After an interesting (meaning: very turbulent) flight from Boston to San Francisco, we spent two whirlwind days in the city. We stayed in a nice (if expensive) hostel, and spent our first day walking down to Fisherman’s Wharf. Despite the wind, we spent a decent amount of time being amused by the sea lions – including making up back stories and guessing which one would fall off their comfy perch next – before having lunch at a place Eva had been to last year (yet more seafood). After a night out at a very hidden away bar, I got cajoled into a cycling tour: we hired bikes, studied maps and pedalled off around the bay. Fortunately, we’d all agreed to buy the package whereby we’d cycle one way and sail the other, so we got ourselves all the way around the city and across the Golden Gate bridge (harder than it looks, as it was rammed with pedestrians and other cyclists), stopping for lunch in Sausalito as we’d just missed a boat. Once we’d returned our bikes, it was back to the hostel in order to move on.
Eva was the one dispatched to the airport in order to collect our hire car, which took far longer than anticipated! This in turn resulted in us leaving San Francisco late and driving much of the scenic route to our next stop in the dark. We did, however, also get the chance to drive across the Golden Gate bridge (much easier than cycling!) and saw San Francisco twinkling behind us across the bay. We arrived in Eureka, California, in the early hours of the morning and crashed out in our new hotel.
We’d chosen to stay in Eureka for two nights, and the following day, I found us a scenic drive to undertake. So we piled into the car again, this time loaded up with yummy supplies from the best supermarket I’ve been to in the US, and headed back the way we’d come down the coast. The road was a winding one, but the views were stunning – lots of incredible forests, a stop to make some new equine friends, a beach with black sand, a field containing mules and two zebra, and some giant Redwoods. It was a lot to take in! Definitely off the beaten track – when we stopped within the Redwoods to take photos, we were in one of the quietest parts of the planet I’ve ever been to. It was surreal, but absolutely beautiful.
We left Eureka the following day, with our next destination set as Eugene, Oregon. This drive was probably much like the one we did in the dark! The coastal parts were pretty foggy, even though it was mid-morning, but they were still gorgeous. There was more wildlife to see – we passed a herd of elk. They were surprisingly lacking in fear, happy to stand and wait whilst we took pictures. When other drivers saw us parked up and taking photos, several other cars stopped too. One of the elk had been waiting to cross the road, but the arrival of more people put it off, and he disappeared across the field with his friends.
On we drove, inland and through more giant forests before reaching our destination. Another motel and a lovely pizza restaurant were how we spent the evening in Eugene prior to driving on to Portland. Our final west coast destination involved the least glamorous night of the trip: our flight to Hawaii was due to depart at 7am, and as we had to return our car by 5pm the previous day, we chose to spend the night at the airport, eagerly awaiting our flight and our next stop.
At the end of what felt like an inordinately long flight, we weren’t disappointed by our destination. Hawaii is stunning, and we sadly barely scratched the surface. Four nights wasn’t even a long enough stay to fully explore Oahu – the island which is home to the vast majority of Hawaii’s population, including the state capital – nevermind get out and explore the other islands. It’s also an expensive place: Hawaii is clearly a popular destination for people who have a lot of money or want to do a lot of nothing (and therefore don’t need a lot of money). We made the best of the time and funds available by renting a self-catered apartment two blocks from Waikiki beach, choosing to spend two days on the beach and at the pool which was handily situated on our rooftop, plus one day on an island tour and an evening at a luau.
Although it’s not high season at the moment, I don’t think Hawaii ever has a particularly low season. Locals are deeply tanned, laidback and welcoming – you can tell tourism is their biggest source of income – and the atmosphere is firmly relaxed. Our island tour set off at 7:30am, meaning that when we reached Diamond Head a short time later, the light was still rising across the island and everything felt fairly quiet and still. We spent the following eight hours travelling around Oahu, taking in a variety of beaches for short stops to take pictures. Lunch was at a Hawaiian roadside shack, where we got to eat freshwater prawns and prepare ourselves for our next beach: we made our longest stop on the famous North Shore – home to many surfers, plus turtles. The turtles swim in the shallows to feed, and snorkelling equipment was provided so that we could swim if we wanted. My friend Eva is a budding marine scientist and was absolutely in her element, providing the other members of our group with lots of useful information.
It turned into a rainy afternoon when we returned to the bus, and we quickly moved on to the Dole plantation. Hawaii used to be very famous for pineapple growing, but our guide informed us that even this massive company is barely hanging on in Hawaii – locals just don’t want to do the farming work, and there are probably cheaper, less remote places to farm pineapples now. Dole is a huge tourist trap – think of a piece of merchandise and they’ve stuck a pineapple on it and charged a fortune for it. We made our way back to Waikiki having taken in a lot of information (we also visited a macadamia nut factory, a coffee farm and a chocolate shop) but enjoyed our trip out of the big city to see the “real” Oahu.
The luau the following night was something we’d all been keen to do, and it’s a very slick operation. We chose a luau partly based on one of my family’s favourite TV shows (if you haven’t caught Triple D via Food Network, you are missing out), and caught our guided bus out to the company’s site. I haven’t grown up participating in package holidays, so the experience of joining a tour group and engaging in panto-style audience participation always feels a little strange, but my friends and I threw ourselves in and earned a reputation from our host as being the party bus. The trip is nicely timed so that you get to enjoy sunset at the beach – we quickly found a spot and took lots of pictures – before settling in for dinner and entertainment. We chose seats right by the stage, joined in when we were invited up to learn how to hula (enjoyed ourselves and then quickly left it to the professionals) and got to eat all sorts of Hawaiian cuisine.
None of us wanted to leave the next day – and, when we got on our flight, the situation wasn’t helped by the fact that we’d chosen a horrible airline, more on which another day! – even though we were excited about our final destination. We waved a very sad goodbye to Hawaii, and vowed to return for a longer trip, if not to make our homes (in our dreams!). The last stop on our enormous tour was Las Vegas. I knew what to expect this time, having visited with Eva last year, and it was fun to see my friend Sarah’s reaction as a newcomer.
This year, we stayed at Luxor, which I didn’t enjoy as much as our hotel from 2013, but it’s nice to try different things when there’s so much variety on offer. There was a big group of other staff from camp in town at the same time as our visit, but the best surprise was that our friend from our own department was in town. He was due to leave the day after we arrived, but was persuaded to stay – a great move, as he’s friends with a brilliant promoter who organised two nights out for us. Many drinks, several taxis, two pools and a limo later, I hauled myself onto the shuttle bus at 6am to catch my first eastbound flight in a year.
I’m back in my most physical home with a comfy bed to myself. I’ve returned with a tan, lots of fantastic memories, some random tat that I’ve picked up along the way and the desire to keep going. Unfortunately, the big adventures are over for now. But if I can pick up a steady income, it might not be too long before the next one…
My final note is that none of the images in any of my posts have been edited (most of the time, this much is obvious!) – I can’t stop staring at the Hawaii ones in particular, even though I saw it in the flesh, the way the colours come out even with just an iPhone camera seems unreal. If you get the slightest chance, go. I can’t wait to see your pictures.