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Arizona desert

Monday, September 28th, 2009

me and cactus

100 degrees, not a cloud in the sky, sound like a perfect day to walk around the desert right?  That’s what we ended up doing yesterday.  A desert museum actually, with all the native plants that would normally be there.  Anyone who thinks there’s nothing cool to look at in a desert should just look at my photos from the day.



lizard up close






Loads of wild flowers.

desert flowers

desert flowers

Flowering cacti too.


Stopped at a pass in the mountains on the way to Tucson for dinner, a sweeping view over the whole desert/mountain landscape and loads of tall cacti. Then watched the sunset on the drive back…



It’s Monday now, and I’ll be back in Iowa this weekend. Scary thought.

Last days in LA

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

Saturday we drove to Santa Monica, via more crazy amounts of mazy freeways.  Walked around the famous 100 year old pier and some of the city itself.  The pier is really cool…

entry to the pier

Santa Monica pier

Santa Monica pier

Santa Monica beach

Lots of different kinds of street performers around the 3rd street promenade.  Nice area, full of people but not too busy.

3rd st promenade

After lunch we drove North up the coast into Malibu, home of lots of rich people.  It’s not hard to see why they live there, near the ocean, lined with beaches.  Houses are beachfront or perched on the hills inland.  The beaches aren’t private though, plenty of public access points.  Chilled at the beach for a while….


entrance to the rich homes...

beachfront houses

a beach in malibu

beachfront houses

a beach in malibu

Didn’t do much my last day here, just checked out an orange grove, since I was in Orange County.  Though now they aren’t too easy to find as urban development keeps spreading.  I picked an orange off the tree, ate it later on and I’ll tell you right now…fresh is best.


Beaches of Orange county

Saturday, September 19th, 2009

I had no wheels for day 2, so I decided to check out some of the beaches in orange county since I was staying there, something reasonably possible by bus.  Possible but very time consuming, I had a good day at the beach, but half of the day was spent on buses or waiting for a bus.  This is basically because of the sheer sprawl here and the bus frequency, 1 per hour on most routes.  At $4 for a day pass though I can’t say I got ripped off.

First place I went was Huntington beach, known for it’s surfing.  Very large beach with plenty of waves, but not much activity in any sense.  Friday afternoon not being a peak time at the beach, something about people having jobs I guess?  I don’t know though, in Oz there would’ve been more people on the beach.

Huntington beach

I didn’t hang around long there, lack of anything to do mainly.  I headed a couple beaches South, to Crystal Cove state park.  I had no idea that there were any “natural” beaches this close to LA, figured they’d all been developed!  Crystal cove also had hardly anyone on it, but it was far more scenic.  Cliffs behind the beach and loads of rock pools on the beach.

crystal cove

crystal cove

I ended up spending several hours combing through the rock pools with a like minded girl I met down there, crab chasing and the like.  Crabs, anemones and sea snails and some fish were mostly what was around, don’t think I’d ever seen sea snails like this before.

rock pools @ crystal cove


sea hare

rock pools @ crystal cove

After the pools had thoroughly been delved through we found a small gap in the rocks at the far end of the beach to jump in the ocean and cool off, briefly due to the amount of seaweed in the water.  Much cooler than the Atlantic last week in Miami, not cold (if I wanted that I’d have gone swimming in San Francisco) but it’s actually refreshing here.  Less refreshing was the nearly 3 hours spent going 25 miles on buses to get back…

The city of angels – day 1

Saturday, September 19th, 2009

First day in LA, I was in a car, being driven to Hollywood.  This whole, knowing people somewhere and staying with them is really nice.  From where I was staying, in the OC with my friend, to get to Hollywood you have to drive clear across LA county and past central Los Angeles.  It was about a 40 mile trip, along which I saw more freeways and bigger freeways than I had ever seen before…  and this was only one direct route across part of the metro area.  There have to be more freeways here than anywhere on earth.  Luckily, traffic wasn’t too bad since we avoided rush hour.

downtown and traffic


Hollywood is not a glamourous neighborhood, contrary to what you may think.  Aside from the flashy theatres etc it’s not really attractive, a high content of seedy businesses around there.  We walked up and down Hollywood Blvd along the star walk, stopped at the theatre where many celebrities have imprinted their foot/handprints and signatures in the cement and took a few photos.

Johnny Depp

Mr Steven

After satisfying myself that I’d seen enough of Hollywood blvd, we drove up to the historic Griffith Observatory.  Beautifully set on top of Griffith park, overlooking the whole LA area, including a great view of the Hollywood hills, and sign.

Griffith observatory

hollywood sign

hollywood sign


Good place for a self portrait to add to the collection…

me and the hollywood sign

Looking out from the observatory I fully understood for the first time just how big the city is.  Los Angeles, or rather, the LA area is huge.  I’ve never seen anything like it before.  Aside from the typical skyscrapers in the cbd, (and even it is very small considering the population of the city…) there are scarcely any other high rise or even anything more then 2-3 stories high, just a few small clusters of them.  Mostly it’s mile after mile of houses or offices, I’ve never seen a city with so few high rise apartments, and this is a city of 13 million people (LA county and the OC, between which is most of the sprawl)  That is a similar number of people to Tokyo, but Tokyo is in a much smaller area and it feels like a massive city.  Here, until you are close to the cbd to see the skyscrapers you wouldn’t know you are in a mega-city.  It’s just suburb after suburb full of ranch style houses, business districts and strip malls, stretching out seemingly forever.

downtown LA


San Diego, well, nearby anyway…

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

Woke up to actual sunshine my last morning in San Francisco, just in time to fly away to San Diego (where there is plenty more sunshine).  Before leaving I got a great breakfast at a great hole in the wall cafe in the city with my cs host.  One of the many benefits of couchsurfing.  My flight was an hour late due to fog earlier in the morning backing up everything at the airport.  After all the long haul flights I’ve taken it was really weird to be on a plane that not only is within the same country but within the same state.

I didn’t manage to get a couch in San Diego itself, I ended up in Oceanside instead.  The downside was it’s 30 miles up the coast, the upside was that it was closer to one of the best micro breweries in the country.  It was there that I spent the next day, free tour, free tastings, one thing leads to another and the next thing you know it’s 5:00 already…  Just enough time to make it back to Oceanside beach for sunset.

line 'em up


My plans changed a bit the next day, was originally going to stay in San Diego for another night but since I was  not actually in San Diego I decided to go to Los Angeles instead.  It was my intention to spend most of the day in San Diego and get a train to LA in the evening but due to the bad scheduling of the public transit in the area I didn’t get to SD until noon.

Sante Fe central station

I ended up spending most of the afternoon walking around the downtown “gaslamp” district with my backpack on.  Full of restaurants, shops and bars and some attractive older buildings.  Good thing I didn’t stay down here or I would’ve been spending too much money…

'gaslamp district'

'gaslamp district'

The one detour I made from the centre was to the docks, where they have a decommissioned aircraft carrier, the USS Midway sitting there as a museum.  The admission fee was outrageous unfortunately other wise I would’ve spent the whole afternoon looking at the planes on it and walking around it.

USS Midway

As I’m writing this I’m on an Amtrak train heading to LA, my last real travel destination on the trip.  Shame, I haven’t even been gone for quite 14 months yet…

San Francisco 2

Monday, September 14th, 2009

Didn’t get much sleep my 2nd night here due to a party being held at the place I was staying.  Fortunately, I’m used to no sleep now and this didn’t stop me heading out the next morning, if slightly later than usual.  I walked to Golden Gate park, a very large park stretching into the city from the pacific.  The park was pretty busy with people walking and biking all over the place.  After scoffing at the $5 they wanted for admission to the Japanese tea gardens I walked around the largely unimpressive botanical gardens.  It was mainly just loads of plants from around the world with labels in front of them, they could learn a thing or two about making botanical gardens from Sydney.

Golden Gate park

I continued towards the pacific along the edge of the park, passing through a district of asian shops and restaurants.  Stopped for some rice candies, hadn’t had those since I was in Korea.  Green tea is the best flavour.  Exhausted by the time I got to the beach, and the weather wasn’t good for beach life, coolish and very windy as soon as I cleared the dunes.  I stopped at a cafe for lunch instead of staying at the beach longer.

pacific beach

Next stop was the golden gate bridge, one of the place I did hit up last year but decided to go back to since the cloud ceiling was a bit higher than it was last time.  Still dark clouds were coming in fast and I thought better of my original idea of walking all the way across the bridge.

golden gate bridge

downtown SF from the bridge

After leaving the bridge, only one place I was heading, Japan town.  This time on a bus though.  I finally found a restaurant with my favourite Japanese food, Okonomiyaki.  Had a slightly different take on it and left very satisfied.

That concludes my 3 day stay in San Francisco, as the rain and my tired feet brought an end to my exploration slightly early.  It really is a beautiful, if expensive city.  Friendly people and the multicultural aspect of it is great, I notice this more after coming from Latin America.  Hence the Japanese food binging the last few days.

San Francisco, 1 year on…

Monday, September 14th, 2009

Sept 11th, 2009.  The day my round the world ticket expired.  One year ago I was in San Francisco, my last day in the US before flying to Japan.  This time though, instead of arriving in the evening with no where to stay and sleeping in a camper parked on the side of the road, I had a couchsurfer to stay with.  More pleasant than the driving back and forth around the bay area looking for somewhere to park the camper that occurred last year.

I got to the city around 3:00, to beautiful weather (last I’d see of it).  Didn’t do much in terms of sightseeing, walked past the wharf, remembered it from last year and left to avoid tourist mobs.  Found my way to a nice area near the marina, full of great houses and walked up the hill a bit for an awesome view overlooking the bay.

marina district

Filmore street

As I kept walking (invariably uphill) I got to Japan town (no coincidence), wandered starry-eyed through it remembering Japan and got a couple snacks from a supermarket.  Fish filled rice triangles never tasted so good, or brought back so many good memories from across the pacific.

That evening I went to the same bar I was at exactly one year ago (just about to the hour) and had the same beer.  Niiice.  Then I went down the street for a fantastic dinner of veggie tempura.  Amazingly the bar was 2 blocks away from my couchsurfing hosts house, coincidence?  ha.

Second day I walked all over San Francisco.  Seriously.  Through Union square where there was a Korean festival going on, heard them singing the Korean and American national anthems while I was there, weird, more culture shock.  Next, on to China town where I found a slightly unique sushi place, like the conveyor belt places I came to love in Japan but with boats floating on water instead.  The California rolls were delish.


sushi boats

mm sushi

After lunch I walked up to Telegraph hill, after wandering aimlessly to where I thought looked cool for a while, stopped at the lookout tower for a rest.  A view came with the rest…


city centre

the bay bridge

Walked along Lombard street next.  The famous “most curvy street on earth” is actually one of the main roads in San Francisco and the vast majority of it is really straight.  I saw the curvy bit last year but went by it again simply because it was on the way to where I was going next.

Lombard street

Lombard street

Union street was my next stopping point, near where I’d been yesterday, a nice section of cafes and shops.  Had a cup of tea and gathered the energy for another uphill bit of walking, back to Japan town.

view of the bay

I explored Japan town much more thoroughly this time before heading back towards the Lower Haight district where I was staying.  This square was on the way back, lined with great houses like these, this city really is beautiful…

Alamo Sq



Saturday, September 12th, 2009

I left Miami in the morning for Chicago, flying domestically is so easy, especially since I’m not checking in any luggage now.  I only have to arrive an hour before the flight at the airport, don’t have to fill out customs forms or go through immigration on arrival either.  Much less time taken up at airports, in and out.

Couchsurfed in Chicago for a couple nights, went to my favourite pizza joints, a couple great bars I know and ended my stay at a weekly couchsurfing meetup until the wee hours.  Walking around the city over the two days I was reminded how much I like it.  Great weather, great pizza, great beer…what more could you want?

After 4 days back in the US, (2 after Miami), I’m almost getting used to people speaking English around me, almost.  So far since being back, I’m appalled by the amount of fat people everywhere, enthralled by the amount of great beer available to me, annoyed by all the starbucks and mcdonalds etc everywhere, enjoying the amount of English being spoken around me, and, most importantly I’m having a blast.

Next stop, San Francisco via the last flight of my round the world ticket.  One year to the day after I was there last year.


Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

I woke up at 4:00, after going to bed at 1:00 we got a taxi at 4:45 to get to the Medellin airport.  Flight at 7:40.  why do they build airports so far away from cities!?  Nice view of the Caribbean including Cuba during the flight. Got into Miami just after noon, walked pretty much straight through immigration with no fuss at all, waited seemingly an eternity for the bags and again in a huge queue for customs.  Didn’t get searched anywhere or any hard questions about why I was traveling for so long or Colombia specifically, surprised the hell out of me, in a good way.

Walking out of the airport into the Miami heat and humidity was not a enjoyable experience.  Though it was good to get out of the chaotic badly organized busy airport.  From this point is where stuff got easy for me.  My friend picked me up from the airport, took me to a Cuban restaurant (apparently where the party is going to be when Fidel Castro dies…) for a Cuban sandwich in Little Havana (not so little) and then gave me a tour of various parts of Miami.  Half US, half Latin America, and a cool city except for the weather (no pun intended) that’s my take.

downtown miami

downtown miami

downtown miami

downtown miami

My hostel was in South beach, an island just off shore from the city centre with the popular beach and is full of nightlife, nice hotels and restaurants.  Palm tree lined streets too.

Ocean Drive

along ocean drive, south beach

ritzy area of South Beach

We hit the beach and I tried out the water, warmest ocean I’ve been in anywhere.  Not surprising considering the average temperature here every day.  Now, finally after all this traveling and the amount of times I have flown across it, I’ve gone swimming in the Atlantic ocean.  Direct pacific comparison coming up in a few days.

the beach

the beach

I checked out the South beach area more closely that evening, when the heat of the sun was gone, and since it was Labor day it was very busy.  Nice area, but with plenty of strange people around it too, I grabbed a sandwich and headed back to the air conditioned hostel where it didn’t take long for me to fall asleep.  Long day.

My 2nd (and final) day in Miami, my friend picked me up in the morning and we drove to the everglades where we took an air boat trip out into the swamp.  Never seen any swamp this big, looks like a field of grass but it’s in water. Really cool stuff, saw an alligator too… 

air boat





Shame about the absolutely insane heat and humidity in the everglades though, even worse than the general Miami heat.

and humid as hell too...

Back into the city after that, and a driving tour of different areas.  It’s weird sitting in a car for a change, and on top of that, surrounded by large SUV’s.  America. We drove to Key Biscayne in the afternoon to see the lighthouse and the mangroves there, great view from the top of the lighthouse. Lots of Iguanas around too…


beach from the lighthouse

view from the lighthouse



I went out again in the evening to a different part of South beach than the night before, walking along the West coast of the island with a good view of the nearby downtown skyline.  It was sprinkling rain when I headed out and It decided to start pouring while I was walking by the marina.  Thankfully there were plenty of palm trees to take shelter under.


city centre skyline from south beach

South beach was much quieter with far fewer weirdos hanging around with the holiday weekend being over too.  Had a great orange juice (unlike the flavourless one with the hostel breakfast, isn’t that illegal in this state??) and dinner then back to the hostel to take care of some couchsurfing details for my next couple stops and go to bed.  2 good days in Miami, next up, Chicago.

2 days back in the USA now, people are still speaking spanish and there’s more Latin restaurants than burger joints, I was told I’d have culture shock returning after a year gone, more like cultural confusion.  I am still trying to convert all my purchases into US dollars in my head, then realizing that I’m paying in US dollars and making hand motions when I ask for something to help convey the point in case I wasn’t understood.  Some stuff will take a while to get used to again, clearly…

Yosemite Park/Last day in America

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

Continuing South in California, we stopped at Ft Bragg and I spent the afternoon climbing on the rocks checking out all the great tidal pools.  Despite it being closer to high tide than low tide I still managed to find some crabs, starfish and other unknown sea creatures.  Perfect sunny day and loads of fun, I forgot how much I enjoy that stuff.

biggest tide pool

Yosemite Park. 

First day we drove in the South entrance of the park and hiked around an old grove of sequoia trees, which are even bigger than the redwoods.  There’s not that many left in this particular forest but that just makes them stand out more on the trail.  


Second day, Half Dome.  Half Dome is one of the granite peaks in the Yosemite valley, 8800 feet above sea level.  We decided to hike it.  It’s 15 miles round trip, with 4800ft of elevation gain.  The hiking guide describes it as “extremely strenuous” and it doesn’t lie.  Mainly it’s steep, with a small level part in the middle, but as you go on it gets steeper and there is less oxygen in the air.  Then, when you get  above the tree-line it gets even steeper, basically a staircase winding back and forth up the granite face.  When you can’t breath anymore you come to a minor summit (where the weenies stop) and are faced with an almost vertical ascent up the final rock face, assisted by cables and boards laid across as steps.  Without that assistance, you could very easily fall thousands of feet to your demise.  With the assistance, you pull yourself up to the next step, and then gather up the energy to continue.half dome If/when you reach the summit, the view is stupendous.  Mountains in every direction and  a 5000ft drop off down to the valley floor all around you.  It is one of the best views I’ve ever seen.The whole thing took around 10 hours to get up and down, and I’ve never been that exhausted before.



So in summary, the mountain kicked my ass, but at least I got a great view out of it and the pictures to prove it.  The perfect weather in California continued, and I slept very well that night.view from half dome



As I’m posting this, I’m in San Francisco. Spent the day here checking out the city, walked out on the golden gate bridge, rode the cable car… Cool city, wish I had more than just today to check it out. My flight to Tokyo is tomorrow and I’m just about ready for it.  This is the “real” starting point of my trip.  As for tonight, I’m relaxing and enjoying some great beers here and savoring people speaking english everywhere.


Next time I post on here it’ll be from Japan….