Friday, 25 July 2014

USA Day 3. Flying over the Desert

So today I woke up ridiculously early (again) jumped in a taxi and set off to the airport. Everything went surprisingly well! My suitcase was a pound under the weight limit (something I was worried about since I was wearing lighter clothes), and check in was all good. I had a middle seat for the second leg of my journey but changing seats on American flights seems like its a lot more hassle here so I didn't bother attempting to change it.

While waiting for my flight to board an older gentleman came up to me and asked if I minded to a verbal survey on the airport - which was strangely nice as since I've spent so much time in airports I feel like I know what makes a good one! Anyway turns out he has a great granddaughter called Rachel and used to work at the hotel I had stayed at!

The flight was bumpy! Apparently the hot air makes turbulence pretty bad, and it was definitely one of the more unpleasant flights, and I was incredibly glad I'd missed breakfast…

I wish I had had a window seat as leaving Vegas and arriving in Phoenix were incredible views! They're both massive sprawling cities situated in the heart of a desert. it's craziness.

Just walking from the aeroplane to the airport in Phoenix was hell - I've no idea how Caitlin (or anyone) manages, never mind chooses, to live in such a crazy hot place! Again the flight from Phoenix to San Francisco was pretty horrid. But all in all I was only flying for like 4 hours so I can deal with that. And then it was all smooth sailing to get to the hotel!

Although the taxi driver did make a few phone calls and attempted to write down a number on a pad of paper while driving… San Fran is so much cooler than Vegas or Phoenix - it's around 27c but compared to the crazy temperatures of the desert that is complete bliss!

USA Day 2. Grand Canyon

Where to even begin. I was obviously a bit deliriously being picked up since I had basically no sleep, but in comparison to how amazing the day was it’s not even worth mentioning the fact I stabbed my eye with my toothbrush I was so tired…
This summarises my day - I was exhausted (and I look it) but it was AMAZING!
Firstly, I am very very happy with the tour company I picked. They have a 13seat van but they cap it at 9 people per tour so they keep it small and personal, and having seen the great big coaches at the National Park where tons of people pile off, look around and then head back onto the coach, I certainly made the right choice. Alex, the guide, was great and had a wealth of knowledge about the history of Las Vegas and the surrounding areas. So on the drive out from Vegas I found out all about the city’s early year (which I didn’t think would be interesting but actually was) before we stopped at McDonald’s for breakfast – which was included in the price of the tour.

I didn’t realise until after but the first thing I ate in the USA was McDonald’s – I think that’s weirdly appropriate!

 From there we stopped at Hoover Dam. Photo’s don’t really show why it’s such a big deal but basically it’s some impressive engineering. However when we got off the bus (aside from skin tingling heat as soon as we got out of air conditioning) my camera stopped working. Cue 20 minutes of panicking and fiddling around. This would definitely have been possibly the worst time ever for my camera to fail on me. I did eventually get it to work, with enough time to quickly get a snap of the dam too! I think all the being thrown around with the travelling just upset the sensor on the right side of my camera.

 The drive along Route 66
 From here we headed along Route 66! Stopped off at a kitch-50s style tourist trap town to get some fresh air and potter about. The weather was so so so hot! I feel like I’m talking about the heat a lot, but it was 120F – that’s 50 DEGREES celsius! How ridiculous is that!
 I thought this shop was pretty cool with all the different notes!

 There was also this room which I think was some historic 'iconic' thing, but I dozed off and missed what the tour guide said about it in the car!

 Loved the colour of this minibus everyone had scribbled all over

 There were also the cars that gave inspiration to the movie 'Cars' 
 And then it was off to the Grand Canyon! There was a little queue to get into the National Park but we were in a tour queue so it all moved pretty quickly. The weird bit was that you couldn't tell there was a canyon metres away as there's no gradual decline - you park to the end of the car park and are simply greeted to this amazing drop!

 Our guide was very adventurous and was constantly sitting on the edge of massive drops and I'm blaming him for the number of photos of me perched precariously over 300+ meter drops
 I’m not going to say too much about the Grand Canyon itself, as a picture really does speak a thousand words. Although none of these photos do the place any real justice – it’s completely enormous and truly awesome to see.

 I will mention that we did a 3 mile walk, which was so much harder with the heat, sleep deprivation and being 7,000ft up made the air really thin. I still can’t get over how the air made everything seem so much harder!

 This is a juniper bush, which is what you can make gin out of apparently!

 Another photo of me admiring the view!
 Hopi point. This was the end of our 3 mile walk and it was so worth being out of breath! It was basically a panoramic view 
 You can also see the Colorado River from up here! We ended up talking about 'Into the Wild' which is an amazing film, and the permit process to get onto the river - it's 6-8 years!
 Probably my favourite picture of the day - although there are so many amazing pictures it's pretty impossible to choose just one!
 As I love this one of me peering down at the massive drop beneath my feet! One slip and I'd have been a goner!
A book of Deaths at the Grand Canyon - its crazy how many people die and are injured here

(the view on the drive back to Las Vegas)
And I got back to the hotel at around 10pm – just enough time to pack, buy internet to skype and check emails and then try and get an early night! As I’m flying out early tomorrow morning!

Thursday, 24 July 2014

USA Day 1. A Hellish Start

Today has just been long and hard, so now I’m all grumpy and tired.

I woke up at 4am to catch my flight. Check it was pretty easy, my suitcase was within the weight limit with the only downside really being that they couldn’t send my suitcase straight to Vegas. But I had a 3hr stop over from when I landed in Los Angeles with AirTahitiNui and when I had to catch my flight to Las Vegas so I figured it would be fine to get my suitcase and check back in…

I had two children behind me during the 9hr flight -one of which seemed determined to cry and whine the entire 9hrs. Looking back, I have some begrudging respect for the little guy for keeping it up so long. 9hrs is impressive.

The flight itself was fine, I had two seats to myself and there were 4 english movies!

Then we got to LAX. Not one, not two, but THREE airbuses landed at once. Want to know what that means? That means ridiculously long queues. Immigration was just a fiasco I was queuing for over an hour. And then I got pulled out to be questioned – why I was coming to the states, details of when I’m leaving, plans while I’m here, who I know in the States etc. So that was fun, and not at all intimidating and scary when sleep deprived.

After that I had to get my luggage, only to fin out my terminal had been changed and I had to run in sweltering heat from Terminal 1 to 7. Yes 6 terminals. In boiling weather. I truly dread to think what I must have looked like. The phrase ‘hot mess’ doesn’t even cover it.

I got there though, check in was weird, but then I came to weighing my suitcase.
And somehow it’d magically gained half a kilo. I have no idea how that’s possible but there it is. So I had to quickly open my suitcase and grab something to lighten it… In case you couldn’t guess panic and sleep deprivation isn’t the best combination and I ended up grabbing my trainers and proceeding to have to walk around the airport holding them…

After that security went smoothly, I got pulled out again but I’m used to that now. Then I spent the next hour looking for an adapter – which should not be so hard to find in an airport! I did eventually get one though (after checking 5 electronic shops) so then it was off to Vegas baby!

Las Vegas Airport was everything you would imagine, as soon as you walk out there are rows and rows of slot machines – welcome to the gambling capital of the world! I grabbed my luggage but when I went to the ATM my card was acting up. I assumed it was just the ATMs at the airport and jumped in a cab.

The Cab driver was… interesting, within around 30 seconds of chatting he offered to sell me weed. That was my first taste of Vegas. When we got to the hotel I pop my card in to pay the driver and it was declined. You know that pit you get in your stomach when you know something bad is about to happen? Yeah I got that. I tried running it through as ‘checking’, ‘debit’, ‘saving’, ‘cheque’ and ‘credit’… it wasn't having it.

I still wasn’t overly worried, there’s an ATM in the hotel so I figure I’ll get the money out there.. Nope. Not having it. So I go over to the desk and ask if my card is working there – nope. Luckily I had another card which allowed me to get out the money to pay the driver.

But when I went back to use that card to pay for my second night (you pay the first night when you book and the second when you arrive) that card was declined. Long story short, both my banks blocked my cards despite me specifically going into branch at Easter to give them a list of countries to expect transactions in.

Thankfully I had the first night paid for, but I hadn’t access to any of my money. And by now it was roughly 2am and I was getting picked up for a tour at 6am, and if I couldn’t pay for the next night by 6am when I left I’d have to check out of my room and sort it out when my tour arrived back in Vegas at 10pm. Not ideal.  

After persuading the hotel to let me use the phone (they don’t normally allow that without a credit card, and I couldn’t get online without a working card either) I embarked on the mammoth task of attempting to get through to an international number on an internal hotel service phone. Tears ensued. After attempting for over an hour I eventually got through to my bank and sorted it out, but by then it was half 3 and I was so so exhausted. 

Not the best way to start my time in the USA!


Moorea! The closest island to Tahiti and another beautiful little slice of Island paradise!
 This is the ferry station - look at the view from where you wait to board! I was lucky as it was another beautiful day, and the ferry wasn't too rough! It was about 20 minutes, and no queasiness occurred!
 The first sighting of Moorea!
 Coming into the harbour under the jagged volcanic peaks!
Once I got off the ferry it was clear that there really wasn't a lot on Moorea, there are a handful of resorts and hotels dotted at intervals along the coast but there's only really one road that runs the circumference with very little in between the hotels!
 there was also no such thing as a pavement, but the road wasn't busy, so I set off north to get to the lagoon which we saw coming in on the ferry. The deep blue of the ocean suddenly became the most amazing tropical blue once it hit some rocks and it provides great swimming!
 I think I almost died on the way, there was very little shade and it was super hot to be walking for an hour but the scenery helped! With random cars driving past with branches piled on the back
 There was also someone selling fruit from the garden out of their front garden!
 I finally got to the lagoon and it really was beautiful! The best bit? the beach was deserted! I had a strip of sand all to myself and I made the most of it!
 Testing out the water - which was very warm and perfect for swimming on such a hot day!
 It was also crystal clear like all the beaches here in the French Polynesia
 It really felt like I was on my own tropical island as there was no one around and the weather was simply perfect!
 There was also a gorgeous view out over to Tahiti!
 I eventually headed back (I didn't want to miss the last ferry) and the walk was so lovely this time (since it was a little cooler and I was feeling refreshed from the swim!

 I caught my ferry in time and then it goodbye Moorea hello rough seas!
 Quick selfie as we were leaving!
 Approaching Tahiti. it was very windy so this time I was the only one out of deck, but the sea spray always helps when I'm feeling nauseous so I didn't mind some windswept hair!

 Arriving back at Tahiti! I was just in time to jump on the shuttle and make my way back to the Resort before the sun set as I had a plan for my last evening in Tahiti!

 I ran up to my room, quickly threw on a swimming costume and then rushed down to the beach to have one final swim in Tahiti on the Radisson beach while the sunset! It was so beautiful seeing the sun set over the ocean and the perfect way to finish up this relaxing mini-break in the French Polynesia!
P.S the currency here is so pretty - there's turtles on it!


So Today I finally left the resort (although part of me wanted to spend another day lounging around the beach doing nothing!) and I caught the Hotel's free shuttle into Papeete!
 This is where I got dropped off! The shuttle does 2 return trips, picking up from Papeete at 12 and 5… I ended up getting into Papeete at 9 (taking the early shuttle) and leaving at 5 (taking the last one back) so it was a busy day!
First stop was one of the markets where they sold and abundance of bits and pieces, mainly touristy bits with most things having been make in Tahiti itself. These were some of the popular perfume oils that I was very tempted to buy - I managed to resist though!
 They also had bottle filled with shells so you could attempt some of their very popular shell necklaces
 These beautifully polished shells were another thing I was seriously considering tucking into my suitcase, but I didn't want to risk it not making it home!
 I finally found un-modified bananas again! I had these in Thailand, and they look just like the bananas we get in the UK but they're tiny in comparison and they taste so so so good! I obviously bought a few (although not an entire bunch!)
 I loved these shells but they were so heavy! I'm not sure how anyone could take one home!
 Oh and I loved this little straw tissue box cover! There were lots of handmade bits and pieces with a variety of bags and baskets
Since I went in the early morning I managed to wander about before it got too busy which was nice, as when I walked through late it was packed!
The market was roughly half knick-knacks and half food!
 There were also a few material shops dotted about that reminded me a lot of little india in Singapore (but much bigger and modern)
 Almost everything had some sort of focus on bread - namely baguettes! I guess its the french influence!
 After walking along the ocean front I decided to work my walk through Papeete to the Cathedral
 The weather was gorgeous in case you couldn't already tell!
 The Church was really pretty and looked amazing with the bright blue sky as a backdrop
 What I absolutely loved about the church (aside from the fact there were a lot of people in there) was that the holy water was held in a giant sea shell!!

 Also, everything was in french or Tahitian!
 I may have got a teensy bit lost and wound up at this round about! 
 I did eventually find my way back to ocean front where I pottered about 

 I decided to go back to the market to treat myself to an ice cream. And of course, I couldn't go with the conventional chocolate or pistachio.. I tried 'Tarro Root' which is a local flavour, and it was surprisingly nice! Despite being a weird colour!

 I just had time to run back to an arts market I'd seen earlier where I remembered to buy a key ring (I very nearly forgot) And I caught the shuttle back to the Resort!
I got a shell carved into the shape of a flower.
 Just in time for this beautiful sunset!

P.S people really do wear those awful gaudy hawaiian shirts!