Summary, or ‘How I went to the US and lost ten pounds’

So, time for a summary. Needless to say, this has been the best vacation I’ve had so far. We experienced so many great things that there’s no point in trying to pick anything that was “best”, but the nature and the accessible parks (especially the Redwoods) are right up there. We traveled a grand total of 3010 miles (about 5000 km) which is a bit more than twice the distance between Seattle and San Diego (1399 miles) according to one of our guide books. I don’t really know what to make of that, but it certainly seems we took the long route!

We had two guide books with us; United States On The Road from Insight Guides and Road Trip USA by Jamie Jensen. Both where really good and certainly helped us getting the most out our trip. Road Trip USA is the more organized of the two and has a really personal style, you can really tell that Jamie has actually visited all these places. United States On The Road on the other hand has lots of inspirational pictures which kinda makes you like it more. Regardless, it was nice to have two of them to get different perspectives of things.

What I didn’t expect
To be walking as much as we did. The accessible parks certainly helped out with this bit, but the insane distances inside the pedestrian-unfriendly cities did their part as well. I suspect this as the reason to why I managed to lose ten pounds during this trip, in spite of the much maligned American cuisine.

What I’m really happy about
That we took our good time. In the beginning, an entire month seemed a bit much for driving down the west coast. But in the end it proved to be just right. I’m also really glad I spent the night before leaving burning CDs with road trip music. Sometimes you could get great talk radio, but mostly it was some insufferable country music or a radio preacher (which certainly is entertaining in its own right, but only for a little while).

I would also consider September to be a near ideal time to make a trip like this. It was still warm enough to wear t-shirt nearly all the time and late enough for there to be very few other tourists. And in the end we even got to bathe as well! Another thing I’m happy about is that I wrote a daily travel log. It took a great deal of time, but it was a really good way of digesting all of our impressions.

What I regret bringing
The Nintendo DSes where really unnecessary since even when the scenery was kindof boring, you still wanted to take it all in. Not that it was boring that often though, the west coast really has some awesome sceneries! We also brought way more books than we had to, most often we were too tired to read in the evenings anyway.

What I regret not bringing
Binoculars is the only thing I can think of. We spent a fair bit of time watching various animals and a pair of binoculars would have made it a bit more fun.

In total we spent a whopping 90309.66 SEK which, with an average dollar price of 6.60 SEK during September, amounts to roughly $13683. Let’s see what it breaks down to.

Since gas is so cheap (compared to in Sweden at least), this didn’t amount to much. We spent $245.61 on gas, but I’m pretty sure I forgot to write down a couple of times we gassed up so this post should probably be a bit bigger.

Car rental
The first rental we got was $924.15 of which $500 was the dropoff fee (the fee incurred for not returning the car at the original rental place). I’m not entirely sure but I think it’s rather cheap considering we rented it for 23 days. I don’t think we got as good a price for the second rental though which landed at $201.59 for two measly days. All in all, car rental cost us $1125.74.

It turned out to be cheapest to buy a round trip ticket to Seattle (and certainly less of a hassle) instead of buying two one way tickets, one to Seattle and one from San Diego and home. That’s why we took a domestic flight from San Diego to Seattle. The round trip tickets cost us $1795 and the domestic flight $320. Total money spent on air travel: $2115.

We seem to spent about $1823 on food. This includes candy, ice cream, soda and also various kinds of medication. We were both sickly, especially Jonna, for a good part of the trip and we spent $83.8 on cough syrup and the like. We probably could’ve spent less on this post, but honestly, what’s the fun in that?

Miscellaneous fees
This post contains things like parking, the ATM fees I know about, tips to homeless guy showing us the way, laundromat and locker fee at Six Flags. Likely there are a few more ATM fees that should go in here. $66.5 is the total.

Entry fees
This post includes things like going to the movies, the kayaking trip, and Sea World. Some things were really expensive, like the Wicked show which cost us something like $320 (I lost the receipt but that’s what I found when looking up prices on the web), but worth every penny! I’m sure there are a few things missing from this post also but the total of the known spendings is $1542.42.

Transportation (bus, taxi ferry etc)
Since we had a car, this didn’t amount to that much. It’s comprised of bus passes in Seattle, the Monorail, San Juan Islands ferry, airport cab and San Francisco cable car passes. In total $159.3.

Lodging wasn’t as cheap as I’d though, we spent on average about $87 a night. My gut feeling is that we could have gotten away with about $60 a night if we’d taken the spent a little more time driving around looking for cheaper motels and avoided staying at hotels such as the Luxor and Radisson. But it also meant not having to plan ahead that much, we generally didn’t decide where to stay (in which town, that is) for the night until three or four in the afternoon, and that is worth gold in my book. We spent a total of $2519.43 on lodging.

Clothes & souvenirs
I have identified spendings of $1739.8 attributed to this, but I’m pretty sure that there’s a fair share of the unidentified spendings that should go into this post. I’m not sure if it’s good or bad, but we got a bunch of really cool clothes that you wouldn’t be able to find in Sweden, so I’m happy.

We bought two gadgets; one laptop and one GPS unit (I can’t really recommend anyone making a trip like this without a GPS, it was worth its weight in gold, especially in SF and LA). The laptop cost $1447.03 and the GPS $341. A total of $1788.03.

Unaccounted for
There’s about $1000 that I’ve been unable to match to any specific spending but I suspect it’s made up of food, clothes & souvenirs, ATM fees, a bit of gas and maybe some entry fee.

It’s entirely possible that I’ve miscalculated a few of these but it should be mostly correct. The idea was to give people attempting to do the same thing an idea of how much it costs. Generally though we erred on the side of lavish, since after all, this was the greatest adventure any one of us had ever experienced before. It would really be a shame to ruin it by being stingy…

The new and improved Orca trip

We got up at what felt (and looked) like the middle of the night and started driving the 81 miles (130 km) to Anacortez. We got there a wee bit late and missed the first ferry, but we’d arranged to have time to miss the first ferry so it wasn’t that big a deal. It was really windy and cold so we started doubting the appropriateness of our attire for the day but we were hoping to be able to buy some extra clothes on the island. There was about an hour’s wait for the next ferry so there wasn’t much else to do but wait, luckily we brought books. The boat ride took longer than I’d expected and was rather chilly so we were getting a bit pressed for time considering we had some shopping to do upon arrival.

Once ashore we found the check-in booth and also found out that the bus service they’d advertised had stopped for the season. Not much to do about that except getting a cab, but first we headed to the sporting goods store to pick up some gear. It turned out that it was probably a good idea to do the shopping on the island since they specialized in kayaking gear. Since we’d managed to forget our sandals (the sole reason we brought them in the first place!) we bought some rubber reinforced neoprene boots, neoprene gloves and a couple of caps. Out of the store we kicked ourselves for not phoning the cab before going shopping. The cab finally arrived though and the driver was a really nice guy that told us a few things about the islands, showed us the resident camel and about his former career teaching American sports to people in Dubai.

Arriving at Roche Harbor we scurried down to the dock and assured them that we were finally there. Apparently they had gotten the voice mail I left while waiting for the cab so it wasn’t that big a deal. We changed clothes really quick and shopped some picnic food at the nearby grocery store before getting the usual this-is-how-you-get-into-a-kayak-without-drowning talk. The rest of our Orca seach party consisted of two elderly ladies and our guide Blake. My first impression of Blake was that of some rich sailing brat, but he turned out to be a really nice guy and knew heaps of cool stuff about the wildlife and the area in general.

Since it was rather windy that day we got a little disclaimer speech about the tour and how it could be cut short if it was determined to be unsafe at any point, but we were assured that we would be refunded for parts of the tour if that were to happen. We hadn’t even left the marina before seeing our first harbor seal, poking his head up about fifteen feet away. They look rather funny, especially when diving, because they often just sink rather than dive.

Plodding along, it didn’t take long before we saw our first Bald Eagle. Now, I really didn’t count on seeing a Bald Eagle, especially not this early, but there it was checking us out from the branches of a pine near the shore. It’s didn’t look all that big, but Blake assured us that it would be about the same height as us sitting down in the kayak if it were to come up close. After some more paddling we came upon our first stop; a Bull Kelp forest at the north point of Henry Island (see the Roche Harbor link for details).

Bull Kelp are basically really long, gas-filled hoses attached to the bottom with a bladder and long, flat, rubbery “leaves” at the top. We paddled right into the middle of a largish patch (some 100 feet across) and rested for a bit. Since the surface was covered by these, about 2 inches thick, hoses, it was rather calm there in the middle. Blake took this opportunity to quiz us about the age of this forest, but not before telling us that they were attached to the bottom, about 30 ft. down and that they were swept sideways by the current and therefore about 120 ft. each. The ladies went with something like 70 years while we were a bit more conservative and stopped at 40 years. With an all-knowing smile Blake reported their age to be no less than five months! Apparently these buggers can grow ten inches a day, almost putting bamboo to shame (or so I thought, a bit of checking suggests that Bamboo can grow a frickin’ meter a day!). Blake continued to tell us about all the stuff they use Bull Kelp for; cosmetics, candy and all sorts of other stuff that I’ve managed to forget.

There was a short deliberation on how to continue, being windy as it was, the normal tour wasn’t an option since it would take us on the outside of Henry Island making us really exposed. So it was decided that we continue on down a little bit along the west side of Henry Island to the usual lunch stop and then turn around.

Paddling south was actually against the current, but being in a kayak means that you hardly notice. We saw our first fins after a while, Blake informed us that they were Porpoises (tumlare), sea critters of the family toothed whales which means that they’re basically a kind of dolphin, only smaller. A bit later, in the middle of a conversation Blake suddenly went quiet and the pointed to a couple of Bald Eagles. He explained that he’d heard them calling, and after that it was just a matter of locating them. The call was actually nothing to write home about, a rather high-pitched shriek, entirely unbefitting such a cool looking animal. According to Blake there is really only one bird of prey that has a somewhat more manly call; the Red-Tailed Hawk, which also means that its call is used in movies whenever they’re filming raptors.

After a while we went in closer to some rocks and Blake started peering down at the bottom, and pointed out two sea stars for us. They were really colorful and had lots of arms, an impromptu search suggests that they probably were Sunflower Sea Stars (Blake confirms they were).

Shortly after we arrived at really nice pebbled beach where we were supposed to have our lunch and we found out that we’d bought the boots for nothing. Blake pulled us all the way up on the beach so we had a really nice and dry landfall. Half the beach was privately owned and on other end a bunch of seals were lazying about so we kept our distance. Given the fact that we sat right next to a privately owned beach we told Blake about the “All Man’s Right (or as Wikipedia calls it; Freedom to roam) and he sounded rather impressed. He told us that in the Puget Sound area all the land had been sold off, even the land 6-7 yards out into the ocean that only shows at low tide. Apparently it was common elsewhere not to sell that part so that you could at least walk along the shoreline.

Following lunch we doubled back the way we came, a bit closer to the shore this time. We actually saw a couple of Deer grazing down at the beach and I’m sure we saw another Bald Eagle or two (the place was littered with them!). After a while Blake called our attention to the shore, and as we paddled in closer we saw a seal skeleton, picked clean. Apparently the dead seal had floated ashore less than a week ago and this was all that was left.

Upon seeing yet another wood shingled house we inquired about their apparent prevalence in the US. The answer was more or less what we’d already figured out by ourselves. They’re easily exchangeable when they break, they’re cheap and Americans like the look of them. But they’re most common in the northwest since it’s more forest there. Makes sense I guess…

Upon rounding the north end of the island we saw a little Mink roughhousing on a jetty. Which sparked a discussion about what a Bald Eagle eats and is able to grab. Blake claimed that an ex-girlfriend of his had her dog taken (well not a real dog, it was more like the Paris Hilton variety of dog) by a Bald Eagle. He reckoned that it probably could go up to something in the Shetland Sheepdog range.

Going into the harbor Blake pointed out an little island to us and told us that it was part of one of the first legs of a kayaking route that can take you all the way to Alaska if you want. The first part is called the Cascadia Marine Trail and runs up to British Columbia, there you can pick another route and in a mere three months you’ll find yourself in Alaska! Apparently there are islands like that one sprinkled all along the way where you’re allowed to camp overnight. We dropped off the two quitters, er… I mean ladies (well to be fair, it really was rather windy). Paddling back out, Blake suggested that we’d explore the south side of the island (the one we’d been on the north side of). So we were off to spend the remaining two hours just the three of us. We picked up the pace a bit since it was a bit more sheltered on the inside of the island and not before long we saw a Great Blue Heron flying by. We pretty much followed the shoreline around and looked at the various cabins and lavish houses. At one point we thought we saw an owl, but Blake just laughed and said that it was a plastic dummy, designed to keep the birds and rodents at bay.

Nearing the end of our trip we came upon another harbor seal. Blake got all exited because it was so small (like 1-2 weeks old), he explained that harbor seals have something called “delayed implantation” that ensures that puppies aren’t born until the environmental conditions a just right which generally means much earlier in the summer (Sea World suggests that it isn’t that uncommon though).

As we we’re coming back upon the harbor I was suspecting that we’d gotten some extra kayaking time for our money, that’s what it felt like in the arms and hands at least. But it turned out that we pretty much got the full five hours. That said, I don’t really think that their talk on the home page that you should “work out at a gym 2-3 times a week” to be able to keep up is really warranted. But I guess they need something to scare away people who might ruin the tour for the others by not being able to keep up.

All things considered it was a great tour which I’d recommend to anyone. The staff is great and the guide (assuming they’re all up to Blakes standard) are really knowledgeable. If you find yourself in the Seattle area looking for something outdoorsy to do I’d seriously recommend giving San Juan Safaris a try. It wasn’t a big deal that we didn’t see any Orcas, it was nice to get a good workout and to get more up close and personal with the Puget Sound area. We called for a cab back to Friday Harbor and got to see some of the remaining sights like the Krystal Acres alpaca farm. We were a bit too zonked at this point to really appreciate them though.

The boat ride and drive back to Seattle were uneventful and we arrived in the evening. We went to the store to get some travel food before packing our things for the night (the plane left early next morning so we had to get everything in order in the evening). Jonna came down with some sort of weird cramp-like thing in her arms and shoulders and literally couldn’t move a muscle which left me having to do all the packing. As a funny aside I found one of those SMSes that operators send to you when you’re roaming into their network: “Welcome to Canada” it said. Not that strange since we’d gotten Canadian islands pointed out to us during the day, but it still felt a bit weird and cool at the same time. I finally crashed into bed at half past one for a few measly hours of sleep.

Dancing in the Street

Un-christianly early (yes, that’s an expression, at least in Sweden) we went and started waiting for our ride to the airport. But after waiting 20 minutes past the designated time we started to worry a bit. Since we’re of the IT-generation we ripped up the cellphone and keyed in “cab san diego” in Opera Mini. 10 minutes later we had a ride again, good thing we had a bit of a margin.

We arrived back in Seattle nineish and while we were waiting for our bags I phoned the kayaking people again and confirmed that we could tag along on the five hour tour the following day (the very last tour of the season apparently).

To avoid repeating the events of our last kayaking attempt we rented another car, this time we got a Volkswagen Rabbit (that’s Golf in the civilized world). Jonna keyed in the address to the Bed’n Breakfast we’d booked and the GPS happily replied that it was only about 6000 km away. Christ on a cracker, that’s kinda far! We figured out that it actually was because it hadn’t seen any satellites since San Diego and naturally still thought it was there.

The Bed’n Breakfast we’d booked was situated in a really cozy university neighborhood (apparently also the gay neighborhood). It took us a good while to find a parking space and also to find the house. But well there we got greeted by Linda Nyqvist (of obvious Swedish descent), a really nice old lady (with a PhD to boot!). After thoroughly saying hello to her, rather rotund, German Shepherd we dumped our bags in the room and implored Linda about the possibility of breakfast (we hadn’t eaten anything all morning). And even though we weren’t supposed to get any the day of the check in she let it slide and we wolfed down some yogurt and cereal.

We caught the bus downtown and tried our best not to shop anything (we were getting seriously close to the weight limit for our luggage). We managed to find some really nice Christmas gifts that we couldn’t resist though. The rest of the day we mostly walked around, affirming the notion Jonna had about the people up north really were friendlier than further down south. People just seem to like life a bit better up here.

We also were on the lookout for kayaking clothes since tomorrow’s tour was likely to be a bit chilly, but we didn’t find anything suitable so we decided to go with what we had. To finish off the day we went to the movies once again and saw Resident Evil (about as bad as you’d expect, but fun anyway, at least Milla Jovovich is always nice to look at, especially wielding guns akimbo).

On the way back we hopped off the bus a few stops early and walked the last bit. We stopped at a food store much like the Whole Foods chain we encountered in San Francisco – Quality Food Center. It was just as nice as Whole Foods and we got a blank stare in reply when we asked about when they opened in the morning “We’re always open, 24-7”. It must seriously suck to work nights at a grocery store! Ah well, satisfied with that answer we headed back out and resumed the walk back to Linda’s. It wasn’t that far but we did find time to try out some of the neat dance instructions that were cast into the pavement along the way.

Later that evening we went down to sit by the faux fireplace (it was one of those gas things with fake firewood) and read a few guidebooks. Linda was a bit of an evening person so we chatted a bit about Sweden and universal health care (she seemed to romanticize a fair bit about that one). She assured us that Seattle has the largest concentration of Swedes outside Sweden and that this was the reason for there being a big fancy building entitled “The Swedish Medical Center” in the middle of town. I’m pretty sure her PhD is a medical one since she seemed pretty knowledgeable in those areas. But since we had a rather big last day in the U.S. we turned in a bit early to be sure that we’d be able to catch the ferry the following morning.

Lucha Libre!

Our last day in San Diego Jonna wanted to pierce her ears and she spent the evening before scouring the GPS for nearby tattoo parlors (the only place we could think of that might do piercings). The place she found was in the northern part of town so we had a bit of a drive to get there. Once there we found out that tattoo artists like to sleep in, and the place wouldn’t be open until hours later. Since we didn’t have anything better to do, strolled around a bit looking at the shops. Eventually we went into a second hand store and browsed a bit, and there, in a box of hats, I found something I’d been looking for the entire trip; a Luchador mask! Content with that we exited the shop and continued down the street.

It was a rather downtrodden neighborhood with not that much to look at, so we decided it was time to head back downtown. On the way back though, we passed a sporting goods store and picked up a junior sized football as a present to Jonnas nephew Casper.

Back downtown, we found a kind of mall that we hadn’t noticed before. Since it’s San Diego after all it was more or less an open air mall with walkways high and low. As malls go, a really nice one! We stopped at a jewelry store and Jonna asked if they knew where you could go and get your ears pierced. “Over there” the lady said and pointed to one of those we-only-sell-stuff-that-is-pink-or-glitters-stores. We went over there, and once she had signed about a gazillion waiver forms, it was finally time to piercing. Jonna was actually a bit disappointed afterwards since it didn’t hurt the least.

We got some lunch at Panda Express (so-so Asian fast food) and proceeded out onto the street again. We walked around a bit more and as the afternoon waned into evening I came upon a sneaker store that had some really cool Marc Ecko sneakers (you can’t get those sneakers in Sweden and I just love the Rhino!).

Finally the time had come to return our trusted iron horse that we’ve ridden clear across America. It was certainly with mixed feelings we said our goodbyes and walked back to the motel. As we passed the airport we decided to go back to snap a couple of pictures of the planes flying in low to land (for some reason we had stopped at the motel prior to dropping off the car and left the camera there). We grabbed the camera and took the path going by the docks to get a different scenery. It was really nice, they had a few replicas of old sail ships and a lot of art installments along the walkway. It took us a good while to get back to where the planes flew in and it started to get pretty dark by then.. We got a couple of nice photos (even though the camera’s really slow) and headed back again, we also got the opportunity to record the sound of one the frequent trains that went by our motel, horns blaring.

Back at the motel I asked the manager to fix us a cab as we were leaving at around 4 am the following morning. After packing everything we went to sleep for our last night in San Diego.

Shamu! Shamu! Shamu!

Wednesday was Sea World day and we first went to the Orca pools and looked at the few of them we could see. In another pool we could see a giant fin, so tall that the top part was bent. We then thought that it must’ve been Shamu, the original Orca. Some research on the topic unveiled that the original Shamu died in 1971 and that it’s just kept as a stage name for, well, any of the orcas really. The Orca show wasn’t until 12.30 so we went and looked at the dolphins.

The dolphins were housed in a pool with rather low edges so that if you bought some fish you were allowed to feed and pet the dolphins at a few set times during the day. We didn’t do that though, it was way too crowded.

We didn’t get much breakfast that day so we got a early lunch at an ridiculously expensive cafeteria. Food was good though and we rounded off the meal by splitting a classic American chocolate cake. Very nice! We had some more time to kill before the Orca show so we went to the fourth aquarium of our trip. Each one has been slightly different and in this one there were sea turtles and really cool big fishes.

At this time we heard a call for the dolphin show and we went to where we thought it would be. It turned out to be wrong so we went and petted some Bat rays instead. They were rather friendly and swam right up to the hand. There were some Guitarfish in the pool next to it, but they weren’t as interested in being petted. You could also go down a ramp to see the parts of the pool that was under water. There they kept the Moray Eels (Muränor) and there were quite a lot of them! Basically it looked like a pot of spaghetti at places…

We still had some time before the Orca show so we looked at the Sea Otters. They weren’t as interesting as the ones at Monterey Bay but they were probably taking a nap or something. You could also look through a window to the nursery where they kept a baby otter. It was very cute and playful! It tried hard to soak a towel they had there but the keeper caught the towel in time…

Finally it was time for the Orca show, we seated ourselves in the soak zone (= the first 12 rows) and got a great view. The show was a bit corny with a lot of wilderness romantics, but the Orcas were great! At one point one of the handlers started spinning on his back in a break dance-esque move. This was apparently the signal for one of the Orcas to slide up on the platform and spin 360 degrees! Really awesome to see such a big animal do a thing like that. Other than that they did the usual stuff, jumping, carrying trainers and the like. One thing was a bit weird though; at one point it was time for the wetting of the audience. The trainers then instructed everyone to make this sign mimicking an Orca tail fin splashing while chanting “Shamu, Shamu, Shamu”. It almost felt like a revival meeting… All the chanting didn’t help though, we didn’t a single drop of water on us, which I found a bit disappointing.

Done with the Orcas we went to see the Clydesdale horses, what they are doing at Sea World I don’t really know, but they were nice all the same (update: the owner of the park is Anheuser-Busch, also owner of the Budweiser beer brand which apparently have the Clydesdales as their mascot).

We continued on to see the Polar Bears, but instead found ourselves by the log ride equivalent and a tank full of Commerson’s Dolphins . They were really cool to watch as they were beautiful and constantly racing about, playing with each other. Afterwards we found the building housing the Polar Bears, and to get in you had to first see another one of the 4D movies that are so common. This time it was a helicopter ride through the Arctic to a mock research station, of course there was a near crash and all that usual stuff. (Jonna comment: afterwards I overheard a little girl saying “is it true mum? Are we really in the Arctics now?” and the mum answered “…Yes” 🙂 ) After the movie we got to go through the research station where they had Sea Elephants, Beluga Whales and a sleeping Polar Bear.

Next up we had the Penguins; housed in a giant refrigerator with a flat escalator going by a big viewing glass. Penguins are always fun, and they also had some Atlantic Puffins (Lunnefåglar). Outside of the Penguin fridge they had the pet show that we initially didn’t plan attending but since it started just as we walked by we went in. It was a bit too American for my taste with very loud presenters and pet tricks that mostly reminded me of America’s Funniest Home Videos. (Jonna comment: one of the dogs was pretty clever. It went in, missed catching the frisbee and then stayed and got scratched behind the ear for the rest of the show. No trick necessary!).

We had a spot of time afterwards before the Dolphin show so we watched the Sea Lions getting fed. Quite greedy buggers those lions… At the Dolphin show we once again took a seat in the soak zone and listened to the warm-up act; a pop star wannabe handler doing some songs on his guitar. At the start of the show they introduced a family that got to pet and feed the dolphins, we didn’t pay it much mind at first but after a while it started getting weird. Finally the mom falls into the water and gets a backwards ride around the pool from a kind of whale with a very long name that I can’t remember, that’s when we smelled the rat… The mom was of course a trainer in disguise.

The show was good with lots of jumping and pushing people about. We also finally got really wet during the splashy part (it was the whale with the really long name doing the same things the Orcas did earlier). After the show we went to the freshwater aquarium before attending the last show; some sort of animal theater involving the rescue of a Sea Elephant, plenty of otters and a couple of Sea Lions. Most amusing was actually the mime doing the warm-up show.

Last of all we checked out the Shark building, it was really nice with a big acrylic tube under water so that you got to see the sharks up close. Walking out to the parking lot we saw a few weird towers with staff in them, telling people what to do in the parking lot. We didn’t really get the point of it but apparently it was important enough to pay someone to do it.

This was the day we were supposed to turn in the car again but we called and got an extension since we wanted to back to Coronado for a swim that evening. So Jonna just keyed in some random destination out on Coronado and we started driving. It had been a really long day at this point so Jonna dozed off while I followed the GPS directions. When I found myself on a one-way street leading up to a very official-looking guard booth I woke Jonna up wondering what she’d actually put in as destination. It turns out that half of Coronado is a Naval base and we were heading right for it. I did some half-assed explaining to the guard that asked for my license. “I’m going to hold on to this while you turn to that exit over there and then I’ll give it back to you.” Said and done, I got the license back and we were on our way again. Jonna felt a bit bad about sleeping, serves her right… =)

We went back to the same place we were the day before and played around in the waves some more. There was quite a lot of kelp washing in so we took a couple of pictures with it. All cooled down we went back to the motel to change before walking downtown to get some food. We had seen a nice Indian restaurant the night before that we wanted to try. I asked for spicy food and the waitress seemed to think it was unusual. When we got the food she actually lingered for a bit ‘just to make sure I didn’t choke on it’ she later confessed. The food was really strong, but I wasn’t too impressed with the taste. Mostly felt like they’d put lots of dried chili in and not bothered with the other flavors that much. Still good though.

Animal Planet

The motel had discount tickets to San Diego Zoo as well as Sea World and we dedicated the first day to the zoo. The zoo lies almost in the middle of town and when I saw the map for it I got a traveling salesman headache. The place is virtually impossible to traverse without backtracking!

We started out with one of the many aviaries where they kept hummingbirds. They were really cool to see up close but were problematic to photograph. We moved on to the reptile section where we happened upon two Galapagos turtles getting it on. Those things are really huge! They had turtles in almost every shape and form, but also a couple of crocodiles. Also snakes by the bucketload, including one with two heads! One really cool thing was the green mamba that decided to move about just as we were watching it. It was almost as it was watching me when it bobbed its head about mere centimeters from mine, kind of creepy really (and the green color is almost unreal).

We hung around the reptiles for a while waiting for the eleven o’clock sea lion show. The show was so-so but turned unexpectedly interesting when they brought a volunteer kid on stage to feed the sea lion and such. The kid seemed a bit hesitant at first but managed to give the sea lion a back rub. But when it came to feeding the lion the cup overflowed over and he starting bawling his eyes out. The father had to come down and collect him and that was more or less the end of the show.

Next stop were the Pygmy Hippopotami (okay, okay, I’ll admit that I was mostly looking for an opportunity to use an i-plural form). They looked like you’d expect, roughly the size of Saint Bernards, swimming about in a pool. We walked about some more, seeing lots of birds and monkeys before stopping for a bite to eat.

We ate some sort of Mexican that came with the unappetizing pile of mashed beans that apparently accompanies all Mexican dishes. It’s not bad though, it just doesn’t look that nice. After lunch we looked at the Giant Pandas, they were super cute of course, munching away on bamboo. We saw a couple of Panthers, Pumas, Meercats, Elephants, Tapirs and a Rhino before going to a second show. This time they had a Pig, a Wallaby, a Shaded Leopard, a Cheetah and its friend the Golden Retriever Sven Olof. They all did some tricks and the trainers confirmed and denied various myths about the animals. Nothing spectacular though.

Afterward we headed off to the Polar Bears but there was only one of them out. He was very considerate though and was playing right next to the glass with a plastic barrel so we got a few nice pictures. Apparently there’s really not a problem for them that it is so hot in San Diego since they just shed their winter fur and lose the fat then and after doing that they’re quite comfortable.

At this point we were almost done and went back towards the gate. We went past the real Hippopotami and the Tigers on the way back. We had one more destination in mind before leaving though; the Koalas. The Koalas were mostly sleepy but just as cute as they always are.

Done with the zoo we drove around downtown for a bit and then headed out to a rather large island called Coronado just outside the downtown area. Out on Coronado is the famous Hotel Del Coronado (featured in Baywatch among other things) and a very nice beach. At the hotel there was a parking attendant that spent his days making sand drawings on the driveway, really pretty! We walked the beach for a bit and found that the water was quite nice. So we decided to go back for a swim the next day.

We then spent the evening walking around downtown to get a feel for San Diego. It seemed quite nice, in spite of the fairly numerous homeless people.

Leaving Las Vegas

Before leaving Las Vegas (not the way Nicholas Cage did it) we wanted to take a dip in the hotel pool. It was a bit disappointing though, very shallow and not yet warm, so we made it a rather short one. Since we skipped Grand Canyon on the way to Vegas we thought we would head over there on the way back. But after checking the GPS again we found out that it was still that far away (who would’ve thought?). After some deliberation we decided to skip Grand Canyon this time and see it some other time.

So instead we headed off to LA again to find the elusive Watts Towers (it turned out that I’d keyed in east 7th street before when it was supposed to be west 7th street). But first there was some 5 hours of desert driving on the schedule.

As we are about to enter California there is this Agricultural Inspection post you have to go through. We roll down the window and the guy asks whether we have any fruits and vegetables with us. Since we had bought a trunk-full of celery in Vegas, Jonna slams the accelerator and we drive off in a cloud of tire smoke. The well trained border police rips up his gun and puts two well aimed bullets in our rear tire, sending us crashing into the railing… Well, maybe it wasn’t quite that dramatic, but Jonna did get a compliment for her necklace before driving off.

Not much interesting stuff goes on in the desert, the most interesting was passing Zzyzx road. We also stopped for a little snack at a Del Taco joint. Highly unrecommended.

Once in LA we drove around in the rather run down neighborhood Watts (home to the infamous Crips gang) for a while before finding the towers. The towers were actually just as cool as I’d hoped they’d be. They are actually made out of steel rods wrapped in wire mesh and covered with clay and are really huge! Simon Rodia started out in 1921 and built in his spare time for 33 years out of stuff he found. I recommend it highly, but use a GPS, otherwise you probably won’t find them.

As we were leaving LA we found it baffling how much time you can save by driving in the carpool lane. It seems like 98% of all cars in LA have only one person in them (to drive in the carpool lane you have to be two or more people in the car). And since you’re bound to stand still at one point or another whichever time of day you enter the freeway it’s really a wonder that people can stand it.

We got back to the coast in this place called Newport Beach. The guide book described it as posh and after driving by the third yatch club (with a valet guy and all) we were inclined to believe it. It was really nice though and we took a few pictures while dodging joggers before driving the rest of the way to San Diego.

We passed through Laguna Beach, an artists colony that seemed really cozy on the way, but made no further stops until San Diego. We found a motel in a part of town called ‘Little Italy‘.

Viva Las Vegas!

Since the 23rd marks our engagement anniversary we thought we’d celebrate Vegas style. So we found ourselves an Elvis clone and tied the knot!

No, not quite, but we did get tickets to a show: Mystére with Cirque du Soleil. To celebrate properly we thought we’d get some snazzy clothes as well. So we headed over to the outlet mall and shopped up until the show started.

The show was great, so much happening at times that you didn’t really know where to look though. Most impressive was the strongman/balance act two guys did. At one time one of them laid on his stomach while the other was in a handstand holding the feet of the first guy. The first guy then proceeded to lower the legs with the other guy still in a handstand on top of the feet. An amazing feat in itself, but the guy isn’t finished; he then brings the legs back up again…

A large part of the Cirque du Soleil experience are the costumes. Also the many cool things they do with the stage; you could lower and heighten parts of the stage which added a lot to the show. One of my favorite things were the huge snail that came up on stage towards the end (it was actually there throughout the show in ever-increasing size). All in all, a great spectacle!

Afterward we looked a place to eat at the Treasure Island casino where the show was. We settled on an Italian restaurant and Jonna ordered the lasagna, I had some veal parmesan. I had a bad encounter with meat the night before when I ordered some kind of steak and got this big gray slab of meat without any kind of seasoning at all. But I thought that since it was an Italian restaurant after all then maybe there would be a bit more taste to it. Well, I was wrong and the veal was really bland and covered with slimy parmesan. Jonna thought the lasagna was okay (but she still thinks my mom’s is better).

Since you can’t go to Vegas without gambling we did a spot of that after dinner. I was a bit surprised of how little variation there were. You basically have the traditional slots that have just tiny differences between them, you have the Poker and Black Jack machine (which were the ones we tried) and then you have the real Black Jack, another card game called Pai Gow, craps and roulette. That’s more or less it, there’s just a lot of each kind.

When we got tired of gambling we went out on the Strip once again, but since Jonnas boots weren’t made for walking we didn’t get that far. We did however catch the end of the ‘Sirens of TI‘ show that takes place in a little lagoon outside the Treasure Island casino around an incredibly tacky pirate ship (also featured in GTA). We finished up by walking a little bit further, but since we didn’t find anything really interesting we went home after that.

Joshua Treed

Our plan for the Saturday was to first go to Grand Canyon, and then continue on to Las Vegas. But after consulting the GPS, it claimed that we wouldn’t be at Grand Canyon until some time after 6 pm. That wasn’t a very appealing prospect since we wanted to get to Vegas before it got too late. So we decided to postpone Grand Canyon until after the Vegas visit.

The road to Las Vegas is almost entirely a long boring highway, so we consulted the map of scenic byways we got at Point Lobos and found a scenic route through the Mojave National Preserve which we decided to aim for. On the road we found it rather odd that there were so many cars with boat trailers since we basically were in the middle of a desert! Not only that, we also passed a couple of boat repair shops! It remains a mystery…

After a good while we turned to the scenic route through the Mojave desert. It was a fun road with a lot dips in it (check the video!). Parts of the road also had ‘Flooded’ signs, but we never actually ran in to any water so it must’ve all dried up since the deluge the day before. We stopped a few times to check out the wilderness but didn’t find that much of interest. The were truckloads of Joshua Trees by the road though.

We finally arrived in Vegas in the late afternoon and checked in to the Luxor where we had booked rooms (hotel rooms in the bigger casinos at the Strip aren’t that expensive actually since they make the real money from your gambling anyway). The Luxor has a really nice atrium since the inside of the pyramid is hollow and the hotel rooms are along all the walls (since all the walls are at an angle the elevators are called inclinators by the way). We were at the 13th floor, which is about halfway up, so we had a nice view. One thing that surprised me a bit was that the hotel was a bit worn, I’d expected it to be in a bit better shape, but I got the impression that they were just about to renovate it.

After installing ourselves and getting Internet connectivity (they actually had a wired network, that is so 20th century) we went out to walk the Strip by night. It was certainly something to see all those casinos, one more more ridiculous that the other (but the worst, by far, is the Excalibur that looks like the Disney castle). We walked as far as to the Bellagio which is the casino that has the big water show that you’ve probably seen on TV a few times. The Strip is really long, but when you walk it your perspective gets distorted because everything is so big. There was also a lot more people out walking than I’d thought there’d be, slowing the walking down a bit.

Roller Coasting

Six Flags Magic Mountain was on the menu for today, but in a rare flash of actual preparation we actually checked when they opened and found out they didn’t open until 10 am. That gave us some time to kill and we decided to do some more outlet shopping so that Jonna could get some shorts (skirts are no good when you’re riding roller coasters). After getting what we wanted we headed off to Six Flags which is in a little town called Valencia, north of town.

It was very apparent that we had come in the off season, there were hardly any lines anywhere in the park, great! We started off soft with one of the oldest roller coasters: Revolution. It was okay, a little bumpy and not that high but lots of twists and turns. You could tell that it wasn’t that new though (1976 now that I checked it out actually!). It gets a 4 on a scale from 1 to 10.

Next up was ‘Viper‘ which was a lot newer, but still a few years old. It’s mostly a ‘regular’ roller coaster that climbs very high in the beginning and has quite a few loops. A bit scary was that you went really slow through some of the loops. I give it a 6 (bordering on a 5).

X was the third one and this was the first one we actually had to stand in line for. It’s a bit of an odd fish in that you’re sitting at the side of the actual rail instead of on top of it as usual. This means that you don’t have anything but air under your feet which very much adds to the experience. Another feature of the side-seating was that they could spin you around the side axis of the car so that you’re sometimes completely upside down. And the ride? Pretty much the scariest stuff I’ve tried in the way of roller coasters (I’m rather scared of heights but I handle it by telling myself how expensive and embarrassing it would be for the park if someone would actually die). No wonder there was a line to this one, it gets a 9.

Afterward we decided on a food break and as we took some sort of cable car thingy to get across the park (it’s quite large) an employee started chatting with us. When we told him that we’d just ridden X he said that in his opinion it was the best ride in the park. Maybe tied with Goliath, more on that one later.

Right after the food break we went for ‘Tatsu‘, the newest addition to the park. The unique thing about Tatsu is that you’re ‘flying’, that is, you’re hanging belly-down under the rail for the entire ride (well for the exception of one extreme g-turn, similar to a split-s maneuver where you end up flat on your back squashed like a pancake). Great ride, but not as great as X, I give it a 7.

Next to Tatsu lies Ninja, a rather bumpy, aged ride that has you suspended in cars under the rail. An interesting feature was that the cars could rock sideways when hanging which made it a bit exciting. On the whole though, it pales in comparison to all the others. 4 out of 10.

After Ninja was ‘Superman – The Escape‘ from which we actually chickened out from at first. It’s really nothing fancy actually; you sit in a wagon roughly the size of a car and then the operator counts down from three and off you go, literary shot out of a cannon. The ride uses Linear Synchronous Motors (a bunch of magnets continually repelling you forward) to accelerate you at 4.5 G to 100 mph (160 km/h) before the rail turns 90 degrees upwards and you continue up to 415 feet (127 m) before you run out of momentum and fall back down again.

But as I said, we chickened out at first and instead went for Déjá Vu. This is a boomerang roller coaster, which means that you first go forward through it and when you reach the end you go backwards along the same track back to the beginning. It starts quite distressing by hoisting the entire train backwards up a tower, which means you’re hanging face down slowly going higher until it releases the entire train and you fall to your death, at least that’s what it feels like. Very scary, it gets a 7.

I was starting to get a headache at this point, but we still had places to go and coasters to ride, so I just had to toughen up. Next in line was ‘The Riddler’s Revenge‘ which was pretty much ordinary except from that you’re standing up the entire time. Not that memorable though, it gets a 5.

There was also ‘Batman – The Ride‘ of course. This roller coaster hunches down close to the ground and instead relies on sharp turns as thrill inducer. It actually works quite well and I give it a 6.

At this time we decided to actually go and ride ‘Superman – The Escape’ after all and it really wasn’t that scary either. The best thing is the immense acceleration at the beginning when you feel like you leave your face behind. It get 5 out of 10.

We were nearing the end of the park by now and it was finally time to try the old timer ‘Colossus‘ (built in 1978, just like me!). We didn’t have that high expectations, but it really was a great ride! Very bumpy, but the drops were just the right height so that you get that tingling in the bottom of your belly when going over the top. It really holds its own and gets a 6.

Before going for the grand finale at Goliath we had ‘Scream‘ to try. It was okay I guess, but nothing that I remember all that well. It had some really fun tight turns near the ground where you’re sideways just a couple of yards above ground. It gets a 5.

Last thing for the day was ‘Goliath‘. This was also the only other time we had to wait to get on. And five minutes before the parks closing time we finally got to go. By this time some rain had actually started drizzling down and all those squeamish Californians were complaining loudly about how cold it was (probably around 17 degrees Celsius and a little windy). A cool thing about Goliath is that the giant first drop goes down into a tunnel under ground. It relies mainly on high drops and it was great fun. I give it an 8, bordering on a 9.

There isn’t many pictures this day because we packed most our stuff in a locker the first thing we did so that we didn’t have too much to put away each time we were going on a ride.

Later that evening the drizzle turned into heavy rain, obviously almost unheard of in California, at least at this time of year. It was all sorts of storm warnings on the TV and in LA a mud slide actually buried a bunch of cars.