miércoles, 22 de agosto de 2012

1741 km of Nevada, Utah and Arizona landscape

I have to be honest. I'm not really in a narrative mood because I'm kind of tired and I'm kind of waiting for our flight to Long Island, which should take us to Oakland but there's a thunderstorm and it looks like we might miss our connection. Either way, I do feel like sharing a couple of pictures from our extensive roadtrip through the great states of Nevada, Utah and Arizona. We visited quite a few things, of which I may or may not write later on (mainly, the glorious town of St. George, Zion National Park, Grafton ghost town, the Coral Sand dunes, the even more glorious towns of Kanab and Colorado City, the North and South rim of the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell and part of Route 66).

First of all, tons of credit is due to Julia, the human GPS who took us through the entire road trip without a proper map. Credit is also due to our wonderful rental car, Mac K (which I call fondly "the Culky"). Culky did us a great service, taking us 1741km across all sorts of terrain in three states. He was a fine car to drive, didn't get stuck when we tried to drive through dunes, gravel and random sandy places. And Culky was a good place to sleep in when we had to improvisedly camp at Lake Powell to spend the night.

Now, pictures.

Leaving Las Vegas (Nevada)
Somewhere between Las Vegas and St. George (Arizona)
Somewhere between St. George and Zion Park (Utah)
Close to Grafton ghost town (Utah)
Somewhere between Grafton and Colorado City (Utah)
Coral Pink Dunes (Utah)
Somewhere close to Zion Park (Utah)
Somewhere near Kanab (Utah)
Buffalos near the North rim of the Grand Canyon (Arizona)
Middle of nowhere (Arizona)
Somewhere near Page (Arizona)
Somewhere closer to Page (Arizona)
Vermillion cliffs, (Arizona)
Somewhere between the South rim of the Grand Canyon and Flagstaff (Arizona)
Somewhere near Flagstaff (Arizona)
Route 66 (Arizona)
Hoover Dam (Nevada)

lunes, 20 de agosto de 2012

L'appel du vide

Sometimes, as a subway approaches the station at a very high speed, I feel the impulse to jump in front of the train. Not because I have a death wish or suicidal tendencies, but because of the thrilling sensation and the morbid curiosity of "what if?". That being said, I have a pretty good idea of what would happen, but it's an exciting feeling to know that all you need to do is follow that impulse and jump. 

I've googled this and apparently there is a french expression for this feeling, "l'appel du vide" or the appeal of the void. Heights give me mixed feelings. I am still horrified by the terrible and tragic demise of a colleague who plunged twelve stories to his death when he accidentally fell out of the window he was trying to close. But at the same time and battling this rationality, there's the appeal of the void.

I got one of the strongest appeal of the void ever yesterday on the Northern rim of the Gran Canyon. Everytime I have this "appel du vide", I wonder if there has ever been someone who, without ever planning it or without having a death wish, followed this impulse and actually jumped into the void.

Grand Canyon
Long drop

lunes, 13 de agosto de 2012

Km 2844: New Orleans' got soul

We arrived to New Orleans on the day of the Red Dress Run, a big race for which both men and women wear… well, a red dress. According to Wikipedia, the Red Dress extravaganza was born when a woman wore a red dress to a hashing event. She was unaware that hashing involved non-competitive running, socializing and drinking, but she was a trooper and ran the race, red dress and all. Thus, the tradition of running in red dresses followed by copious drinking and socializing was born.

We first saw people in red dresses on our overnight Megabus from Atlanta to New Orleans. The bus made a stop in Birmingham, Alabama to pick up three girls in red tutus at 4AM, an exotic sighting when one is not on the Greyhound. You see, while the Megabus is known for abusing its air conditioning system, the Greyhound is known for its colorful passengers and the unexpected adventures lived on board of these buses. One account tells the story of a young girl seated between four women who had just been freed from the prison, lively narrating their experiences in jail. Another account mentions the passenger next to an acquaintance of mine having a terrible seizure while on the bus. Either way, we were on the Megabus, it was freezing and I was sleeping with a sweater, cap, jacket, blanket and scarf. I was still cold but the poor Alabama girls in red tutus’ were definitely not prepared for this harsh environment.

When we arrived to New Orleans, our host Yomi picked us up and we went to his place by bus. Yomi lives in a shotgun house, not to be confused with anything like a crack house or a whore house. Shotgun houses are typical houses from the South of the United States, usually one story, quite narrow, with rooms lined up, one behind another and the entrance door is elevated (to prevent flooding). We did some civilized activities such as showering, grocery shopping, resting and facebooking after our adventures in wild Tennessee and Atlanta. Yomi went to work and later on repaired a couple of bicycles s we could all go ride together.

We did a nice, long bicycle ride in the French Quartier with Yomi and Dan, one of his roommates. The French Quartier is more or less the party area of New Orleans, host to world famous Bourbon Street. Furthermore, drinking on the street is legal in New Orleans and it was Saturday night, so we had a beer at a bar, bought some beers and took our bikes on a ferry ride across the Mississippi and back. We then battled the masses on Bourbon Street, dodging drunken men in red dresses, drunken women popping their heads out of car windows to throw up and a series of shady bars, barely legal strip clubs, love act venues and a group of religious people trying to save a few souls in the midst of so much decadence.

Bourbon street

We started ending our night by going to Mimi’s, a bar where we danced between sweaty and enthusiastic men, who later turned out to be Lenny Kravitz’s entourage. And then we saw Lenny Kravitz, but he was neither dancing, nor sweaty, nor enthusiastic. I then met Steve, a film director with whom I had a very interesting conversation in which I was barely involved, as I was literally falling asleep while he talked. Steve told me I was right about Atlanta and that he felt that it is one of the few cities in the United States that is run mostly by black people. He told me more interesting things, for instance that his family thought of him as a snob because he came from a poor background and was the only one who had gone to university. I collapsed on our couch at 3AM and died until the next morning.

We woke up quite late the next day and did more civilized activities, such as having breakfast and doing our laundry. We went on a long bicycle ride with Yomi and passed both gorgeous and really run-down areas. However, even in the neighborhoods that looked poor and marginalized, the houses were colorful and interesting. They’re all above ground so they won’t flood when it rains too much, apparently a frequent happening in N’Orleans. We passed in front of stunning mansions, like the ones in “Interview with the Vampire” with huge gardens and a never ending number of rooms. We passed Loyola University, Audubon Park and the Fly, where we say down to talk about many things, among them Katrina.

N'Orleans houses

Late night biking and statue climbing
We ended the night by having lasagna and a session of late night biking up and down the city, up and down parking lots. We were even called “a biker gang” by an old fashioned lady. We crowned our night with a beer in a punk bar, which was overridden by dogs in a not-so-cool way. We walked in to dogs having sex in the middle of the bar, followed by a big hairy dog lying on the bar and that wouldn’t even have been a problem, if it weren’t for that gigantic dog shit in which I stepped. In flip flops.

viernes, 10 de agosto de 2012

Km 2181: Atlanta

Sitting in the Atlanta airport lounge, with my computer plugged in, connected to the free WiFi and watching the Olympic Games on a gigantic television screen, I can only come to the conclusion that airports must be the coolest places to hangout on earth when you don’t have money. You can use their restrooms, their couches, their television, their electricity and even their internet for as long as you want (within a reasonable and non-terrorist-like period of time, say 10 hours). No one will ask you any questions and no one will ask you to leave.

Julia and I spent the day in Atlanta. Although there are quite a few things to do in Atlanta if you have the time and the money, we were here for the day and we were on a budget. Despite that (and even though the day turned out to be pretty long), I think we had a good time and I’m glad we stopped here for the day.

We took an overnight bus from Memphis which arrived at 8:30 am and will only be leaving to New Orleans on a bus departing at midnight. So we landed in Atlanta quite early and had to figure out where we could leave our luggage. Couchsurfers had told me that Greyhound stations had lockers where you could leave your luggage for the day, but when we showed up at Garrett station, it turned out that the lockers had been replaced by a PacMan videogame. So, we dragged our bags back on the subway and headed to the airport, where we were told that for $7 we could leave our backpacks until 9pm. Afterwards, we headed back to Downtown Atlanta and got off the subway at 5 points, which could be described as the center of public transport center in Atlanta. After wandering around for five minutes, hanging out with gangsta rappers, looking at golden teeth stores and being offered weed, we got the impression that we were headed in the wrong direction. We finally found our way to the Visitor’s Center where we received many suggestions on what to do in Atlanta, say the Atlanta city pass which includes 6 amazing attractions for only (only!) $72. In all honesty, it’s probably worth it if you have the money and the time, but we had neither so we had to stick to free attractions and cutting out coupons from the tourist map.
We then headed towards the Underground, which could be described as some sort of underground Disney-like mall composed by a few shady stores, a food court and… wait for it… a Johnny Rockets. As part of our All American Experience, we decided to have brunch at Johnny Rockets, while playing songs on the jukebox and watching the waitresses deliver a great dancing performance to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”. Good stuff.
I hate the Johnny Rockets
Julia looking for songs on the jukebox
 We got our tourist groove on and walked our way to the CNN center, where we just looked at the building, snooped around the souvenir shops, enjoyed the A/C and tried to hijack their WiFi and took a couple of pictures. This was followed by a short visit to the Olympic Centennial Park, where we layed on the lawn for a few minutes. We headed to the Coca Cola Museum, where we sneaked in the souvenir shop, gawked at the high prices for Coca Cola underwear and then chilled out on their couches, while stealing their WiFi signal. I think I’ve drunk enough Coca Cola in my life to have earned this day of restroom and WiFi freeloading at their facilities. They owe it to me.
CNN building
Coca Cola souvenir shop

We wanted to see if we could do the same thing at the Georgia Aquarium, but they apparently are aware of the austro-mexican freeloaders and couldn’t get into their store or restrooms. We sulked around for a little while, until we found a coupon for a free visit for 2 to the viewing floor of the WestInn’s rotating restaurant. We went there, enjoyed the nice view and took a couple of pictures.

View from the rotating restaurant
As the afternoon was coming to an end, we walked around Peachtree street which was very pleasant as there were many nice stores and really cheap places to eat. We took a subway to Piedmont park, walked around that neighborhood which was also very nice and then went into the park and enjoyed the sun by a pond for a couple of hours (we actually passed out because we were so exhausted). When we woke up, we had another couple of hours to kill, so we went into a gay bar where Julia used her shining to make friends with the bartender. We had a beer, then we got a free drink and played a game that determined that Julia was a beautiful girl who picked the right number and I… well, I didn’t pick the right number. We had a another beer and then decided that it was probably too late to stay for the gay bingo or the drag show at 11. We headed to the subway and to the airport to pick up our stuff before the luggage place closed. And here we are, waiting for it to be closer to midnight so we can take the subway and take our bus to N’Orleans.
Pond at Piedmont park
All’s fine. At the end of the day, I’m actually quite happy that we came to Atlanta. Atlanta seems like a very nice city to live in and although it’s not very walkable, the public transport system seems quite decent. There’s beautiful buildings and really cool little neighborhoods. And in a politically incorrect comment for tonight, I think black people in Atlanta don’t seem to be as poor or as marginalized as in other cities we’ve visited (the last one being Memphis). At least, in the 12 hours spent in this city, it seems like there is less inequality between white and black people here, with better chances at education and employment (when compared to other places). But hey, I don't know what I'm talking about so I might be wrong...

sábado, 4 de agosto de 2012

Km 879: Knoxville

You know that Simpsons’ episode where Bart Simpson rents a car and drives Milhouse, Nelson, Martin and himself to see the World Fair’s Sunsphere? And remember how when they get there they find out that the city has lost its former glory and that the Sunsphere has been turned into a warehouse for a wig shop?

Sunsphere in Knoxville
Well… that’s supposed to happen in Knoxville and that’s pretty much what Knoxville felt like when we landed there yesterday at 8:00 am, with our heavy backpacks and no idea of what to do with them or where to go. We walked around downtown for a little while and bought some breakfast at a store, which we had on a bench next to a homeless man on crutches. We then walked around a little more, while people stared at us and our oversized backpacks until we found the Visitor’s center, which provided us a map, ideas of what to visit and how to get there. We decided to ride the free trolley around the city (‘cause hey, we love free things) and go check out the Tennessee University strip, the candy factory and finally, the formerly glorious 1986 World Fair Sunsphere. We shared our trolley ride with a group of extremely friendly Knoxvillians who asked us many questions about where we were from and what the hell were we doing in a place like Knoxville. After a short tour of the University campus, the trolley dropped us off at the self-proclaimed best chocolate factory of the South which was more of a store than a factory, but a good store nevertheless. We bought some chocolate bars called “Tennessee white trash” (self-deprecation is always more fun when there’s chocolate involved) and some peanut butter candy. We walked over to the once famous Sunsphere, which I have to say had a pretty nice view over Knoxville and its surroundings and then took a stroll in the World Fair Park. After that, we pretty much ran out of ideas and energy and went to rest by the Park’s interactive fountains for a little while until we could contact Rachel, our host.

Walking around with a heavy backpack
Nearly world famous pizza...
Crashing in Knoxville
 And after we met with Rachel, I have to day that Knoxville was a completely different city. She contacted us pretty fast after that and told us she would pick us up in town with Ranger, her gorgeous dog. We waited for her a few minutes outside a Hilton hotel where a friendly (but really sketchy) guy approached us to ask where we were headed to. He told us he was in fact from Transylvania because, despite the fact that he had lived in Florida his entire life, he was born during his parents’ vacations in Rumania and knew that he was at heart a Transylvanian gypsy. He offered us the best tips for free food and entertainment in Knoxville, including free meals at the Knoxville Mission (a soup kitchen for homeless people) and invited us to see his Freak Show Circus of Mischief and Mayhem that evening in Market Square. Rachel picked us up a few minutes after we said goodbye to our new friend and took us back home so we could leave all our things. We went to the supermarket to buy some food and had lunch at her place. Rachel had to work in a café afterwards, so she drove us back into the city and we took Ranger with us on a visit through the city, as we still had some exploring to do in Downtown, Old town and we wanted to see the World Fair again (this time without backpacks).

Rachel, our nice and friendly host in Knoxville

We never even began to imagine what we were getting into by taking Ranger with us. Buco, my dog, was one of the cutest dogs I had ever seen and when he had just been groomed, people would stop us on the streets to tell us he looked like a little cloud and he was beautiful. Now, what happened to us with Ranger is unheard of. At times, we would have a circle of people surrounding us asking what his name was, if they could pet him and offering cookies and hamburgers to him (I’m not making this up, I promise). Everywhere we went, people would drop whatever they were doing, orb toward us and ask to pet him. We walked around the Old Town and Downtown, saw a couple of historical buildings and finally went to the Blount Mansion. We didn’t realize there was a fancy party going on, but a girl who was petting Ranger invited us in and offered us drinks. We talked to a few people there about what it was like to live in Knoxville. They told us that most locals don’t know about it, but there are quite a lot of things going on in Knoxville including art gallery openings, historical tours, live music shows and theater. They told us to head back to the Market Square and check out whatever was going on there as it was First Friday of the month and there are a lot of cultural events on that weekend. It was nice to have Ranger with us, because we got to meet a lot of very nice and warm people from Knoxville who were very honest, very friendly and very hospitable. I guess that’s that famous Southern hospitality everyone is talking about.

Ranger, the Casanova dog
On our way back to Downtown, we ran into a guy (who also looked pretty sketchy) who asked if he could borrow my phone to make a call. The conversation went more or less like:  “Casey? Yeah, this is David… Yeah. Yeah…. Look man, I just got out of jail…. Yeah…. Yeah…  I just wanted to ask you if you already hooked up today… Yeah? Can I get some of that? Ok, come pick me up”. He then called me a sweetheart and thanked me for letting him use my phone. Which brings me to… people in Knoxville are very contrasting. I already said that normal people on the streets are extremely friendly, open and honest about things. And then you have a population of very strange individuals who physically look wasted and worn down, as if they had an entire life of drugs and recklessness behind them, just like on those ads to prevent crystal meth addiction. It’s very strange to see that things you see depicted on television are not completely made up and that “white trash” as you see it in popular media (white, poor, uneducated, filthy and just not caring about themselves or their physical appearance), is actually kind of real. It’s interesting to see that the United States is not the land of opportunities for everyone, even if you’re white.

Maybe Knoxville isn't so bad after all.
In any case, we went back to Rachel’s café and waited for her, while watching the Freak Show Circus of Mischief and Mayhem from a safe distance. The show included mainstream acts like fire poi spinning and LED stick to more bizarre ones such as spinning in circles while holding a suitcase with your extremely stretched and gauged ear lobes. Afterwards, we went back home with Rachel who’d had a rough day, had dinner with her and talked a little bit before we all crashed. Today we hit the road again.

Cooking dinner

jueves, 2 de agosto de 2012

Washington D.C. to Knoxville

Overnight bus to Knoxville... with free blankets spronsored by Google play (which we allegedly stole from our friends, but were in fact always ours).

Megabus to Knoxville