The Land of the Septics :-)

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Flag of United States  ,
Monday, September 29, 2008

Rightly or wrongly, I've always disregarded the United States as a potential travel destination. 'Too expensive', 'Not challenging enough', 'Not much meaning'. However, as a result of circumstance and chance, I spent nearly three weeks in the western part of the USA.
 
With all the hype in Los Angeles being the glitzy and famous locations such as Hollywood Boulevard, Beverly Hills, Universal Studios, Santa Monica and Venice beaches (all of which were pretty cool), I personally found the street life of ordinary neighbourhoods to be the most interesting part during my time in Los Angeles. The area which I stayed in comprised of mostly Hispanic people. My first excursion through the local neighbourhood was an eye opener. Spanish dominated this urban landscape. Business for the most part was conducted in the latino tongue (I ordered a meal at McDonalds in Spanish). Signage in shops, advertisements on buses, street conversations were mostly in Spanish. I saw overweight people wearing mega T-shirts that came down to their knees walking past bony homeless people on street corners. I heard people whispering their illegal offers to me in one ear, and the footsteps of the police on the beat in the other. I felt like one of the tallest guys there, as every hombre seemed about 3 to 4 inches shorter than me. Everything seemed so different to what I was used to during that first day. After four days of walking around the abovementioned different parts of LA (and speaking English again), it was time to hit the frog and toad. Next stop, Las Vegas.
 
With its legendary 'Strip' lined with an incredible number of casinos, my senses were a little overwhelmed when I first arrived in Las Vegas. After spending all those months in Asia and becoming accustomed to a relatively subdued culture, the brashness and directness of this city was a bit of a shock to the system. Nevertheless, my favourite recollection of Vegas were those initial moments.... seeing those flashing neon lights, hearing the noise of the activity of this surreal universe, smelling and feeling the warm desert air rush into my face whilst I stuck my head through the sun-roof of the car I was in as it cruised down the Strip.

I was lucky enough to arrange accommodation with a lovely lady through the Internet. Because of time constraints in terms of transportation to and from the Strip, and a Russian female travelling companion during my days there, my innocent self was shielded from most of the late night sins which Vegas had to offer... most of them.
 
The Grand Canyon was something I wanted to see during my time in the USA. In theory, it seemed like a good idea to rent a vehicle with the Russian girl and do a day trip from Vegas to the Grand Canyon. In reality it would take a combined ten hours or so to drive out to Arizona and back. Nevertheless, I decided that this was the best and most economical way to do things, and went about hiring a shiny silver automobile. The next challenge was driving with the steering wheel on the left side of the car, on the opposite side of the road. Despite initially having to swerve the car a few times to avoid hitting bewildered pedestrians, the journey there was fairly smooth, save for the odd detour or two.
 
The Grand Canyon was ever bit as spectacular as I had imagined it to be. The sheer size and depth of the gorge was incredible. The curves and contours of the rock shaped by the elements over the course of millions of years, revealed shades of red, orange and brown that seemed to change with every differing angle of the sunlight. Endangered condors soared through the sky, gliding effortlessly with the wind currents that whistled in our ears every once in a while. The silhouette of lifeless trees, the wildflowers that covered parts of the ground, the barren rocks that exposed the dryness of the environment. The sunset then cast a purple hue over the landscape, capping off what seemed like the perfect Grand Canyon experience. Right? Hhmmmm.......
 
The last remaining dusk light had long disappeared when we caught the last shuttle bus and explained to the bus driver where I thought our car was parked. The bus driver nodded his head knowingly, apparantly understanding the exact location from my description. After about fifteen minutes, we were dropped off at some random dark intersection somewhere within the depths of the huge Grand Canyon national park, and the bus driver left in such a hurry as if his Henry the Third was due any minute. So, there we were, seemingly in the middle of nowhere with no street lights, cars, people, mobile phone reception or any sign of life (perhaps the odd howling of a hungry coyote). The chill in the night air seemed even chillier through the thin fabric of my T-Shirt. Walking ten minutes in one direction, another ten minutes in the other, only to be surrounded by more forest and interminable silence. I was completely disorientated and began to get very worried. 'Where was the car?' 'Was the car stolen?' 'How are we going to get out of here?'

After what seemed like an eternity, the first sign of life, being the headlights of a passing vehicle, appeared like a saviour from the darkness. My spirits lifted as I elevated my arms to wave it down. The driver of the vehicle must've simply thought that we were trouble and didn't bother to stop. Sheisa. I experienced the sense of surreality of having to spend the night in the wild with some coyote friends. The darkness was not at all inviting. Thankfully, another fifteen minutes or so later, a second vehicle stopped and came to our rescue. Our new hero was awesome, and for the next twenty minutes, proceeded to drive us around to all the car parks which he knew of, and still my mystery car sat somewhere in the darkness. It was pretty embarrassing when I couldn't tell the nice man the make or registration of the rental car, only that it was silver and shiny. We finally located it, I don't think that I felt as ecstatic in such a long time. Five hours later, with toothpicks keeping my eyelids open and music blaring from the radio, we made it back to Las Vegas. It was a strange feeling to say that seeing those neon lights of Vegas felt like coming home. Upon reflection, the whole experience feeling absolutely helpless was not something I would like to encounter again in the near future, but it did build some character within.

San Francisco was my last stop on my short American adventure. The setting of the city was quite stunning, with streets of terraced houses following the contours of the many hills there, and trolleys (trams) chugging up and down the steep gradients. From the top of one of these hills, San Francisco Bay can be seen in the distance, with the water looking a beautiful blue on a sunny day. It reminded me of Sydney somewhat, the general beauty of the place. I spent my days exploring the different faces of San Francisco. Walking alongside the water's edge and admiring the famous Golden Gate Bridge; looking for a cheap meal within the lively community of a very authentic
Chinatown; visiting and learning about the ex-prison island of Alcatraz; lying on the grass of Golden Gate Park and observing a random group of eccentric drummers jamming together; testing out the theory of the American high 5 at a party.

After six months of travelling in the hustle and bustle of Asia, it initially felt distinctly weird to be back in the western world and speaking English again. However, the United States grew on me as the three weeks passed quite quickly. One of the surprising things that made my stay the more pleasant was the friendliness of the locals. A girl on the street calling her friend on her cell phone for advice when I asked her for directions. The nice driver at the Grand Canyon who drove us around for twenty minutes. The lady host in Las Vegas who went out of her way to make my stay more comfortable and enjoyable. And numerous random conversations with random Americans, all of whom had an honest opinion about their country and culture. 

So anyway, I'm now enjoying the sights of Mexico, and still on a high after my rugby league team Manly won the Grand Final in Australia. Just thought I'd add that in. Hasta luego chavos.
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