A 17-day adventure by Nick
  • Day15

    Days 11, 12 & 13 ; Los Angeles

    June 10, 2016 in the United States ⋅ ☁️ 18 °C

    So, we mis-judged the drive to Los Angeles. We'd Googled it before leaving, because we're not idiots, but being not-geniuses either we failed to fully factor-in the impact of our ignorance of Google's suggested & therefore quickest route in favour of taking a prettier, technically more direct but oh so much longer route along the Californian coast-line.

    After bagels for breakfast we set-off, briefly getting lost in the vacinity of Sea World, which is likely an intentional road layout to trick people into inadvertently entering the formerly-awesome but now horribly-depressing aqua attraction. As we skirted along the cliffs and beachfronts of the South-West US the view was admitedly excellent, albeit overall progress was hampered somewhat by an abundance of traffic-signals, speed restrictions and an accidental wrong-turn into a US Marine base.

    As such, it was rather late in the afternoon when we reached Los Angeles and our first stop, Venice beach; the beach that tobacco built and marajuana now supports (Kinda True: the resort was originally built by tobacco entrepreneurs and now, visitors to the beach can stop at a booth for a $40 'marajuana check-up' or something or somesuch where a doctor will issue you with a marajuana prescription to enable you to legally purchase and consume weed locally. We didn't do this...but then would I honestly admit to it here if we did? There are parents reading this...)

    Mark went for a wade in the sea which he informs me was 'brisk'; he has established it to be his life's ambition to enter every ocean/sea/puddle in the world and his tally is now up to four. Five if you count Sale Water Park, but why would you. Woody then drove us up to Oxnard, a bit up and a notch to the side from LA, where we'd booked the Vagabond Inn for the night, conveniently next to a Denny's. We ate and slept and whilst there was likely more to Oxnard we didn't see it so I can't reliably report on it.

    Morning of Day 12 we headed back into LA and up into the hills to the specific hill atop which stands the famous observatory, which was closed. But we hadn't driven there to observe stars, rather to observe what the stars see when they look out their windows: the Hollywood sign. We saw it; every letter and in the correct order. We read it a few times and took pictures of it and with it. There's really not much more that can be done with it. It's a sign. It says 'Hollywood' and is in Hollywood; at the very least, and indeed also at most, it's accuracy is not in question.

    We went for a saunter into the hills up a series of paths that Woody and I recognised as looking identical to the area where Carol and Beverley go jogging in the hit Showtime series 'Episodes' starring Matt Leblanc and other less famous people (which is kinda the show's entire premise). I tried later to research and confirm this but it is notoriously difficult to Google the show given its non-descript title.

    We next Googled then drove to, on the suggested route this time, the TCL Chinese Theatre and walked around the Walk of Fame; walking being resolutely the most appropriate way to experience it.

    If somebody has headlined a film in the last circa fifty years you can bet they've got a star here. Mind, we're talking proper films; not top-shelf works or 'free with this week's Daily Express' tat. Except Ryan Renolds, disappointing Luke. There were also the iconic hand/foot-prints outside the Chinese Theatre itself where we discovered that despite being a badass Sith Lord and leader of the Empire's near-eradication of the Jedi Order, Darth Vader had surprisingly small feet.

    We went for lunch at Hooters; a lovely sports-bar with a cute owl logo that serves excellent food and delivers top-notch customer service. The waitress/waiter (I can't remember which, the uniforms being of a conservative/androgynous/almost-Amish-esque design) brought us some fantastically spicy meat dishes which we enjoyed thoroughly and at no point considered either her/him or indeed us were being exploited via any undue focus on base characteristics. We left a tip and then left ourselves.

    Despite my having considered our numerous geological excursions to have concluded, Mark had one more natural historological site he was keen to visit. Since we're sharing a car, the rest of us went too. The La Brea Tar Pits are the black, sticky graves of many, many, many animals that died in their black stickiness over a period of c. 36k years. That's way before the start of this blog post, and then some. Most of them apparently got stuck after trying to eat the ones that got stuck in there before them, which serves them right. As a punitive system for deterring the attempted consumption of animal flesh, the tar pit stands as the most convincing motivator yet for a vegan diet and is, unless I am sorely mistaken/talking nonsense, sponsored by the North-American chapter of PETA.

    After the tar pit we headed to the motel, the 'Super 8' in Pasadena; two better than a Motel 6 and immeasurably more super. We went for dinner at the Pasadena Cheesecake Factory in geeky reverence of the Big Bang Theory TV show, something Woody was particularly excited about. We had to wait half an hour for a table but Luke entertained himself by burglarising the local Scientology centre of an 'Introduction to Dianetics' DVD.

    We went in with the intention of having something quick and savoury followed by some cheesecake. We hadn't, however, banked on the Cheesecake Factory being a full-fledged restaurant with a fantastic menu, since whenever Leonard and Sheldon go there and get served by Penny and Sheldon makes a funny by not understanding social conventions and Leonard expresses his exasperation with Sheldon and Sheldon explains himself and Penny humorously doesn't understand and likens him to a robot, the place always seemed to be more like a diner.

    In actuality the place is quite fancy, with delicious and massive portions of American cuisine. We each ate way too much and then chose some cheesecake from their expansive selection. I had a coffee liquor one, Luke had the 'chocolate tuxedo', Woody had the limited edition 'salted caramel' and Mark had the '30th Anniversary' slice which, as we are approaching his 30th anniversary of being alive we arranged to be served with a candle and to have the staff sing him 'Happy Birthday'. Though it wasn't technically his birthday, it was an overall happy day for Mark, us and the beneficial owners of the Cheesecake Factory franchise conglomerate.

    Day 13 was a day I'd been personally especially looking forward to. We'd pre-booked tickets to visit Universal Studios Hollywood, so it would have been downright silly not to have gone. We got up super mega early like excited kids and excitedly drove, like kids that had stolen a car, across LA to Universal Studios. We were amongst the first in the park and so were able to get on most of the rides early-on without having to queue.

    We rode the Simpsons ride first, which was excellent in every way except for it having replaced the Back-to-the-Future ride, which was as if not slightly more excellent. Next was The Mummy rollercoaster which was great followed by the Transformers ride which was less great but in the context of not having had to queue for it was absolutely fine.

    Next though was the best ride and one which had been worryingly 'temporarily closed' upon arrival. The Jurassic Park River Adventure ride isn't only a near-perfect translation of the feeling and narrative of a near-perfect movie into an amusement park attraction but, present as we were with one of the biggest Jurassic Park fans alive today (Mark), our overall appreciation for the effort and attention-to-detail applied to it was massively heightened. Though now I think about it, it's basically a log flume.

    Next we undertook the hour-long Studio Back-lot Tour, through the actual working studios of Universal Hollywood. We got to see numerous sets and studios, including the Bates Motel and Wisteria Lane(!), as well as enjoy a few scripted experiences like Jaws/King Kong/Fast & Furious. It was brilliant.

    We went for an over-priced but novelty lunch at the 'Springfield' Krusty Burger where me and Woody also had a pint/whatever-measure-they-use-here of Duff beer. It tasted like cheap lager, which by sheer definition it wasn't. We watched the 'Special Effects' show where they set a guy on fire (on purpose, to be clear) and then decided we'd somehow earnt a snack so went to the 'Lard Lad Donut' shop. We were struck by the immense size of the donuts on offer, but instead of just taking a picture of one or buying one for us all to share, we decided to buy one each.

    Feeling not for the first, second or even third time this holiday uncomfortably full, we next headed for what Luke and I were sure would be the highpoint of the day and that Mark and Woody had accepted they would at some point have to endure. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was a perfect as-you'd-imagine-it recreation of Hogsmeade village, albeit with minor niggling imconsistencies (such as the presence of an Ollivanders) which initially niggled Luke but that he would later embrace.

    The ride was nothing special, though the queue for the ride twisted through a miniature recreation of Hogwarts which was, as with the rest, spectacularly realised. As Woody and Mark tired of the magical fare and went off to re-ride other things, Luke and I visited Ollivanders and bought 'our' wands, indulged in some Butterbeer at the Hogs Head and generally enjoyed the immersion of the Potter area until it was almost time to leave. We did the Jurassic Park and Mummy rides once more, then did so.

    Full from too-much-donut, Woody and I skipped dinner. Luke and Mark went out for some, but I'm not sure where.
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  • Day12

    Days 9 & 10 ; San Diego - feel the burn

    June 7, 2016 in the United States ⋅ ☁️ 19 °C

    Small towns are done. I'm over them. They're sooooo last week they're still offering a fair and balanced sterling-to-dollar rate before all you people back home allowed a recent poll to suggest we might actually leave the EU. Donald Trump is pro-Brexit ; let that sink in. That racist, hypocritical, politically incorrect but somehow politically front-and-centre guy who sounds like an arse and whose name literally sounds like gas excaping from an arse wants the same thing an increasing number of Brits want and is seriously impacting the cost of my holiday. Vote Remain.

    On Day 9 we entered California and reached the first of the final three 'big-city' destinations on our trip; San Diego. Which, as Ron Burgendy taught us, is Spanish for a 'Whale's Vagina'...though obviously isn't and is in actuality the name of a Catholic saint or something. I did look it up but then got distracted by Anchorman clips on the YouTube.

    As referred to in my last post: a re-writing of hip-hop-artist/one-hit-wonder/presumably-unemployed Afroman's seminal/silly/catchy song/single/admission-of-criminal-guilt, Phoenix/the-hottest-place-on-earth was deemed by group consensus to in uninhabitable and thusly we all sat down on the morning of Day 9 to plan our escape.

    I was to be the 'Wheel Man', it being by rotation my turn to drive. Luke 'The Phone Guy' Crowley used his honed Google-fu skills and operational mobile data-signal to seek out new appropriate lodgings in our intended destinations, whilst I, in my alternate guise as 'The Booker', telephoned the existing bookings secured under my name to re-arrange where possible. Woody and Mark (the 'Watchmen') kept a lookout; them having no bookings in their name or data signal but needing some sort of role in this awkwardly mixed prison-break/heist metaphor that if I'm honest didn't really work as well as I thought it might.

    But the re-booking was successful; basically enabling us to have an extra day in Los Angeles and a bonus night in San Diego, giving us longer in each place and giving me an excuse to take a full day off writing and fuse two blog posts into one. The new plan relegated Day 9 to become basically a driving day; our final 'big drive' of thr trip. Myself, Mark and Woody each took a turn setting the cruise control to 5mph over the speed limit and occasionally turning the wheel when the mostly-straight roads of America defy expectations and indulge in a slight bend.

    We checked-in at the Good Nite Inn Near SeaWorld; a place that we haven't seen, won't go near, don't talk about and feel violently I'll at even the thought of (we've seen Blackfish). If you've been to SeaWorld, have happy memories of the experience and don't want these memories irrevocably tainted, I implore you not to watch Blackfish. Poor Shamu...

    Later that evening we went to the San Diego 'old town', conveniently located just around the corner from the motel to the extent I would suggest the motel re-name themselves the 'Good Nite Inn Near Old Town' so as to rid themselves of any and all loose association they have with that place I won't mention again. Or just 'The Good Nite Inn'; that'd do.

    The San Diego Old Town is probably the most 'tourist-y' place we've been to yet ; a term I don't use derogatorily since we are, inarguably, tourists. Of the six-or-seven Mexican restaurants on one of the streets we selected one at random and were seated for dinner. The food was excellent, the waitress taught us some Spanish that I've completely forgotten and then we shared a big Margarita cocktail that we attempted to butch-up with a bottle of Corona but the attached picture of us consuming said cocktail still looks unnervingly like a promo shot from Sex & the City. I'm a total Charlotte btw.

    On Day 10 Luke, Woody and Mark decided to go and visit an aircraft carrier. I'm told it was very big, impressive and interesting but I didn't go so this is just informed speculation. I've never been on an aircraft carrier but I have been on boats and visited airports and felt I could sufficiently conceptualise a merger of the two to not need to see it myself. I instead spent the day wandering the length and breadth of San Diego city, ultimately taking a bus back the length and breadth to avoid repetition. I walked the coast, had a hot-dog-on-a-stick from a place called 'Hot-dog-on-a-stick', read Private Eye with a Starbucks coffee in the humungous Balboa park and got sunburn from the deceptively strong sun that had been rendered unnoticeable by the pleasant coastal breeze.

    We all burnt; Luke probably looks the most red with myself and Mark vying for second place and Woody, who I think sensibly applied the most suncream, trailing/winning in fourth. Aftersun has been applied and I am dreading my next shower; scheduled for immediately after completing this post.

    In the evening we travelled back into central San Diego to the 'Gaslamp Quarter', a massive district home to a huge collection of bars, restaurants and bar/restaurants. After a brief walk we opted to eat at a brazilian steak-house called Fogo de Chao; which is Portuguese for 'place where too much food is provided to and eaten by gready patrons'. It was one of those places where the servers walk round with different cuts of meat and you say yes to all of them because you've paid dammit and want to get your money's worth but then proceed to eat excessively and feel uncomfortably full for the rest of the evening. This is what happened; the standard pre-dinner picture this time replaced with a post-dinner one to illustrate our collective fullness and also I forgot to take one at the start.

    We waddled home and absorbed our final views of San Diego as we passed them by on the brilliant tram ('trolley') network. We could easily have spent longer here but have a schedule to keep to and thoroughly expect our next and final two stops to be as equally places-we-could-have-spent-longer-in upon our departures, so to take any time from them to elongate our stay here would only ultimately compound our time insufficiency issue. But if LA for some reason sucks, we'll head back.
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  • Day10

    Day 8 : Because it was hot

    June 5, 2016 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 38 °C

    For reasons of a missed alarm, it being my day to drive and the pressing need to re-schedule the remaining week of our trip, there will be no normal blog post today. Instead, please enjoy the following summary of Day 8, to the tune of 'Because I got high' by Afroman;

    La da da da da da La, Da Daaa,
    La da da da, La da da da, La da da daaa

    On Day 8, we went outside, and it was hot,
    We went to Subway, had a good meal, and it was hot,
    But over here, they don't do sausage, no they do no-ot,
    (yea heyy)
    And it was hot,
    It was still hot,
    So very ho-ot.

    (La da da da da da da da da)

    We went to tombstone, checked out some graves, and it was hot,
    Watched a western gunfight re-enactment, and it was hot,
    They had special seating, in the shade, how could they no-ot?
    (yea heyy)
    'Cause it's so hot
    Stupidly hot
    So 'effing ho-ot.

    (La da da da da da da da da)

    Most of us watched a multimedia historic diorama, inside where it was cool,
    Most of us drank bottles of saspirilla, to make us more cool,
    And had burgers topped with chilli, except, our resident 'kook',
    (yea heyy)
    All except Luke,
    All except Luke
    All except Lu-uke,

    (Chilli la da da da da da da da)

    Saspirilla tastes like 'Deep Heat' spray, which is a shame,
    They wouldn't serve us a finger of whisky without our IDs, which was a pain,
    But Luke and Woody got to play cowboys, just like John Wa-ayne,
    (yea heyy)
    It didn't rain,
    Oh for some rain,
    One drop of ra-ain,

    (La da da da da da da da da)

    As we drove North, toward Phoenix, it got more hot,
    The in-car thermometer hit one-seventeen, 'cause it was hot,
    When we arrived and got back outside, deny we could no-ot,
    It was so hot,
    So fucking hot,
    Way, way too ho-ot,

    (La da da da da da da da da)

    We went out, to get us some eats, it was still hot,
    It was, like, nine in the bloody evening, it was still hot,
    Woody and I went to play pool, I made an amazing black-ball jump-shot,
    But outside it was hot,
    You know the score,
    Stupidly, overly, unnecessarily hot,

    (La da da da da da da da da)

    We were meant to stay in Phoenix, but now we're not,
    Were gonna go to a water-park, but now we're not,
    Think I've been clear as to why, but in case I've no-ot,
    It's 'cause it's hot,
    Way too fucking hot,
    Genuinely the hottest place I've ever been, and I've been places...we don't want to stay, you wouldn't either. It's ridiculous.

    (La da da da da da da da da)
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  • Day9

    Day 7 : Sandy Nuts

    June 4, 2016 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 29 °C

    When planning-out our expedition, in order to ensure we completed our circuit in the allotted time we set a series of fixed-points in time which, a la Doctor Who, we absolutely positively couldn't change (unless a blonde girl from London asked reeeeeeally nicely). It was also accepted that there would be variables ripe for inclusion discovered along the way, but for such diversions to be worthy of our visitation they should ideally meet the criteria of being 'The World's Blank-iest Blank'.

    Our first stop today was to be one of these such locations. Technically it was our third stop; our first being one we chose; for breakfast (I personally find breakfast to be the best choice for resolving those pesky morning hunger pangs) and our second being somewhat obligatory; any failure to stop potentially inviting a barrage of good-old American freedom-infused bullets. The Border Patrol pulled us aside for being suspiciously English; our accents insufficient to evidence our nationality and ESTA status we were required to present our passports, which for me necessitated a partial unpacking of my suitcase on the New-Mexican highway.

    After taking various DNA and other samples for their records they permitted us to leave and we proceeded onwards North towards the above-trailed 'Blank-iest Blank' location. To maintain the gripping suspense, assuming I haven't used a picture of it as the primary blog photo, I shall reveal the blanks sequentially. The first Blank is 'large', so therefore 'large-ist'...or 'largest' to use the actual English.

    The second blank...'Pistachio'. I'm not sure exactly who, if anybody, keeps track of these things ; there was no Guinness certification to be seen (they would likely take issue with the fact that it isn't actually a nut, but instead some sort of nut-shaped monument, constructed in honour of the great Nut God and used for weekly Nut-themed worship, ritual and sacrifice as the owners would have no-doubt told me if I'd asked), but I'm more than happy to accept this to be the biggest Pistachio in the world purely on the basis that I expect the particular mental irregularity that prompts a person to build a huge nut in their yard is sufficiently rare for this to be an isolated case.

    'Pistachio Land' most definitely exceeded what minimal expectations a name such as 'Pistachio Land' generates. We swarmed around the 'free samples' bar, a phenomenal sales technique that induces obligation on the part of the sampler to purchase. Not that adherence to this consumer convention was necessary for our wallets to be pried open; the samples were delicious and we each walked out with bags of flavoured Pistachios. Luke almost bought the 'Atomic Brittle', a particularly spicy pistachio brittle, but found the sample too spicy and had to drink lots of water and cry in the corner for a while. I purchased the 'Chili Chocolate' brittle which was less spicy than the 'Atomic' stuff but 100% more chocolatey. We also all had some ice-cream before going; the pistachio-flavoured type agreed as the best amongst those of us that tried it - Luke having now developed a psychological aversion to pistachios opting for the safe and definitively un-nutty vanilla.

    Next stop was 'White Sands National Monument', which absolutely isn't a monument but is instead a small-by-America-standards but massive-by-our-standards desert in South-East New Mexico. Must confess; when Mark suggested going to the place I wasn't overly-excited, expecting it to be something that could be experienced in any desert with a greyscale filter-lens. But how wrong I and my monochrome camera kit would have been - White Sands was, to re-use the one and only adjective I can muster in such circumstances, stunning.

    See, it's not about the whiteness of the sand at all; though they are exceeding white (Daz, eat your detergent-y heart out). I genuinely believe the sweeping, majestic dunes of White Sands would be as equally impressive were they bright orange, powder-blue or a Clan MacGregor tartan pattern circa 1730 with fluorescent green highlights. No, as with many things; it's not the size, colour or slight bend at the end that matters - it's how you use it.

    Dunes naturally have a slight bend at the end, totally cleaning up that comment, which is essential for providing the means for deceleration upon reaching the bottom. See, we didn't just drive through, walk round or taste the white dunes. We didn't do the last one at all (imagine they'd be salty). But instead we found the biggest, steepest dune and flung ourselves down it in a plastic dustbin lid.

    The technique was initially hard to master. After an unspectacular first attempt by Luke and Mark, Woody and I decided to try jumping forwards from the peak and land on our bin-lids mid-flight to enhance forwards thrust upon landing. Didn't work, unless by 'work' you mean 'to discover an efficient means of getting a sore arse', in which case you define 'work' very oddly and should probably seek help.

    We eventually sorted it and enjoyed several slides down the dunes and endured an equal number of awkward treks back up the dune between goes, not counting the first trek up the dune which obviously couldn't be between goes as it preceded the first go, albeit this was likely implied and such pedantic clarification is a waste of both my time, your time and the finite bytes the internet can store, presuming the Internet can be said to 'store' information in 'bytes' and not in some larger unit and I know that even if larger units are used then technically these larger units could be reduced to bytes but, think about it, when you say you've got a pot of pepper in the pantry, assuming you have a pantry and don't just use a cupboard, but wherever you store your pepper, if you were to be asked if you had a pot of pepper, or salt if you prefer, you would say 'yes, I've got a pot of pepper' or 'yes, I've got a pot of salt' depending on your preference, though you'd probably say 'shaker of salt' instead of 'pot of salt' or at least I would as I have an affinity for alliteration, you wouldn't express the volume of pepper in terms of the number of peppercorns in the pot, or mill/grinder as would actually be needed to dispense pepper from its peppercorn form though these terms don't alliterate as nicely, or salt-rocks in the shaker which, too, would need to be a mill/grinder to be of any use, unless you're one of those people that buy ground in which case a pot or shaker would suffice and you would find it even more difficult to express your quantities of condiment in terms of their individual component parts and so would, in common with those with mills/grinders, would likely if asked simply respond with 'yes, I've got SOME pepper or salt' depending on preference, possibly enquire as to their unhealthy interest in your stocks of seasonings when you'd not even offered them dinner and re-evaluate your acquaintanceship with them and therefore we had a great time on the White Sands dunes and I'd likely go back if I was ever again in the area.

    After sledding down the dunes we also took a walk on the 'boardwalk' section, where it was quickly discovered that we could generate static charge simply by walking on the boards without touching the handrail. Except Luke for some reason. Thusly and logically the game became 'shock Luke', which he appreciated immensely. Though I suffered the biggest shock upon handing Mark the car keys on departure, karma eh? (Or 'Car-ma'...ah-ha-ha-ha-ha).

    From White Sands the intention was to drive in the direction of 'Tombstone' which we plan to visit on Day 8. We stopped for dinner at a retail park where we tried to go to an Applebees, but despite it smelling delicious when we entered the foyer they had the gall to expect us to wait twenty minutes for a table. We instead crossed the road to a 'Jack-in-the-Box' and had yet another though by far the best burger of the trip so far. Except Luke.

    We drove for a couple of hours and stopped in a small town called 'Lordsbergh', famous for being the place we slept last night.
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  • Day7

    Day Six : Wombling libre!

    June 2, 2016 in the United States ⋅ 🌙 24 °C

    In the hushed yet excitable tones of Sir David Attenborough, I remark that on Day Six I awoke to an extraordinary sight; a beast whose majesty is eclipsed only by its scarcity in the wild and in the presence of which so very few can claim to have been.

    Luke was awake first ('Lukus Awakii-Firstus')

    But the most fascinating feature of the untamed Lukus Awakii-Firstus is that despite stirring from slumber several hours in advance of the rest of the pack, it is somehow able to be the last one prepared to depart from its night-time lodgings. Such a radical trait would indeed be worthy of further academic study, were there any applicable value in it whatsoever.

    When Luke was ready we got in the car and headed off for food. They say you can tell the measure of a man by the breakfast he chooses. I can't remember who said it; I might have read it on a Kellogs box, but there can be no questioning of our collective masculinity when we commence our day with four Denny's Grand-Slams. Our second such brekkie of the trip to date, the only measure that concerns me is that of an expanding waist-line; ballooning wider daily and transforming texturally from tight, sinewy firmness to a flappy, fatty, cookie-dough-like bulge.

    Next we stopped at a gas station, where Mark once again showed himself to be the hero we all know and agree he is. Whilst inside the station kiosk buying gas (heroic in itself, but it gets better) he was able to find something I've looked for literally everywhere I've been since I got here (aside from that one place we don't mention we went). But Mark achieved what I failed at and found and purchased for me a whole bag of Coffee-flavoured M&Ms! They're yet to be eaten as I'm afraid they might be the 'Best-Thing-Ever' and doubling back round to that particular gas station to buy more would be costly from a scheduling perspective and likely unpopular in every other perspective.

    From there we headed to Carlsbad Caverns via a picturesque drive through the appropriately-named Carlsbad Caverns National Park. This was very much the third instalment in the geological formations trifecta after the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley and Mark was in his absolute element as we undertook the 2.5 mile walk down, down, down, slightly up then further down, down, down and around the humongous underground caverns network. We actually nearly didn't get in at all as Woody threw his entrance ticket in the bin, like, seconds after he bought it. But the ranger gave him an ocular pat-down, deemed him not to be a security risk and allowed him through.

    Whilst wandering through the caverns, Luke postulated that the location might lend itself well to an action sequence in a James Bond film; for instance Bond might have to rapidly descend through the cavern in order to disarm a terrorists' bomb. Though I questioned the overarching strategy of a plot to bomb an empty, underground cave-network, this nonetheless sparked a back-and-forth that became increasingly ludicrous until Luke had to take a break on a bench, hunched over and giggling uncontrollably like a schoolgirl. Either due to 'science' the differently-composed air in the deep caverns somehow precipitated this giggle-fit, or alternatively Luke actually IS a schoolgirl and his portrayal of being an adult male with a job has been but a ruse. I also laughed a bit, mainly laughing at Luke laughing; a little like a schoolgirl laughing at another schoolgirl, but way more manly.

    Woody, Luke and I completed the cavern-walk, then approximately two days later so did Mark. We joked that he must have stopped to take a picture of every rock in there, but he corrected us by telling us he'd actually taken two pictures of every rock in case one didn't come out properly.

    We took the elevator out of the caverns and began the journey South-West to El Paso. We stopped briefly at a roadside historical marker detailing the events of the 'Salt War', an escalation of the 'Pepper Skirmish' that resulted from the 'Ketchup Conflict' during the 'Condiment Campaign'. But seriously, people died.

    We arrived in El Paso late afternoon and headed straight to the border that our visas, car rental agreement and gut-reaction upon seeing it prevented us from crossing. Mexico doesn't look great, but we waved to it as we drove past the border-fence. I like to think that if any Mexicans had spotted the mildly condescending wave of comparatively-rich, white-privileged tourists actively avoiding setting foot in their country, they would have appreciated it.

    We checked into the 'Budget Inn Motel', where the only thing 'budget' was the price, the rooms, the a/c units, the remoteless, CRT televisions and the general feeling of security whilst on the premises. We headed out to a nearby Mexican food place recommended by Mark's guidebook called 'Chicos Tacos' (the restaurant, not the guidebook). The signage proclaimed the chain to be an 'El Paso Institution', meaning it isn't good or successful enough to have expanded into other cities.

    The food was as interesting as it was decent; that is to say, 'quite'. The 'Tacos' were narrow, crispy things served in a sort-of tomato-based 'soup'. The burritos were closer to expectations, though only loosely rolled and containing potato instead of rice. Maybe this is actual, proper Mexican food and what we've been eating from Old El Paso and BarBurrito are mutated renditions of the original traditional versions. Or maybe they're just fucking with the tourists.

    Having earlier been the fabled 'Lukus Awakii-Firstus', Luke was tired so went back the motel after dinner whilst Mark, Woody and I headed down the street to a bar I'd found on Google Maps called 'Howie's Good Times'. En route we passed a place called 'Cabaret' advertising 'Girls, Girls, Girls ; topless and fully nude!'. This not being the 'good time' we were looking for (well, not for a moonlight-robbery $15 cover charge...) we continued on to Howies.

    If you were to imagine a typical American bar, this would be it; neon lights, pool table, friendly/busty barmaid and a casually discriminatory attitude. We were made welcome on the express condition we weren't gay and we ordered a round of tequilas; not because any of us liked them but because we were near Mexico and it felt obligatory - or else I considered it obligatory and thrust this obligation unto the others.

    Can honestly say I've never before enjoyed a tequila, but doing it 'properly' (lick of salt, shot, lime) as I've somehow never done before I found it surprisingly palatable. I had the idea that they should pre-mix these elements into one whole, long drink. Woody then told me what a Margarita was.

    We staked out a spot at the end of the bar and our novelty value as 'travelling Brits' had soon drawn in a cluster of folk (Mike, Louie, Marc and Jennifer) with whom we chewed the fat regarding our trip, the differences between the US and UK, the dodgy reputation of the restaurant we'd just eaten at and the potential gastronomic distress we might subsequently and resultantly experience.

    The owner was very proud of his beer selection, though with the majority imported from Europe they were slightly less-special to us. I had a California-brewed milk stout, Woody had a disgustingly fruity pale ale that he seemed to enjoy and Mark had something else. Though one of the key features of where we'd been seated had been duly noted by all of us, it was noticed as we left that we'd been sat in something a sign referred to as 'Horny Corner' with the 'breast view in the house'. Even considering the multitude of sights and viewpoints we've experienced this week, I know what I'd rather have on a postcard.
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  • Day7

    Day 5 : Roswell that Ends Well (+ Mark)

    June 2, 2016 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 21 °C

    Yes, today there are pictures ; our shutters-fingers no-longer shuddering from the after-effects of the 'Albequerque Incident' and each of us in a far more photogenic state, Day 5 has been thoroughly captured in static-snap form.

    Brief aside; there has been disquiet that there has been insufficient 'Mark' mentions in these blog posts. For those worried, he has been with us every step of the way, driving much of it and keeping us entertained with random but relevant pop culture quotes. Attached to this post are some bonus 'Mark' shots for your consideration and approval.

    Luke skipped breakfast today in favour of some additional shut-eye. We were all shocked I tell you...shocked. Myself, Woody and MARK went down to the 'breakfast room', formerly the 'Chinese takeaway room', and had a breakfast that hadn't been cooked in grease, sprayed with grease then served on a bed of grease. After sensible cereal, Woody and I decided it would be rude not to have a go with the waffle-maker, so we shared the experience and the product. MARK didn't have one, but watched us eat ours.

    It was Woody's day to be driver, and drive us he did. It is becoming a tradition that whenever Woody takes the wheel, the drive turns out to be a horrible one ; or else whenever there is a horrible drive to be done it is Woody's turn to drive (chicken/egg etc,). Today's drive through the tiny towns of West Texas was abysmal; there was a storm warning in effect but we respectfully ignored this and drove right through it. There was pouring rain, localised flooding and heavy side-winds, making this the most treacherous trip we've yet taken. Woody expertly kept the car under control whilst Luke kept a keen eye out for lake-sized puddles and I navigated us through the styx to Roswell. MARK was in the car too.

    At isolated moments when it wasn't raining we stopped for pictures with the big texan (there's probably a history to it, but I haven't looked it up) and at a town called 'Happy', that looked like one of the most miserable places on earth.

    We reached Roswell, New Mexico in mid-afternoon and went for some authentic Mexican food made and served by some authentic Mexicans. I had a burrito, Woody tacos, Luke chilli and MARK enchiladas. It was fine, though the experience was mildly tempered in my opinion as we somehow selected the one establishment on the Roswell Main Street that had in no way embraced what the town is so famous for; it's aesthetic simply Mexican. They still had Cinquo de Mayo decorations up almost a month after the day itself, suggesting that it's either traditional to keep them up for a while following May 5th or that the owners were simply too (REDACTED) to take them down.

    To explain, you know you are entering Roswell when you begin to see little green men EVERYWHERE. Virtually every business establishment has themed their enterprise around the idea of aliens having visited/died-horribly-in-a-crash there in 1947. Be they peddlers of sushi, opticians or tax attorneys, all signage either contains terms such as 'galactic', has pictures of spaceships on them, is accompanied by a human-sized fibreglass alien or, most commonly, all three. (see picture of MARK attached).

    After lunch we visited the International UFO Museum and Research Centre, where we were able to peruse a notably balanced account of what might have happened in July 1947, alongside pictures and recreations of the various 'evidence' for and against the 'alien' thesis. The weirdest aspect of this was the revelation that the 'crash' actually happened nowhere really near Roswell, and the incident is seemingly so named as Roswell is where the debris/alien-bodies were taken afterwards. In fact, the crash-site is almost as close to Albequerque as it is to Roswell, a place now famous for its own incident where the facts are disputed and the truth will never be known.

    After the museum we went to the 'Spacewalk' experience round the corner. It was basically someone's back-room painted black with a few bads of luminous paint and a black-light, but what can you expect for two bucks? (answer: way, way more).

    After wandering around the various gift shops selling alien crap and not buying anything (it being crap), we got back in the car and drove south to Carlsbad, where we plan to visit some caverns the next day (today, in around ten minutes as I'm writing this, MARK having just knocked on my door to request we get a move on). We went for an amazing meal at a Bar-B-Q place (see picture); probably the best food we've had since being here (stacks of meat with sides), then for a few drinks at a nearby Best Western hotel; the pricier neighbour to the budget 'Carlsbad Inn' we'd booked for the night.
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  • Day6

    Day 4 ; The Chicken and the Egg

    June 1, 2016 in the United States ⋅ ☁️ 15 °C

    Bear with me, I'm going somewhere with this.

    It's the classic causality dilemma that has stumped philosophers for centuries, confounded scientific communities and regularly crops up in pub discussions, recurring in rotation alongside 'which local team is doing best at whatever locally-popular sport' and 'dude, we should totally open our own bar'.

    I've sorted it.

    Obviously the egg came first. There were dinosaur eggs FFS. Nick FTW. STFU H8rs.

    But this is a facetious answer. Obviously when people ask 'what came first, the chicken or the egg?", they are referring specifically to a 'chicken-egg'. Well, 'people', even with these parameters properly defined, the 'paradox' is still easily resolveable.

    It was the chicken. Eggs are classified according to whatever laid them; this truth evident each time you slice the top off a boiled chicken-egg and DON'T find a baby-chick-foetus inside. Aside, of course, for that one traumatic childhood experience which is why Woody doesn't eat eggs.

    Ergo, whatever laid the egg that the first actual chicken emerged from wasn't a chicken, but rather a mutated mess that had it away with an equally genetically-distorted fustercluck. Their passionate bonding into what was likely a particularly hideous beast with two backs resulting in the formation of the very first 'chicken', which later laid the first 'chicken-egg' and, thus, breakfast history was made.

    So, why write all the above? Two reasons: firstly, there's very little to write about 'Day 4' of our trip and I had space to fill. But secondly, the reason WHY there's very little to write is because, much like the 'chicken egg', Day 4 was very much defined by what spawned it. Day 4 was the definitive 'day after the night before', with every move we made and every breath and step we took suffering from the 'sting' (didya see wot i did there!) of the copious drinking undertaken on Day 3.

    We woke late, only a few hours after falling asleep, but just-about managed to get out of our motel rooms on the stroke of the 11am check-out time. We then went for an unenthusiastic breakfast at IHOP. Given this acronym breaks-out to 'International House of Pancakes' I've always been somewhat perturbed that they don't seem to exist outside of the USA (you know, 'internationally'), and after tasting their wares this frustration will be only exacerbated.

    Today's plan was to reach Amirillo, Texas. It was Mark's turn to drive and, both objectively and in context, he did well. We stopped only once at a McDonald's for some food. I had a Sausage/Egg McMuffin, since McDonald's here has an all-day breakfast menu. Woody had chicken nuggets, made from chickens that were descendents of the very first chicken born from the non-chicken egg, but couldn't finish them so Luke and I helped out. I think Mark had chicken nuggets too and I don't remember what Luke had, but I'm sure he does so there's something to ask about when we get home, since this blog does to an extent negate the need for the standard 'how was your holiday' line of questioning.

    After McDonald's, the drive continued. Mark decided at one point to deviate from the interstate to travel down a section of Historic Route 66, as we have been doing sporadically over the last few journeys. After a while this 'road' became seriously historic, devolving from tarmac through potholes to become a rough dirt-track. A car passed us in the other direction and whipped-up a rock that struck our windscreen, causing a small crack. In our zombie-like state we barely reacted, but probably need to do something about it.

    We eventually made it to Amirillo. We tried to find a motel in the downtown area but, despite much tedious searching, didn't. Feeling we'd had our fill of the Amirillo 'experience', we drove out to the town outskirts and found a cluster of hotels near the interstate. Ordinarily we'd have compared the meerkat to find the best price, but in our exhausted and hungover condition we opted to stay at the first place we found.

    We checked-in and then collectively (though separately) lay on our beds in silence for a while. We later decided we should have some dinner but also that we couldn't be arsed going anywhere so ordered-in Chinese food. We ate in the hotel's 'breakfast room', encountering spoilers for the following morning. I had sweet and sour chicken, which annoyingly came in the battered-balls form instead of the Cantonese 'with-veggies' style, so did nothing for my developing scurvy. Everyone else had a stir-fry, some of them finished it. I made a great joke involving a fortune cookie, but you had to be there.

    Luke announced that he would like to write a blog entry, but Luke says a lot of things. Still, by transcribing this intent he might feel compelled to follow-through. Peer pressure might work too; come on Luke, all the cool kids are doing it!
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  • Day5

    Day 3 : The Mighty Ducks

    May 31, 2016 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 21 °C

    My head hurts.

    Being a moderately organised bunch, before coming over here we held a series of planning meetings to determine a rough outline of the distance/activities we hoped to achieve each day. These meetings, much like most occasions the four of us meet up, commonly began with structured conversation, examining of maps and Googling of ideas until we all decided we deserved a beer or ten, at which point they evolved into the standard fun drinky-times to which we've become habitually accustomed. It is likely a result of this that the plan for Day 3, on which we were to reach Albe-quack-e, read simply 'get wankered'.

    I love it when a plan comes together.

    First, however, there was the journey. From Farmington to Albyqerkey we took a combination of highways and Route 66, stopping only once at a place for which there'd been circa twenty-odd billboards, each extolling and proclaiming the place to be on par with the second coming of Christ, if the big JC were to confound religious scholars around the world and make his comeback in the form of a roadside attraction. It turned out to be a gift shop.

    I bought some fridge magnets for the metallic side of my fridge and we continued onwards and Eastwards. Arriving in central Albeequirky at a sensible hour we went for a stroll and had a rest for a few hours. At around 7pm, the evening began.

    From this point onwards, events will be presented to the best of my recollection. There will be inaccuracies, half-truths and massive, gaping holes comparable with albeit only metaphorically analogous with those described in Days One and Two.

    Before leaving our rooms, we each indulged in a few fingers of moonshine. We'd never had moonshine before and likely wouldn't again had we not purchased an enormous jar of the deadly, 100% proof, 50% ABV chemicular concoction from Walmart that our commitment to value and aversion to waste precludes us from pouring away. It was cherry flavour, but you wouldn't have known by tasting it.

    From there we decided to go eat, but intelligently decided to have a drink on the way. We stopped at a restaurant and sat at the bar where a lone US army veteran was celebrating Memorial Day sipping a non-alcoholic lager. He offered to buy us all a drink; we declined in that polite, English, 'Hugh Grant' way Americans like to comment on, but bought our own drinks and sat down for a chat with the guy. He told us stories that were interesting and I thought would later be memorable, but are unfortunate victims of the aforementioned memory leakage.

    We went to a Pizza place and shared a massive pizza. Woody and Luke met a nice guy in the toilets and after brief three-way intercourse invited him back to our table. He turned out to be a stand-up comic and a stand-up guy; a pun I shared with him, to which he responded that I should be the one doing stand-up. I agreed, and told him I'd do his stand-up and he could do my 'sit-down'. He totally ROTFLOL-d at this and said I should have my own Seinfeld-type show.

    After food we went next door and watched the guy and several other comics perform at an open-mic night. They varied in quality but we're mostly pretty good, partially as we'd opted to sit at a table right at the very front and loudly announced our Englishness, enabling the performers to chuck out 'British' jokes at our expense. When the show was over the M/C told us the afterparty was heading to another bar a couple of blocks away.

    En route to the afterparty we went to another bar called 'The Library'. It was here that the booze began to most significantly floweth. We chatted to folk, drank alien-themed beer, had a photo taken with some dude for reasons I don't recall (see attached) and the barmaid was wearing a rather fetching (very short) tartan skirt.

    We left as the place was closing, or the place closed because we left, and headed to the comedy afterparty. We resumed our roles as the token British and chatted with some of the comics whilst continuing to consume significant quantities of beer/spirits/drain-cleaner. Somebody tried to explain the different way Americans calculate alcohol content which means their produce is stronger than it looks, but I wasn't in a state to comprehend and I'm sure Woody can explain it better. I'm not sure when we left, but since we're no-longer there I can accurately state that we did.

    ERROR: Next memory not found.

    Sometime later we were in a different bar and met some Mexicans. As that bar closed they told us they knew another place that wasn't closing. They did and we went there.

    The remainder of the night is like a sickly, swirly montage. There was beer, ATM withdrawals, cigarettes, jumper cables, disco lights under a bridge, shots, but a notable lack of looking at watches. We departed for the ten minute walk back to the motel at what we figured was probably 1am, but got back at just gone 4. Luke ran back for some stupid reason and had a brief kip on the concrete like, literally, three feet from his bed.

    So concludeth Day 3/early Day 4. Does it say something that the longest 'travel blog' entry so far is basically describing a night out that could have happened anywhere? Maybe...I can't really think about that at the moment since, per the above, my head hurts.
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