find that we’re really limited on what physical activity we can do with them. Normally we find that while one is ready to walk, the other isn’t – too tired, too hungry or just plain grumpy. Although we sometimes insist, and drag them along moaning and pleading, it does mean that it limits our options.
So ‘going up a mountain’ in Yosemite meant driving 30 miles up to Glacier Point (to stand at the edge of a 1,000m vertical drop, 50m horizontally from our starting point in the valley), rather than taking the four-mile hiking trail.
However, there are other things that we do that compensate. We all enjoy the wildlife spotting – in Yosemite there are lots of wild deer, that wander around the forests and meadows, and through the car parks. We also saw lots of squirrels and jays, which scavenge from the food. We saw raccoons one night, and a wild coyote strolling alongside the road twice. We didn’t see any bears, but there were plenty of bears around.
The bear problem in Yosemite is a big one – they are attracted to the valley floor by the amount of food available, and have learnt all kinds of tricks to get it. Signs all over the park warn you not to leave food unattended, and to always lock it into a bear-proof storage container. And cars don’t qualify! Food has to be taken out of cars, even the boot, and put into lockers provided in the car parks and camp sites. We weren’t allowed to store food in our tent (same reasons), and had another locker near the toilets (mmm, nice) to store food we wanted on the campsite. And we weren’t even allowed to temporarily take it up to the tent to eat it – it had to be eaten away from the tents. So we would end up eating breakfast on a picnic table near the restaurants rather than in our ‘room’. And these precautions didn’t extend just to food, but also to drink (Coke cans) and other fragranced items (like shower gel, toothpaste etc). It was a complete nightmare. It would be easy to think that they were paranoid about this, and being extreme, but the statistics speak for themselves – 800 cars a year broken into by bears in the park (‘broken into’ means that they’ll yank the doorframe away at the window, smash the window, and if the food’s in the boot, they’ll smash through the back seats into the boot). Some of them didn’t even have food in, but contained things like old food wrappers, crumbs in the car seats, or even the smell of a meal eaten in the car that evening! Somebody had warned us at Mammoth Lakes, and had told us to vacuum our car out before we went. Although we thought they were a bit over-cautious, we did it – and having seen what happens, I’m glad we did.
Anyway, a quick description of the photo above – the tube in the middle is a bear trap – they bait it, and leave it sitting around the car parks. If there’s a stray bear, it gets trapped inside the tube as it goes for the food (if you think that’s difficult to climb into, you’ve obviously not seen the film of a bear climbing in through the driver window of a Suzuki Swift). Then along come the Rangers, and sedate it and fix a bear collar onto it – this can then be picked up by radio receivers in the park – they then know when it comes too close to humans (like camp sites, and car parks), and can chase it away. While we were there they were trying to catch a bear that didn’t have a collar, and was causing damage overnight in car parks.
And, another picture…
We picked the perfect time to be at Yosemite. All of the American schools were back by the end of last week, and we came straight after the Labour Day public holiday on Monday. This meant the valley was quiet (relatively), and all of the staff commented on how lucky we were. If we’d come in August we’d have been fighting for accommodation, food, parking spaces and space on the walks. Its really noticeable how much quieter the roads and hotels are, and of course the only children we tend to see now are either under 5, or foreign.
Our accommodation was okay, which really means it wasn’t okay. The standard of upkeep at Curry Village isn’t what it should be. Often the showers and toilets were pretty dirty, and inside the tents didn’t seem to be cleaned at all – at one point Sarah’s pillow fell off her bed, and got covered in a layer of dirt and yeuchy stuff. Perhaps the reason is that the camp is staffed by young students, mainly Russians, who are doing it for a gap year. If you were 21 again, how would you feel about clearing up for other people, when you really wanted to be down the pub? They facilities are also run by ‘Yosemite Concession Services’, a monopoly organization which doesn’t have any competition. All over the park there are signs saying that they charge reasonable prices, which I do agree with – the problem is that the quality of much of what they do is pretty poor. It reminds me of motorway services in England 10 or 15 years ago. We paid half price for our tent – if we were paying $70+ I’d be pretty dismayed. We met quite a few Americans who were, and they were either ready to complain or had already complained. (In fact, it was them that made use realise how poor things were – I’d kind of written it off as “Well, you expect lower standards when you’re in a tent”).
(Separately, while in the park I read that American unemployment is now running at a high level of 6%. Perhaps employing Russian students to staff restaurants, hotels, motels and visitor facilities in America’s Number One National Park could be part of the reason. But then I guess that’s the same anywhere – in London you find few reception staff in big hotels who are English – they’re all working down in Australia on their working visa’s there! I’ve just read what I’ve written - I must be reaching middle age.)
Thursday, September 04, 2003
Activities in Yosemite National Park
Every day there’s a programme of activities at the Parks, led by Park Rangers. I’ve already written about the Junior Ranger Programme a bit, so I won’t repeat it. It means that in every park, the first things the girls want to do is get the books, and start completing the exercises. It also means that they’re happy to sit still for 45 minutes to listen to a talk on something. In Yosemite we got them to sit through a 45 minute slide show on “Amazing Amphibians”, which was all about frogs and toads. It was really aimed at adults, but they both got things from it (Emily especially liked the idea of the frog that freezes every night in winter, ‘like an ice cream’). They did get to go the a programme activity specifically for them – “Owls – What a hoot!”, in which they got to talk about owls, impersonate owls and make their own owl from paper and a balloon.
For their Ranger badges in Yosemite, they had lots of different activities to complete in their books, which included some drawing, some writing, some collecting, word searches, crosswords etc. If only we could keep them as excited about some of the other ‘boring’ things they see (like volcanoes etc). If you visit any of the National Parks with children, then you definitely have to do these activity books! And the girls love it purely because they get a badge at the end. They don’t even realize they’re doing more work in a day than they might at school!
And at the end they hand their book back into a Ranger to be checked (which the Rangers actually do - I’d expected them to glance and hand over the badge), and they sometimes get quizzed on parts of it. There’s no way that we could get away with doing their book for them! (Or perhaps we could for Emily, because every time it gets to her turn she goes instantly shy and hides away – until the ‘Junior Ranger Oath’ has been done, and then she re-appears when its badge time.) They then get to keep their books as souvenirs – and Charlotte uses them to invent more quizzes and games on the car journeys, as well as finishing anything she didn’t have to do to get her badge. For us, it’s a top feature of the parks.
The other thing we found is that some Visitors Centres loan out Activity backpacks. These contain a whole host of different activities related to a specific subject. At the Happy Isles Nature Centre we borrowed the Birds backpack. It had moulds of birds heads, spotting books and cards, some bird quizzes, and most importantly a pair of binoculars. Charlotte and Emily loved using them, especially on things within 3 feet of us, like squirrels and shoes. It didn’t matter that they weren’t doing every activity as planned – they were just having fun, but using the pack covered a whole range of different educational aspects for them, and taught them new ideas.
It is experiences like this that make me smile when I remember those who said “But how will the children learn while they are away? Won’t they go backwards in their education?” I really do think we’re covering a huge amount of the curriculum through what we’re doing with them – both now and in the future.
Today’s schedule is a good case in point:
8:00-10:00 Shower and breakfast
10:00 Bus to Nature Centre
10:30-11:30 Nature Centre
- looking at the animal exhibits, and information about their habitats
11:30-12:30 Outside with the birds activity backpack
- looking for birds, calling birds, and whistling at squirrels
12:30-1:00 Bus to back to Curry Village
1:00-2:00 Sandwiches for lunch
– watching the squirrels
2:00-2:15 Bus to Yosemite Lodge
2:15-3:00 Wilderness Centre and Ansel Adams Art Gallery
- what do you need to take when you go hiking and why?
– the nature and splendour of Yosemite
4:00-5:00 Indian Village and Museum
– how they used to live and cook.
- through the woods and meadows, deer spotting.
6:00-6:15 Bus to Yosemite Lodge
6:15-7:00 Owl talk
7:00-7:15 Bus back to Curry Village
7:15- 8:15 Pizza
8:15-9:00 Film and talk
- Yosemite in the winter
9:30 Teeth, milk and bed (for everybody)
(Gosh, reading this makes me feel like a bad dad. How on earth can a three year old keep up this pace for a year? This was a bit of an unusual day because Emily didn’t sleep during the day, which she does when we’re in the car – probably because of days like this. It’s also why we build in days where the girls get the chance to just play – in the room, round the pool – and rest. On days like today’s though, the challenge tends to be to get the girls to stop somewhere long enough to take it in, rather than rush off to the next thing straight away).
Wednesday, September 03, 2003
Moving on to Yosemite
We were all excited today as we loaded the car and headed away from Mammoth Lakes, towards Yosemite. We knew it wouldn’t take us long - the Park entrance was only 30 miles from the motel, and it was dual carriageway all the way. But getting to the park gate was the easy bit! It turned out to be a long, long drive from the entrance to the Curry Village Lodge (where we were staying). We entered through the high Tioga pass (3,000m) to Tuolumne meadows. This was different landscape to anything we’d already seen in the States – grassy meadows, bordered by forests, with huge smooth granite outcrops popping up everywhere – and huge means anything from lorry size to mountain size.
We stopped for a picnic beside a beautiful lake, and encountered another of the features of American National Parks that we’ve seen a lot – road works. It seems that every national park chooses the summer to do their major road works programme. Charlotte and Emily are getting very familiar with the different types of lorries, diggers and earthmovers in use over here. And they even get to say “Hello” and “Thank you” to every ‘stop/go’ man/woman on the road (amazingly, they don’t use any traffic lights for road works, no matter how long the closure, but instead have humans turning Stop/Go boards. (Mind you, after their experiences with electricity over the last few years and weeks, perhaps its not such a bad thing after all!).
On the route down through the forest, we came across a forest fire. At first we were a bit concerned it could alter our plans, but we found out that it was under control – in fact, it was a ‘managed fire’. This means that the park authority allows it to burn itself out, perhaps covering a few hundred acres as it goes, because it helps to prevent larger, unstoppable fires. As long as the fire is limited to ground level burning, and not leaping hundreds of feet into the air to burn the tops of trees, its actually a good thing – it helps regenerate the forest floor covering, and many of the trees have a fire-resistant bark layer which actually needs to be burnt every few years. So small fires are watched rather than extinguished. Some are even started deliberately by the foresters, to burn up some of the deadwood and other material that could be potentially dangerous if left for a later fire to consume. (However sensible this sounds, it sometimes goes wrong – the big fire this year in Jasper, in Canada, was a fire started by the parks authority which went out of control, and ended up covering thousands of acres, closing roads, threatening towns and ruining the tourist trade at peak season.)
Anyway, after two hours of driving through meadows, forests and lots of twisty windy roads, we emerged from a mile-long tunnel to see this view. It was certainly another “wow” moment (and yes, for those who’ve been sending me emails over-using that word, I really, really do mean “wow”).
We drove the further half hour deep into the valley – all feeling refreshed by the view, and by knowing we were nearly there at last. We also felt that it was so much easier to breathe – at 3,000m I had definitely noticed that I got out of breath quicker doing physical things, and because we’d been at 2,000m-plus for 2 weeks, it was starting to get frustrating (I know I’m not fit, but I don’t want reminding every 10 minutes). The floor of the valley is at 1,200m, so the air is much thicker there (and much warmer than up in the meadows).
We arrived at Camp Curry around 4pm, and checked in. We’d booked a four bed tent for three nights. By booking in advance on the Internet, about two weeks ago, we’d saved half of the cost – reducing it from $76 a night to $38. This might seem a lot for a tent, but it isn’t an ordinary tent. They are laid out in the forest, under tree cover, and have a solid wooden frame – in fact they’re more like cabins except that the sides are fabric. But they have wooden floors, real beds (although the plasticised mattress was a bit basic) and a single bedside cabinet. We even had sheets and blankets (so we’ve still not had to use our sleeping bags in 7 weeks). The toilets were in a toilet block 50m away, and the showers 100m away in another block. Let’s hope that nobody needs to go in the night!
Tuesday, September 02, 2003
Still at Mammoth LakesRead back through our travel diaries
Well, it’s still the holiday weekend, so we’re still here at Mammoth Lakes. After a lazy day yesterday, today was a day to wear ourselves out. We went to the Devils Postpile National Park – the main feature of which is the ‘giants causeway’ style pile of rocks. But we didn’t bother with that, and went straight to the Rainbow Falls trail. The trail is 1 ½ miles to the fall, and 1 ½ miles back. Charlotte walked all the way (although not without more than normal complaints!) and Emily managed to get there, but had to be carried back in the backpack. The waterfall was fantastic, because there had been rainfall overnight, so there was a fantastic chute of water coming over the ledge. Being in the backpack was fine for Emily (although she complained she was ‘tired’ from the backpack), but it was difficult for me, to carry her plus my new American-fast-food weight, up a staircase cut into rock, and along the trail, all at 8,000 feet.
On the way back we had to walk through the fire-hit forest again, which was hot and dusty, with no shade. We passed a group of horses and mules, making off for a one week trail across the Ansel Adams Wilderness, and all wished we could hitch a lift back. Still, we all made it back to the Red Meadows cattle ranch café, and had a sandwich. The guy behind the bar was very friendly, and soon the girls had managed to get themselves a free chocolate milkshake, as well as hear lots of stories of forest fires, bears and huntin’ n’ fishin’.
And the late afternoon was devoted to the pool, to wash off the sweat and dust of the morning. By the pool Charlotte was telling an American couple about the ‘long walk’ she’d done in the morning, but they’d just arrived at the hotel after a 12-day wilderness hike, so they weren’t that impressed!