A stroll with Yogi

A boy of about 10 says nonchalantly, ‘Hey Dad, there’s a bear over there’.

The father turns, as he replies with an obvious disbelief ‘Oh, yeah?’.

The kid points into the trees and the father’s eyes follow. ‘Oh there is a bear!’ the father exclaims.

image

'Yogi' is a juvenile brown bear

And that’s how I came to have an unexpected encounter with a wild bear in Yosemite. Tourists were marching around in their hundreds to a nearby waterfall and all but the child had missed the real star of the show.

image

Half dome is visible in the background. The more adventurous can hike to the top using the permanent wires bolted to the rock

Yogi was about half grown, and not in the slightest bit interested or distracted by the humans who began to line up to take a look.

He pottered around, pulling at branches and rummaging amongst the undergrowth. I imagine he was hoping for a pic-a-nic basket, but they are a tad out of fashion these days and most don’t linger long enough here in Jellystone, erm Yosemite.

Yellowstone was a natural marvel, and I feel sad to view it for such a short time on the tour. But as California’s 38th Governor once said, I’ll be back.

image

El Capitan, the largest granite cliff in the world. The youngest girl to ever climb it is from my hometown, Sheffield!

image

I think this was Hostel waterfall. This is close to where Yogi was hanging out

image

Redwoods

image

El Capitan, Half Dome and Bridal Veil waterfall all visible in this selfie 🙂

Advertisements

Making friends with the locals

I get a sense of toe-curling excitement when I can escape the city and immerse myself in nature. San Diego offers several perfect options, with beaches and ocean just a bus hop away.

image

La Jolla, correctly pronounced ‘la hoya’, claims the most Northerly part of San Diego and is perfect for a retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. But all is not as calm and peaceful as it on the surface appears. It’s actually a hot-bed of contention, with the key suspects in this drama being…wait for it…harbor seals.

Children’s Pool is a small sheltered beach and swimming area in La Jolla. A local philanthropist built the protecting sea wall and donated the area to the public as a safe area for children to swim way back in the 30s. All went swimmingly (see what I did there?) for over 60 years until the harbor seals took a fancy to the pool.

Having decided in the 90s this was a far more up market location to hang out in, the seals have been at the centre of a local divide ever since. Boot the seals out and risk disturbing their natural breeding patterns, or go without a safe place for kids to bathe? And so the battle continues, with the seals for the time being having the upper hand.

If the seals are aware of the upset their presence causes some, they do little to show it. In fact, they look rather pleased with themselves, with several courting what I would definitely describe as smirks.

They are so cute though that you could almost forgive them anything. Anything apart from their toxic smell.

Seeing them in zoos or on a windswept rock does not prepare you for the utter stench of seeing them in a confined cove. I don’t like seafood at the best of times, with the smell even in a supermarket regularly triggering my over-sensitive gag reflex. Imagine then, if you will, my reaction to the smell of fish that has been eaten and digested by a seal and deposited in great heaps all over the sand.

To get even close I had to wear my jumper over my mouth and nose. People looked at me strangely -but it was either that or deposit my lunch amongst the seals (and I’d just eaten a nice Thai lunch which I was keen to hang on to). If you happen to visit, take a walk along the sea wall rather than going onto the beach, the breeze from the ocean helps to take the edge of the seals’ unpleasant toilet behaviour.

The cliff tops in La Jolla are equally lovely to see, they are alive with sea birds and sweet-scented flowers. An idyllic escape indeed. But you don’t need to take my word for it, you can take a look at some of the snaps I took when I was there: http://s1213.photobucket.com/user/mangotree_80/story/16025

Goodbye, San Diego

image

Me with SS Midway in the background

The self-appointed ‘best city in America’ has been kind to me, and I bid it farewell with a tinge of sadness. Further up the coast Dana Point awaits me, so leave I must.

As I take my first trip on the transportation that will form the backbone of my travels, Amtrak, I drink in my last glimpses of San Diego county and imagine the amount of water between here and the next closest neighbough to the West, China.

The sun peeps out from behind the clouds as if to tempt me to remain, and I take time to reflect on my five days in San Diego.

On arrival my brain was close to switching off completely and I was craving sleep. Simple tasks, like unpacking my toothbrush, took an age and felt unbearably difficult. 14 hours of dreamless face-down unconsciousness helped.

It was when I woke that I realised just how brown my hotel was. Every single thing in my room was a different shade of brown, the hallway is decorated in brown, the lobby is various shades of brown and to really take the brown biscuit, the entire outside of the hotel is painted brown. There’s also a pervasive smell throughout the entire place, that kind of damp smell washing left too long in the machine gets.

Despite these obvious downsides it’s my retreat, a place to hide from the world when those rushing waves of realisation wash over me: I’m here.

San Diego has a population of around 2 million. The sprawling city encompasses many districts with very different and distinct identities. Brown hotel is in the Gaslamp quarter. Named for its previous use of gas lamps (there are none remaining today, disappointingly), the area holds many hotels and restaurants. It seems that everyone in this area owns a tiny dog and runs vigorously for 23 hours per day (they’re stopping for their dogs to poop for the remaining hour). It’s an immaculately clean area – which defies the number of tourists and dogs.

Seaport Village is, as the name suggests, on the harbour. A 15 minute walk from Gaslamp, it has some cute shops and a nice small park right on the edge of the water. The cool breeze from the water and the large trees shading the grass make this the perfect place to doze in the sun and recoupperate from the stresses and strains of travel and dragging a bag the weight of a small car. There are a number of people set up with umbrellas and hand-drawn signs offering fortune telling. It crosses my mind that maybe day 1 of my trip is a good time to indulge in this make-believe, but the shady grass of the park is just too alluring.

Downtown unexpectedly received me as a visitor when my bank decided to stop my card for ‘suspicious behaviour’. An irritation that took a chunk out of my day which I could have spent doing something important, such as further recupperation in the shade.

The Old Town is mainly reconstructed buildings from the Victorian era when the town was beginning to take shape. The buildings are set out closely to the original layout around a central green. The respite from cars is welcome, but I didn’t find much to occupy me for more than an hour or so.

It was a slight wrench to leave my ‘retreat’, despite the colour and the slight smell, I’ve grown accustomed to it. Next stop: my first couch.

There’s always a slight nervous anticipation about meeting a couchsurfing host. I’m sure I’ll be safe, but will we get on? That’s the big unknown.

I have nothing to worry about, Melissa and Chapy are a lovely couple who welcome me warmly into their home in Pacific Beach. Pacific Beach fits with my pre-conceived stereotype of California, where people surf, bike, paddleboard, sail, skateboard and the like during the day, party at night, and manage to cram in a little soul cleansing at the local yoga or meditation center somewhere in-between. Bars and eateries are aplenty and the only worry in life is where to catch the best wave and which bar has the best happy hour. OK maybe I got a little carried away with the stereotype.

Chapy and Melissa live on a peninsula which juts out into Mission Bay. This means they can walk in two opposite directions from their apartment and both will lead them to golden sands and the sheltered bay which is a playground for locals and visitors alike.

image

Me with seals at Children's Pool, La Jolla

I envy the beach-side lifestyle and drink it in while I can. The sun is hiding behind clouds on the days I’m with my hosts, but it doesn’t stop us taking to the water in their new inflatable boat. We notice as we hop out of the boat that the water is peppered with jellyfish and we make a dash for the safety of the shore. After all, I don’t want to have to ask my hosts to pee on me.

My five days in San Diego were wonderful, but it’s time to pack the heaviest bag in the world and head Northwards to see what Dana Point and then LA have in store for me.

My route across USA! – well ‘bite one’ of USA anyway :)

My route across USA! - well 'bite one' of USA anyway :)

I have made this snazzy map to show my intended route on part one of my USA adventure.

Subject to change if alternative destinations appeal as I couchsurf my way around the US 🙂

Click on the pic to see an interactive version of the map where you can zoom in and see a bit better where I’m planning to go.

How 50 became 7 (for now)‏

 

I had the somewhat foolhardy idea that I’d visit all 50 US states in one mega-trip. It seemed possible, in my mind, somehow. The problem? So many flipping marvelous things I want to see! So I’ve decided instead, more rationally, to break it into bitesize chunks. With my first bite I aim to consume seven states; a much more plausible feat, I hope.

My visa gives me a three month stint to play with. Based on nothing more substantial than a vague notion that I’d like to see whales in California in April as they migrate northwards, and that I’d like to be in Seattle in early June for a convention, I’ve padded out my travel plans from there.

I’ll leave the detail for future blogs, but roughly I’ll be spending time in California starting in San Diego, moving north to Oregon and then onwards to Washington. After that it gets a bit untidy, as I plan to head east briefly to Idaho and then Montana and from there by plane to Salt Lake City in Utah and then onwards to Wyoming to end at my heart’s great desire: Yellowstone.

10 weeks and counting until I can tuck in my napkin and prepare to dine on my first course. And if all goes to plan, I’ll be heading back for bite two in September.

An uncomfortable realisation

Over Christmas I watched the film Scrooged. Have you seen it? It’s the one with Bill Murray, an 80s style take on Scrooge. Could I really be compared to this character?Image

Bill plays a selfish TV bigwig. On Christmas Eve he has plans to dine with his partner and their best friends. As he leaves the office on Christmas Eve, the head honcho of his company asks him out to dinner, so he cancels his plans with loved ones without a second thought and goes to dinner with his boss.

So here comes the uncomfortable bit…

My other half quite flippantly – and without any hurtful intentions – said something along the lines of “That would be you if you had a work offer like that.”

So you can probably imagine that I needed a bit of clarification on that comment. It was followed up with something along the lines of “I just mean you take your career seriously, and you’d probably think carefully about it if an opportunity like that came up”.

 

Right. So I’m not really feeling any better at this point. The person that I love most in the world thinks I’d ditch him for a career-enhancing dinner on Christmas Eve. Gees, this is bad. I crumbled into a mess of tears. Turkey carving was going to have to wait.

I’m not sharing this cringe-worthy update to garner pats on the back and there-theres. Rather because it really made me take stock of what my life priorities really are. If people close to me are feeling that my main priority is my career, am I cool with that? Not in the slightest.

 

I’d already made the decision to make some significant life changes; to focus more on what makes me happy. And the experience above makes me hope the changes I make will also have positive repercussions on those around me – let me know!