Posts by Country

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

White Sands, NM

Today the Green Tortoise began driving to White Sands, New Mexico. After five hours of playing “Speed” and “Rummy” we arrived at a shop where everyone chipped in to buy some disks for sledding on the dunes. 

It would have been nice to have some stiff sand boards, but the disks were still fun. After some time on the dunes everyone decided to hang out in one of the shelters out of the hot sun. As we began another game of  “Rummy” the wind suddenly picked up and blasted the site at which point I decided to try some tarp sailing. 

It didn’t work well as the wind began to die down but it did seem to provide a boost going downhill.  Later everyone watched the sunset and boarded the bus for Big Bend National Park in Texas.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Gila Cliff Dwellings, NM

Today, after stopping to make breakfast and do the “bag explosion,” the tortoise went to the Gila Cliff Dwellings. 
Constructed of clay mortar and beams cut in the 1280s, the Gila Cliff Dwellings were home to the ancient Mogollon civilization between the years of 150 and 1400

Up inside the caves you can walk around and see the dwellings where the Mogollon people lived, but no touching - this degrades the surfaces and makes them look totally different.

After exploring the ancient civilization we headed to the local KOA campground for the night. The campground pool was a refreshing addition to the increased comfort of stopping for the night. After some egg drop soup with rice and some drinks by the fire, thunder and lightning started closing in and it wasn't long before the rains came. Later things cleared up and would have been perfect for sleeping in my hammock had I not already gone to sleep in the bus...

Monday, August 29, 2011

Grand Canyon, AZ

Today the Green Tortoise arrived at the Grand Canyon and had another “bag explosion” before everyone headed over to Mather Point. After the first point everyone walked and took the shuttle to the other lookouts at Bright Angel Lodge, Yaki Point and Hermit Rest ending inevitably at the restaurant for some cafeteria style grub. 

Finally, many rested for a while and then walked over to the canyon for sunset.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Zion & Vegas

Today the Green Tortoise stopped for breakfast at a store called Smiths. This provided a good opportunity to make food from scratch, and save money. In fact, many sandwiches can be made for the same price it costs to buy one pre-made. After undoing “the miracle”, we headed for Zion National Park in Utah. A few of us used the shuttle there and got off at the junction where there was a swimming hole with a waterfall. In the 100* heat it felt amazing - this almost made up for the 3-4 liters of water needed every few hours just to keep hydrated. In fact, the intensity of the heat this time of year makes hiking Zion a bit of a feat. Fortunately, Green Tortoise trips generally attract more adventurous and outdoorsy types, so many actually seemed to welcome the challenge. Up on the left side of the falls, Bonnie and I found a waterfall… Okay, more of a painful water-powered beating. Bonnie didn't even hesitate and went down smiling the whole way, something I figured was a good sign...  so I quickly followed only to discover that she is one of those people who smile through pain. A better idea would have been to go to the bottom of the slide and swim against the current. Much more fun and a lot safer I'd say.

On the shuttle back to camp, there were some guys from Vegas who offered some useful information on our upcoming destination - Vegas. Just goes to show that being sociable while traveling can be a valuable gesture. After dinner some played with a Frisbee and later set up the “cuddle puddle” - a collection of cushions from the bus laid out on a tarp so campers can sleep under the stars. I, on the other hand, set up my hammock for the first time and slept on that. As it got dark, the sky flickered with lightning. Ear plugs worked to drown out the frogs, and the resounding thunder, but a little later it started to spit a bit as it had done many times that day. This sent everyone in the “cuddle puddle” running for the bus but, as expected, the increased humidity didn't last.
This morning I woke up extra early to prepare for the hike. Setting out early made it possible to do the Angel's Landing hike before getting toasted by the scorching sun. 

Cool wildlife

At the top of the mountain, Bonnie and I fed the chipmunks trail mix and watched with a bit of concern as one suicidal daredevil dove off the cliff after a peanut… 
I'm guessing it grabbed onto the wall on its way down though. On the way back some of us stopped to eat at the cafe and then headed back to the bus to lay in the shade. 
After popping over to Las Vegas, Nevada, there were many things to see, but only six hours to see them. After wasting time looking for the Vegas sign, as well as the diagonal elevators at the Luxor, and then getting lost in the Miracle Mile Shops, it was time to phone a friend. After dropping into Caesars palace for the talking statues, and getting footage of the Bellagio fountains on the way, we met up with a local friend who picked us up and provided a short ride down to the Fremont Experience AKA old Vegas. There, all the best FREE and reasonably priced entertainment can be found. 

Over in Fremont, live street shows, such as shadow bands and motorcycles driving around in a ball, can be seen and, if you want to do something with a bit more movement, a zip line ("flying fox" for Aussies) takes you almost the whole length of Fremont Street for just $20. When your turn comes, it is highly recommended that you ask the assistants to push extra hard - I was certainly glad that I did. Also, if you're hungry, you won't want to miss the Fremont Casino Buffet, which offers a whole range of choices from steak to Crème brûlée in the evening for only $12-15.
After all of this, the six hour allotment was surely running out and the time to leave or be left was near. Back at the bus, many began to vie for the wonder and excitement of sleeping on a shelf (the bunks hanging from the ceiling)… nights of relative comfort for the 'vertically gifted' were numbered, as we were to be evicted from our "high-value" allotments. Oh well, still beats paying for a hotel room and having to drive all day!

Friday, August 26, 2011

San Francisco & Alcatraz

Today's the day; the journey from Seattle to the rest of America begins! And, as with any major travel experience, it all begins at the airport. First new experience... you know that vertical license that the state issues you before you turn 21? Yeah, not accepted at airport restaurants. Even if it says "turns 21 in 1942" you have to have the horizontal one or they won't sell you a drink... pretty ridiculous  considering that most countries don't even care how old you are so long as you can reach over the counter. Anyways, another great thing about traveling is the people you meet. While eating at Chilis, for example, you might say hello to a guy named Steve, an oil worker from Alaska, who tells you of his plans to retire in Thailand on social security. All you have to do in order to renew your visa is cross the border over into Laos every day - not bad considering that you can live out the rest of your days there like a king for just pennies a day! Steve also invests in stocks in Gibraltar where the returns are apparently very competitive.
After arriving in San Francisco, I took a bus to my hostel. Many take a taxi to get up North, but why do that when buses only cost $5? After hopping off the bus, it's only a few blocks walk to the Green Tortoise hostel. After checking in, some hostel mates named Deanna and Trudy, who come from Australia, suggested joining them for pizza - only $3 with a coke because of the hostel discount. 

Back at the hostel they opened a keg and started racing crabs. The hostel put little flags on hermit crabs and had everyone split into teams. Whichever crab won, that team got a bottle of two buck chuck from Trader Joe's. After many very confusing races, all with different rules, my team won the free bottle of wine!
While we were celebrating, some of the others from the upcoming cross-America trip started appearing. After some spirited discussions on politics, and killing off the wine, everyone watched in amazement as gymnastics wizard Adnon showed off his yoga skills. At one point I volunteered to climb up on his shoulders then waved my arms around a bit which, apparently, gave those watching cause for concern. After the nervous spectators started to panic, I jumped back down. Eventually it was time to head back to the dorm where it turned out a new guy named Justice had arrived. I figure this guy needs either a gun or a gavel and his destiny will be complete.
This morning I went to Alcatraz. After a short ferry ride, we arrived at this former prison facility turned museum. Specialized tours are available with local guides, but the audio tour takes you everywhere in the main facility. After over an hour of walking around listening to the history of the island, and stories from the days when notorious inmates Al Capone, George "machine gun" Kelly, and Robert Stroud "Birdman of Alcatraz" roamed the facility, a ferry ride back to freedom and food sounded pretty good. On the way back I stopped for a 20 minute video presentation… which made me miss the 12:55 boat. This was rather unfortunate considering how hungry I was... for the next half hour I would be a very unwilling prisoner of Alcatraz.

Upon arriving back in the land of the free, the crab bisque bread bowl at Boudin’s Bread was a treat. Following such a good meal, it's really worth visiting the free sites along the wharf (actually $10 to go inside) - the S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien Liberty Ship and the USS Pampanito Submarine. Also pretty cool is Musee Mechanique; a museum full of old mechanical attractions and arcade games. Finally, after a good rest back at the hostel, some Dim Sum at the House of Dim Sum made for a good snack. 
Later on everyone headed for the bus and, after a long info session (one of many to come), the Green Tortoise departed San Francisco for Zion National Park in Utah. After we had left, everyone found buddies for the "buddy system" and some of us played cards. One of the games we played was a version of Rummy, similar to Gin Rummy, that we later referred to as English Rummy.

After a couple hours, the bus stopped so everyone could eat and do “the miracle” - a special Green Tortoise event where everyone makes the seats into beds for sleeping in different places. The sleeping areas were designated as the “caves” (under the tables), “tables” (on top of tables), “mosh pits” (on front and back platforms of the bus), and “bunks” (up on shelves hanging from the roof of the bus by chains). Bunks aren't as quiet as the other spots, especially the caves, but you get a whole sleeping quarter to yourself which, for us tall people, is pretty important. Up in the bunk it seemed like the driver might have been falling asleep because we kept hitting the center median and roadside bump strips. According to the driver, the bus is actually just really wide, so it's hard to drive perfectly within the two noise strips.