Alban Johnson

Joined December 2015
  • Day8

    San Diego to the border

    May 21, 2016 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    We left Nacho's about 1am, following Toni and Mariana to the 805 freeway which we followed to our reserved Travelodge at the border. At the hotel now about 1:30am we were advised that our reservation had been cancelled because the travel card was declined and that there were now no rooms available. We protested, why hadn't they called to tell us? What were we meant to do now? Sleep on the floor? 'Then I'll call the police,' the attendant said. He seemed to think it was funny.

    We wished we had accepted Nacho's offer to say stay at his place, but by now he and Mafe would be in bed asleep. So we drove to the airport where we would have to return the car in the morning and stayed at the Holiday Inn Express. It was now 2am and we decided it was impractical to meet Toni at 8.30 at the car return, for him to take us to the border to cross by 9.30 to meet Quique and see his daughters Maria and Fernanda at a Jiujutsu competition. Luci messaged them both to cancel.

    In the morning I woke at 9 showered and got ready, then it took 10 mins to wake Luci who was so asleep. Breakfast was curious: cereals, turkey pattie, perfect peeled boiled eggs that apparently come in a can once a month, a machine that makes hot cakes.

    Filled the car with petrol and the attendant told me better pay with cash because with card they charge an extra 30¢/gallon (about 12% surcharge.)

    Returned the car at the airport, where they refunded the extra charges the woman in SF had placed. Ask the people here couldn't be friendlier. Then airport shuttle to the terminal to take the bus to town. Curiously I noticed that the bus schedule is consistent up to 11:17am, then changes to 1 minute later. Why would they bother?

    The trolley to San Ysidro took 45 mins, slowly filling up the closer it got to the border. At one stage inspectors came checking tickets, with belts full of compartments, extra pockets strapped to the legs and a pistol in a holster. The lady in front didn't have her pass and tried to talk her way out of it by being vague and going on and on. The inspectors were very polite but firm, the last I saw she was walking happily arm in arm with one of them down the platform.

    Entering Mexico I was worried because there was a big queue waiting to get tourist cards. Turned out they were Chinese on a tour, none spoke English, and Mexican officials encouraged everyone else to just walk through, no problem.
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  • Day4

    Yosemite National Park

    May 17, 2016 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 18 °C

    The drive to Yosemite took a long time, the best part of an hour to the entry gate where we paid our $30 entry for the car, then another 30 minutes or so to a long tunnel though the mountain, then we came out the other end and there was the most amazing view down the Yosemite Valley. From there we went along the road near the Bridalveil Falls, between so many tall trees, yet with amazing views of the falls and also of the rock face known ad El Capitan.

    Then down the valley; Luci was keen to explore the far end of the valley first and it was great. After parking we crossed a meadow surrounded by Sequoias, walked through a camping area, then got a little disoriented trying to find the trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls. The directions in the park are in many cases less than clear. So we ended up having a snack at the Happy Isles, which really were just river islands little different from the surrounding country.

    From there we wend down river a little and crossed to the northern side and walked up the valley above a raging torrent littered with huge rocks. At a bridge I read about a family who had visited in the summer of 2012. It was a hot day and the mother and her 2 sons paddled in a shallow, quiet area near the bridge. But the sons slipped and were caught by the current. The river battered them between the rocks and they drowned. An average of about 6 people each year ignore the warning signs and drown there.

    Further up the Vernal Fall looked amazing, when we got close the spray was thick as we zigzagged beside the fall. And then we were at the top and the view was even more amazing. A little upstream beside a pond with logs and flotsam caught in a gentle whirlpool and the river sliding over a long slope of rock, and this is where we chose to have lunch. A squirrel came by wanting to steal food and a blue woodpecker flitted around in the trees.

    This pool was our original destination but we decided to continue up toward Nevada Fall, as far as the john Muir Trail that comes back over the south side of the valley. The views were amazing. When we got to the bottom we decided to continue on to Mirror Lake.
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  • Day3

    SFO to Oakhurst

    May 16, 2016 in Mexico ⋅ ☁️ 18 °C

    There was lots to do in San Francisco, and not enough time; an extra day would be good. So last night we tried to find accommodation in San Francisco, but gave up about 1am. It was either too expensive, or didn't have parking, or was too fast away. Next time we'll stay near the centre, and get a car only when ready to move on.

    We drove west from Castro Valley, there was a lot of traffic and it looked dry. The traffic dropped off as highways took the cars north and south. There were lots of fruit and nut orchards, with raised concrete lined irrigation channels. The consistent warm, dry weather combined with water from the mountains means good crops.

    We had lunch Oakdale, assign at the entrance said "cowboy capital of the world" but I saw no cowboys, indeed not even any cows within at least 50 km of the place. But in the cafe they had nice quotes from George W Bush, and it was fun going through the big hobby store next door. Unfortunately the highway was being upgraded and in the diversion we ended up on the wrong road. This lead us through drier rolling hills that could have been transplanted from Tasmania provided you didn't look too closely at the trees.

    Up into the mountains the road wound, in and out and quite spectacular. Late afternoon we arrived to Mariposa where we found dinner in an excellent restaurant, Luci having lemon rosemary roast chicken and I a large and very tender lamb shank. Afterwards as it was getting dark we continued south to Oakhurst where we had an AirBNB reservation. The house wasn't that easy to find, when we got there it was dark. The host told us a little about the park, she also told us bears visited her house on the outskirts of town, though she hadn't seen them.
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  • Day2

    Traffic

    May 15, 2016 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 21 °C

    Sitting at the BART station watching the cars go by on the highway each side of the line. 110 cars per minute each way and that's on a Sunday afternoon when it shouldn't be busy. So much traffic noise! Wonder what it's like on a Monday morning?

  • Day2

    San Francisco

    May 15, 2016 in the United States ⋅ 🌫 21 °C

    Sunday morning we were a bit slow getting going, had breakfast at the local shopping area in a 'superfoods' cafe: frozen acai with nuts and dried and fresh fruit.

    Then BART into SF, took the best part of an hour to Powell station, and the train was noisy. In town we watched a Michael Jackson impersonator. Then we took the cable car a few km up and down hills to the top of the last hill. Here the cross road was so steep it zig zagged down between flower beds. Then we walked up to Fisherman's Wharf, which is more an area than a wharf. From there we turned left and walked along the foreshore path towards the Golden Gate Bridge. There were nice views, exercise areas, people kite- and wind-surfing, others bike riding to (and across) the bridge. We came across the very impressive Palace of Fine Arts, site of the "xxxxxxxxxxxxx world fair.

    Luci stayed at Chrissy Field while I walked on to the Golden Gate Bridge, where I scaled a small cliff to try and find a good vantage point. What I found were 'don't pass here' signs, and a post with someone's puffy jacket (with heavy things in the pockets that I didn't investigate). Curiously in the car park they charged parking only on weekends. We walked over a hill to see more sights of the bridge. It was getting dark, and we couldn't find the bus back to Fisherman's Wharf, but with a little difficulty we did find a bus stop coming off the bridge that took us through Golden Gate Park heading south. A light train then took us back to Powell (with a young mother with her baby busking, she sang beautifully) from where we took the cable car towards Fisherman's Wharf.

    I was getting concerned about the time by now, it was 9pm, BART stops around midnight, and a taxi to Castro Valley would be expensive indeed. But Luci really wanted a good dinner. So we got off when we passed a good looking almost full restaurant. It turned out to be Italian and the kitchen was closed, but the helpful waiter phoned around and booked us s table in a fine healthy restaurant a couple of blocks away.

    The first waiter who meet us there was discouraging, he virtually accused us of lying about having a reservation. But then the waitresses took over and the service was great as was the food. The ravioli was the best I've ever had, very plump and tasty in a creamy nettle sauce. The roast duck came out very rare, with a very strong duck flavour, it was nicer after they cooked it a bit more.

    A different cable car took us on a different route, we had to walk the last few blocks to Powell, then BART back to Castro Valley AirBNB.
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  • Day1

    San Francisco AirBNB

    May 14, 2016 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 17 °C

    San Francisco city is fighting AirBNB we discovered, which is why there aren't so many. Luci had booked at Castro Valley because the price was right and we didn't realise it was so fast from SF.

    It was run by a second generation Chinese couple with a young baby. The wife, Thuie, works days with the baby in care, and the husband works nights. Even running AirBNB they found things tight.Read more

  • Day1

    Arrival SFO

    May 14, 2016 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    The flight was uneventful, the movies boring, so I got a reasonable amount of sleep. Luci also slept, thanks to a sleeping pill. We arrived around 9am, but got out of the airport in the rental car around 1, I don'tknow where the time went! The rental carcmpany managed to upsell us in car size, she also lied about the price of petrol (telling us paying 3.08/gallon in advance was better than the street price, but the street price was 2.69) and she lied that it was cheaper to use their phone/internet at $109 when we actually bought a SIM with unlimited US and Mexico coverage for $60. So our first stop was a shopping centre where we looked around and got the SIM.

    Then we drove south to San Andreas Lake, went for a walk around the next lake which was pleasant, a bit like Hobart's Waterworks except you couldn't leave the path due to fences. We drove over the hills to the Pacific coast, and north to San Francisco. Crossing the city and approaching the Bay Bridge there was so much traffic! We took an exit and advanced faster through the city streets. On the ramp back to the highway we saw a number of tents of homeless people.

    We drove and drove, and realised that the Bay area is much larger than we thought. Eventually we got to Castro Valley where we tried to find somewhere to eat. The reviews on Trip Advisor and Yelp took us to places that were really pretty ordinary (eg, an Afghan restaurant that turned out to be an ordinary takeaway cafe). We ate at a so-so Chinese restaurant. Then we went to the AirBNB home.
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  • Day49

    Cuba - casas and internet

    January 16, 2016 in Mexico ⋅ ☁️ 18 °C

    CASAS
    There aren't enough hotels, and being state-run the standards of service aren't always great. So the government has let private houses offer rooms for rent. There are some limitations: they are inspected from time to tile, must be clean, have hot showers and air condidtioning, and offer breakfaxt (usually a real spread) and oftern dinner.

    Because they are in private houses there is good communication with locals. They are a lot cheaper than hotels, generally CUC25-30. They are available (there are nowhere like enough hotel rooms for the number of visitors). And they help you out: finding a casa at your next town, calling a cab, or just lending you their phone.

    But they are not so private, and Luci found this hard.

    INTERNET
    There isn't the infrastructure to have internet all over Cuba, so the telecommunications company ETECSA has WiFi spots in main parks. The weather is kind and it means that internet does not intrude too much. It also means internet acces is a more social affair, with people congregating to conect. Access is CUC2 per hour, you can log on and off and use your time as you want. But it doesn't always work, and it seems the system is not compatible with newer Samsung equipment, so neither Aleisha nor I can connect....
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  • Day49

    Back to Mexico

    January 16, 2016 in Cuba ⋅ ☁️ 25 °C

    Luci and Aleisha were up around dawn to see the valley, I woke a little later to the sound of the restaurant above getting ready for the day. The view certainly was pretty with an unbroken layer of soft white cloud stretching across to the mogotes on the other side.

    Last night we had washed our shoes to remove the mud of the fango. Not a problem for the others, but I had no spares so I wrote them wet. Later on the way to Havana I took them off and they dried well in the breeze in the back of the taxi. On arrival to Havana we were early so we asked the driver to take us to the Plaza de la Revolucion which we had previously missed. It was very impressive with the huge monument to Jose Marti and huge images of Camile Cienfuegos and Che Guevara on nearby buildings.

    Then to the airport where the driver had to pick up his next fare to go to Punta Maria la Gorda before returning home to Pina del RIo about 9pm. In the airport there was little to buy and less to eat. The only things for sale in abundance were bottles of rum. At the cafe downstairs I bought the last ham and cheese sandwich, and it was only 2pm. Upstairs at the other cafe Luci got another boring sandwich. Meanwhile Mira lay on the seats, feeling too sick to move.

    The flight was called and we were on our way. I ended up swapping with Mira for the right window seat. Mira had found the passenger next door interesting; he had lived in over 20 countries and had worked in a circus amongst other things. I found him to be a rather pretentious Englishman with a Mexican lady friend, so we didn't talk a lot.

    Over the Caribbean I saw a boat and a coral atoll but little more until we arrived to Mexico City. The air was clear, so good views of the mountains. After landing the immigration processing was overwhelmed. It took about 1 1/2 hours to get through, sped up when 2 of the 5 desks re-opened after staff came back from a break. One lady we queued with was interesting. She was Danish, but 40 years ago had married a Mexican and came to live in an eco-village at Tepoztlan, a very pretty area near Cuernavaca. Residents included an architect, ballerina, painters, etc who gained a living giving workshops and commuting to Mexico City. She had separated from the Mexican many years ago, but they had a som, now about 35 years old who had just started work as a tour guide in Cuba. A week ago she had received a mignight call saying her son was expected to survive but with no other details. 4 hours later snother call told her the son had had a heart attack and was in hospital in Pinar del Rio. She flew there next day. Apparently he had been staying at a casa outside Vinales when he had the heart attack, his pulse shot up to 250 and he was in a bad way. All the same they didn't get a car and he had to walk 500m to another house where they realised the danger and drove him to town.

    We cleared immigration, Wawis and Riki were waiting for us. They took us to eat tacos then back home to bed..
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  • Day48

    Cuba day 17 Vinales

    January 15, 2016 in Cuba ⋅ 🌬 24 °C

    This morning we changed casa. We loved staying with Misleidis and her family, but Luci worried about the mosquito bites, and besides the new place had great views. So we packed up and got a taxi to the new place. Mira meanwhiloe had gone off to meet the guy from yesterday who would take her horse riding.

    After dropping the bags at the new place we walked back down to Vinales, but we stopped at the entrance to the park where Luci met someone she knew, we asked about horse riding to the Valle de Palmeritos and a guy with a taxi said he could take us to Vinales and arrange horses and guide. It was a little muddy getting to the horses, but once we were on them and on our way the track became a sea of fango, sometimes so deep our feet were just above the mud. Aleisha's horse seemed intent on going slowly, but she was in front and at one stage a bush knocked the sunglasses off her head and into the mud. Amaxingly the guide found them. A bit later there was a drier patch and lots of people milling around for a cock fight. We continued, in part when I had gone yesterday, but there was still 'mucho fango'. And then there were a few drops of rain and then the sound of distant thunder. We decided to abandon the trip and turned around. We stopped at a restaurant for a snack, and then the rain started to pour down. Just as well we hadn't continued. Our shoes were now totally mud covered and our legs and even shirts mud splattered. We cleaned up a little in a muddy pool then took a taxi to the casa. The disadvantage of being on an out-of-town hill was that you had to take a taxi every time you wanted to move.

    The taxi was an old Fiat from the 1950s, passed from father to son through 3 generations, still with the original motor and gearbox but with much else changed; it smelt of exhaust so we kept the windows open, besides no aircon and it was hot. The driver worked full time at the water supply plant, but his week was 2 days each of 24 hours earning CUP950 (CUC38) per month, so on his days off he drives the taxi.

    We cleaned up at the casa, I had no other shoes so chose thick socks and wrung them out a couple of times as we listened to music that Luci thought was amazing. When the band had almost finished we went to eat at a Mediteranean restaurant. Several times during the day we had tried to find Mira, and several times she had tried to find us. Then she suddenly appeared, she was in a taxi on the way to Nenitas hoping we might be there when she noticed us at an outside table.

    Mira told us she had had a great day, horse-riding through the fango, then visiting a swimming hole at the end of a 50m cave, then eating recently-slaughtered kid and pork with her friend's family. It had been a memorable day for her.

    Mira stayed in town to dance further when we returned to the casa to get ready to leave in the morning. Mira got back about 1:30 but was up most of the night with an upset tummy.
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