A Travellerspoint blog

July 2016

Returning to our favourite spots – Loreto and Conception Bay

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 36 °C
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Los Barriles was clearly one of the highlights of our journey so far. Still it was fairly easy to head onwards from there, as we knew already where we wanted to go next: Loreto and then the Bahia Concepcion.
This also meant one long day of driving to get to Loreto, almost 300 miles / 500 km. Given that the drive was really nice, we did not mind too much. The first bit was through nice mountains and from La Paz on we knew the way already. And we already knew about the 10 km stretch of highway construction work going on this time. Eventually we stopped for lunch and had excellent burritos.

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Our next stop was in Ciudad Constitucion. This way we got to actually turn off the highway and thus to break the more than 50 miles / 80 km stretch of absolutely straight and boring road. The main plaza did not feature a playground as we had hoped. But at least we got icecream and Max was getting the ‘usual’ compliments about the colour of his eyes and his hair.
Towards Loreto the road became nicer again winding through the mountains with lots of cacti on both sides. And we were lucky to avoid the cows on the road, but probably the car which was trying to pass us exactly there was more shocked than we were.

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And then it felt like coming home to the Loreto Shores campground. We were clear that we’d stay for a minimum of two nights, which eventually became three.
We started off with one of those relaxing days where we did not move around a lot. Even the tamales we had for lunch were delivered directly to our place by a street vendor. And the pool was not far away, so we spent lots of time there. Rody (10) and Gaby (12) were still there and like last time they were diving, jumping into the water and making rolls underwater forward and backward. Max tried to copy them as well as he could - armed with flippers and his paddleboard.
While Max was playing baseball in the street with the local kids, Sam suddenly got all hectic over dinner. He quickly got his camera to take pictures of the whale he believed to have seen jumping in the bay. Zooming in onto the whale, he realized that in fact he had seen a small fishing boat turning over. The poor guy was quite far out and seemed to move towards the shore terribly slowly. So Sam asked Shelley and her family if he could take one of their kayaks to go out and make sure the fisherman is fine. And so he did. He then also realized why the fisherman was not moving forward very quickly: he had tied his upturned boat with a rope to himself and was trying to pull it out. So eventually Sam pulled out not only the guy, but also the boat in return for lots of ‘gracias’. And Shelley was greeting him back with a bottle of Gatorade in her hands to make sure all invested energy is replenished again. What a quote: two people rescued from the water within less than a week!

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The next day we went into town. As we knew already where to head, we had good lunch followed by the best icecream we had found on our trip so far.

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The remainder of the day was dedicated to Max’ swimming lessons in the pool. While the day before he was still quite dependent on his flippers to get around, today he realized that he can do it also without. He’s a quick learner and the amount of time we’ve spent in the water lately certainly helps as well!
We had managed a lot in a single morning: breakfast, a swim in the pool, getting the van ready to head off, shopping at the supermarket, a fisherman’s supply store, and an alterations place. So we had really earned our fried chicken for lunch at an enormous playground.
But eventually it was time to leave Loreto and to head towards Conception Bay. This time the military checkpoint north of Loreto did not just let us pass after a couple of questions. For a change they now wanted to search the car. A couple of minutes later (and some smiles upon noticing the DosEquis XX beer cans together with the rest of our shopping in the back of the car), we were allowed to head on.

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Initially we had planned to just go back to Playa Santispak, which we had been our first place to stay on the Baja California. But given that all of the four palapas there were full, we were quite happy to retrace our path for 3 miles south to Playa Cocos. The beach was at least as nice as in Santispak and we soon realized that it was cheaper at 100 pesos / night to stay there.

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What initially seemed to be a very quiet and calm night with just another family camping all the way down at the other end of the beach, soon took a different dimension with a Mexican family or rather group of friends taking the palapa hut right next to ours. It remains open why they chose to stay so close – after all there are about 20 palapas on that long beach with only 2 being taken. But fine…
We were treated to lots of Mexican music (loud) and eventually the group decided that they needed more space, so they moved into the palapa on the other side or ours as well. That meant a bit of traffic in front and the back of our hut.
They had lots of fun, spent most of their time in the warm water and every few minutes an empty beer can was thrown out of the water onto the beach next to us. Hmmmm… We took it as cultural immersion and had fun observing and commenting what was going on.
After playing a round of Rummikub in our palapa, eventually we took our chairs out to look at the starry night – observing the milky way and counting shooting stars. What a great night sky!
The only thing bothering us a bit was the large fire entertained by our neighbors next door. It took us a while to realize that every couple of minutes when their fire got lower, they just ripped off some of the palm leaves covering the side of their palapa and kept the fire going that way. Once we had realized what was going on and a bit of decision making on what to do, we headed over to them telling them that we did not think it was a good idea to take apart the hut just to keep a nice little fire. Admittedly they were very fast in giving an explanation: they told us that given that the palm leaves on the hut were already very old, they were replacing them with new ones and that in fact all palapas along the beach will be redone by them in the next couple of days. We thanked them for that explanation and even though we were uncertain if to believe them, there was nothing we could do. And anyhow to our surprise, after we had told them off they did not rip off again a single leaf and let the fire die.
We watched a bit more for shooting stars and by the time we went to bed at 11:30pm, the group was still in the water drinking beer and the music was still going full blast.
The next morning the beach next to us was quite a sight - so many beer cans were lying on the beach… Around noon, the owner of the place came along and stopped at our cabin. I was already heading off to get the money to stay for another night, but actually he just asked if the people next door had been there already last night and if we knew if they had been destroying the wall of the palapa. So we told him our story and he went off with a very frustrated look in the face to get the police.
Just before the group next door was ready to leave, eventually the police came with two cars. We did not intervene in any way, but were happy to hear from the owner of the place, that he did / will get compensation for the damage done. He thanked us extensively for our intervention and let us stay for free for that night. What a nice gesture!
In the afternoon, Sam and Max got some exercise and walked along the beach to the lagoon.

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They stopped at the family with the jet-ski and Sam had long conversations with the owner about the 2-cylinder Rotax engine Bombardier is using and its Austrian origins. After a bit more of talking, Sam and Max got to go out on the jet ski. You can imagine their excitement. Max got to push the throttle and thanks to a passing motor boat they even got to jump over some waves – carefully such that Max would not fall down. It is really a pleasure to see how nice and friendly people are around here. And how much they adore Max with his blond hair and blue eyes. They took dozens of pictures of him - and given his great adventure on the jet ski Max was more willing to let them do that vs. normally being scared of a situation like that.

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That evening we were the only people camping on the beach. So this time, we could enjoy the quiet and dark when watching the nightly sky. And we were joking to each other that somehow we’re missing the music.

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After each of us saw at least three shooting stars it was time to go to bed. Being the only people on the beach we did look forward to a very quiet night without disturbances. Reality was different: at 1:30 am in the morning Sam and I woke up to the sound of a car and a voice asking in Spanish if he can have water for his car. At first we did not get it, what was going on and Sam already suspected some kind of scam scheme. It turned out that the guy really just needed water for his cooler – at least he had the hood open and as soon as Sam handed him a gallon of water, he put it in, thanked us a couple of times and excused for the disturbance and headed off again to the highway and direction south towards Loreto. What a strange thing to happen! It took us a while to go to sleep afterwards and we could not resist to discuss on why our mind is triggered to always first expect the worst – is that just a good thing helping us to survive in unknown environments or is it prejudices hidden somewhere in the unknown areas of our minds that make us dread bad things to happen.
The next morning, we were clearly lacking some sleep, but our blond alarm clock worked very well by demanding to get some milk and a story ready – as usual around 8am.
We took our time before leaving and spent some time in the inlet to the saltwater lagoon with its mangroves. This was not only a nice spot for us, but also for lots of fish enjoying the slight stream of water flowing into the lagoon. But eventually it was time to say good-bye to the Sea of Cortez and to head north. And sometimes the good-bye is just a bit harder than usual…

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 00:14 Archived in Mexico Tagged wildlife beach jetski cocos loto Comments (0)

Heading North to Coco’s Corner

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 33 °C
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Admittedly it was hard to leave Playa Cocos and we officially waved and said good bye to this magical place. Bahia Conception had been our first stop on the Baja and it was fabulous that we had the opportunity to return to it.
Santa Rosalía (this is where our ferry had landed from the mainland) made a nice stop for lunch. And we were amazed by the change in scenery once the road headed inland form Santa Rosalía into the mountains. Suddenly the ground seemed reddish and contrasted nicely with the green cacti.

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We had initially planned to go all the way to Guerrero Negro, but once we turned off the highway in San Ignacio, we realized that it was a really nice place. Lots of palm trees along a river, a mission church of which our guide book says that it is the nicest example of historic architecture on the Baja and a central plaza featuring enormous old trees. So what was intended to be a short stop, turned out to be a nice place for biking, an excellent place for getting ice cream and in fact a very nice mission church.

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So we figured that we might as well just stay overnight in San Ignacio. Our guidebook was very positive about Rice n’ Beans and so was the internet, so that’s where we went. As in most of the official Baja campgrounds with the exception of Cabo, we were the only guests. Still, the pool was ready for us and even more importantly: the restaurant / bar supplied us with fries for Max and cold beer for Sam and me. And a bit later we were treated to margeritas ‘mexican style’ which seems to imply just more tequila than usual. This compensated for the fact that the campground itself was nice, but not quite as scenic as the last one – which admittedly is hard to beat. After all Playa Los Cocos had managed to move into the number one spot of nice campsites even surpassing the marvellous Valley of the Gods.

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As the campground featured a wifi connection, this was to be the place where we wanted to publish the most recent blog posts. So Sam spent much of the evening with editing pictures. Unfortunately, the next morning, somehow the wifi or the laptop or the combination of both kept him busy for quite some time, just to realize that it will not work. So we gave up and headed north.
Up to now the roads on Baja had been quite ok. A pot hole here and there, but nothing severe. And the roads were sometimes very windy, but still wide enough to pass cars or trucks without being too afraid. As of Santa Rosalía that changed: the roads did become significantly narrower and the density of pot holes increased significantly. Driving was not nearly as much fun as it had been. The landscapes were great, but the amount of concentration dedicated to driving did not allow the driver to divert his attention for too long from the road.
Our first stop for the day was at one of those mega cactus. They are all over the place, but mostly just very hard to get close to. But this one was easy to get to!

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Lunch break was in Guerrero Negro, a town which is usually known best for whale watching. We were not in the right season to do that – the last whales were passing back in April. So we limited ourselves to a tour of the town and the surrounding salt pans, had lunch in a park and headed on to Baja California Norte.

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It seems like the roads in BCN even got worse than what we’d seen in the last couple of hours in BCS. This is a bit surprising – after all there’s only one paved highway along that stretch of the Baja. That means that all supplies that are not brought in via a ferry or airplane need to pass that road. Still, the great landscape compensated for everything!

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But after all, we should not complain about the MEX 1. We had taken the conscious decision to make Coco’s Corner our next stop. The place and the guy is legend. I had read an article about the Baja a couple of years ago (this is when actually the Baja started being a place on my ‘where to go list’) and it featured a bar in the middle of nowhere along an unpaved stretch of road – that’s Coco’s Corner. In addition, our beloved freecampsites.net had an entry about his place dating from Jan ’16 saying that you’d better hurry to see his place before the paving of the road will change everything.
So we figured we might as well go there. It sounded like being ‘just’ 21 km off the main highway. Given that we’ve done our share of dirt driving in places like Namibia or Chile, we also wanted to do at least a bit of gravel / dirt / sand driving here in Mexico – that’s what the Baja is famous for after all. It turned out that the road was NOT good. At least not in the kind of van we’re travelling.

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Still, in a bit over an hour we made it to Coco’s Corner and already got a glimpse of his collection of paraphernalia. And he was home, happy to meet us. So we sat down with him, had something to drink and immediately got to see and sign his famous guest book.

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There’s not really anything to do at Coco’s Corner, so we spent our time just chatting along with him, having a look at the bees he’s feeding water, his kitten and eventually having dinner.

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And a bit later, due to the absolutely remote location really far from any town or larger settlement, we once again enjoyed a clear starry sky with its share of shooting stars.

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And like it happened so many times before, our travel plans changed as we talked with people. When telling Coco that our plan was to go back to MEX 1 and to travel up the west coast of the Baja up to San Diego, he suggested we rather go north along the east coast. We’d be having less of a bad gravel, as the newly built highway starts 16km north. Plus, as the MEX 5 is still not finished all the way, he promised to have little traffic. We liked the idea, took some last pictures and headed off.

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So we headed north along the coast and were amazed by the contrasts of seeing the path of the old road vs. the new highway. And when stopping for lunch, we were simply amazed by the enormous size of the bug which was flying around.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:24 Archived in Mexico Tagged landscape cactus north highway coco gravel cocoscorner sanignacio margerita Comments (1)

Bye bye Mexico & welcome to Southern California

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 30 °C
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Eventually we reached San Felipe and found a nice place at KiKi’s RV Park which featured a palapa on two levels. This allowed us to move our bedroom on the upper level of the palapa for a change. This was excellent – specifically as it is so hot and humid here in San Felipe such that we were thankful for every little breeze.

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We spent the next morning on the beach, eventually went into town for lunch and then used the opportunity of being in a place with lots of dunes for doing some quad riding. That was so much fun!

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Max first rode with his dad, later with me. Sam used the opportunity when he was alone on the quad to go fast, jump and try steep inclines and the like, whereas Max and I took it easy. At least whenever I was the one at the throttle. When Max had control, he did go full blast – at least until I got scared and took his hand away from the gas.

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After that excitement we were all a bit exhausted. While Sam and I were in favour of taking an actual break, Max continued playing all along – in this case playing with his little surfboard in the sand until he was all sandy.
Luckily enough with the beach just a couple of steps away, it was easy to get rid of the sand and to even get treated as a bonus to a nice sunset.

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The next morning, another dip in the sea was due before finally leaving the Sea of Cortez and with that also Mexico.
We were surprised to see that on our way towards the border, there were enormous white areas along the beach. When we found a turn off towards it from our highway, we explored what it was and realized that it was a huge salt pan or probably rather a salt sea. The blinding light from the pure white was fascinating!

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We were much less impressed by the border between Mexico and the USA. We had to wait for about an hour on the road directly south of the gigantic border fence between the two countries. When it was eventually our turn, we realized that this was directly the US side, i.e. there was no outgoing customs or immigration point at all. The agent at the US border was extremely friendly, explaining to us how to get to Mexican customs to make sure our car is officially out of the country again. He also asked about the soccer game of this evening – and with that we realized that this was the day when Germany was playing Italy in the Euro 2016. We had not been following the news at all in the last couple of days.
After going back to the Mexican side of the border, lots of waiting and a couple of referrals from one office to another, we were finally able to make sure that the temporary import of our RV was officially stopped. Once more we stood in line for getting back into the US and got questioned about our trip by another agent. This time we knew how to answer the questions and got into the US without much ado.
As a welcome to the US, we were treated to a nice sunset – they are just much more interesting whenever there are clouds around vs. a clear sky. And luckily enough we were not in the middle of one of those thunderstorms going on around us!

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Our first night back in the USA was the Friday night of Fourth of July weekend. Given that all campgrounds and RV parks were probably full on that weekend, we used freecampsites.net once more and found a nice BLM site not too far from the Mexicali border at Plaster City OHV area. We did see a couple of buggy drivers, but none of them stayed overnight. So we had the pleasure of having a lonely campsite again with a nice starry sky. And there’s nothing to complain about the toilet facilities – they were significantly cleaner than many others we had on our journey so far and featured a nice view…
The drive over the Tecate divide into San Diego the next morning was really nice. We only briefly passed through downtown San Diego before heading directly to the USS Midway, a decommissioned aircraft carrier that is now a museum in the San Diego harbour.

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After our visit to the USS Midway, we prolonged our parking and headed south along the embarcadero to a pleasant food court where we had a late lunch before heading north along the coast towards Los Angeles.

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We had reserved a spot for the night at the Los Angeles KOA in advance – a smart move since the KOA was fully booked by the time we arrived in the evening. I can’t really say that it is a pleasant place to stay: it was a classical RV park with RVs standing next to each other tightly and even though it’s called the Los Angeles KOA, it’s located in Pomona, a suburb 30 miles / 50 km away from downtown LA. Given the holiday weekend, we were charged 66 USD for the night, so a new record by far surpassing the previous 45 USD max we had paid back in Oklahoma. Still, it served our needs for having a place for the night.
The next morning, we were not able to resist going shopping at Aldi’s before heading towards downtown Los Angeles. More or less by coincidence we ended up in the Central Market an enormous food court featuring food from all corners of the world. It reminded us a bit of Spittalfield Market in East London. We opted for Chinese food – a good choice!

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Our walking tour of downtown featured Pershing Square, the jewellery district and a couple of theaters along Broadway. We were surprised to see lots of nice old buildings and architecture. Even though we usually say that we’re no big city people, once in a while it is very nice to stroll around a city after all – specifically after having been for such a long time in the rather lonely deserts of Mexico’s Baja.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 00:13 Archived in USA Tagged mexico market hut la outside border downtown salt palapa Comments (1)

Celebrating the Fourth of July with friends

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 22 °C
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The next stop on our journey was Thousand Oaks, just north of Malibu in the Santa Monica hills. This is not necessarily a typical tourist destination and only made it on our travel map, as this is where my friends Susan and John are living.
I had pre-warned them already when we met last year in September, that we might want to meet when we’re coming to their area. And luckily enough they were around and not traveling themselves!
We arrived at their house and welcomed with more food than all of us together could possibly eat: there were blue corn chips (yummy!) with John’s homemade guacamole and salsa. And then there was a big barbecue feast with bison burgers, German brats, rolls, sauerkraut, pickles, tomato, various sauces, corn on the cob and much more… Max was delighted and ate much more than what he usually eats, but also we had clearly more than needed – specifically when the apple pie and fruit came into play!

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What Sam and I had not realized so far is that we had really longed for good conversations. After all John and Susan were the first friends we had seen for two months now. And even though we’ve met lots of other people in the meantime, conversations with strangers are just different and much more superficial. So we kept John and Susan up longer than what they are used to and went to bed with the nice feeling you have after such great conversations.
The next morning John and Susan introduced us to one of their favourite breakfast places – the Side Street Café. What a great menu! Really nice!

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But the next highlight of our day was not far away: we went to the Ronald Reagan Library. John easily navigated us to the best parking position despite the hundreds of cars lining the access and the ushers advising us to use the overflow parking down the hill. There was quite a program at the Library for the Fourth of July: we met the flag maker Betsy Ross, had a chat with President Lincoln, Max bounced in the bouncing castle, we walked through Ronald Reagan’s Air Force One, had an excellent snack featuring Jelly Beans and saw the Oval Office how it looked in Reagan’s times.

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But there was more to come: in the early evening we went to Janss’ Marketplace, got our bracelets entitling us to join the firework viewing on the upper deck of the parking. Max immediately entered the bouncing castle just there before doing his balancing tricks in the playground.

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John and Susan treated us to excellent dinner at the Sunset Terrace and the timing was just perfect to arrive on the upper deck of parking to enjoy the Eagles Revival Band. Even though we seemed not as well prepared as many others who were carrying loads of stuff up there, John organized us seats and we placed them in the best position just in front of the band. We had to smile when the band played ‘Hotel California’, we got to think of the dark desert highways on the Baja and had a look at the picture we took of the ‘Hotel California’ in Todos Santos. At 9pm we just had to turn around our seats to enjoy the fireworks – all of us love fireworks!

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The next morning it was time to say good bye to Susan and John. All of us had really enjoyed the stay with them, but Max was very outspoken about the fact that he did not want to leave.
Eventually we headed off towards Hollywood. Our first stop was Mulholland Drive which treated us to a nice view not only of the infamous Hollywood Sign, but also of some very exquisite mansions in the Hollywood Hills. Given that we had not spent the 200$ to go on a Hollywood Tour, it was up to us to speculate which of them could belong to the various celebrities living in the area.

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Next on our list of places we wanted to see was the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It was fun to spot stars of all kinds of celebrities, such as Jodie Foster, Steven Spielberg, Aretha Franklin, Mickey Mouse, Michael Jackson, Anthony Hopkins etc… Along the way we also passed the Dolby Theater - location of the annual Oscars and Graumans Chinese Theater where various stars have left the imprints of their hands and feet.

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I really enjoyed that stroll along the Walk of Fame. The only bad news was that we had gotten an expensive parking ticket (73$) as we had missed to read that along that side of the street, street cleaning was on Tuesdays noon – 3pm and not like on the other side of the street on Mondays. Next time we’ll look more closely before parking!
We took the scenic route via Sunset Boulevard, Rodeo Drive, Wilshire Boulevard and Santa Monica Boulevard to the beach. I’m not sure how often I had watched ‘Pretty Woman’ as a teenager, but even though that’s quite a while ago, all these sites reminded me so much of the movie.

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In Venice Beach we once again went for street parking – this time checking the signs better than earlier. We checked out Muscle Beach, saw the beach basketball courts that were featured in ‘White Men Can’t Jump’ and had lunch on the beach. With the life guard stations all along the beach, we were a bit reminded of ‘Baywatch’. Pamela Anderson was nowhere to be seen, but there were enough other people to watch.

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Max enjoyed the playground and was disappointed that he could not use the skatepark with his bike – after all it was crowded with adults who were practicing their tricks in front of a big crowd of spectators. On our way back to the car, we were lucky to catch a show of the Calypso Tumblers, featuring breakdance, acrobatics and funny commentary – fun!

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But best of all, was just e whole atmosphere and specifically the people there.

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Leaving LA around rush hour was less fun, but otherwise we would have missed a trademark of the area. Having the feeling on a 7-lane highway that there are at least 3 lanes missing is something that would have never occurred to me if I hadn’t seen it.
Even though we could have spent lots more time in LA and surroundings, all of us were happy with what we had seen and were ready to head on towards new adventures.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 09:41 Archived in USA Tagged venice beach breakfast friends castle lincoln library hollywood fourth bouncing Comments (0)

Watching wildlife along California’s Central Coast

From Santa Barbara via Pismo Beach to San Simeon

sunny 22 °C
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Our first adventure on the way along the coast north of LA was the search for a campground. We had been thinking to go to a free campsite north of Santa Barbara. But as it was getting late we tried our luck at the Emma Wood State Park. The lady there was very friendly and still had availability. It’s just that she did not believe us that we have an RV. So Sam got out of the car, showed her all of the inlets and outlets and eventually we were admitted to the Park. Yes, this is an RV!

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We were lucky: this way we did not have to drive any further and were able to enjoy the sunset at the beach. And we finally met our first Trump supporter, as up to now everybody we talked to did not think it was a good idea to have him President of the United States. Our neighbour had a cap identifying him as a veteran of the Vietnam War and without too much questioning, he told us that this man (i.e. Trump) is the best thing that ever happened to America and that his attitude was exactly right – stomping relationships with other countries is exactly what is needed, as Americans are paying too much for others anyhow. So the Trump supporters do exist after all… It will be interesting to see who will win the election in November then.
The next morning, we were surprised by an overcast sky. This is worth a mention, as we had been treated to ongoing sunshine with sometimes a cloud here and there for over six weeks now. So not to see the sun or even bits of blue sky was a bit of a strange feeling.
We spent the day exploring Santa Barbara and were lucky to find excellent food at Rebar, close to the train station. And there was a skatepark – and this time it was not that crowded so we allowed Max to go. So he was happy! We also checked out the main attractions of Santa Barbara: the County Courthouse and the old mission church before heading north towards Pismo Beach.

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When it came to finding a place for the night, we were a bit cautious with driving our van into the sand to stay at the state recreational vehicle area. That is an enormous stretch of beach and sand dunes in which camping along the beach is allowed and any kind of vehicles can ride freely in the dunes. So we saw loads of dune buggies, quads and trucks with flags such that they can be seen even in the valleys of the dunes.
So after a couple of unsuccessful trials to get a slot at various campgrounds, we ended up at a nice (but costly – a new record) RV park directly along the beach. When checking out the beach, Sam noticed the water fountains coming up in regular intervals and we concluded that there must be whales out there. And after a run out to the pier, Sam got to see them even closer and was treated to a nice sunset on the way back.

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We had a nice plan for the next day: we wanted to do some shopping at the Pismo outlet mall. We were not really successful, as the designer clothes there did not appeal to us. We’ll try again another time. At least we had good lunch there: Huckleberry’s treated us to a nice Florentine quiche, a seafood wrap and grilled cheese with fries.
The whole afternoon we spent at the beach and on the pier in the hopes of seeing whales again. On our first time out at the pier we saw a sea otter, a shark and a school of dolphins. A bit later we noticed from the beach that there were whales again. So we went out to the pier again in order to be treated to a couple of whales showing off their tails and later also to do nice jumps out of the water.
After we were treated to a nice sunset at the beach, we left for our campground, the Oceano County Campground and enjoyed being able to camp on grass again for a long time. And there was another surprise: the camp hosts were inviting all campers to 9” funnel cakes with fresh strawberry topping, whipped cream and powdered sugar. Wow – what a treat!

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The next morning, we headed off quite early, as there was so much to be seen and we wanted to make sure that we’ll start looking for a place to stay overnight when it’s still light outside. Still, leaving so early also meant that the think marine layer had not yet cleared and consequently we saw Montana d’Oro State Park still in the fog and had to imagine how it would look in sunshine, just like for the view down to Morro Bay.

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As we just did not get a slot in San Simeon State Park Campground anymore (the car in front of us got the last one), we continued and checked out the pier of San Simeon located in a really nice bay. Even though we spotted Hearst Castle on top of the hill, we decided that we’d rather concentrate on the natural sights surrounding us vs. visiting the castle.

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First on our list were the elephant seals just a bit further. At this time of the year, the males occupied the beach for molting (i.e. shedding their fur). And wow – the older males are gigantic at up to 5000 pounds each. Seeing them lie at the beach was one thing, seeing them move from the water to the beach or on the beach was even more impressive.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 20:37 Archived in USA Tagged beach whales pier shark cold trump otter seaelephants Comments (0)

Famous Highway Number 1

From San Simeon to Monterrey

sunny 20 °C
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A bit north of San Simeon started the famous part of Highway 1 – built in the 1930’s as part of the ambitious new deal projects despite the steep rock faces. We were impressed with the road right from the start – what a view down to the ocean!
Unfortunately, the view did not last for long, as we found ourselves in the middle of a thick marine layer obstructing the sight down to the ocean and even around the next curves.

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Anyhow we did not go too far. Given the ‘campground full’ signs at all official campgrounds, we fell back to our usual alternative and went for dispersed camping. So we turned off the highway along the Nacimiento Ferguson Road and went in steep curves upwards hoping to get above the clouds. On our way up we passed some redwoods along the way and eventually were in bright sunshine. We found our spot soon and enjoyed a lovely view down onto the clouds.

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The only downside to the nice location were the flies. What a nuisance! With flies all around us, I even took up the discussion with Sam if we really want to go to Central Australia in a couple of months… But on the contrary, the birds were really nice!

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In the morning the marine layer cleared and we were rewarded with a nice view to the Pacific Ocean. Around lunchtime, it was time to go and explore at least a bit. So while I got the van ready, Max and Sam already headed off to bike / run down the road. They made 3.4 miles by the time I reached them and picked them up at the next turnout.

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We did not have to go far for a nice place to visit, as Limekiln State Park was just down the road. After a nice stroll through an impressive forest of coastal redwoods, we checked out the limekilns first, before heading to the 100’ waterfall. After lunch, we enjoyed some more time at the beach.

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On our way back to camp, we once again saw whales, this time even jumping completely out of the water, resulting in big splashes. Really cool, the whales are fascinating!
The weather was great and the marine layer had cleared completely. Therefore, this time we were not forced to go so far up along the road and we stopped a bit lower. We found a nice big turnout along the road with a great view.

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The next morning we headed north along the coast and enjoyed great vistas along the way. But the nicest view of all was in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. The waterfall falling onto a secluded and inaccessible beach is probably the signature view of Big Sur.

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Next on our list was the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Not surprisingly, the campground was full, but we were admitted for day use. So we used the opportunity to do a hike along the river and got food at the lodge. By coincidence more than anything we got to watch part of the soccer Euro 2016 finals to the end of regular play time when it was still 0:0. We did not want to wait for the game to finish, so we did not see the celebrations of the Portuguese once they won, we only read about it in the evening.

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Our next destination was Carmel – by – Sea. We did not really know what to expect, but were pleasantly surprised by a very nice town. The downtown area was clearly groomed towards the needs of tourists and it was clearly high end tourism. Prices were not low – neither for ice cream or pastries, nor for realty – we did not find a single place advertised that was less than 1.5 million, but there were several above 10 million – which then gets you a nice property and house on at the coast. It felt like a nice place to visit, but not like a place to live.

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When doing the 17-mile drive, we were really impressed. Less so by Pebbles Beach Golf Course (even though we’re absolutely aware that it must be the non-plus-ultra for golfers to play there), but much more so for the mansions and properties we saw along the way. Some of the place we saw, were by far nicer and more impressive than the mansions around Hollywood – and they definitively had a marvellous view!

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We stopped a couple of times along the way and were lucky to see some deer on the golf courses.

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Bird and Seal Rock promised some wildlife viewing and in fact we were able to complete our collection of marine mammals: after sea lions and sea elephants, it was about time to also see some seals and there were lots of them.
By the time we left the 17-mile drive and drove through Monterrey, we were all already rather tired and keen to get to our campground. Given how full everything had been in the last couple of days, I had made reservations in the afternoon and after four unsuccessful calls, the Monterrey / Salinas KOA reserved their last slot for us. We were not too thrilled by the location directly next to the highway, but at least we had nice neighbours. Their four-year-old son had a pedal bike looking like a Yamaha endure and Max raced with him around our van. The whole family had spent their weekend watching the superbike world championship run at the Monterrey racecourse. This would have been fun to see as well, but we did not know about it and even if we would have known about it, there’s simply so much to do and too little time to do it all!
The next day we took advantage of California’s fruit and vegetable production: in the self-proclaimed ‘World’s Artichoke Center’ we bought a full case of fresh fruit. A bit later we stopped at a beach. The location was great, but eventually we realized that quite a couple of visitors prefer it for getting their suntan complete also in those parts that usually don’t get as much sun. We rather just had lunch and eventually headed on towards Los Altos.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:32 Archived in USA Tagged coast beach whales golf highway road redwoods produce limekiln pebbels Comments (2)

Cable Cars and Bridges in the Bay Area

Los Altos, San Francisco, Pleasanton

sunny 22 °C
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When heading from the coast in Half-Moon-Bay towards Los Altos, we passed a nice forest and a very scenic lake. We only realized a bit later that the scenic lake was in fact the San Andreas fault – another reminder that we’re on dangerous grounds – specifically as scientists are warning that the next big earthquake is long overdue for the bay area.
Our first impression of the bay area was extremely positive. We had expected 5pm traffic towards the southern suburbs to be more than just bad, but realized that traffic was flowing nicely for most parts. So we ended up being too early at Hamish and Elis’ place in Los Altos. While we had pre-warned Hamish a couple of months ago that we’d be coming to the bay area, due to lack of reception around Big Sur, we were only able to firm up our plans that morning. So we were lucky that Hamish and Elis were spontaneous enough to receive us on such short notice.
While we enjoyed a nice BBQ and catching up, Max and Venicious enjoyed playing with each other and specifically riding Venicious’ bikes.

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They continued playing the full morning and Max did not want to leave his new friend at all. Still, we had plans, as we wanted to see San Francisco. We soon realized that we should rather give up on our original plan to park somewhere downtown and headed towards the waterfront at Fisherman’s Wharf.

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After some unexpected excellent food at a street booth, we went for the classic cable car ride We were lucky to be offered half-price day passes from other tourists (which eventually we sold for the same money at the end of our second cable car ride). Max and I sat, while Sam took the classical transportation method standing outside. We all enjoyed the cable car rides and it is simply amazing to see how steep the hills in San Francisco really are.

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After getting off at the final station at Powell / Market, we explored Union Square and Chinatown before taking another cable car back to our car. It was fun!

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Then it was time to approach the next San Francisco classic: The Golden Gate Bridge. Edging our way along the waterfront towards the bridge, already gave some nice opportunities not only of the bridge, but also of famous Alcatraz.

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But we had taken the conscious decision that did not just want to see the bridge, but we also wanted to drive over it. And we’re so happy that we took that decision: to see the bridge up close has just a different feel to it vs. just looking at it.
And best of all: on the north side of the bridge we had the evening light being just perfect and we really enjoyed taking in various viewpoints. To complete the vista, we got to see a couple of container ships and even some whales on both sides of the bridge.

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Considering evening traffic, we rather opted for going north and heading out towards Oakland via the Richmond bridge – which also had the nice side benefit that we did not have to pay any bridge tolls – to reach our next campground in Pleasanton.

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We spent the next morning in the attempt of getting Sam’s glasses fixed. He had realized that his frame had a crack on one of the two sides – the one that had not been changed a couple of months back in Germany. So we tried to locate a Silhouette retailer and at the second attempt even found one. We soon realized that they were only selling frames, but not able to fix the glasses on site. At least they were able to refer us to another store where we were promised that the new frame could be mounted within a couple of minutes.
Perfect! We went there and the guy was in fact very quick in getting Sam’s old glasses taken apart and the new fame mounted. Except that when mounting the first lens, the lens cracked… He had not realized that Sam’s lenses were high index material, which is significantly more brittle than poly-carbonate. Not good…
At least he had lenses on stock for Sam’s prescription and was able to basically make new lenses and fix them into the new frame – and all of that for 15$. Sam is happy with the result and even though this kept us busy until the early afternoon, we are glad to having done the replacement. After all, a journey like that without the proper kind of glasses would be a big miss. And after all: Yosemite was waiting for us!

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 16:48 Archived in USA Tagged car bridge golden san francisco cable bay glasses gate wharf altos Comments (0)

Yosemite’s majestic mountains

Yosemite National Park

sunny 36 °C
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We can call ourselves really lucky: a couple of days earlier when it was obvious when we’d be getting to San Francisco and then to Yosemite I was lucky to get a reservation for a single night at Crane Flat Campground. Considering that campgrounds for Yosemite in summer time are usually sold out a couple of months in advance, we were very happy.
And then we were even more lucky when I found space for us for the following two nights at Upper Pines Campground (so even a campsite down in Yosemite Valley) just before leaving towards Yosemite – i.e. when we still had reception.
So it was a very relaxed drive and late arrival in Yosemite – having a reservation is not really what we’re used to. But admittedly this was extremely helpful, as also most of the national forest campgrounds before entering Yosemite were full. And while dispersed camping might be allowed in the national forest, we were not too sure if this was a good idea in bear country without having any proper food storage at hand.

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Crane Flat is a nice campground with large sites located in a big pine forest. We easily found our spot and marveled at how nice it is not having to think about where to stay for the night.
The next morning, we got up early by our standards and headed into Yosemite Valley. We stopped at a couple of viewpoints as we got closer.

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The trail to Bridaveil Falls was short and nice. But it also gave us a flavor of how many people are crowding the valley. And despite all kinds of warning signs with visual examples and statistics of 2015 injuries displaying how dangerous it is to scramble in the granite rocks leading up to the falls, we were able to observe a tourist slipping and hitting his nice camera lens on a rock…
So we left in search of a quieter place and were successful at Cathedral Beach where we enjoyed the nice views of El Capitan and the Cathedral Range and the river with a pleasant beach.

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Later we used the nice afternoon sun for taking in the major view points in the valley before retreating to our spot in the Upper Pines Campground next to newly named Half Dome Village to have BBQ with roasted marshmallows as desert.

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The next morning, we decided to allow Jordan and Chris to join us with their tent on our campsite. The couple had tried their luck at the only first come – first serve campsite. As they had camped up close to Glacier Point, they got up at 4:15am, to get into line at Camp 4 at 5:20am in order to learn eventually from the National Park Staff that the group before them was the last one to get a spot… Wow! And as all reserved campsites are laid out for 6 people, Jordan searched for sites with less people and that’s how we got together. As usual, our guests get to sign our guest book...

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Our target for the day was a hike up to Vernal Falls and we even got further up vs. our original plan. We hiked up to the top of the falls and then even further up to the John Muir Trail to head down in a loop.

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Given that it was quite a warm day and a ‚moderately strenuous‘ hike (as per the park flyer), we deserved a dip in the river before having dinner at our site. And yes, we slept very well after so much exercise.

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Our last day in Yosemite was dedicated to Sequoia trees. Due to the fact that Mariposa Grove is currently closed for improvement works, we headed to Tuolumne Grove. And yes, it was very impressive to see the trees grow. But it was also interesting to see a fallen tree just to take in the dimensions of the giant sequoias. After all, their diameter is just enormous.

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After a couple of stops with great vistas along Tioga Road, we had ‚scrambled pancakes‘ (aka Kaiserschmarrn) at a nice lake.

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A bit later we got to the Tuolumne Meadows before going up to Tioga Pass at nearly 10,000 feet. With crossing the pass, it was time to wave good-bye to Yosemite national park and to recognize how quickly a landscape can change from one moment to the other.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 10:09 Archived in USA Tagged mountains waterfall rock hike yosemite sequoia Comments (1)

Mountains and deserts at incredible temperatures

Written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 48 °C
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Once we had left Yosemite, it was fascinating to see how quickly the landscape changed.

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The road dropped quickly towards Lee Vinings at Mono Lake. It was tempting to stay at one of the National Forest campgrounds next to lakes with great vistas along the road – but they were all full and anyhow after three days without electrical hookup, we wanted to fill up our batteries. Consequently, we went down into Lee Vinings and arrived before 5pm such that our reserved campground was still available for us.
We did take a bit of time to explore Mono Lake and to read about how it rapidly decreased in size after the city of LA started diverting water from the streams.

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The next morning, we left towards south and passing signs towards ‘Devils Postpile National Monument’ we decided that we wanted to have a look. We had not realized that we were not able to go all the way there, but had to use a shuttle bus. But as we had already gone up quite a bit into the mountains of Mammoth Lakes, we figured that we might as well do that.

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And it was quite a sight to see the basalt columns of Devil’s Postpile. It seems that there are only very few places in the world where this geological phenomenon can be observed so nicely.

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After the sightseeing, we treated ourselves to Bavarian food. Kind of: Sam’s Yodler Burger was not too different vs. any other burger he had so far and I would have classified my Bavarian Chilli as just a regular chilli. After all, at least I am not aware of any typical food that is anything like a chilli in Bavaria.
Heading down towards Bishop and Big Pine we suddenly saw a sign advertising hot springs. We did not want to spend the money to stay at the RV park there, but realized that a bit further down there were a couple of other cars parked and there were people in swimsuits. So we tried our luck and enjoyed soaking in the hot water before heading on to our place for the night.

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The next day it was then time to get into Death Valley. On the way there we passed some nice mountains and also the National Historical Site of Manzanar. We did not stop there though and rather headed on to our hot destination.

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And yes, it was extremely hot. Neither one of us has ever been in such a heat before – well apart from in a sauna. The thermometer at Furnace Creek read 119 °F (48.3 °C) at 218ft below sea level.

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So Death Valley really counts as desert. We do love deserts, but fairly enough, Death Valley in the height of summer was after all just too hot for us. Due to the temperatures not even jumping dunes was an option. It seems that the only thing searching out such hot temperatures were fighter jet pilots (we saw an F18 passing just a bit in front of our car and it was really low!), test car drivers (Erlkönige) and tourists from far away. We clearly belonged to the last category and limited ourselves to viewing the sites from the car and just getting out for very quick stops such as the lowest point of the USA called Badwater or Artist's Palette and eventually retreating to our campground.

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We were easily able to resist the urge to play golf on the world’s lowest golf course. But the pool was very tempting and it was such a big relief to get out of the heat into the pool. Still, it was fascinating to see how the biggest pool we’ve seen so far on our travels was located in the middle of one of the hottest deserts of the world.

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At the pool we also met Jerry and got to talk a bit. Jerry is from Florida and came to Death Valley to support his friend Jodie to run the ‘Badwater135’ ultra marathon. We had seen a couple of cars with signs ‘Careful – runners on the road’, but had not realized what this was about. So for those who don’t know (i.e. just like us): the Badwater135 is a race over 135 miles (or 217 km) from the lowest to the trail head to the highest point Mt Whitney in the continuous 48 US states. It takes place on purpose in the extreme summer heat and all runners are supported by a crew of three people who join them running for the most parts of their run. So while Jerry was ‘just’ a crew member, he would be running 40 miles in the next day. And he told us that just a couple of weeks ago he had been running a 100 mile ultra marathon in Florida…

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We were thunderstruck. This was just way too crazy. And even though the Badwater135 site clearly says that the run is not intended to be viewed by spectators and that the recommended options to see it are competing, serving as crew or following on social media, we did watch the race. At 1pm we went out to the road and observed how the runners were passing after their first 17 miles by the checkpoint at the place we stayed overnight. Wow!

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We did sleep a bit overnight. But quite frankly, we did not sleep really well. It was just way too hot despite having the aircon running in the camper van. So we were happy to go to the pool again first thing in the morning before eventually leaving Death Valley via Zabriskie Point towards Las Vegas.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 14:29 Archived in USA Tagged desert springs death valley pool hot point marathon basin heat deepest mono temperatures Comments (1)

Summer splurge in Las Vegas

Las Vegas

sunny 45 °C
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To get a first impression of Las Vegas, we could not hesitate to take a detour via the Strip. And yes, it was quite a change seeing the masses of people and traffic after having been out in the nature for the last couple of days.

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We had made reservations at the Las Vegas ‘KOA at ‘Sam’s Town’ already a couple of days ago in order to have some packages sent to the KOA in our name. The place had been recommended to us already back in Sedona by the Germans we had met there and they were right: it is a very practical campground fairly central in Las Vegas with unmatched rates given the amenities even including a free shuttle bus to the strip. We had nice evening lights coming from the Eastside Cannery Hotel and Casino in the back of our spot.

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Las Vegas was significantly cooler than Death Valley, but still way too hot after we’ve gotten used to the temperate coast of California. So our first outing was to the pool and that’s also how we started our next day.
We then headed towards the Strip to do some sightseeing and people watching. Even though we only spent some time at Treasure Island, the Mirage and the Venetian, we did get quite a good impression of the awesome buildings, features and shows the hotels are putting up there in order to lure people into their casinos.

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We were back just in time for our Cirque de Soleil show ‘Mystere’ at Treasure Island. And as expected, the show was unbelievably great. It’s just always fascinating to see the storyline interwoven with acrobatics, the music, humorous elements and seeing so many details happening in parallel such that there’s not a single second of boredom coming up. The tickets were not really cheap and it did cost us a bit of decision taking before deciding, but it was definitively worth every single cent of it.

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On the way back home, Sam and I would have loved to wander the nightly streets of Vegas, but considering how late it was and how exhausted Max was after his first circus experience, it was clear that we’d go home straight away. But as our path led us down a bit of the Strip anyhow, we got to see at least a bit of Vegas by night – specifically the famous fountains in front of the Bellagio Hotel.

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The next day we were on separate missions: Sam ticked off his long time bucket list item to go to a shooting range. He took the hotel shuttle into town and got picked up there by an open Military Hummer H1. Knowing how much he loves this car / tank, the outing was off to a great start. At ‘Battlefield Las Vegas’ he was then invited to choose the package he’d like to go for. And probably he was a bit envious of the four Canadians just in front of him who payed 1,600 $ to do the ‘modern warfare package’, but stayed reasonable to just go for the standard ‘Black OPS’ package.
Still, he was excited about the professionalism of the all retired army / marines / air-force staff and he loved the shooting with the various arms he had booked. I have not checked the target (which he got to take as a souvenir, just like the ‘19$ value t-shirt’), but according to Sam’s account he did very well except for one of the machine guns which surprised him a bit and consequently got him off target. All in all, he was happy. More than happy.

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Before heading back to the campground, he walked much more of the Strip than what would be possible in our usual group of three. He was specifically impressed by Cesar's Palace, the Bellagio Fountains and by the great people watching. Eventually he ended the afternoon at a sports-bar before taking the bus shuttle back to our home base.

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In the meantime, Max and I took our camper van to a local garage, had a full inspection done, got the oil changed and invested into new breaks. Fortunately enough, the waiting are of the garage featured some car magazines and air-conditioning. And with an intermediate excursion to get lunch at a nearby mall, Max and I were quite exhausted. After all, Las Vegas at midday is not too much cooler vs. Death Valley. Depending at which site we looked in the internet, we had 45 °C at a real feel of 51 °C or 111 °F equivalent to 119 °F real feel… Whatever it was in reality, it was very hot.
Once the car was fixed and an extensive visit to the playground we headed back in order to jump into the pool to cool off a bit. Sam was back just in time to join us and we had fun…
A bit later in the evening we took advantage of the free water & laser show at the Sam’s Town hotel. It was nicely done and as usual we were amazed at the broad display of national pride with national anthems, flags, songs etc. This is something I have never ever seen in Germany, where only since the soccer world cup in 2006 it started to be socially acceptable to display a German flag in public. Let’s see if this will even change. Until it does, we’ll need to continue enjoying the national pride shown in countries like the USA, France or others.

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The next day we just enjoyed a very lazy day without any sightseeing or errands at all. We just stayed in our campground and spent lots of time at the pool. We also extensively used our laptop to bring the blog up to date and to get the pictures of the last couple of days sorted out and edited.
Still, one day of not doing anything seems to be the absolute limit of what we can bear, so without much thinking it was clear that we’d head onwards the next day.
Heading out of Las Vegas, we all waved back to the city. We had enjoyed our stay there and will definitively come back some time. There’s just so much to see and do there. And while many things to do are coming at a hefty price tag, there are lots of things for free or much cheaper than in other places.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 05:12 Archived in USA Tagged las vegas circus pool range strip shooting garage cirque Comments (0)

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