Understanding America (or my attempt at explaining the US as a travel destination)

My amateur anthropology skills are just buzzing, being here. Americans are so fascinating! For many, the idea of coming to the states is more of a fun-filled, fairly meaningless holiday. But I’ve wanted to come here for years, and the people are a huge part of that.

To me, it’s that contrast of similarity and canyon – esque differences. A lot of elements in character and culture are exactly the same as back home in England; but this only makes the things which do differ, those delightful little details, all the more strange.

From language to food, religion to temperament, these observations fill me with glee.

If anyone ever wants to write a novel but is struggling for inspiration, all you need to do is get on a Greyhound. I swear I have seen more crazy on these buses than anywhere else in the whole of south and central America. And I saw some really strange stuff on my way up here.

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It’s why I feel kind of ‘done’ with hostels. I’ve had a brilliant time backpacking through them and meeting hundreds of Europeans and Australians. Now I want to meet and stay with locals, who can show me what this place is really all about.

The other thing that really appeals to me about the United States is the vast range of differences in the country. Laid back surfers from the West Coast, all the people trying to make it ‘with a dream’ in Hollywood, rugged campers in the national parks and city slickers never five steps away from Starbucks and their office email. And that’s just the South West.

I am so excited to visit the music capital of the world, to experience a melting pot of culture in New Orleans, to see who travels on Amtrak, and gorge myself on country and blues.

I am so happy to be here.

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What happened in Vegas…

…ends up on this blog! Haha. I went to Sin City with pretty low expectations; I’m fairly risk – averse and the thought of getting wasted alone really didn’t appeal.

So I went for the weirdness, as part of a collection of strange and crazy pieces of American life, and weirdness is certainly what I got.

Vegas has an effiel tower. It also has a sphynx, a castle and a statue of liberty. Bright, flashing lights, fake sky ceilings and a maze of slot machines made visiting this city incredibly interesting.

The decadence is surreal, and the contrasts of such excess in the middle of the Nevada desert is really a sight to behold.

I won $2.50 in Caesar’s Palace, saw aquariums and moving statues, a whole four – floor shop dedicated to M&Ms, and a comedy show at the Riviera. I got lost in downtown Las Vegas and only managed to find my way back to the right road by the help of a towering ‘STRIPPERS’ sign.

I tried to find the Welcome to Vegas sign on foot, but gave up when I appeared to be walking into the desert with only half a bottle of water and a notebook for company.

But mostly I enjoyed the wonderful opportunity for people watching. Elderly couples who must have been coming for years, British tourists burnt pink by the unrelenting sun. And locals with crazy eyes and loud voices.

 

California Dreamin’

The houses in San Francisco are like nothing I’ve ever seen before. All soft pastels and strange designs, like they came from the mind of a delirious architect. In fact, a lot of my time here has been strangely reminiscent of houses from The Sims. houses

In the city itself, I really enjoyed the walk through Haight and Ashbury – the staggering hills are worth it for the view – and into Golden Gate Park. Did anyone else know they have a bison enclosure there?!

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Seeing the bridge itself up close is pretty amazing too; I think on a future visit I’ll have to cycle across and into the redwoods park.

I’ve been lucky enough to see both sides of the Bay area, from flashy, car-centric Silicone Valley to the quieter, campusy feel of Berkley. Here it smells of honeysuckle and people leave  free things outside their houses.

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I did enjoy a visit to Google however, and it’s certainly strange to see the names of huge websites on the sides of offices.

And then there was Yosemite.

I had considered just going for a daytrip – I’m so glad I decided to stay the weekend. The national park completely blew away my expectations; it’s the kind of place which words like ‘awestruck’ were made for. Forests, mountains, waterfalls – I loved my time here, and it reminded me just how much I enjoy being in the outdoors.

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I travelled with Green Tortoise tours, which were fantastic, and got in a hike, a trip to the giant sequoia trees, and a lazy afternoon spent drifting down the Merced river. 

We ended the trip at the longest continuously open saloon in the west, complete with stuffed game trophies, number plates from every state and dollar bills stuck to the ceiling like nesting moths.

Welcome to La La Land

I landed in LAX four days ago and have been spending my time in a hippyish community at Long Beach. So far, the US is everything I hoped it would be and more. The streets are wide with ridiculous names, the sun is shining and the people are definitely friendly (apart from the customs officer who confiscated my apple :( )

Here’s my first impressions in numbers of…

Beaches visited: 3

Waves successfully surfed: 1/2

White picket fences viewed: 2 (yes I took a photo!)

Hare Krishna worship meetings attended: 1

Times I’ve been told to Have a Nice Day!: 5

Hours spent on the metro: 7.5

Times I’ve jaywalked: 5

Clouds in the sky: 0

Crazy people I’ve seen: had to stop counting

I’m currently staying in San Francisco, so more soon on beautiful houses, Silicone Valley and my first ever drive-in movie!!

Oh Mexico!

In sharp contrast to my idle days in Oaxaca, in Mexico City I have been sightseeing with a vengance. The guidebook never leaves my side and I plan my days with military precision; two main attractions per day, separated by lunch at a Rough Guides approved establishment.

I am having a lot of fun (planning is a hobby of mine), and am just a little exhausted.

So, four days in the capital. I went to see the zoo (fantastic!),

The National Museum of Anthropology (huge!),

Frida Kahlo’s famous Casa Azul,…and Diego Rivera’s mural of Mexican life.

My final day was devoted to the pyramids at Teotihuacan. I’ve been around ruins with a guide, with a group and I have to say, going on my own is one of my absolute favourite things.

Teotihuacan was very beautiful, and the blue sky and green grass (as well as relatively few crowds) makes me feel incredibly peaceful.

Note: if anyone is planning on going to these pyramids, don’t get a tour. It’s easy to go by public transport and a whole lot cheaper.

Mexico City is not as overwhelming as it is often portrayed. The metro is efficient (although confusing), there are good street signs everywhere, and for entertainment you need only step onto the street.

That being said, it’s definitely not pretty. And there are throngs of people, some of the pushiest and rudest I’ve come across. I remain unconvinced by the food.

I would like to come back to Mexico and explore a bit more…see the beaches and get out into a non-urban area.