Marty McFly made travelling back in time look like such fun, but let it be known that it’s actually a complete and utter ball ache. Especially when you’re travelling with ‘Budget Air’ in place of a Delorean. Let us attempt to explain…..
It worked out heaps cheaper for us to fly from New Zealand to the States if we flew via Sydney. We got up at 4:30am on Monday to make our 4 hour flight from Auckland, back to Australia, during which we gained 2 hours.
We then had an agonising 8 hour wait in Sydney airport (anyone seen the film ‘Terminal’?!) before catching our 14 hour flight to LA, which flew us over New Zealand which we’d left 12 hours earlier. Awesome.
Our flight to LA was 14 hours long, during which we crossed the international date line and therefore gained another 17 hours. In summary, we landed in Los Angeles 3 hours earlier than we took off, meaning Monday 4th May was 43 hours long. Confused? Yeah, we were too.
In fact we were completely delirious by the time we finally reached LA. You know it’s a long flight when you’ve had 3 meals, 8 hours asleep and still managed to watch ‘The Godfather’ from start to finish.
Still, we arrived in one piece and were so grateful for the warm Californian sunshine. We love LA and it felt good to be back in familiar territory. Everything in LA is a vision of perfection, which is probably why we fit in so brilliantly :-)
The immaculate wide roads, white sparkling pavements and huge luxury homes make LA feel more like a film set than a real city. It’s hard to believe that people actually live here and lead normal lives.
Where else would you find a guy dressed as Edward Scissorhands trimming a hedge with his bladed digits at the end of your street? Not joking! We barely batted an eyelid – welcome to Hollywood!!
We spent our time mooching along Hollywood Boulevard, people watching and checking out the latest celebs to be added to the Walk of Fame or have their hands and feet cast outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.
Cor Blimey Mary Poppins!:
Grauman's Chinese Theatre:
Practically perfect in every way:
Me and my mate Barack:
Separated at birth?
We recovered well from our jetlag and had to make some decisions about our time in the States. With our cash reserves running seriously low, we had to prioritise our wish list but both agreed that Yosemite National Park was firmly at the top.
Just 5 hours from LA, it was an easy and relaxing drive to Yosemite. Just inside the park entrance is Mariposa grove, home to the largest living thing on the planet – the Sequoia tree, known to us as Giant Redwoods.
We spent a few hours exploring the grove when we first arrived, in complete amazement at the age and enormity of these giants.
1800 year old 'Grizzy Giant' (the tree, not me!). Even the branches have a circumference of 22 feet!!
'Bachelor and three graces':
Taking shelter from the sun:
Impressive even after they've fallen:
Yosemite Park is unbelievably big (1200 square miles!!) however everything we wanted to see was on the valley floor. With a limited budget, we could only afford a canvas tent at the Curry Village campsite, located at the base of Glacier Point.
Bears in the valley are a big problem, with many campers having their tents and cars ransacked overnight by bears in search of food. Each tent comes with an outside bear storage container where you have to lock away EVERYTHING that is even slightly scented (food, drink, soap, toothepaste etc). Anyone who doesn’t heed the warning is likely to have a surprise visitor overnight.
We arrived at our camp late afternoon, stored away all our belongings as advised and got ready for bed. Now we were told that the valley gets very cold at night due to the altitude, but we were not prepared for just how cold.
I wore almost everything I had with me - 2 pairs of leggings, 2 pairs of socks, a vest, t-shirt, microfleece, hoody and a pair of gloves. After mummifying myself, Jase tucked me in under 2 bedsheets and 7 woollen blankets whilst giggling his arse off, telling me I looked like a Romanian refugee.
I emerged from beneath my blankets the following morning to discover that Jase had also donned his hoody and woolly socks and swaddled himself in blankets overnight. We couldn’t help but laugh at our predicament – this wasn’t how we imagined our trip to Yosemite at all.
Our tent and bear box:
View from our camp:
Getting up for a pee in the night was soul destroying. Getting out of a freezing-but-warmer-than-outside bed and trekking through a bear riddled campsite at 2am was terrifying.
We heard all sorts of weird and wonderful noises outside our tent each night, though when we finally had the guts to investigate discovered nothing more than a couple of cheeky racoons in search of a midnight snack.
Night time visitors:
We walked the entire Yosemite Valley floor, which felt as high as it was long. Looking up at Yosemite Falls, Half Dome and El Capitan from within the valley made us feel like specks of dust in comparison to these natural giants. We were beaming with huge smiles all day, in complete awe of our surroundings.
Misty morning in the valley:
Tunnel View (El Capitan on the left, Bridal Falls on the right and Half Dome through the middle):
We also visited Mirror Lake, though turned back halfway along the track when we found ourselves stepping over fresh bear shit every few metres. A fellow walker told us a bear had been spotted in the meadow just minutes earlier - an encounter in such a dense and remote forest would make for a really, really bad day.
The aptly named Mirror Lake:
We were sad to learn that Glacier Point Road was closed for the first 2 days due to snow at the high altitude. However as we were driving out of the valley on our last day, the list of road closures omitted Glacier Point Road – Result!
We didn’t hesitate to drive back on ourselves, following the road up to Glacier Point which was like a helter-skelter. The road got whiter and whiter with snow at every turn.
It was worth every twist and turn. These pictures really don’t do the vista justice – it’s unreal.
View of Half Dome and the valley from Glacier Point:
View down to our camp:
Wild coyote at Glacier Point:
We couldn’t resist a quick stop on the way back for a snow angel and miniature snow man:
Despite the extremely cold nights, we felt incredibly privileged to have slept in the heart of such wilderness. We both agreed that Yosemite exceeded our expectations in every way imaginable and is possibly one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
Anyone who doesn’t have Yosemite on their bucket list is crazy. Period.
It was hard to resist the pull of Vegas just a few hours away but both agreed we wanted to see something new. Having both been fascinated by Alcatraz for many years, we found ourselves heading to San Francisco for a few days.
Parking in San Francisco is an absolute nightmare and accommodation options on a backpackers budget are limited. We managed to find a motel within budget but it was pretty manky.
Our spirits were lifted however when we discovered that although our motel was small and smelly, it was located right next door to an IHOP. High five!
Location, location, location!!!!!
Unfortunately for our waistlines our ‘When in Rome’ ethos didn’t end at IHOP. We fully embraced Uncle Sam and spent our days eating giant hot dogs, scoffing hamburgers, supping soda’s bigger than our heads and plying ourselves with Californian wine. God bless America!!
San Francisco was cold and shrouded in an eerie fog on our first morning. The creepy atmosphere was absolutely perfect as we were visiting Alcatraz – once home to America’s most infamous and dangerous criminals.
Alcatraz closed as an operational prison back in the 60’s and is now preserved by the National Park Service. It sits on a tiny island just one mile from San Francisco mainland. We took the first ferry across to the island which was surprisingly beautiful and ridiculously small – the same size as just 12 football pitches.
It’s just as imposing and sterile as it appears in the movies. Being stood in the recreation yard was especially strange, looking across to the mainland imagining how the prisoners must have felt being so close to civilisation. We learned all about the various escape attempts, all of which failed apart from just one.
Prison officers and their families, including young children, lived on the island just metres from the cell block, where criminals and gangsters such as Al Capone and Robert ‘The Birdman’ Stroud were imprisoned.
We spent several hours exploring the cell block, recreation yard, isolation wing and administration offices.
The Cell Block:
Right where he belongs!
Bullet holes from escape attempts:
The sunshine came out at lunchtime when we headed back to the mainland to visit the famous San Francisco sea lions. They come in from the sea every day to bask in the sunshine at Pier 39.
We could hear the loud barking before we even reached the end of the pier. We were expecting a handful of seals, not hundreds piled high on top of one another – it was hilarious! Their honking and barking was deafening as they dragged their blubbery bodies over one another.
San Francisco is too vast to explore on foot so I’d arranged for us to hire bicycles the following day. However I’d overlooked a pretty significant point – San Francisco is without doubt the hilliest place we have ever seen in our entire lives. Apparently this is a well-known fact, well known to everyone but me.
Many of the hills have gradients exceeding 30 degrees which require you to crane your neck in order to look up the street. It was a huge challenge walking up the hills on foot (and a bloody nightmare keeping our legs in check going down them) so cycling was going to be interesting.
Still, we were up for a challenge and I asked Jase to work out a route. Why on God’s earth I let Jase loose on google maps is beyond me – his sightseeing route was almost 40 miles long!
We were knackered before we even reached the bicycle shop which didn’t fill us with confidence for the day ahead. We picked up our bikes and set off to battle the slopes of San Fran.
We peddled (and yes – pushed) our bikes up and over the hills taking in the sights of Fisherman’s Wharf, Union Square and Golden Gate Park. We cycled through every type of neighbourhood imaginable – high rise metropolis, trendy arty districts, posh leafy suburbs, meadows and lakes. San Francisco has something for everyone and we loved every area we passed through. Well almost…..
At one point, we found ourselves lost in the bowels of downtown San Francisco. One street was particularly shady, lined with homeless people, Mexican gangs and pimps who stared at us as we peddled past. Jase tried to reassure me that it was perfectly safe and suggested we try to blend in. As two pasty faced tourists with matching bikes, goofy helmets and sightseeing maps, it was going to be a struggle.
I tried to stay calm but after passing a gang breaking into a car with a samurai sword we both peddled like the wind to get the hell out of there. By the time we reached a nicer neighbourhood our legs were like jelly.
The leafy burbs:
Old Tram System:
We’d hoped to freewheel down the steep hills and gain enough momentum to get at least part way up the other side. Unfortunately some bright spark decided it would be a good idea to put an intersection complete with stop signs at the bottom of each hill. We had to get going from scratch every single time. It was a killer.
The sight of the Golden Gate Bridge on the horizon however, was unbelievably energising. It puts the Severn Bridge to shame, that’s for sure.
Cycling across the bridge in the beautiful sunshine was magnificent. The view out to Alcatraz and back to the city was a sight for sore eyes – and arses.
Golden Gate Bridge:
View back to the city - look how far we'd come!
Boys in the hood:
Having cycled almost 25 miles, with at least another 10 to go, we needed to refuel. Before long we were in Sausalito, a charming little seaside town and an ideal lunch stop.
We found a pretty waterside restaurant, took a table at the water’s edge and ordered crab sandwiches. With sore arses and aching legs, we weren’t in any rush to finish them.
Roll forward a couple of hours and add a bowl of chips, several large glasses of wine, chocolate brownies and ice cream….. We weren’t going anywhere!!
Thankfully we were only a stones throw from the Sausalito ferry so decided to call it a day. We boarded the ferry along with our bikes and headed back to Fisherman’s Wharf just before sunset.
Well earned rest:
Ferry back to Fisherman's Wharf:
Tomorrow we say goodbye to California and fly to Fort Lauderdale in Florida, then drive to Fort Myers on the Gulf Coast. We realise Florida is probably the least backpacker-ish destination in the world but with just a couple of grand left, our wish list for our last 6 weeks has reduced to just 2 things – cheap accommodation and sunshine.
Florida ticks both of these boxes although sadly our budget doesn’t stretch to a beach front condo. Instead we’re going to be living the trailer trash lifestyle in a holiday cabin on an RV park for a mere £12 a night. Classy!
So assuming we haven’t been ousted by the local rednecks we’ll be back in touch soon from the Sunshine State.
Bye Y’all !!!!!!!!