Posts Tagged With: group travel

USA Tour: Day 5 – The Grand Canyon (24/06/12)

Today is the day of my first helicopter ride! I am a little nervous as I can suffer from travel sickness but I have made sure that I have put my trust acupressure wrist bands.

First we have to go through the dreaded weighing…luckily it is kept discreet so only the cashier sees it. You get weighed so they can decide where to place you in the chopper to balance it all out…and boy did I get lucky! Not the heaviest but not the lightest either, so I ended up which what I think was the best seat in the house. front right with nearly a 180 view outside…

Left to right: Larry ” The Finisher”, Achim, Melissa, Me, Rachel and Lisa

The coolest profile picture I have had so far….

As I said before, there aren’t enough words to describe the experience…suffice to say that I loved every seconds of our 55 mins flight and wish it had been longer and that our pilot, although a thoroughly nice chap, had been a little more adventurous in his flying… I didn’t feel any motion sickness at all and instead I was awed and excited and amazed and even a little loss for words…believe me, that doesn’t happen very often.

Rick, our very competent pilot.

He had cool music playing on the headphones and he filmed the whole flight. We had decided to only buy one CD for the group and then copy it later as the DVD was about $20 and we thought it would be cheaper but I now regret I wasn’t the one to buy it as we didn’t get the chance to copy it whilst travelling and trying to sort this out now that we are all back home (and our group was very international).

So as they say a picture is worth a 1000 words…enjoy!

The Dragon tail

 

I have loads of them but I won’t bore you with more…You get the picture really (no pun intended actually) even if my images don’t always do it justice as I feel the colours are a little faded and they felt a lot more vivid in my memory. If you are going to the Grand Canyon, I really recommend that you splash out for the chopper tour, it is well worth it. And go for the long one (55 mins) as the price difference between and the 30 mns one isn’t huge and it is well worth it! I could have stayed up there forever…well maybe not forever but it definitely ended too soon for my liking.

Once back on the ground, we headed out to the park for a day of hikes, cycle treks or leisurely wanders (depending on the group). I went for the cycle myself as I could get my hiking fill at Yosemite and wanted to cover a variety of activities.

Bike rental is quite cheap actually and we took a half day rental. We elected to do the Hermit’s Rest trail which according to the guide takes 4hrs return. Now, a few words of advice: the Park prides itself for its environmentally friendly credentials and in most cases it works…except for their notion that you should buy refillable bottles instead of water bottles as there are water points throughout the park….that maybe so if you hike but it is not the case for the cycle tracks…except no one tells you that. We discovered it the hard way.

We set out enthusiastically with a 500ml bottle each first through the woods where we met some of the local wildlife.

An elk (for those like me, who are quite ignorant about these things). They are quite placid and you can get relatively close (within reasons) as they are quite used to humans.

Problems started with our first, and steepest hill. It took us about 20mins to “climb” it and nearly all of our water. We still thought at that stage that we could refill at the first view point….no such luck!

View from the first view point

The hiking trail view from across the gorge. Apparently it is as hard as it looks. The guys who decided to hike it really struggled with it (except for The Finisher who is just a hiking machine!), they had water refill station though…

Mr Piggy showing off…

Apparently I was quite a hit on that ledge. Well I say a hit…I mean people looked at me funny wondering what the hell I was doing lying on the floor trying to photograph a toy pig! Crazy people everywhere uh?

Left to right: Achim, Steph, Heather, Me, Melissa and Simon

At the top…having literally just made and getting ready to run for the water fountain! The first 500ml didn’t even register my lips and mouth were so parched!

Did they say refreshments? We had ice cream…we deserve it too!

Because it took us longer than expected to reach the top, if we wanted to be able to cycle back down, we needed to only have a short break before heading back. Melissa and I couldn’t face it, Achim and Simon decided to wait with us, Steph and Heather braved it…

Having decided to take the bus back, we had time to have a picnic, check out the souvenir shop (I bought a lovely native american inspired silver necklace in the shape of a dreamcatcher and some photo prints) and a few pictures to show we were there…

Buses there were awesome as you could attach your bike at the front. Unfortunately they could only take 3 of them at a time and we were 4. So we split in 2 groups. Melissa and I went first. It was a busy bus, so we didn’t sit together. I was sitting next to a few oldies and a nice old man started chatting to me. I have to say it was hard to concentrate on the conversation as the heat and exhaustion were finally catching up to me and as I naturally feel sleepy on buses, I felt my head droop a couple times.

We couldn’t stay on the bus the whole way back, so we still had to cycle the forest bit, only problem was that we had followed Steph on the way up so we weren’t totally sure of the way back. Luckily I do have a good sense of direction. I can’t read a map, but I have a good memory of landscape, particularly if I have done the route at least once….I did good, only took one wrong turn and I realised pretty much straight away.

We got back to the bike shop with 15 mins to spare on our booking and Steph and Heather had only been waiting for 20 mins. We joined them to wait for Achim and Simon who got back a little after time was up.

We were exhausted at this stage so decided to head back to the hotel and take a swim in the pool before going out to dinner. Simon decided to try and do part of the Angel hike (crazy dude!) and once back, Achim went to the Imax cinema. Steph, Heather, Melissa and I went to eat at the Yippee-ei-o!! steakhouse in Tusayan. We fancied trying a little western style. The menu was quite limited but for starters we decided to be adventurous…well Steph convinced us that it was a good idea to try rattlesnake…we weren’t totally convinced but as we were all sharing it, we thought ok…let’s do this….

Deep fried rattlesnake – before

Tucking in…

After….it was seriously foul!

No meat, lots of bones and the batter tasted old…basically we didn’t eat much on that and we were quite happy to see the rest of the dinner show up to take the bad taste away

12 oz steak with beans, corn on the cob, jacket potato and a salad…I left the sides out well except of the salad and potato and gave the steak a run of its money…still I couldn’t finish it. Lot of meat there.

After dinner we decided to go for a quick drink at the taqueria next to the hotel…for the first time, I had made the mistake of forgetting my passport. I still amuses me to get carded before I can order an alcoholic beverage….the waiter could obviously tell that I was way older than 21 so let me off and I had a beer. The day was taking its toll though, the conversation was quite sparse and the eyelids heavy…we didn’t linger too long before heading back to bed.

Next Chapter: Vegas Baby!

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USA Tour: Day 1 – El Segundo to San Diego (20/06/12)

We had drinks and dinner at the hotel’s restaurant. It was a really interesting place with a fair amount of locals (which is strange for a hotel really) and with weekly dance classes. Whilst we were eating (in the dark as the area was very badly lit), some people were taking dance lessons (ballroom style) in the centre of the restaurant. Still it was very nice to catch up with all my future fellow travellers and get to know them a bit.

Western USA BLT Trekkers @ The Grand Canyon, June 2012
Top row: Stephan (The Netherlands)
Middle row (left to right): James (England); Heather (Sctoland), Simon (Germany), Achim (Germany), Melissa (Scotland), Eleanor (NZ), Rachel (England), Lisa (NZ), Me (France via London)
Front row: Pam (Australia), Natasha (England)
(Ages varied from 21 to 38 and apparently even Mel – guide – was amazed how we all got on together…of course there were mini groups with more affinities within be overall, there hasn’t been any drama

We were set to all meet at 7.30am in the hotel lobby by our tour guide. She had left instructions on the notice board and wanted us on time…We were all there waiting, introducing ourselves to each other (those who weren’t there the night before at least) when she strolled in…30 mins late, seeping on on Starbuck frappuccino, Raybans on, straightened hair and long skirt on…She was definitely not what I expected a tour guide to look like! And then she opened her mouth and sounded so New York, it was like being in the movies!

After all the formalities of signing in, giving insurance details and signing off responsibility, we packed up the trailer and set off in the van that was going to be our “home” for the next 2 weeks. First stop, San Diego.

Now, I don’t know much about San Diego and I haven’t done any research on it so I had no expectation about it. I just knew it had a famous Zoo and that’s pretty much it.

It took us about 3 hours to get there, with a quick pit stop for breakfast. We got into town to drop off the trailer briefly and then we were on the road again. This time, we were heading out to Old Town San Diego for a spot of lunch and to see one of the old pioneer town.

First american lunch at Coyote y Cantina, Old Town (San Diego) – I had been told that the portions were out of this world and I did give it a good try but I failed to finish my delicious chicken chimichanga.

After lunch, we took a walk in town – there isn’t much to see to be fair, except for a few tourist shops and some reconstructed pioneer village

We only wandered around for an hour or so and the one thing I remember vividly is how hot it was there, which after weeks of cold, miserable and wet weather in the UK was welcome.

After Old Town, we headed to our hostel (USA Hostel), located in the middle of Gaslamp district. This was one of the few hostels we were going to stay. Most of our trip was going to be in motels. The hostel itself is really cute and the decor is quite funky. We had to split randomly into 3 mixed rooms, which gave us the opportunity to get to know each other a little better in a smaller group setting. Actually, I ended up hanging out with the guys (and girls) from that room a lot more than with others…not sure if it was because it was the first night or just because I got lucky to be with people I had more affinities with from the start…

USA Hostel, Gaslamp district, entrance hallway.

After we got our things in our rooms and put on our swim suits, we headed back out to Coronado Island to sun ourselves and for the first chance to take a dip in the Pacific ocean.

Mr Piggy

Mr Piggy’s first outing on Coronado Island. He was quite a hit. At first, my travel mates were a little taken aback. After all, they had only just met me and they probably thought I was a tad cuckoo… but by the end of the trip, everybody would ask me if Mr Piggy got his picture taken.

I liked Coronado Island. It was nice and clean, what I expected of a Californian beach with Baywatch style lifeguards’ towers (see below)

It was also my first opportunity for a bit a artsy photography

However, only a few brave ones went to taste the water. The Pacific is surprisingly cold and I chickened out. I bet Melissa regretted going in considering she had forgotten her towel and she spent the rest of our time on the beach shivering uncontrollably, poor thing.

After a couple hours on the beach, we went back to the hostels for some showers and the chance to explore the city a little before we were due to meet up for dinner.

I had a couple things I wanted to buy, like a baseball cap as I hadn’t taken a hat with me and some sunscreen as I had to borrow some. There wasn’t many places you could shop around there. Lots of bars and restaurants in Gaslamp but unless you want to go into the big shopping centre, not many other options.

I was well excited with my cap as it spells my initial and practically lived in it as the sun was really strong out there.

After shopping and shower, I was ready to have a drink and found out that the 2 other girls from my room, Scottish girls who were travelling together, were up to join me. We didn’t go very far as we only had about an hour before dinner time, so we went to Whisky Girl which is literally at the bottom of our hostels.

Things got really funny quite quick there as I somehow caught the attention of a very drunk Canadian naval guy (not up with my naval terminology) who just decided to sit down next to me and kept hooking me by the neck. Heather and Melissa were literally in tears just watching me trying to keep him at a distance but still stay friendly (you never know). I didn’t realise that San Diego was such a big naval town but I guess with 2 naval academy/bases around, you are bound to bump into some navy boys…didn’t expect to meet some from Canada though 🙂

Me and a very drunk Canadian Navy boy named Andrew (I think!) @ Whisky Girl, San Diego.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thankfully time to meet the rest of the group for dinner had arrived and left the Canadians blokes continue their rampage. It didn’t take them long to find new willing female companions I can tell you!

We had dinner at a place called Sloppy Joe, which is half Italian half American, at least according to their menu or it was seriously confused. Place was a walking distance from our hostel. Dinner was nice but the early start of the day was starting to show. However, as it was our first proper night out, we weren’t going to head home so soon. Melissa (our tour guide, not the Scottish lass) had a place for us to go drinking and dancing to start….and we ended up at the Whisky Girl! It was quite amusing really, although our Canadian friends had disappeared…

So we ended up back at the Whisky Girl (on 5th/G St –  for those interested). We were meant to stay there for only the one drink and then move on to the next bar but in the end, we stayed as we ended up having a good old time. Shortly after we arrived they started to remove the tables and the DJ started playing some tunes and before long we were all dancing (some more successfully than others!). We got some interesting chat up lines, like “Hi, I have a room. Do you want to get out of here?”. I am not sure if the line works generally but it really gave us a good giggle and something to talk about for the whole of the trip.

As it stands, I danced my little booty off until not so much of the small hours, but it was close to 2am when we all decided to head back up. Our rooms were right on the street with no double glazing so I was quite happy that I don’t travel without my silicon ear plugs and my eye mask these days. I had a good night sleep which more than I can say for the rest of the room.

Few weeks have gone now since I have been back and this first night is still the best I had all the whole trip (with our last night in Santa Barbara coming second).

Next chapter: Day 2 – San Diego….Mission Beach

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