Home sweet home

One of my favourite comedians said recently; "Americans who travel abroad for the first time are often shocked to discover that, despite all the progress that has been made in the last 30 years, many foreign people still speak foreign languages." Yet after the past month I am proud to say my opinion about our relatives over the pond has seriously changed. Our trip round the States was AMAZING, in fact the last year has been like the most amazing year ever and better than we ever expected when we moved to Quebec last August. (In fact I'd even go as far as to use the adjective sentational....Jen, Cat, Nicole that one's for you.)

Home.....England.....I suppose rain is OK, my mum nearly almost has a jam packed fridge of nice food that Canada just doesn't have (ie good bacon and semi skimmed milk) ohh and I can jay walk like there is no tomorrow with zero fear of a $50 fine. And an additional plus, I manged to make it back with 60 kilos of luggage when my allocated weight was only 20 (lets just say this smile gets you anywhere, including a free upgrade onto an earlier British Airways flight back to your rents).

I miss Canada lots, I miss Jen (already haha), and HEChange, and Jean Talon Market and poutine....and yes I am slowly falling into a reverse culture shock induced depression but for the next couple of days at least I'm unbelievably happy in my OWN bed with on tap Yorkshire tea, my foul mouthed siblings and crappy weather.

England baby...I'm back and Montreal... it's not good bye just more a case of see you soon


Viva Las Vegas

As they say, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Therefore according to the rule I shouldn't really tell you anything on pain of death. However as nothing really debaucherous happened maybe I can tell you.... that is unless this is a double bluff and I'm secretly covering up our evenings of card counting on Black Jack tables and European strippers by pretending that nothing "really happened." I guess you'll never really know right ;-)

In short Las Vegas was totally amazing, like Disney on acid full of adults where anything can happen and it really does. Jenpen and I were joined by two other Green Tortoise members; Cat and Kim (let me just make a note that we were now onto the four week mark of travelling together and Jen still hadn't had to take one of her "walks" she threatened in the beginning because I had driven her crazzzzzyyyyyyyyyyy). Our Hilton hotel room was AMAZING after sleeping on the bus all week, also the fact we had a fully working shower which we could use hourly if needed was lush after not washing in 6 days (ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww). Also we managed to get upgraded to an even lusher room which on paper would seem impossible as at check in I was wearing a cagoule and sporting unwashed 6 day hair.

One of the most amazing Las Vegas memories has to be the best freebie of all time; $375 Cirque de Soleil tickets thanks to my legendary flatmate Rhi. Having carried around our ball dresses and high heels for weeks just for this one event there was a massive amount of expectation....and we were not disappointed. We went to see "Love" which is The Beatles musical done on a 360 degree stage with breath taking acrobatics and amazing stunts. I don't think I closed my mouth once in the whole two hours it was that good and too add to it we had some of the best seats in the house.

I went to Paris, Venice, and New York all in one night (I'm an expensive girl to keep) and drank 99c margaritas which were NASTY. Jen and I then discovered Fat Tuesdays (Ol had taken me when I stayed with him in Philly and lets just say I don't remember making it home back then and it was only 4 in the afternoon) and along with the crazy alcoholic slush puppies they sold and happy hours at many a famous hotel we were soon on the way to a REAL "fear and loathing in Las Vegas" experience. Unfortunately we did sing karaoke (much to the horror of Las Vegas but it was in ode of the Queen Bianca of karaoke) and then Jen fell asleep in the toilets for a while whilst I made friends with a drunk Japanese old lady We also saw a massive amount of celebs, alas my American sporting culture sucks so I didn't really have a clue who half of them were but we saw the Rock filming in one of the casinos and were serenaded by Elton John in Planet Hollywood :-D.

We hired the ULTIMATE car to drive to the Hoover Dam, a convertible white Mustang, nice times nice times. However having only ever driven India (and that was over a year ago), never mind an automatic or on the other side of the bloody road it was going to be an interesting road trip. Having made it squeal horridly as we pulled out from the car hire place (I didn't realise you couldn't rest your foot on the break) the drive to the dam was an ultimate Thelma and Louise experience (without the dodgy head scarves). Jen chickened out of driving (unless you count her numerous laps round a car park in Red Rock national park) which was understandable after what happened when I was driving over the dam (we don't mention it because car hire companies have ears)!

Unfortunately neither Jen nor I came back from Las Vegas as millionaires, however on the more positive side at least we didn't come back married. Although I have to admit doing a Britney would be an amazing dinner party story....

West Coast visuals



Is that a rock I see...

Having exhausted the sights of San Fran we were ready for our GREEN TORTISE trip through the canyons of the West. On paper the trip sounded great; Zion, Bryce, Arches, Lake Powell, and the Grand Canyon. The idea of sleeping, eating, travelling and socialising on a bus with 35 other total strangers who haven’t washed in 9 days….well its hardly the story that inspired Sleeping Beauty but I was really looking forward to everything to come.

There was a brilliant mix of people who lead to 9 days of laughing and good times…ohhh and a serious amount of facebook photos. The age range went from 20 to 82, yes you read correctly 82. (She was a total legend called Dolores who (now widowed) had done Green Tortoise trips with her husband for years. Yet I was rather petrified she was going to drop down dead on the precipice of a canyon.)

LET ME WARN YOU NOW…..THIS IS GOING TO BE A LONG ONE :-D I suggest you go and make a cup of tea, or even better, get yourself a mahusive glass of whisky.

The bus itself was amazing. Instead of normal seats there was just a giant bed where at night we all lay in a sardine style mission to ensure we all had space to sleep. There were also 8 bunk beds hanging from the ceiling. Some travelling was done at night so we would go to sleep in one canyon and wake up in another and obviously you slept marginally better than you would on a normal bus because of the fact you were horizontal. I say you would marginally sleep better however that statement is open to debate when you take into consideration the amount of snorer’s on the trip. I thought mum was bad (I can hear her one story up when I’m at home) however these dudes had nothing on her. There was the Darth Vader sound-a-like, a Lion, the occasional drunken snorer’s, and the infrequent snorter’s, in total about 10 of them. Most of the time I could only sleep after recovering from one of many giggling fits about the hilarity of the situation and the fact this unimaginable sound was being generated by people who were apparently peacefully sleep. However thankfully we didn’t sleep on the bus every night, camping outside under the stars when the weather permitted where the only animal threat being the rodents rather than the animal of snorers confined on the bus.

Dinner was a communal effort and it was sooooo much better than what I imagined. We had popcorn and smores (marshmallow and chocolate sarnies) for our nightly campfires and amazing breakfasts of pancakes and bacon. There was no chance of me loosing any of my Montreal beer weight whilst I was still on that bus despite the fact we hiked all day long.

Every day was totally different no only in difficulty and weather but also landscape, I’d never realised rocks could be so varied, I kinda just thought they were big….and brown….

We started at Zion where we were tested with a challenging ridge hike called the Angel’s Landing; no barriers or safety rails, just a one metre wide ridge with a 600 foot fall either side. After a stressful and tiring day we showered in a waterfall we found on our trail which was sooo amazing. It also hit home that this was going to be the way I would be washing from then on; better get used to it and dig out a hat to hide the dodgy dodgy hair!

After Zion we travelled to Bryce which was possibly the bit I was most excited for. The landscape was amazing, I’d never seen anything quite like it. The rock formations were crazy and it had an almost spooky deserted Inca or Aztec world vibe. The photos don’t really do it any justice but they at least try to illustrate the craziness. After our day at Bryce we drove for a few hours and arrived at a hot spring for a midnight soak. It was crazy, I mean being sat in bathtubs on the side of a mountain at 1am is hardly my usual Wednesday night activity but so relaxing after a hard days hiking.

The next day we arrived really early at a National Park called Arches, which weirdly enough is famous for all the crazy natural rock arches you find all over it. We hiked something called the primitive trail which is basically an unmarked trail, the only way you know where to go is to look for the man made piles of rocks ahead and then try and find the easiest route to get there. Just like the last few days it was mentally hot, Jen and I had bough camel packs before we went on the trip and they turned out to be not only the most professional purchase either of us had ever made but also dam useful in the heat of the dessert. (It’s like carrying a water bag on your back with a massive straw to your mouth so you don’t have to open your bag every time you want a drink = LAZY.) That night we camped outside a town called Moab sleeping on the banks of the Colorado River and I don’t think it would have been possible to find a more beautiful place to camp.

After that amazing camp we had time to chill out in civilisation as we did some shopping in Moab (stocked up on Vodka and Mountain Dew). We drove to a reservoir for a much-needed afternoon swim and after our lazy day we arrived at another spectacular campsite above a canyon called Goose Neck (named after its likeness to, you guessed it, a goose neck). Sunset was beautiful as we all sat on the rim and ate out dinner watching the Colorado River snake its way through the Canyon below us. Unfortunately this was the day the weather changed and we got the tail end of the hurricane winds. Only the fearless (not me) decided to sleep outside in the fiercely strong winds and as the night went on more and more people came to shelter on the bus as they were scared their tents were going to blow off the cliff edge. However never mind the tents blowing off the cliff top; the bus was shaking as much as anything…. uh oh Mancora round two…. Fortunately we all survived the night ;-) and were ready and raring for our next day in Monument Valley.

Monument Valley has been eternalised in sooooo many films so as we all stood on the outskirts of the valley to pose for Forrest Gump style running photos I was really excited to go and see such an iconic piece of American landscape. The group had the choice of either a jeep tour or a John Wayne style horse ride and the majority chose the first option because of the lousy weather and the fact that you got to see a lot more of the valley. So we all trundled off like good little tourists with our Navajo guides (who were so knowledgeable) for a rock safari around the reserve. There are some parts of the Valley that you can only go with a guide because they are close to sacred burial grounds or ceremonial areas so it was really cool to venture in the “forbidden” areas. As I look through my photos I try it hard to work out what they all are because weirdly enough they all look like rocks however they all have some sort of meaning or likeness, I think I might just make them up, might be more interesting that way.

Then after the dust fest of Monument Valley we went to wash in Lake Powel which was sooooo good despite the fact I think I might have caught hypothermia. All nice and “washed” we hit the town of Page for a wild night out and baby wild it was. Having been deprived of mirrors and soap for numerous days the world probably wasn’t ready for us however we were ready for it. We installed ourselves in this small town bar and grill where we basically got smashed and laughed for hours. God knows how (yes that’s how my drunken stories start) but I ended up cage dancing in a closed night club at 8pm next door to the bar with the owner.

The Grand Canyon was supposed to be the crème de la crème of the trip however the small issue of 2 inches of snow and below zero temperatures kinda got in the way. So instead of hiking to the bottom (I’m no snow masochist) we walked the rim trail for two days yet this was a rim trail with a difference because obviously we couldn’t wander past the many bars dotted along the trail without sampling their finest alcohol concoctions :-D As you can see from the below photo, the view of the canyon in the snow was "cough" amazing!!! I was happy to leave the Grand Canyon in search of the Las Vegas sun yet as we cruised down Route 66 it suddenly hit me that the trip was almost over. I wasn’t too disappointed about the not seeing the GC, the morale was high and we laughed for hours about pointless anecdotes and the irony of our situation. The trip to Las Vegas provided the most hilarious game of Ring of Fire ever as nudity, lap dances, removal of underwear were thrown about amongst us as dares. There was also the legendary (and disgusting) moment when Kim downed beer out of my four-year-old converse trainers.

Leaving the bus to continue back to San Fran we said goodbye to the bus and our fellow travellers. It was a wicked way (not to mention dirt cheap) too see the canyons with some really fun loving people. Although now the only problem I have is sorting through the 900 photos I took of rocks :-D
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