Monday, July 26, 2010

4th of July, Vegas and Death Valley

I always wondered how are the famous American holydays celebrated in America and before starting the travel I also told Jan to calculate more or less our schedule in order to be in an important city for the 4th of July celebrations. We were lucky to be invited at the house of the parents of Justin and so I also offered to cook a Romanian dish ( cabbage with meet). Once arrived there we were expected with a table with hot dogs, hamburgers, fruits, muffins and drinks. It did not take us long to become full and as soon as it was 7.30 pm we left with Justin in his car towards the Strip. It was here the place where all the action (fireworks) was going to happen. We visited first the famous sign that appears in most American films – the famous Las Vegas sign and after a few photos we went down on the strip trying to park the car with the intention to find a good spot to watch the fireworks. The strip was full of people, almost bursting into the strip, but the police was patrolling all the time so no one was aloud on the road. We could not park the car at the Bellagio but we were lucky because few moments after going out of the parking the fireworks started, first with low intensity and then raising the frequency and beauty probably competing with some of the best fireworks I ever saw plus it lasted about 30 min. until all the sky was full of smoke. All the people of so many nations and ethnics of the world were all in an huge awe after each firework . It was amazing and at the end the deserved applauses came. After that, Justin took us to the oldest casinos of Vegas, a place that as Hollywood bvd. looked poorly taken care of and decadent with loads drunk or drugged people, prostitutes but also families, old people and tourist. It was the kind of mix that can both amaze you and make you sick. Not so late in the evening we went back home. Next day Justin was receiving 2 new guests so we had to go but because we wanted to spend more time in Las Vegas we contacted with Jordan from Los Angeles who is originally from Las Vegas and who recommended to visit his parents once arrived into the city. Annie and Steve received us into their beautiful home closed into a community of private luxurious houses in Henderson. We even had to get approved at the gate to be able to get in. So anyway, after just a few moments spent in the house we discovered they had these two little baby dogs Maggie and Annie whom I loved from th first moment. That night we were invited to a restaurant and we managed to talk a bit about our travels and about Jordan’s future travel. We were about 3 days in their house and I just loved being their. The decoration of the house was amazing. Steve in building houses for rich people….houses over 5 mil dollars but at least he has ethics…he does not build for anyone. Jordan is a lucky guy to have his family support him in his adventurous plans of life traveling. Lets see how long it will take him until settles down.
After these 3 marvelous relaxing days ( the night before going we went out in Vegas and played some dollars at the roulette, a game that we have been watching for a while, a game that has less possibility of wining – we saw a guy lose 3000 dollars in one hand)…but anyway it was time to go so Friday morning we packed our backpacks, said goodbye to Annie and Steve and to the precious little dogs and left towards Death Valley. The night before Jan advised that we should leave early in the morning from Vegas to be able to skip the terrible heat of the Death Valley region but I thought that if in Vegas the temperature arrives to 46C how much worse can it be right?....but I was dead wrong…the temperature arrived to 51…it was just painful, you could not breathe and the moment we got out of Vegas we realized we will be completely miserable because the air con of the car stopped functioning , but maybe in a way it was for better because our old little van might have gotten into trouble by using power to cool down and also drive through the region. Heat makes me a very angry and frustrated person because the whole rising in temperature completely goes against my surviving system. I have to admit though that Death Valley has some impressive views, especially from Dante’s Peak. The Valley is set about 100m below sea level so it feels like a oven even during the night when long after the sunset the temperature was still about 47C. I said to Jan to be prepared to drive till we get out of this terrible heat and we did find in the same park a peak that was only at 27C and we spent a relaxing night after a nice refreshing shower into the wilderness.

Next morning I woke up with new energy and I was so inspire that I told Jan that I wanted to drive the car trough the park also because there is no one as crazy as us to be 2 days in Death Valley. I drove at least 30 miles and I enjoyed a lot…sometimes Jan was telling me DRIVE SLOWER!!!!!hehe

Going out of Death Valley was a relief but still the heat in California seem to persist. That day we drove through the mountains on the side of a mountain river with many camping places, even Jan wanted to take a bath in the river until he realized it is too cold to get into the river and he calmed down. We were on our way to Sequoia National Park and Yosemite. The night before arriving to Sequoia we stopped in small village where we went to the only bar that seemed to be in town and we could watch the final of the World Cup and of course after a hard job Spain got the well deserved title and so we celebrated in the American way …going to a fast food..hehe.

Monday, July 19, 2010

the Grand Canyon and other nature monuments

The first time we went to Las Vegas we just stayed at the house of Justin, so we did not actually visit anything. We spent here one night and the next morning we started driving towards the national parks of Arizona, Nevada and Utah. While being at his place, Justin commented to me something very interesting, that after being in Romania for 2 years and a half as Peace Corps volunteers , he and Heather did not want to be Americans anymore, they felt that in the US there are no traditions and that people do not bond anymore, that it is difficult to make friends. Las Vegas was hot , but I was hoping that on the way to the parks, the climate will become a bit more temperate but actually the more we were driving, the worst heat was coming. We even reached 46•C and that was like boiling everything inside you and outside. I was in a state that probably I cannot even describe very clearly, you have to live it. The heat annihilated my brain so I had no energy to move or to talk, it was exhausting. Of course this kind of heat is more or less bearable compared to humid heat. After a few hundred kms through deserted plains, with sand and stones and cactuses, we finally start to see some hills and then continuing the road we begin to see the Zion Canyon, the first national park on our route. The heat decreased 10•C and so we were boiling at only 37•C, but the views were breathtaking. Because we arrived late in the afternoon and in all the parks you have to pay for camping 15-20$, we have decided to leave the main road of the park and take a side road, through the mountains. It was a good decision, because we found a nice place where to park and the temperature decreased to 27•C in the evening and to 20•C in the morning.
We have been travelling for about 4 years with a camper van so sleeping in a car is not such a strange thing for us, and our Chevy van is very spacious and it feels good to sleep on the bed that we improvised with mattress and cushions. The only thing that is different is that there is no toilet (we go in the nature) and no kitchen (cold food always). In the morning we woke up pretty early and we drove to the lake on the top of the mountain range. The lake was not that impressive but there were some nice views over the canyon. The temperature up here did not go beyond 24•C and I was feeling like in heaven, but as soon as we arrived in the Zion Canyon, the heat went back up to 37•C. The nice thing about Zion is that there is a free shuttle bus that goes every 15minutes and stops in several stations from where you can start walking or doing trails. I did 2 trails (one to the Weeping Rock and the other one at the end of the Canyon) and after I returned to the car and waited Jan on the grass, reading a book and relaxing. Later, when Jan arrived, we decided that we still have time to drive towards Bryce Canyon, and so we began the ascension through the canyon with amazing views of the cliffs. Before getting dark we started looking for a place to park for the night. This time the weather was perfect. 26•C in the evening and 18•C in the morning. It was our second night out and as Jan was feeling dirty after walking through the heat, he decided to take a shower in the wood close to where we were parked and he used the water bottles that we had in case of emergency. It was funny to watch him naked through the trees but the place was ok and no one came to bother us during the night. I did not try the open shower but instead I took my shower with wet tissues. At that moment I felt that taking a shower outside, naked is my limit and I cant get to that point, it would be too embarrassing. Next day was a very big and good surprise. The weather continued to be fresh (no more than 27•C during the day because we maintained the altitude of about 2000m.

I did not expect to have so many pleasant days. Bryce Canyon is probably one of the nicest canyons where we have been. It is colorful and it has amazing views of a valley with lots of carved in rock figures. It was also our third day and I started to feel dusty and dirty so after we looked for a place where to park the van, I took my first naked shower. This part of the travel seems to have many first things situations, but anyway the shower was not very pleasant, but not because I was taking it outside, in the wood, but because the place that we chose was next to a small lake and it was full with huge mosquitoes that were trying to bite me insistently. After I took the shower we decided it was really a bad place to park and so we changed to another place, half mile away, next to another caravan. Jan took his shower in the woods behind the parking lot and after eating two slices of bread with nutella we went to bed feeling quite happy that we had a car and that we did not have to sleep in a tent, which I found even more difficult. At least by sleeping in our van we could start driving faster in case some sort of problem might appear. (We saw some other Europeans sleeping like us in their vans). Only the Americans are more repaired or have more money and they sleep in caravans in camping grounds.

Finally we arrived to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, one of the most important destinations in our travel. Some people told us that they liked or preferred this side of the Canyon and other commented that it was nicer the South Rim. The weather here in the North Rim was perfect 20-24•C all day long and cool nights. The views were spectacular and we even witnessed a storm in the South Rim. The altitude of the North Rim arrives somewhere close to 10000feet, that would be about 2900m, the sunsets are amazing , the route and the trails that you can do are longer, and the land inside ( not on the cliffs) is very green…looks like Switzerland. We spent the whole day here and in the afternoon we started descending towards south but Jan did not want to go directly to the other part of the Canyon that b road is 3 hours away, he wanted to continue visiting some other places more to the east ( Vermillion Cliffs, Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon). The Native Americans also called the Indians, live in reservation. Between Arizona, Utah and Nevada it is found one of the biggest Native American reserve, called the Navajo country. You can see Indians almost anywhere in this region, following their lifestyle, almost all though very Americanized but with their clear physical characteristics. In Navajo country they speak Navajo, which on the radio sounded to me a bit Asian, historically they proved that the Indians of America came time ago from Asia. When you cross their villages or towns you feel like you are in a different country. Very few white people seem to be living here. When we wanted to visit some of the local attractions of the regions we discovered that they were administrated by the Navajo people and the cost of entry to canyons was much higher than our budget allowed us. Anyway we could see some interesting things for free and then drove to an information office up north in Utah where next morning we were supposed to participate to a lottery in order to win access and permit for Vermillion Cliffs a place recommended to us By Eduard, Jan’s uncle.

This place looked amazing on the photos so even if I am not a big fan of walking in the desert with the heat, next morning I felt very excited when at 9 o’clock we participated in a lottery and we won 2 of the 10 places available. At this lottery came 30 people and 2 thirds of them left quite sad. The only thing that was bad for us is that we had to wait 24 hours until we could use our permit, so that whole day we spent it between a car workshop( we finally installed the gas for the AC) , Wal-Mart( food), a park (picnic), me driving for the first time an automatic car(I love it) and some other canyon where I could drive in the middle of nowhere with no problem. We spent the night close to the entrance of the wilderness, I forgot to mention that Vermillion cliffs is a national reserve considered wilderness, which means you have to trek through desert, hills and rocks without any clue on which is the right direction that you had to take because the statute of the park does not allow to make any modification or alteration to the status of the nature.
We woke up very early that morning (about 5 am) when the sun was not out yet and we saw that in the night there were more cars parked close to us and some people were sleeping outside on the ground in their sleeping bags. Anyway, we took some food and water and helped by some photos that the information office provided us we started the supposedly 1,30h trek to the Wave. Walking in the morning was very good because the sun did not catch enough intensity until noon so we could enjoy 4-5 hours of nice cool windy weather. We arrive to the cliffs in about 2 hours and I have to say it is one of the most amazing places on earth. We were walking all the time in the middle of no where through selenary landscape, deserted, lonely and that seemed painted on canvas with amazing red and yellow sand stones. Vermillion Cliffs and especcialy the Wave is just breathtaking and honestly in words I probably cannot describe it so I will just let the photos do the job although they cannot entirely represent that place. After spending about 2 hours making photos and relaxing in the shadow and quietness of the cliffs, we started the road back, this time under the force of the sun reflected on rocks. Sometime I had the feeling that I am loosing consciousness because of the reflexion of the light on the stones. It has been very tiring coming back to the car and after we made it there we relaxed a bit and we felt that all this time spent camping outside, disconnected from the world was actually very rewarding. The whole 6 hours that we spent walking we just saw 7 people walking towards the cliffs when we were already walking back home( bad decision to walk there at noon for sure).
Our next and last destination was the Grand Canyon South Rim. We arrived there in the evening, saw the sunset (unfortunately with few good photographic occasions) and in a way we felt sure in that moment that the North Rim is much better. Here, on this side there are much more tourists, its dryer and hotter and smaller. Anyway, next day we spent most of the time trying to walk around but because it was 3rd of July we soon realized that we will not be able to enjoy due to the huge quantity of people that seemed to overflow the place.
That same afternoon we drove the last 300km to Las Vegas, joining Justin again at his place and recovering our energy and also preparing 4th of July.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Going to Las Vegas:) Nevada

I am living almost anyone’s dream. It is not that I plan to build myself a statue, it’s just that so many friends of mine complain that they don’t have time for anything else but work, they ask both me and Jan how we do this or some of them they ask why, but to explain the true situations that we live, the beauty of the places that we see and the great people experience that we have….well I am not such a good writer to do all that but at least I try.
Its already 28th of june and we are travelling slowly through the United States. After we left Jordan’s house in Hollywood, we made our first night out, camping. We drove south towards Laguna Beach, in Orange county, because our close destination was San Diego, but all the coast was a prohibitive place for free camping. Or we had to pay around 15 dollars or there were only private houses or hotels. We were feeling disappointed but also stressed because the night was approaching and we could not find a good place where to sleep. We bought this Chevy van with the idea that sometime we can camp feely on the side of the road, but to park on the coast of California seems a painful search. After looking and looking we decided to take a small road on the left, away from the cliffs and we found a small road behind a nice residential neighborhood of Laguna Beach. It was the first night out, camping with a van in the US, so to be honest I did not sleep very well, although I tried to convince myself that no one will come during the night…and actually no one did. Next day we went walking through Laguna Beach, a nice but obviously expensive place. I have the feeling that here in California there is some sort of competition on building the best or the most beautiful house. We continued descending towards San Diego, that is only 30 minutes from the Mexican border. In California in general many names of streets or of places are in Spanish and there are many latino immigrants. We arrived to La Joya, the place where Josep (the brother of Jan Soler) and Ana, his Mexican wife , live. They are quite an interesting couple in the way that Josep is 5 years younger than Ana, they got married about 6 years ago and they still haven’t decided how their life will look like. For the moment both are still studying different things, Ana to teach Yoga and Josep is finishing a Phd in Linguistics. Here, in their house, although very small we felt welcome and at ease. It was nice to spend a few days in a familiar mood and also speaking catalan and Spanish. I would have loved to spend more time with them but we had to start going towards Las Vegas, where another couple from couchsurfing will be waiting for us. We left San Diego early in the morning on Thursday, and we started to drive towards inland. I knew that the temperatures will grow but I did not expect 44-46 degrees Celsius. It was unbearable. On the coast it was no more than 25-26 degrees during the day , but in West California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona we were boiling at 45 degrees. The temperature shock was strong for me and I felt sick all day. We entered in the evening in Joshua Natural Park, where we spent our second night outside. This time it was much better, first because it was weekend and second because there was no one. Next day we woke up very early, so early that at 7 am we were already doing a trail through the park. It was nice to walk through the desert on mild temperatures but definitely it is not the right season to be here. The walk was much better than I expected anyway. Before 9 am we already could start driving to the rest of the attractions of the park, but the temperature was rising from 24 to 36 degrees. The nature in the desert is so beautiful. Here in this park it is found the typical Mojave desert ecosystem, that is very fragile. Going out of the park, through large desertic plains, surrounded by rocky hills and mountains , we were struck by the heat. It was no less than 45 degrees, just like Africa or Iran. At least there was no humidity but still you could not breathe, and that was the moment when I started to regret not having filled the AC gas of the car. Anyway, I was mentalising myself to hold on, because the next 2 weeks or so will be the same or even worst. I was also noticing the scarceness of houses and I was telling to Jan that for me, living here would be impossible. I could never live in such difficult, arid and unwelcoming climate, but I was remembering that probably in Africa was even wors.
At some point, while driving, we got on the famous Route 66. We found there a very peculiar tree. The shoes tree, and later we discovered that there are more places in the world that have this kind of tree (eople just throw their shoes into the tree...even if they have new shoes...weird). Travelling through the US, and through the desert, there is one place that no one wants to miss and that is LAS VEGAS.
After driving most of the day through this dry and hot climate, we finally arrived around 7 pm in Las Vegas, more exactly in a small town outside called Henderson. There, we went directly at the house of Justin and Heather, two friends from Couchsurfing. I was happy to meet them because they have lived 2 years and a half in Romania as Peace Corps volunteers. They were volunteering in Drobeta Turnu Severin…a town where most of the Romanians never arrive  hehe. That evening we took a good shower, cooled off from the horrible heat outside and waited for Justin. We got their house key so we could enter inside….into the aircon miracle. You cannot live in Arizona, Nevada, and parts of Utah unless you have aircon. After a quick salad dinner with Justin (Heather was not there because she is working in the Grand Canyon, south Rim- she is a volunteer there) we went to bed….we were dead tired.
In the morning we could chat a bit with Justin, and decided to start our 7 days camping journey through the national parks of the area. 7 days of heat.