Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Grand Canyon That I Saw

We hiked the 10 miles down to the Indian Reservation and slowly entered the visitors office. I was sweating profusely after the desert hike, but now I began to sweat out of nervousness. We were supposed to have a reservation but we didn't and we didn't know what would happen to us. As we entered I heard the man behind the counter having a similar phone conversation to the one I had with them the day before, "Sorry, we're booked solid, try again next year...early." Tobi and I looked at each other and took a deep breath. I was thinking about telling them that Tobi had a terminal disease and his last wish was to see these waterfalls before he died. I was also considering going through with the "We don't speak English" plan. There were a few options for us, but one I would not except was getting turned around now.

So what happened? Nothing. The woman behind the counter just assumed we had a reservation, took our names, our money, and gave us the camping permit. It was great. The only bad part was that there were 2 more miles of hiking left. The rest of the story will be told through the pictures we took. The pictures don't do this place justice, but my writing wouldn't either. I loved this place. Take a gander:

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Best Choice I've Ever Made

The next morning when Tobi and I woke up in our 19 dollar Walmart tent beside the Colorado river while surrounded by the cliffs of the Grand Canyon it's safe to say we felt slightly untouchable. This rush of over confidence led us to wake up early and head to secret waterfalls in the Grand Canyon even though the day before we were told we were not welcome. We were told there was no room, we were not allowed to hike or camp there, and we needed reservations. We also had to drive an hour out of our way to even get to the places parking lot, which if we got turned away would waste more than 2 hours of prime daylight time at the South Rim. These aren't things you really think about when you're untouchable. Sure there are risks but do you think Superman worries about finding the oven mitt before taking brownies out of the oven? Of course not. Sometimes you know what you want when you want it, so Tobi and I began our 18 mile drive out of the Grand Canyon at 7am to hopefully make it to the parking lot of our next destination by 10am, an hour out of the way, just in the hope that they might let us hike their trail.

I will never understand how perspective can switch so much inside my own head. My head stays the same, relatively. I mean besides bed head, which I've now taken care of thanks to shaving my head, and a huge spider bite scar, my outward appearance stays pretty much the same from moment to moment. But inside my head I can go from feeling like a million bucks to 10 cents in no time at all. When I met Tobi I went from feeling that the end of my trip would be a failure to thinking the end of my trip was going to be the best week of my life in the time span of an hour. Yet on the road, when I was told we were not welcome to the Canyon waterfalls because we didn't have reservations I was depressed again. It's terrible to have great hopes, dreams, and desires that someone can put an end to over the phone, "Sorry, we're booked solid." Those simple words made everything we were hoping to see impossible. But one nights sleep and the impossible seemed possible again.

It was mostly a silent 3 hour drive to where we were headed. Tobi and I didn't say much outwardly and inside we were in knots. We knew what we were doing was crazy, but we just kept thinking that if we believed it would work out, it would work out. We reached the parking lot and it became obviously clear that the person on the phone wasn't kidding when they said they were full. Cars were parked everywhere. I mean, there was a "parking lot" but the lines drawn on the ground did only about half the job for all the cars there. For a moment while driving in we got behind a line of cars thinking it was traffic before realizing they were parked there because the lot was full. Lucky for us we did find a spot right between the donkeys and the porta-potties.

So we were there! That was a big enough step, but what to do now? Besides a small shed, about 50 donkeys, some great views, and more cars than we've seen since leaving Vegas we couldn't tell what all the fuss was about. Where were the people that drove these cars in here? We had to ask. The fear of getting kicked out made us hesitate from asking workers dumb questions about things anyone with a reservation should already know. So instead we asked a few people we saw in the parking lot about some information.

Where do we go from here? Is it worth it? Do you think they'd kick us out? We threw a barrage of questions at these clearly tired travelers (we'd come to find out why later). Apparently the parking lot is only the starting point. You need to hike 10 miles along the Canyon floor to get to the Indian reservation, and then check in. Once you're there it's two more miles of hiking to get to the camp site and the falls. Is it worth it? We repeated. I will never forget the look on the mans face when he said "If you came this far only to turn around at this parking lot you'll never forgive yourself. The scenery down there is some of the most contrasting beauties the world has to offer put right along side of each other. Desert cliffs, with crystal blue water rushing over it. Is it worth it? Yeah, it's worth it."

That sealed the deal. We would push on. As soon as we had that in our heads (a perspective change from fearful, to determined) we even asked some of the workers some questions, and to our surprise they were welcoming. "Just head down the trail, you'll see it in 10 miles." We didn't need anyone else to point us in the right direction but it was someone comforting to know that at least someone working at this place told us we could hike it. Even though we knew a lowly donkey renter had no business speaking for the tribe, you take any little victory you can when you're in our position.

So we began our hike. Not knowing what laid ahead, not knowing if we'd get turned back, but we did know there was a chance we'd see something amazing, and that was why we pushed on. Just as we were about to embark on the trail we asked a group of hikers to take our picture. We were on cloud nine, and it was just about the right time to get brought down to earth again. "Yeah, we'll take your picture," they said "you're smiling now, but you won't be later. This is the hike goes through hell." Funny, no one we talked to mentioned the grueling nature of the hike. Not my cousin, my friend Mimi, the man in the parking lot, or the donkey salesman. But come to think of it, the man in the parking lot did look extremely worn out, and granted the guy selling donkeys wasn't looking up to snuff but I thought that was the nature of his business. Now I was on the head of the trail smiling for a picture in front of about 15 teenagers that all looked like they'd just finished their house chores at the Hearst Castle. Their faces somehow backed up the claim that this hike went through hell, but if it takes walking through hell to get to heaven, I'd be up for that because, let's not forget, I'm untouchable again.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Hoober Dam

The first stop after leaving Las Vegas is an easy choice, the Hoover Dam. You've just got to stop here. If this place was good enough for the Clark Griswold and his family, it's good enough for me. We didn't stop for long though. Just snapped some pictures and then were back on the open road heading towards the Grand Canyon.

Our destination was a remote, almost secretive place deep in the canyon that I had only been told about by other travelers (Billy, my cousin, and Mimi from Big Sur). They told me of beautiful blue water waterfalls deep in the canyon. Beauty amongst the desert, a real life mirage that looks too good to be true, but for once is real, and we were headed there. We found the dot on the Atlas and aimed for it. A few hours after leaving Las Vegas we stopped to get gas, and use the phone so we could call and make camping reservations. Yes, this is something we should have done before driving almost all the way to it. The phone conversation went something like this:

Me-"We'd like to camp at your reservation"
Worker- "We're booked solid for the rest of the year, sorry."
Me- "No, No, I just want to hike down to the waterfalls and put up a tent."
Worker- "Sorry we don't have any vacancies. We open up reservations on January 7th and we sell out the entire year by January 14th. So try again next year."
Me- "Wow. That's interesting, but I don't need a room, we have our own tent."
Worker- "Sir there is no room."
Me- "There is no room in the desert for a two person tent?"
Worker- 'I'm sorry, have a good day, goodbye."

Tobi and I were in shock. To add insult to injury some Germans were at the gas station with us and told us how the waterfalls were the most amazing things they ever saw. They would have payed anything to see them again, done anything, and they will never forget them. Of course they booked their stay a year in advance. Tobi and I had known each other for 22 hours and weren't able to plan a year in advance, so we did the what we thought would be the next best thing.

It was getting later in the day, and we were near the "only road into the Grand Canyon", Diamond Creek Road, so we thought it was worth a try. We'd camp there, discuss our options, and then get started again the next morning. It seemed like the safe option. That was until the Ranger told us that it's easy for cars to get stranded on Diamond Creek road. She warned us of popped tires, broken gas tanks, rocks, flooded road ways, bumps, etc... They took a look at our rental and said, "I wouldn't take the chance, but I can't stop you." and she was right. We couldn't be stopped.

We pressed on, with your Dodge Caliber, and hoped for the best. They told us the road was 5 miles long, a small miscommunication I guess because it was 18 miles long. 18 miles of unpaved desert ground that reminded me of my driving experience on Fraser Island in Australia. The majority of which were done with a fear of becoming stranded in the middle of nowhere fresh on our minds. The scenery was spectacular though. Every turn showed a new view of the canyon until we were actually in it. Small streams along the side of the car turned into the mighty Colorado, and we only decided to hike about the last mile of the road to our campsite.

We camped right on the Colorado. Read books before the sunset on cliffs in the Grand Canyon. Went to sleep under the brightest moon I can ever remember with sounds of rushing water nearby. We were both very please with our decision to stop here. Who else has driven a car in the Grand Canyon? You? I doubt it.

However, the BIG decision still hung over our heads. What to do about going to see the waterfalls. Should we try and go anyway? If they turn us away it will be a wasted day because it's so far away from anything else. Should we skip it and possibly miss out on the greatest beauty in the world without even trying? It didn't look good, but we talked and thought we'd figure it out in the morning, bright and early.

Friday, July 18, 2008

First Step Towards the Unknown

I had nearly stepped off the edge of no return. Nearly succumb to the powers that be. I had Nearly given in, resided to the outcome that seeing the Grand Canyon by tour bus just like everyone else would somehow be the anticlimax to my partial-world-tour. Until at the last moment I was saved. Saved by the Swiss. Tobi and I hit it off from minute one, and by minute two we had already rented a car for a week together. This was a meeting that was destined. Be it by God or what, I do think that him sitting near me, with his over sized Atlas, as I walked up to the desk to sign away my dream of hiking and camping the Grand Canyon was just too big of a coincidence to see it as one. I went from calling my parents and telling them I'd be home in two days, to the possibility of doing anything my heart desires for the next week. It was an overwhelming swing of emotion.

After renting the car with Tobi we drove it to the Bellagio and watched the worlds largest fountain show. As I stood there, with a new feeling of adventure, watching the fountains burst into the air in amazing unison at astounding heights all to the sounds of "God Bless America" I had a moment of clarity. I moment I realized I was lucky. No matter what happened after that, I felt like I had it all at that moment. Anything was possible, and I was set to take advantage of all the possibilities that laid before me. Thanks to Tobi, this semi-world-tour was destined to have nothing short of the rightful climax it deserved.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Vegas Baby Vegas

As we all do, I love to travel. If you have been reading this blog at all, you already know that about me, but one thing you might not know is that visiting cities can get a little repetitive when you travel extensively. Take my advice, it never gets bad, each city brings its own tastes, smells, sights, and people that make it special and stand out from the rest, however, after you've been to so many cities you don't "look forward" to them as much. It's just natural because they all offer "similar" sights. Before heading to China it had been maybe 8 years since I had gone to a zoo, so I jumped at the chance to go to a zoo in China. Now I've been to 4 zoos in less than 3 months. It's because you hear the same thing when you get to a city: "We have nice places to eat, great museums, beautiful parks, and did I mention the zoo?" Now like I said before, if you are there, you must do these things because even though they sound similar to what you've done recently, something will make it stand out. Every zoo, restaurant, museum, and park are not the same, and I can't stress to you enough, that in the moment it does all seems new and exciting, but before you are in the moment it sounds old, like you've already done it, and uninteresting.

When you travel outside of cities to natural wonders you are naturally excited because you know you've never seen this mountain, or that waterfall before, this desert, or that crater, skied here, hiked there, swam here or snorkeled there. Those things always sound interesting and exciting because you already envision them as singular events that can "only" happen in those particular places and nowhere else. But when I tell you about a museum, park or zoo after a while you think you can see them anywhere.

This is how I felt about cities after Seoul, Shenghi, Beging, Sydney, Hong Kong, Despensar, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and LA in just a few months. But there are always exceptions to the rule, and to that I give you...Las Vegas. I don't remember another city I looked forward to visiting as much as Vegas. Foreigners I met seem to look forward to visiting San Francisco like it is some beacon of American idealism and utopia. I however, looked forward to Las Vegas. I'm not sure why exactly. Of course it could be my propensity for gambling, but I really thought about Vegas as a big city unlike any other city in America, and I wanted to see what it was like.

Vegas, Vegas, Vegas...Where do I start? The stretch limo ride? The Hawaiian Tropics Swimsuit competition? The clubs? The cool people I met? The staying up all night in the hot tub? The thousand dollars I won? The hooker that was killed? Okay so not all of those things really happened, I was a HUGE loser when it came to gambling this visit, and the hooker wasn't "killed" she was...well, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Ha.

Vegas was so much grander than I even thought it would be. I mean how do you explain the picture of me with a huge green bird on my shoulder? Vegas... It is amazing what money can do. Everywhere there is music, fountains, lights, wedding chapels, cars, buildings, and they all seemed to be tricked out by some crazy visionary who a long time ago had the belief that "if we make everything Extremely Tacky but Huge and Overdone, someday when it gets big enough the city will all come together and work" he was right.

The casinos are ridiculous. I'm not sure you can really describe them, there are too many and they have too many things in them. I took a water slide through a shark tank at one, and watched a lion feeding at another. These places are larger than life. They are confusing, five steps after walking in you can't find your way out. There are so many lights, and bells you think people have to be winning, you're wrong. The buffets are really good. However, unlike in Sydney, luck was not on my side during this trip to Vegas. I think I lost everything I played actually. But I still played everything I wanted. Since I had no "wining" highlights I would have to say that my losing highlight was when I played hold'em at the meca of hold'em, Binion's. Some obese woman sitting behind a stack of chips that nearly blocked out her gut called me with 9 high. I had 8 high. She said something was telling her to call. I said it was too bad something didn't tell her to go on a diet, honestly it looked like she only sat at that table for the year, with her only breaks being to the hotel buffet. Either way, it was a small thrill to be all in and called on a bluff.

What next? I stayed out almost every night until early in the morning. I have now seen the sun rise in Las Vegas and that is a good feeling. While seeing the sun rise on a normal night out might make you think maybe you've been out too long, in Vegas you feel like you're doing something right. I met a ton of cool people from all around the world; Swiss, German, Irish, French, English, Spanish, Canadian (should that make the list?), and probably more but I don't remember now. My favorite was when I met 2 girls from Jersey! Not "Dirty Jersey" that's "New" Jersey. They were from the real "Jersey", old Jersey which floats in the English Channel between France and England. Who would have thunk it? They were cool too, but I told them they had to work on their accents if they were going around telling people they were from Jersey. They didn't get the joke either.

I tried to see as much as I could in Vegas, on a budget that is, but I think I did alright. When you walk around everything seems so cheap; a steak dinner for 5 dollars, glasses for 2 dollars, a shirt for a dollar, drinks for 50 cents, a quarter for a dime, I don't know how they get away with it. Well, that's not true, it's the gambling, I know, but damn, everything else seems to cost nothing. I've been to China, and a number of Asian markets where things are supposed to be really cheap, but I think Vegas might have them all beat. Vegas had everything, and for almost nothing.

I spent almost a full week in Vegas, that's about half a week longer than I was expecting to stay, but I couldn't find anyone who wanted to hike and camp the Grand Canyon with me. So I waited...gambled and waited, drank and waited, laid in the sun and waited until I finally thought I could wait no longer. If I kept waiting in Vegas I would run out of money in no time. I was about to bite the bullet and just take the standard bus tour of the Grand Canyon that everyone else takes. I even began to tell myself that this would be good. 15 hours for $115 only about 4 hours that are actually at the Canyon, but I was gonna do it because I had to get there. The Grand Canyon was my number one destination on this trip. I couldn't get to Vegas and then not get there, I had to go while I still had money. I wanted to find someone to rent a car with, hike with, camp with, but after 6 days of asking everyone I ran into it didn't look like that was going to happen.

Again, I was saved at the last moment. I was sitting in the sun waiting for the guy at the counter to come back so I could sign up for the bus tour. I was ready to give in. Then I saw a guy looking at an Atlas. I thought about it, wondered my chances, then asked him, "where ya headed?" His response was, "I'm looking to hike and camp the Grand Canyon." Toby from Switzerland became my new best friend :)

Check out the pictures:

Monday, July 7, 2008


So after the Greyhound fiasco I did finally make it to LA and one of my high school friends picked me as I got off the bus. It had been years since we saw each other and his first words he said to me were some I will always remember, "Dude, this place is in the ghetto. Greyhound riders must be some bad mama-jamas if they take the bus down here. Drug dealers avoid this block. You, you're lucky I was here because if I wasn't, you'd be gettin shot. But keep your head down as we drive out of here, just in case." I said it was nice to see him too...really, and not only because I didn't want to get shot. I hadn't seen Greg in a while but we grew up together. We'd visit each others house's to play video games when we were younger, play whiffle ball together, rent movies, and then play more video games. That was basically what our friendship revolved around from 6th grade to the end of high school, we were young and dumb, but I think that is what most kids did.

So what did we do when I got to his apartment? Now, many years later, and wiser we played video games. But it was on the Nintendo Wii, that's totally different than the Nintendo, Super Nintendo, or Nintendo 64 we used to play on as kids. This was much more grown up...we played Mario Party. When we were younger video games would always be a source of frustration between the two of us because more often than not, one of us would win the video game more than the other. Well, you think that might be something you grow out of but only minutes into my first experience playing Nintendo Wii, when I didn't even know what I was doing, I got a Star (this is a good think in Mario Party). Greg was very unhappy with my beginners luck, and by the end, when I finished in first, he seemed to be almost regretting letting me stay at his place. I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same.

My LA stop was fun because I got to see an old friend and he was able to show me around, but it was a short one. I had already been to LA and wasn't that interested in seeing it all again. LA was supposed to just be a break stop on my way down to San Diego to stay with another friend, but only days earlier that fell through due to some family issues. So instead LA quickly became my jumping off point for Vegas! But how to get there? Hmmm, I'm sure I'll figure something out.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Greyhound Graveyard

The next stop was supposed to be LA, but I didn't know how I was going to get there. My new friends were going back to San Francisco because they have normal lives and jobs to return to, but I was hoping to find new friends at Big Sur that were headed further south. However, Sykes Hot Springs had about 10 people at it and all of them were from San Francisco, none even thinking about going to LA. So what to do?

I've always thought the idea of hitchhiking sounded crazy, but in the past few weeks of meeting people randomly or on the internet and driving with them, the idea now seemed almost ordinary. So far what I've done has worked out so well that even if this doesn't work out as well, it could still be a lot worse and not that bad at all. I also started getting the feeling that somehow hitchhiking would connect me more closely with the roots of my travel ancestry. The ones who came before me, before the internet, craigslist, hostels, and the like. Those who only had a bag and a thumb. Somehow if I did it maybe I would understand a little bit more about what they went through, maybe I'd find out a little bit more about myself, and maybe, just maybe I'd be better off for having done it. Well I'm here to tell you that I did learn something about myself and something about the hitchhikers that came before me. They didn't just have a bag and a thumb, they had guts too. I instead used my "brains" and decided that going back to San Francisco and taking the Greayhound would be the safest, and best decision for me to not end up dead on the side of the road.

What I learned is that any choice that isn't Grayhound is a good choice. An hour and a half after leaving San Fran on the "express" bus to LA the bus started to shake. We pulled over in the middle of Nowheresville, CA to realize the 9 of the 10 lug nuts on the bus's front right tire had popped off. Yup, we were one lug nut, or seconds away from losing a tire going 65 miles per hour on highway 5. I appreciated the irony that I chose this mode of transportation for its safety and reliability as I sun tanned on the side of the highway in my Greyhound Graveyard.

After three quick hours in the mild 100 degree heat in the middle of the pleasant wasteland we were pleasantly surprised with a second bus that would drive us the rest of the way to LA only 5 hours later than we were expected. We got into the bus and drove NO FURTHER than 10 minutes down the road and took our regularly scheduled "Burger King" 45 minute lunch break. Greyhound...you are the class of the travel business. The next time I want to be stranded in the middle of no where on a defective machine for hours only to be saved to eat at Burger King, you better believe I'll think once more about putting my damn thumb up on the side of the road.Thank you Greyhound...