Monday, June 20, 2011

Santiago, CHILE: The first two days

It took me 32 hours and 5 separate flights to get from New Orleans to Santiago, including a five hour stopover in JFK and a seven hour stopover in Lima. I had three consecutive flights with the same South American airline and all three planes played the second Twilight movie. I had already seen it once (which was more than enough) so I watched it in Spanish which kept me entertained for a while. I knew the travel was getting to me when I watched it on silent and imagined 30 Rock quotes instead and struggled not to burst into laughter at my own hilarious comic timing.

"If there's one thing I learned from's to keep your friends close and you're enemies so close that you're almost kissing."

I also completely forgot that Chile is a Spanish speaking country and I don't know any Spanish. This freaked me out when I didn't understand what the flight attendants were announcing at the gate. Even when they said it in English, they're accent was so thick that it may as well have been Spanish.

I went to Chile to see my friend Sam. We went to high school together but she moved to Melbourne for university so we don't see each other very often. Her parents moved to Santiago for her Dad's job (mining) for the next couple of years. She was visiting her parents and since I hadn't seen her for about a year it seemed like the perfect opportunity to catch up and see some of South America.

Sam and her mum, Mary, picked me up from the airport, took me to their apartment in the business district and showed me to my own room (!!!) which was the maid's quarters. They don't have a maid (although it is common in that neighbourhood of Santiago) so it's more of a guest room. I know I love my privacy but it was so amazing to spread my stuff around (I had my own bathroom too) and even hang some of my clothes up in the wardrobe and not worry about someone stealing my passport or laptop while I slept or went out.

Santiago is a city with an abundance of Pisco Sours, breath taking views of the snow capped Andes street jugglers, stray dogs, and mono-brows.

After washing all my clothes to get rid of any lingering bed bugs, Mary took Sam and I out to explore the city a bit. We went to a touristy fish market where we had lunch and I had my first Pisco Sour. Pisco is a grape brandy that is made in Chile and Peru. A Pisco Sour is pisco with egg white, lemon, lime, icing sugar and ice or some combination with those ingredients. Everyone makes them differently but they all include pisco and lemon. Their often served as an apertif and can be quite potent (pisco is 40%).

The building was designed by Gustave Eiffel, the same guy who did the Tower in Paris. We sat at a restaurant where Mary was referred to as The Queen (La Larena!) because she goes so often. We had a local fish soup called caldillio de congria and salmon and salad. Before the meal came we helped ourselves to the warm bread, butter and pebre which is a salsa that is similar to bruschetta with chili. Delish. On our way back home we looked in the Cathedral in the main square and stopped at a bar called The Clinic which is owned by a left wing satirical newspaper of the same name.

The Cathedral

Later in my stay, we went back to The Clinic and had a Terremoto, a local drink which translates as 'earthquake' because after two of them your legs begin to shake. It consists of pipeno (the 'n' needs a tilde over it, but blogger won't let me. Way to be Spanish-friendly, blogspot!) which is a sweet fermented wine, pineapple ice cream and is normally served in a one litre glass. Ours was only half a litre (which is actually the replica or 'aftershock') and also contained mixed berries. Unfortunately, due the the disgusting mix of flavours, I didn't get far enough to feel the effects of the terremoto. In fact, I think that was the first time I have not finished something that was put in front of me due to taste alone.

As I learned very quickly, Chile is rife with the ramifications of recent political turmoil (including a coup!). I'm not going to go into it (mainly because I still don't think I understand it completely) but the basics consist of Salvador Allende, a socialist who was democratically elected. The far right didn't like his nationalisation of industries and collectivasation so strikes and protests happened, The Supreme Court got involved, he refused to resign and ended up committing suicide (although a recent autopsy occurred to determine if this is true) as armed forces surrounded the Moneda Palace. Chile was then led under Pinochet as a dictatorship. Can you tell I just read wikipedia? I suggest you read more, it is fascinating. This all happened in the early 1970s, so it's fresh for a lot of people.

Also there were a lot of student protests (high school as well as uni students) demanding the financing of fees and government loans change. So much so that they throw rocks in the street and many schools have even closed down. Most of the Chilenos are behind the students as well, which is pretty cool. I know I'm lucky to have grown up in such a safe country but it must be exciting to have something to be that passionate about, feel that it's worth trying to make a difference and have the majority of the country agree with you.

That night Trevor, Sam's dad, made the fish soup for dinner and told us more about the political history of Chile. It was nice to be part of a family dinner setting and then to watch DVD's and have a cup of tea before going to bed in my own room.

The next day Sam and I had a tourist day and went to Pablo Neruda's house in Bellavista (a trashy bar/club area by night).

I got this on Google because we weren't allowed to take photos.

Pablo Neruda was a revolutionist who built these amazing ship-inspired houses. Mary had told us to look out for a Russian house and that Pablo's house would be close by. We asked how we would know it was Russian and she said we would "just know". So we walked around for about ten minutes and when we didn't find the Tsar's Winter Palace (thank you, year 10 history) we wondered what the hell Mary thought a Russian house looked like. They all looked South American/normal to us. We ended up ringing Trevor at work for directions.

We were visiting a house that Pablo built for his mistress, Matilde, and himself. While the house wouldn't have been practical in the freezing winter as a lot of it was in separate buildings, I have since decided that I'm going to have an affair with a communist revolutionary so he can build me a similar house. He collected anything and everything and had two or three bars in the one house.

The P is for Pablo and looks like a moon, M for Matilde and looks like mountains and together ...meant...something. Their love is like the moon and mountains, maybe? No, that doesn't sound right. The sun in the middle is supposed to be Matilde and her messy hair.

When lunch time hunger set in, we picked a restaurant on the street at random. It was stupendously overpriced and served terrible food. We soon made a rule: don't go to restaurants that don't have anyone in them. We later added another rule: don't choose a restaurant without Mary's help.

The Virgin's view of Santiago. That's mainly clouds but Santiago is very polluted as well.

After lunch we used the fernicular (a rude sounding lift) to go up to the top of San Christobel, a nearby mountain with a giant white statue of The Virgin Mary on top.

Sam and her friend, Saint Someone.

With neither Sam or I being particularly religious/we're actually fairly confident athiests, the highlight was the teenage guy sitting under the statue who wore a skeleton tattoo and a look on his face that said "I dare you to laugh/react."

Up the Virgin's nose.

I have to stop now because I'm struggling to keep my eyes open and it's getting too long again. I'm writing this three weeks later and can't believe that I can remember this much detail; the next updates will only be highlights of my time in Santiago. There was a lot of sitting around in the apartment, drinking vino tinto and watching Grand Designs, anyway.

Until next time, beunos noches!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

New Orleans, Louisana (Part 2)

Sorry that I left the last post on such a cliffhanger, but I have come to continue the story since I have returned from Valparaiso (seaside town in Chile, will blog about it in due time) with Sam.

So Adam returned home and cleaned Dante's explosive diarrhea out of his kennel. I was nervously playing with the little dogs while Adam asked me what I wanted to do that night. I said I didn't want to do anything until my parents called back. I got sick of waiting so I rang both of them. Dad called back and thought something had gone wrong.

"No, I'm fine, Dad. I've run out of money, though."
"Oh. I'll have to get your mother to call; I'm at work. Are you okay?"
"Did you hear me? I don't have any money left."
"Yeah, okay. I'll get your Mum to call."

Mum started talking about sending me money straight away. She didn't want me on the other side of the world with nothing to my name. I said I know I'm disgustingly in debt now (I still owe them money from my Japan/Korea trip) but she said it's okay because I'm only 21 once.

Just like I was only 20 once. I guess I'll only be 22 once, too.

Dad sent me a text with more full stops than spaces, claiming that I had spent too much money partying and that my priorities should be on travelling and not drinking. I understand where he's coming from and I'm sure there are other family members reading this who would agree. My priorities are always with travelling. Drinking with the locals and the other people I meet along the way is a huge part of that experience. It's such a great way to meet people and get to know strangers in a relaxed atmosphere. Also alcohol is stupendously cheap and it's often more expensive to buy food than beers. Not to mention, people have been buying me drinks and I've been going to house parties with couch surfers where alcohol is usually provided. I didn't blow it all on beer. It was just slowly (well, faster than I had estimated) whittled away on everything.

So with the knowledge that money was being sent to my account I relaxed a bit and drank with Adam and his neighbour Sam, before we went out. I was previously freaking out that I wouldn't be able to pay the tax to get into Chile in four days time, so it was nice to know I would make it again. We headed to Frenchmen St, the Bourbon St for locals. We stopped in front of a brass band playing on the street and danced for a while.

Band on Frenchmen St.

Then we headed to another bar where a band was playing later that night. Sam seemed to be struggling so we went back to take him home, but he ended up staying out with us all night. Adam had bought a bottle of whiskey which I hid in my bag and topped up the cokes we bought at the bar, in a very unsubtle manner in the bathroom. By the time the Brass-A-Holics had started, Lauren had joined us from work. The band were amazing and I remember grinning madly while I danced at the front of the crowd with Lauren, Adam and Sam.

The Brass-A-Holics at Blue Nile.

I woke up the next morning, in all my clothes, with several dogs sleeping on top of me and to Lauren saying we would be leaving soon. Shit. Get up. Sober up. Re-orient myself. Shower. Adam handed me a beer before I realised how much I needed to recover. These guys were hardcore drinkers.

Yes, I realise I just went from defending my drinking to talking about drinking again straight away. I don't have much to say to that. When in Rome. When I was in San Francisco, Laura (the Austrian) and I made each other do lame things at the Science Academy by saying "you're a couch surfer; you can't say no." Which is pretty much it. When I'm offered a beer, I accept. Unless I reeeeaaallly don't want to. But where's the fun in that? Besides, Adam had already opened the beer.

We were heading to Lauren's parents house on the North Shore which meant we had to cross what used to be the world's longest bridge over water. It is 24 miles long (almost 39km) and took up most of our trip. Apparently Japan made a bridge that is 26 miles long.

The trip across the bridge was to enjoy a Crawfish Boil, a common meal in NOLA. Crawfish are like mini crayfish. Or like a prawn crossed with a crayfish. I kept imagining Sebastian from The Little Mermaid but according to his wikipedia page, which I just checked, he is actually a Red Trinidadian Crab.

They were cooked for a few hours in a big pot outside on the grass. The pot also contained crabs, vegetables and spices. When they were ready I helped Adam scoop them into polystyrene take away containers to be eaten. Lauren's Dad showed me how to rip their heads off and then suck the meat that sticks out of their tail to pull it all out. I found it easier to eat them like prawns, by peeling the tail and legs off the meat. They tasted pretty damn good. So did the vegetables and crabs. Unfortunately I sliced my thumb open while attacking a crab so it was a bit difficult after that, but I was determined seeing as I was faced with so much delicious seafood.

Lauren's Dad asked me about Australia's Prime Minister saying that he was a pretty good guy. I pointed out that we actually have a woman now and he commented that she was good. I wasn't sure what he meant by good.
"Ugh, yeah. I guess. She's okay." I realised how little I actually know about our dear Gillard. "You had a guy that was pretty good though, right?"
I can't remember the conversation exactly but basically it ended with him saying to me "You're kind of liberal, aren't you?"
I'd like to add in here that we were listening to the Christian radio station.
"Yeah... I'm kind of liberal," I replied, sensing that we were about to enter a more dangerous dinner table conversation. I would never bring up politics at dinner, especially with strangers, even if I thought they have the same opinions as me. And especially with people who are feeding me. Also because I don't really know enough about politics and would probably end up looking like a complete idiot.
"Well, maybe Lauren can sort you out," he retorted, jokingly.
"Yeah, for sure. Maybe I can sort Lauren out," I laughed back.
He left the table after that. Although, apparently he does that a lot.

Lauren and Adam's friend, Alex came over and had some crawfish and beers too. Then we went to his parent's house for some grilled chicken after Lauren and I got drive-through Daiquiris (!!!!). His Mum was a wonderfully bubbly and charismatic woman. There was also a middle aged man called Tim (I've forgotten his name, but I'm going to call him Tim) who lived with them. He was drunk. I mean really drunk. He kept commenting that he didn't like redheaded women (starting to think about changing my hair colour) because his ex-wife was a redhead. I then managed to convince him that I was from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Scotland and the Congo each time he asked me.

We left around dinner time as we planned to go to the Creole Music Festival that night. It rained. We didn't go out again. We watched half a season of Weeds instead. Which I have seen.

When I showered on Sunday morning I noticed a small circle of red bites on my lower back. They were around a bruise. I bruise easily when drinking, but I'm fairly sure that bruise was caused by whatever had bitten me. This was definitely not the work of mosquitoes.

Camera doesn't do it justice at all, but you get the idea. Imagine it with more bruise and more intense red on the bites.

After discovering exactly how much I had been attacked by bed bugs, we took the dogs to the dog park. When I say park I mean a small fenced off area in the French Quarter with grass, a few trees and chairs. It was maybe a bit bigger than a netball court; two courts at the most. People let their dogs off the leash (after driving there) and then sat in the shade and watched them. Strangest and most depressing dog park I have ever been too.

I went to get some money out and realised I had forgotten my PIN for my Australian bank account, which Mum and Dad could transfer money into immediately instead of waiting two business days to put it in my American account. More dramas ensued, including calling Dad at 3am Perth Time to let him know and Dad reading out four digit university course codes, that I had written down in a notebook, thinking they were PINs. I thought I was going to have to wait in the Santiago airport until the money went through to my American bank account. Eventually, Mum and Dad found the correct PIN and left me a message which I got in the New York airport, en route to Chile. It all worked out in the end.

After the dog park we went to a Mexican restaurant for lunch. Unfortunately I'd woken up that morning feeling really sick (flipped out that I would have food poisoning on the plane. Eugh) and couldn't eat much, but I took it home for dinner. We went to a hookah bar afterwards, but again I felt sick so I didn't have any, even though I really like sheesha. I didn't mind sitting there waiting for Adam and Lauren as I slowly sipped on water trying to get my stomach to calm down.

I started scratching one of the fifteen bites on my right leg and Adam asked me if they were from mosquitoes. "If you have mosquitoes in your house, then yeah, they are." I told them I think they needed to wash the cover on the futon I was sleeping on. That was when Lauren said they had bought it second hand the week before and not washed it. Nice. They tried to convince me that I was probably bitten by mosquitoes while I was outside at night time, despite the fact that we didn't go out two of the four nights I was there. It is the south, after all, they added. I'm from Australia, I know about mosquitoes. We have them there, too. Mosquitoes do not bite every centimetre or so in a straight line as if crawling along your body, which I have on my right hand running from my wrist to the bottom of my pinky finger. Most of the bite marks are still visible.

When we got home, I skyped Sam to talk about South America and then I helped (watched) Adam make blueberry beer while Lauren napped. I packed and they took me to the airport where I started my 32 hour transit, including five consecutive flights, to Santiago.

So New Orleans was nice. I would have liked to have gone out more often, particularly to the Creole Music Festival because I had heard so much about the live music in NOLA. It would have been preferable to not get bed bugs too. I don't want to sound ungrateful to my hosts, I appreciate them having me for four nights (it's usually only customary to stay for two or three nights) and they were very friendly and generous. I also loved their dogs. I guess I'll just have to go back one day.

Oh. Also, I never paid that bill at Port of Call. I know I could have gone back but I need the money more than they do. They were a busy restaurant and a popular tourist attraction. I don't think they'll miss that one burger and cocktail. If it's any consolation, Sam's parents keep suggesting we do 'runners' everywhere we go.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

New Orleans, Louisana (Part 1)

When I was sitting in the airport near Lima, Peru for seven hours (en route to Santiago, Chile which is where I am now) I couldn't get the wi-fi to work (I didn't want to ask because I feel like a loser that I don't know any Spanish. This is why I went to America for exchange. I'm fluent in American) so I read some of my older posts that I had saved on my laptop and they are way better than some of the travel ones I've written which are starting to all follow the same pattern. I apologise for the shitty writing, but I usually write them in a rush when I first get to the next city and am still cactus from travelling. I will try and make them more interesting/it's not long til I'll be in London and have time to sit around thinking about more adjectives I can use.

Before I start this post I'm going to preface it by telling my Australian readers how to pronounce New Orleans like a local; say “new OR-luns”. But, like, barely pronounce the 'u'. “new ORl-ns.” Alternatively you could run it all together like a true Southerner and say "nawwlins." That's better. Americans give you weird looks if you say it phonetically.

So after I slept through my boarding call in the Las Vegas airport I bought another flight to New Orleans which arrived six hours later because I had a stop over in Minneapolis. You'd better believe I'm never sleeping in an airport again. I get off the plane now and head straight for the nearest cafe to inject myself with caffeine, no matter how little sleep I've had. Actually, I've noticed that drinking stacks of water is also good. And cheaper/free. Although, somewhat infuriating to bare for longer than fifteen minutes.

My couch surfing hosts, Lauren and Adam, picked me up from the airport even though I said I was happy to get a bus/taxi so that was awesome. It's been so long since I've been driven around (well...the road trip to the Canyon, and Sutton drove us to the markets in Portland. Whatever). New Orleans is a super cool city but it's fucking hot and humid which is a major negative in my books. It totally fits with the atmosphere of the place though. People are out at night drinking (street drinking is legal) and dancing to jazz bands in the street.

Lauren and Adam are engaged to be married in October and are relatively new to couch surfing. Still, they welcomed me into their home like pro's. Lauren had lived all over the place but came back to NOLA (New Orleans, LouisianA) because “it's cool the say that's where you're from.” Adam is from north Michigan and occasionally pronounced words like a Canadian much to everyone's entertainment. They have three dogs; a Pitbull puppy called Dante, a Chihuahua called Kona and a Pickinese called Simba. You can see why I chose to stay with them, yes? Serafin's hybrid cat/dog, Luke, was one thing but actual dogs! THREE dogs! I was in heaven. I'm normally not a fan of small dogs but Simba and Kona were really affectionate and just wanted to be smothered with love which I was obviously happy to do. Kona slept in my bed two of the nights I was there. Naawww.

We had a drink and I stripped off several layers before they took me to Cafe du Monde, a major tousist attraction in the French Quarter, late that night. It was a big outdoor cafe that served beignets and cafe au lait. A beignet is a French pastry covered in icing sugar that you dip in the coffee. It was gooooood.

I woke up early in the morning, scratching my hand like mad, but didn't think much of it and went back to sleep. I woke up with more itchy spots but still thought "whatever."

Thursday morning Lauren took me out (Adam had work) to see the French Quarter by day and have a muffaletta. A muffaletta is large round loaf of bread filled with gourmet meats, cheese and a pickled olives/capsicum mix. It was delicious.

We went back to the car to discover that our frozen pina coladas had defrosted nicely in the sun. It's not legal to have open containers in the car, but it's not strict, according to Lauren. Although some people do get caught driving under the influence and have to have a breathaliser to start their car.

We drove around sipping and chatting while Lauren stopped every now again to chase up job applications at cafe's and bars. We went back home to escape the heat, agreeing to go out at night to see a band play when it was cooler. When I found myself still scratching several red marks on my arms and legs I asked Lauren if her dogs had fleas, as Kona and slept under the covers with me the night before. She said she used to give them medication but they kept scratching so she stopped. It wasn't exactly the answer I was looking for, but still, didn't think much of it. Lauren and Adam made BBQ pork (over the coals so it was smokey and delicious) and a squash/zucchini cheese bake/lasagne for dinner. Man, home cooked meals are amazing.

A few neighbours came over for drinks and chats after dinner. The band was apparently not playing, so we didn't go out.

On Friday Lauren and Adam both had work so I took myself exploring. I waited for the bus in the sweltering heat for approximately 47 minutes (somewhat exaggerated) before I headed back to the house, googled the directions and walked to the French Quarter. It wasn't too bad. I constantly told myself that I walked way further and way more often in this heat and humidity (and worse) when I was in Japan but I wished I had Bionic Man (my friend, Pat) to encourage me along. I caught the street car with all the tourists and wondered up Bourbon St which is this gross/trashy tourist attraction filled with bars and souvenir shops. I walked all the way up the street to Port of Call, a burger place that a friend from Portland had told me about. Actually, Sutton drunkenly wrote me a list of things to do on a used envelope on my last night in Portland. Most of them were food related, which I was totally cool with.

The view I had while waiting for the bus. Lauren and Adam's duplex is behind the tree on the left. I wish I took more photos of the houses because they all look really cool/colourful/dilapidated.

I had a hamburger, which sounds really boring but the meat was cooked to perfection (medium rare) and delicious. I asked for the bill after ordering a cocktail to go (how cool is that you can do that?) only to find that my credit card was declined. The bartender tried again and then asked me if I was from another state and that maybe my bank had reported strange activity and frozen it. So under his suggestion I went outside to call TCF and inquire. No strange activity; I had run out of money. I looked through the window into the busy bar and thought about my unpaid bill.

It's still unpaid.

Walking the dozen or so blocks back to Lauren and Adam's house I was flipping out. I thought I was going to have to stay in New Orleans until my visa ran out (in four years) selling useless shit on streets until I was deported.

Oh, side note that I forgot to add in the San Francisco post. I saw a guy begging on the streets with a sign that said "I bet you a dollar you will read this." People were walking past laughing and he was going "Hey! C'moooon! You read it! You owe me a dollar!" Best sign ever. I don't think he made much money, though.

So I got back to their house and the dogs went ballistic at the sound of someone being home. They were kept in those travel cages while everyone was out so they didn't destroy the house. Dante had gotten into the trash (and my toiletries) the day before when he was allowed to roam free unsupervised. I let them out and without realising, Dante had had explosive diarrhea which he was now spreading through the house in his excitement. I texted Lauren to let her know that he was probably sick (we think he had eaten butter or grease that was in rubbish) and started cleaning it up and then washed Dante in the shower (lucky me, right?). Kona freaked out and hid under their bed so I thought I had lost him as well. Which made little to no sense as the back and front door were closed before I let the dogs out. Eventually I enticed him out with love.

I sat around nervously waiting for Mum/Dad to call back and for the real shit storm to start.

To be continued, for I must sleep now. Sam and I are going on a mini trip tomorrow and I keep getting made fun of for sleeping 'til 11am.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

San Francisco, California

I'm pretty sure I've wanted to go to San Francisco since I knew it existed. It sounded like my kind of city. But the first few days I got there, I just wanted to go back to Portland. It's a cool city but that's all it is if you don't have awesome people to enjoy it with. I've been hanging out with couch surfers here but I'm getting sick of having the same conversations explaining where I'm from and where I'm going. I'm going to sound like a stuck up native English speaker but there's only so much you can discuss with people who don't know English very well and it's tiring to constantly decipher what they're saying/compromise the conversation. It's great meeting new people but it would be nice to have a friendship that lasted longer than a few days. I've been keeping in contact with the friends I made in Portland through facebook, but it's not the same as drinking in trees and squishing three people into the trunk of a packed car.

Anyway! Let me tell you what I've been up to in The Bay Area! I got to San Francisco at about 11pm on Sunday night, having not slept at all after waking up at 6am and going to bed at 4am. I found my hostel, checked in and went to bed. Unfortunately one of the girls in the room was super sick and spent most of the night snoring like a freight train. If they snored, that's what she sounded like. I actually stuck my fingers in my ears and attempted to sleep like that for a while. It didn't really work. I should buy some ear plugs. I don't know why I haven't already, actually.

So in the morning I got up, showered, ate the free breakfast, packed up and headed to my next hostel because one of them wasn't available for my whole time there. After getting on the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transport - ie the subway) going in the wrong direction (the first time of many) I made it to Elements Hostel in the Mission district which is basically like the Mexico of San Francisco. Walking down the street I was thinking "wow I didn't know I'd come this far south." The hostel is supposedly one of the best; it won a whole lot of awards but it's kinda lame. It's not very social (apart from weekends when the super expensive rooftop bar and restaurant downstairs are pumpin') although it is very clean, has comfy beds and I have an en suit in my six bed dorm. That afternoon, via facebook, Javier (couch surfing friend from Portland) told me about Ike's Place. So I headed out to try what he called the "best sandwich [he] had ever had."

It was pretty damn good. I had a Tiffy Spiffy on sourdough. It had chicken, pesto, swiss cheese and other yummy things. I took my sandwich and walked around the Castro (LGBT neighbourhood) which I realised I was in due to the increased number of Mardi Gras flags and same sex couples holding hands. Lots of cool shops and cafes. Then I walked up and around passed some cool painted houses. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me, but I think they were the prettiest ones I've seen so far. That night I met up with Clement and Leo (both from France) from couch surfing who were both in San Francisco for internships. We had a few beers and arranged to meet up again the next night.

Houses in the Lower Haight area.

I got out of bed just in time for the free breakfast and headed to Pier 39 at Fisherman's Wharf. I'm not really sure why I went because its just a series of tourist shops by the water. Luckily I have a sick fascination with souvenir shops and all the useless shit you can buy, so I was entertained for a while. I ventured into a magic shop and watched a heavily overweight man perform card tricks for a bunch of high school kids who kept saying "Oh my gaarrrd! No way! No freakin' way! That's like not even possible!" Well, yeah, it is, moron, because it just happened. Then I got to help out with a trick (I thought it was pretty cool but I knew it wasn't impossible) and the guy asked me where I'm from. I said Australia and he said "ah yes, I didn't think you were from New Zealand because I couldn't smell sheep on you." I liked him after that.

I met Bill (from couch surfing) and we left the stupendously over priced tourist area and had burritos at a Mexican place a couple of blocks away. Then we walked passed Lombard street (the crookedest street in the world - I didn't take a photo. It would have looked exactly the same as the postcards and google images) on our way to a stupendously cheap Thai place near Chinatown (corner of Vallejo and Grant for anyone going to SF!). I don't really understand the fascination with Chinatown for tourists. It's the same in every city. Why don't you go to China if you love it so much? Although the one in San Francisco is supposed to the biggest in the world. Eh. We enjoyed $2 draft beers while he told me amazing stories about travelling through central America with a French guy who couldn't speak English or Spanish. After a while I realised the conversation was all on me. If I didn't keep asking questions - no one spoke. Maybe he had spent too much time alone in the jungle and forgotten how a balanced conversation worked.

Cool building near Chinatown with book lanterns.

Later on we met up with Kai (from exchange) and Clement. The idea was to join other couch surfers and see an Italian film but we decided we couldn't be bothered sitting through two hours of subtitles (I was too drunk and wanted to keep drinking). So the three of us headed back to the Thai place and waited for Leo and then had $5 dinner. Suuuuuper cheap. We went to a few other bars, chasing the cheapest specials and then everyone went home so Bill and I headed to a Reggae party on Haight St (pronounced like 'hate' not like 'height' which I kept saying). Unfortunately the party was pretty lame so we went to another bar and had several Wild Tea Absolut vodka and sodas which I think is my new favourite drink.

Book lanterns at night.

I freaked out when I got back to my hostel because the door was locked, realised I could ring the bell and felt sorry for the guy who answered the door as it looked like I had woken him up.

I missed the free breakfast but got my shit together and headed to San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. I walked in the wrong direction at several points as I lost my map the day before. I walked up to the front door to see that it was closed on Wednesdays. How did this happen to me again?! Because I'm an idiot and never think to check things like that. I walked across the road and lay on the grass in the shade for a while before I decided to head home and nap. On my way back to the BART I stumbled across the Cartoon gallery. I thought I had to pay ~$10 for entry but no one stopped me so I just walked straight in. It was pretty cool. Ranged from a exhibition on Howl, the new movie with James Franco (mmmm....James Franco....) about Allen Ginsberg, to some of the first cartoons that appeared in newspapers.

That night I went to a couch surfing meeting at a cool bar on Haight St called Noc Noc. I met Giovanni who said he could tell I was from Perth and not Sydney or Melbourne based on my accent. Although I did have to tell him I am from Perth first. Then he said he recognised me from the first hostel. He said he saw me in the kitchen and thought I looked like some kind of punk (with my Doc's and red, asymmetrical hair) that beats up old ladies at night. When the conversation lulled I excused myself and said I had some geriatrics kick.

I got the train home with Rachel (US), Alex (US) and Laura (Austria). Laura and I realised that we had been talking to each other on a couch surfing forum just as I got off the train. And thought it was pretty amazing, although I guess it isn't really. When I buzzed myself in, I felt sorry for the guy who opened the door again and asked him what time it was locked, so I could try and make it back in time. He said there's no lock out and that someone will always open it for me. Huh. That's his job. Cool. His name is Sam.

Thursday I went to SFMoMA, knowing that it was definitely open this time. I bought a general ticket and a pass to the Gertrude Stein Collection. The general collection was pretty amazing. I saw pieces by Warhol, Pollock, Rothko, Mondrian, Rauschenberg, Johns and Duchamp. When I walked up to several of the works I had a broad grin on my face. It was pretty cool to see them after I had studied them in Art History. I wish I could have seem them a couple of years ago while I was in those classes. The Stein collection was amazing. Hundreds of paintings by Picasso before and after his Cubism phase, Matisse and Cezanne. I recommended it to anyone I spoke to.

I met Laura on Haight and we had a burrito (so much Mexican food!) then we went to Nightlife, a 21 and over event at the California Academy of Sciences. I was happy to actually make it to one of these events after getting lost before I made it to the one in Portland. We went to the planetarium first. I told Laura I had never been to one before and she assured me I would love it. There were two shows on and we chose the dud. Of course. It was about meditation and the brain being part of the ocean and some half arsed psychological crap. I wanted stars and constellations and exploding suns! Oh well. We met up with Max (US), Jacob (US) and Alex and I made everyone eat an oyster. They last time I ate one I didn't like it, but these ones were goooood. I had two (they were free). Next we went to the rain forest. Which was pretty cool. Except that I've been in real rain forests which are clearly way cooler. Everyone else seemed pretty impressed though. Actually they had an aquarium underneath (it was like a 3 story dome in the middle of the building) and you could see the people in the tunnel through the top of the aquarium when you were walking up in the dome. We met up with Clement and walked through the Snakes and Reptiles house quickly before they closed. The whole idea of an over 21 thing is to drink, but it was about $9 a cocktail so we moved on to a cheap bar. We ate sushi at the bar (very awkward as we bought it someone where else), had one $2 beer and moved on. Max took us to a lookout point (Alex made several jokes about taking girls to a "lookout" point) which had an amazing view of the Golden Gate Bridge from a distance.

The least blurry photo of the Golden Gate Bridge.

When I got back to the hostel Sam let me in and asked if I was hungry. I wasn't but a poor traveler never refuses free food/anything. He made me a plate of Middle Eastern food (tabouleh, olives, hummus and dolmathes (stuffed vine leaves - I forget what he called them in Arabic)) I was in heaven. We also had a few Bailey's on ice and watched the drunk people walk down the street. He was from Egypt and was working the night shift while on holiday from school where he studied medical sciences or something. He recommended a few places for me to visit in San Fran and kept commenting on what great company I was. I complained about the girls in my room that I had been having window wars with (I open them, they close them, I open them, they close them LEAVE THEM OPEN IT'S HOT AND STUFFY, SKANKS) and he offered me his room. I realised this possibly wasn't an entirely free meal and excused myself to go to bed. My bed. He didn't seem that offended, so maybe he was just trying to be nice as he said. Whatever. I got a free meal and drinks.

The view from the rooftop bar on my hostel.

By Friday I think all the drinking and traveling had caught up with me. I just couldn't be bothered going out and meeting more new people and saying the same things over and over again. So I spent a day lazing around, doing my washing and napping; it was great. I went to a free Architecture in Helsinki show at a record store on Haight. Well that was the plan. Thanks to my inability to read bus maps I got on the bus going the wrong way and missed all but the last half of their last song.

Architecture in Helsinki at Amoeba Record Store on Haight St.

I went home and sulked. I knew I probably should socialise but the top 40 music blasting from the bar upstairs was just not motivating me. Also I could hear a loud Australian accent coming in through my window, so I put in my headphones, and blasted Death Cab to block it out. We really have an annoying accent. The American accent sounds normal to me now and when I hear an Australian accent it's this weird jolt into "...oh yeah...that's what I sound like. Ew." I used the hostels internet to catch up on five months worth of torrenting and stumbled across Portlandia, a show that takes the piss of people who live in Portland. If you still don't understand why I liked Portland so much, watch this video. It sums it up pretty well. New favourite song, right there.

Midday Saturday I had arranged to meet some couch surfers to ride bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge. Unfortunately it was raining a whole lot and none of us had rain coats. We went to a bar instead. I think it was a good choice. I was still feeling antisocial and was sick of forcing the conversation so I said I needed to nap and went home and "would join everyone later." I'm a bitch, I know.

The view from Twin Peaks, the two highest points in San Francisco. Not to be confused with this Twin Peaks, which I thought was the same place for a while.

I smoked some weed with my French room mate, Anastacia and her friend, Giom and then was content enough lying in bed watching a movie I had already seen. Anastacia didn't have great English but she made up for it with enthusiasm. She often spoke a sentence half in English and half in French. I know a few words in French so I could usually work out what she was saying but occasionally I had no idea what she was talking about. Giom was also very enthusiastic and they used me as an English teacher that night. I didn't mind at first but then I couldn't be bothered explaining grammar rules that I don't actually know. I know them, but I can't explain them. Ya know?

A couple joined our room that night. They came back from the bar just after I had turned the lights off and I heard the girl say "kiss me" then heard some definite kissing. I freaked out that they were going to have sex, thinking I was asleep and wasn't sure if I should just lie there or get up and leave. I tried to make it obvious I was awake (tossing and turning, coughing, checking my phone etc) but they kept going. Luckily they didn't have sex - it was quiet and motionless if they did. But one of them was snoring a whole freakin' lot at about 4am. Anastacia swore in French a whole lot and tried to wake them up but to no avail.

Sunday middayish I headed downtown to a cheap Vietnamese sandwich bar I had read about on Yelp and in my Lonely Planet Brick (yes brick, not book. It's huge). I couldn't find it/forgot it's address and had to head to Pier 39 for my Alcatraz tour that I had already paid for. I walked about 30 blocks at a quick/almost running pace which killed me. The tour was a waste of money really. You get the same/a better experience from watching Shawshank Redemption or even Oz. My favourite bit on the audio tour was when one of the previous prisoners had said that while he was in solitary confinement (they turned the lights off, even though they were supposed to be open) he would pull a button off his uniform throw it in the air, get on his hands and knees and try and find it. Then stand up, throw it in the air, get on his hands and knees and try and find it. Over and over and over again. For some reason that really stuck with me.

Alcatraz from the ferry going back to the mainland. The building on the top of the hill is the main prison. Just in case you forgot what country I'm in, I included the flag in the shot.

It was fascinating to learn about the attempted escapes (and the successful ones - they were never found) but Kai had already told me about those. So anyway, I'd say that if you're on a tight budget - don't waste your money. The island is also covered with tourists which is my least favourite kind of person (probably worse than bogans). No I'm not a tourist.

Eucalyptus Tree on Alcatraz! Say wuuuut?!

Sunday night I met the English girls from exchange at the super cheap Thai place for dinner. It was great to see familiar faces and hear about their adventures on the road. We walked through Chinatown before parting ways, promising to catch up in England. I met the new American couple in my room, Henry and Emma from Boston, bought a six pack and shared it while we discussed traveling and life in general, despite the rules of the hostel stating we would be kicked out if we drank in our rooms. They were traveling around the West coast on the Amtrak (on the way here they sat next to a guy who was tripping on 'shrooms and pot pills), although Henry had left his pass on the last train so they were contemplating staying in San Francisco for a month. I felt bad for hating them for almost having sex/snoring because they were really cool. We all wished our travels were over lapping for longer.

So San Francisco didn't have as big of an impact on me as I thought it would, which is sad. I definitely recommend people going there, though. It is a cool city. I love how the neighbourhoods are all really different but really close together. There's so much to see and do and there's no way you could appreciate the city in three days (which is what the window skanks did). Maybe I even needed longer. I'd probably recommend staying at that hostel too. The staff were pretty laid back and if I could be bothered I think the party on the rooftop bar and downstairs in the restaurant would have been pretty good. I think the pacific northwest/west coast has all blended together a bit. I have a pattern that I follow in every city I've been to, as well which is a bit confusing. But I'm glad I went and I feel pretty sure that I would go again.

Las Vegas, Nevada

My flight landed in Las Vegas early Monday afternoon. I caught the bus that took me down The Strip towards my hostel, Hostel Cat, which was a fair way out from all the main hotels and casinos. The instructions I had found on the hostel's website were a bit shit so I got lost which was not fun in the 35 degree heat while wearing Doc's, leggings and a hoody. By the time I checked in, it was nap time. Fuck exploring, I'm tired and not used to summer. I suddenly wished I hadn't left behind the cool weather of the pacific northwest and San Francisco.

I woke up and showered at about 6ish and spoke to...a guy who's name I've forgotten...he was from England and had been in Vegas for about a week. He told me about some places to go and travel adventures and how awesome the staff are at the hostel. Oh! Part of The Hangover was filmed at my hostel. I've totally stayed where Bradley Cooper, Zack Galifianakas and The Other Guy have been. I think it's just the carpark outside the chapel where Stu got married and I'm assuming the scene in the chapel was filmed on set, but I can't find the carpark scene on youtube.

Everyone else's doors had a country's flag painted on it.

So yeah. I hung around in the common room for a bit. Ate some strange burger/toasted sandwich thing that the cook made and then started drinking with the guests and staff. Ben (from some small town near Woolongong), Steven (from Kalgoorlie) and I ventured out to get beer. Steven is by far one of the biggest bogans I have ever met. I found it funny at first and then it got annoying. He actually commented on the internet being great "because of all the information and stuff." Say it in a bogan accent in your head and it will be funnier plus imagine me getting all sarcastic and annoyed at him. He suggested I go to Paris because I'm "all retro and shit." Ben was surprisingly un-bogan, despite being from somewhere more country-tastic than Woolongong.

So three of us plus Daniel, one of the staff, went to Fremont St which has a roof of LCD screens over the top. People were on flying foxes that went from one end of the street to the other during the show. Every fifteen minutes or so it displays these super tacky music and video shows. The first one we saw was about Kiss which I think sums up the taste of the clientele of Vegas pretty well.

Mum and Dad raved about it and kept insisting that I go there but I wasn't really that impressed. We walked further down and met the others from the hostel in front of an 80's cover band and drank and danced for a bit. By band, I mean they played half a chorus of a song and then played another one. Like one of those people who can't choose a song on their iPod. But on Speed. And live.

The Million Dollar Photo: Ben, Daniel, Steven, Me, Peter. I have a better one that was taken with the casino's camera but it is soaked in FourLoko and I don't have access to a scanner.

Someone bought me a FourLoko which I happily started drinking, despite it being Fruit Punch flavour which tastes like anus/medicine. The next LCD show started on the ceiling and Ben and I decided it would be better/more drunk friendly to lie on the floor rather than crane our necks back.

Have three photos of that girl on my camera. I didn't take them.

About five minutes in to the Beatles (I think? Maybe? Something to do with the 60s, anyway) some girl come out of no where and straddled me for a good ten minutes. I was all "hahah lol fake lesbian stuff this is totally funny" and then the bitch knocked over my mostly full FourLoko. I was mad! Also it went all over my bum which was completely saturated. Thanks.

After that Ben and I decided we were going to drive the Grand Canyon the next day (he had hired a car and driven from LA) at which point Daniel told us we would probably have to leave at 6am or earlier so we headed back for an early night. We got significantly lost on the way back and had to ask a police officer for directions so it wasn't that much of an early night, really. Getting up at 5:30am was indeed a struggle.

We stopped at Hoover Dam first which was...riveting. The bridge behind it was kind of cool, but otherwise I wasn't that impressed. It's a dam. Whatever. Lets get back in the car so I can continue napping. I woke up to Ben swerving on the road because he almost fell asleep so we agreed to swap for a while. Man, driving on the right hand side in a left control car is a head fuck. Almost every time I went to indicate, I put the windscreen wipers on instead. And turning corners freaked me out; I kept thinking I was going into the wrong lane. I'm glad I did it, though. It was on my list.

We made it to the Canyon by midday, bought maccas for lunch (how American of us while at one of the biggest tourist attractions in the country) and enjoyed the view from the West Rim. We drove four and a half hours to see a hole in the ground. Albeit a ginormous, very impressive hole, but a hole nonetheless. Actually, it was more impressive than I thought it would be. It's really pretty fucking huge. I got that cool "ah look how insignificant I am compared to this" feeling while staring at it for a while.

I don't know why I bothered taking photos with my shit camera; it just doesn't translate.

We went to another, more popular look out and I remember thinking the tourists standing on the lookout looked like those photos that make everything appear really small, but they're actually normal sized. Yeah, I know, that makes little to no sense. Ben didn't understand me when I said it to him either, but I don't know what it's called. Oh! I just googled it - it's called tilt shift!

The tiny people that really don't look like they're in a tilt shift photo at all.

So we drove back and swapped half way again and then had an epic nap when we got back to the hostel. I showered and discovered I had been severely sun burnt. Awesome. At about 9pm we started drinking with the guests and staff again. I taught them Threeman, a game with dice that I played on spring break with David and his friends. I remember it being really fun and got most people pretty drunk, but it wasn't really happening. We played a few others and then I suggested Ride the Bus which Daniel described the rules as being "driiiiiinnnnnnnkkkkkk" which is pretty much it. And the reason it is so awesome. Unfortunately they all pussied out because it was "too much" drinking. I wasn't aware there was such a thing in a drinking game.

Drive through chapel for getting married on the move.

I'm not sure where we went that night - I can remember everything, I just don't know where we were. Somewhere on the main strip. The staff drove us in their Rape Van (their words, not mine). I made fun of Dustin wearing sunglasses at night. And then stole them for myself. We played beer pong in a casino and then went dancing. Dustin is probably one of the best dancers I have ever seen in person. He had the moves.

Peter (Belgium) dancing in the Rape Van.

In the lift. That's Dustin taking the photo, Ben in the checkered shirt and me in Dustin's glasses.

He walked me back to the hostel (while telling me it was a super dodgy area and that someone was shot there last week. Thanks for telling me that after I was walking around on my own at night) just in time for my airport shuttle bus which arrived at 4:20am. I quickly put on clean/airplane appropriate clothing, finished packing and jumped on the shuttle while he distracted the driver. I had just over an hour to wait for boarding at 7am. I ate a bagel and fell asleep. I checked my phone when I woke up and it was 9:04am. I was so confused. I felt like I had been asleep for maybe fifteen minutes, tops. I spent about five minutes swearing/feeling like I was going to cry before I had the sense to go and buy another flight.

I actually liked Vegas a lot more than I thought I would. The ritzy, fake atmosphere in the middle of sweltering desert heat just does not seem like my kind of place. But I liked it. It didn't seem real. The ritz and the heat gave it this weird, anything goes, the real world doesn't matter kind of feel. It was just party place. Admittedly I didn't see much due to sleeping during the day/Grand Canyoning so maybe I can't really talk. I didn't even see the fountains at the Bellagio or get to pretend to gamble in order to get free drinks in a casino. Maybe next time.