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Comprising Spagus (derived from Asparagus), or Cam. Previously rural banker and farmer that has decided to ditch his tie and gumboots in exchange for a backpack and shaved head. Partnered with Shroom (derived from Mushroom), or Cat. Formally a country/city/country girl that has left behind the world of policy consulting and has ditched her high heels for some comfortable (yet stylish) footwear to support a wee bit of globetrotting through 2010 and 2011. We hope you enjoy following the travels of SpaguShroom through Europe, North America and South America!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Los Angeles and the OC (September 21- September 27)

LA, a city it seems that few people are fans of. We were warned of the terrible traffic and constant pollution but we headed there open minded to check it out for ourselves.
After negotiating crazy midday traffic (on highways up to 9 lanes in each direction) we settled into our cheap and cheerful hotel in Chinatown and left the car behind to walk into downtown LA. Arriving at the Civic Centre building we headed up for an open-top view of LA. Although a relatively clear day, the haze of pollution meant we could just see the Hollywood sign in the distance. But this spot did provide a good sense of how large and sprawled the city is - something similar to its’ sister city, Auckland.

We found the majority of downtown to be incredibly dirty and dodgy but we still wandered around for couple of hours and then headed home for an early night, excited to explore Hollywood the next day.
We had been told that public transport is very limited in LA and that we should join the majority and drive everywhere. But we decided to leave the car at home and not bother with parking (or an overheating car) and took the metro to Hollywood. We soon discovered why this is not a popular mode of transport and decided we would never be riding the metro at night!
We covered all the main sights including the Kodak Theatre (where the Academy Awards are held), the celebrity stars of Hollywood Boulevard and other such famous theatres and bright lights. We were very fortunate to stumble across the unveiling of the star of Walt Disney’s Tinkerbell, a speech from the director a poof of confetti and a new star was born – just like that!

We headed to the Farmers Market for lunch, a produce market which has been operating for 75 years, combined with an open shopping mall. We indulged in a lunch of savoury French waffles and delicious old fashioned sweet treats.

Walking the all familiar Melrose Ave, Santa Monica and Beverly Hills Boulevards we again noticed how scummy the area is. As with all big cities there are the more run-down or less than savoury areas, but we found the majority of LA to be like this as well as lacking in any sort of character or community. There are however small pockets of greatness in LA, whether it’s the boutique designer shops scattered amongst the vacated buildings or the numerous filming sessions that constantly take place over the city.

Later that evening we met a friend for a drink at Universal Studios, this was more bright lights and fun stuff reminding us of Times Square, minus the crowds.
The following day we took the train out to Long Beach, the journey took us through some of the worst poverty we have seen in this country yet. Long Beach was pleasant enough though aside from the Queen Mary docked there permanently there was not a lot to see and do.
Thursday we packed up and headed to Anaheim to spend the day with Mickey at Disneyland. Our hotel was next door so early that morning we joined the hundreds of strollers and made the pilgrimage to the land of happiness. Although we may have been some of the only people without kids we still had a blast; the rides were more adventurous than we had thought and Mickey’s house was just a delights to explore through. When the nightly parade was over we were shattered, grabbed some dinner and headed home like two tired but excited kids. Perhaps LA had redeemed itself slightly.

After a jammed packed few days and many weeks of constantly moving around the country we decided it was time for a holiday from our holiday. Yep it’s a hard life. We packed up and headed south toward San Diego with intentions of visiting the Zoo. Along the way we found a cliff top campground and despite the fact that it was located next to a railway, state highway, and nuclear power plant, the beach was just beautiful and we decided to stay for 3 nights. Enjoying some hot weather again (the area has had the coldest Summer since 1944) we did nothing but read, eat and swim.

Feeling very sun kissed and ready to crank the last league of our US trip we head back in-land. Next stop, VEGAS baby!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Coastal Highway and Santa Barbara (September 17 - September 20)

The drive from San Francisco to Santa Barbara is typically a 5 hour journey, but we decided to take the scenic route along the Central Coast Highway 1 and spread the journey over two days.
Leaving the city behind we headed south west and hit the coast at Monterey. After taking a stroll through this seaside town to admire the restored Mexican and Spanish architecture we jumped back in the car and headed onto the ‘17 Mile Drive’. We paid our $10 entry fee to drive the private road and cruised along admiring the perfectly manicured golf courses (the US open was held here this year) and the mansions of Pebble Beach.

After leaving the 17 Mile Drive the journey continued through Carmel (a very quaint seaside town) and onto the most spectacular coastal highway. Winding along the cliff-top edge high above the sea; the familiar fog lingered like a big fluffy blanket folded back over the sparkly blue ocean. We were completely blown away and stopped at least half a dozen times to take in this phenomenal sight.

We had intended to visit Hearst Castle but unfortunately ran out of time and stopped to pitch the tent in a lovely primitive campground close to the sea. Rising very early the next morning we had hoped to catch the sunrise as we continued our journey down to Santa Barbara, but the fog was thick and did not clear until we arrived at our destination midmorning.

We were staying with another host family of Geoff’s, Laura and her father Bob, in their spacious home in the hills of Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara was far more beautiful than we had anticipated. With palm tree lined streets, stunning Mediterranean architecture and gorgeous white sand beaches this place was divine!
Laura kindly drove us around the city showing us the sights; this included some history of the architecture, a drive through the neighbourhood where the rich and famous live (including Oprah) and a lunch of fish and chips on the long jetty at the beach.

On Sunday the fog had completely cleared (at last!) from the beach so we made the most by slowly walking the main street and lazing on the beach in the sun for the afternoon. We toured the lovely Santa Barbara Mission which was founded in 1786 by Native Americans and also visited the County Courthouse; a spectacular Spanish-Moorish building complete with an open-top clock tower that provides views over the city. The courtrooms have painted scenes of early battles in the region, stunning tiled floors and incredible tropical grounds; a ridiculously beautiful place to be on trial.

On Sunday evening we joined Laura in a neighbourhood potluck BBQ, tasting the unique local cut of meat known as ‘tri-tip’ steak and learnt how to play ‘bunko’ an exciting dice game. We felt incredibly welcome and enjoyed meeting more great people. It was lovely to spend time with both Laura and Bob, thank you for your generous hospitality - we just loved the home grown avocadoes too!
Monday morning we leave Santa Barbara and head south to Los Angles; a two hour journey (traffic dependent!!).

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

San Francisco (September 13 - September 17)

Most people who have visited San Francisco, love it. From hilly streets, to gorgeous Victorian homes, the infamous cable car and a lively waterfront; we felt at home. Yes this city is just like Wellington, weather and all, on a far bigger scale.
We were once again very fortunate to be accommodated by family friends, Richard and Kris, during our stay in San Francisco. After spending the last few weeks in relatively isolated areas it was exciting but perhaps a little daunting to be back in a big city. Fortunately Richard and Kris were excellent tour guides driving us around the city for the first two days and providing us with a great overview and history of the main sights and attractions. We drove across the majestic Golden Gate Bridge and visited Sausalito where we took a stroll through the quaint house boat community and enjoyed lunch in a seaside restaurant.

We enjoyed a visit to the California Academy of Sciences for both its’ live and stuffed animal displays; our favourite was the blind albino crocodile named Claude.

We also took a stroll through the Muir Woods, an old-growth forest of gorgeous Redwoods located relatively close to the city. This is a special remnant of the forest that once covered California coastal areas. We cannot get enough of these gorgeous trees, they create such a peaceful energy that once in their presence it only seems appropriate to speak in hushed tones.
Cam and I took a trip to the infamous Alcatraz, a former maximum-security federal prison located in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, otherwise known as The Rock. Alcatraz closed its’ doors as a prison in 1963 due to high operating costs and deteriorating buildings and it is now a very popular tourist attraction which incorporates an excellent audio tour.
We heard tales of escaped convicts, prison routine, and life of the guards on The Rock. The narrative was delivered by a combination of ex prisoners and guards, making for a truly compelling account of historical events of ‘hell on earth’. On the tour we were taken through the jail which comprised the four cell blocks including D Block, or Isolation where only the meanest crims spent their time in pitch black darkness, along with the dining room, Wardens’ Office and shower block.

Amongst the chilly mist we wondered the grounds of the Island and returned to the mainland for an afternoon soaking in the charming atmosphere of Fisherman’s Wharf.
We enjoyed a traditional lunch of clam chowder in a sourdough bread and also visited the aquarium to check out some cool local underwater life.

It was a shame that the fog constantly hovered over the city during our stay but it also added to the city atmosphere; San Francisco is known for its’ chilly Summers’ days. We would love to return some day and continue to explore the city, perhaps in the Winter when the days are clearer.
Thanks to Richard and Kris, who were very helpful and provided us with so much advice as to what to see and do in the city, you certainly made our San Francisco experience!
Next we head south along the Coastal Highway toward Santa Barbara.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Yosemite National Park (September 12 – September 13)

From Susanville we crossed the border into Nevada and proceeded south on the 395 to enter Yosemite from its’ eastern side. Upon entering the Park we climbed to an elevation of 10,000 ft in a very short period of time and were quickly treated to magnificent views of deep canyons and distinctive smooth granite domes sculpted by glacial processes.

After a slow and scenic drive through the Park we pulled into our campground to be told by the nervous young ranger on the gate that a black bear had entered the campground just ten minutes prior. Rather gutted to miss this sighting we set up the tent and cleared our car of all food, drink, crumbs and cosmetics. Basically anything that has a scent had to be removed and locked in the metal ‘bear bins’, a far more stringent policy than at Yellowstone.

We weren’t visited in the night by a bear but instead woke to an ice cold morning. We hit the road early and headed into the Yosemite Valley to beat the large number of other tourists and their RVs. That morning we squeezed in a 5 mile hike around the Valley, providing superb scenery of large grassy meadows and the famous Half Dome mountain.

A short and sweet trip but we were glad we visited the Park as the landscape was very different from Yellowstone. We are quickly learning how diverse and pretty the scenery of California State really is. Leaving the Park around midday we headed to Oakland, San Francisco where we will be calling on family friends to stay for a few days to check out the Bay area.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Susanville (September 9 – September 12)

Some time ago (1976), Cam’s father Geoff participated in a six month long Young Farmers exchange where he stayed with several host families in California. One of those hosts was the Hagata family where Geoff stayed and worked on their cattle ranch for three weeks. The ranch is located in Willowcreek Valley, just outside of Susanville in northern California. Geoff and the Hagata family has maintained contact over the years, and Cam has grown up hearing stories and tales of Geoff’s Cowboy antics on the Hagata ranch. Teri, Geoff’s host sister back in the day, kindly welcomed us into her home along with husband Joe, and sons Andrew and Daniel Bertotti. The Hole in One (Bertotti) Ranch is located 45 minutes down the hill in Janesville.

During our three night stay at the ranch and visit to Willow Creek we were able to get a brief look at ranching and the challenges it presents in this area. We were frequently complimented on NZs farming skills in particular pasture management; but we soon learnt that farming in this part of the world is very different and not entirely comparable. For example, annual rainfall in Janesville averages 10 inches per year, a mere quarter of the rainfall on the farms back home (not to mention cooler summers and snowless winters). It was also interesting for us to learn about the farming practices used here. The more traditional farmers appear to farm for winter; cutting meadow hay and alfalfa all summer in order to have enough feed for the snowy winter months. However, the Bertotti family are trying something new to reduce the expense of making so much hay by windrowing their feed so cattle can seek it out through the snow, a practice more common in Canada. We came away being thankful for our great farming climate at home as these ranchers certainly do not have life easy.
We also visited the Hagata ranch to observe the branding and castration of their calves. Geoff’s host brother Daren, third generation running the ranch, showed us the old homestead built by his grandparents that had migrated from France. We enjoyed inspecting the remains and hearing the stories of this old wooden home.

This was followed by a lovely family BBQ in the field as the sun was setting across the ranch. It was a special chance to meet Geoff’s host parents Frank and Bernice, as well as the wider Hagata family. All grandchildren but one were there to meet us and join in with the stories of Geoff and his time on the ranch, we are so grateful to the entire family for making such an effort. Geoff - the Badger tale and the memories of your driving the tractor with no shirt on for the ladies lives on!

Rising early Saturday morning we accompanied Teri and Joe to Reno (Nevada) where they were selling their delicious grass feed beef at a local Farmers Market. Following this we took a 20 minute drive through the ski fields to Lake Tahoe and all enjoyed a lovely seafood lunch together in the sun.

We had such a fun time with the Bertotti family and felt privileged to be welcomed into their home, again we really look forward to hosting you all sometime soon in New Zealand.
Sunday morning we packed up the car, after a delicious cooked breakfast by Teri-no less, and headed toward Yosemite National Park.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Redwood Forests (September 5 – September 9)

We left Big Sky early Sunday morning heading westward across Idaho to Washington and down through Oregon. Heading for northern California, we opted for this more scenic route over travelling south and crossing the desert landscape of Nevada.
After 615 miles on day one we pulled into a trailer park in Tri-cities, south east Washington. Being the only non permanent resident they were not sure how much to charge us and decided to give us the night for free. This was a good start to our return to camping after several days of luxury.
The next morning we hit the road and headed south through Oregon and again opted for the more scenic route by taking the coastal 101 after Portland. We pulled in for the night just north of the California boarder in a small beachside campground and enjoyed a stroll on the beach as the sun set. We were grateful to see the coast at long last and seafood was now OK to order from the menu again!

On Tuesday we woke to a rather wet and misty day which made visibility very poor as we continued to cruise the 101 coast highway south. These conditions did however make for some stunning views of the rugged coastline and sweet little seaside villages.

Crossing the border from Oregon into California we soon began our journey through the magnificent Redwood National Park and State Parks, which total an area of 158 km2 and are a designated World Heritage Site.
We drove a 20 mile dirt road through part of the redwood forest which was absolutely gobsmacking. We felt miniscule in the presence of these gentle giants which can stand up to 115 metres, making them the tallest trees on earth. Some of these trees are 1500 years old and grow an avergae of 30 cm per year. We pitched our tent in a campground nearby (on the outskirts of Crescent City) and hit the hay early as the mist rolled in thick and fast.

Wednesday was again a misty and chilly day. Continuing our drive along the Redwood highway we pulled in and set off on what was supposed to be a two hour hike. It turns out the trail signs over here are not as frequent or as accurate as those at home and we arrived back to the car some 4.5 hours later. Aside from this the hike was incredibly enjoyable and provided an almost private exploration of this part of the forest. As we increased in elevation the mist cleared and the sun poured through the tree tops, making for a magical experience indeed.

Later that day we headed inland toward Redding. As it was getting dark we pulled into an odd campground that was mostly deserted. It seems Summer is over and it is now too cold for other campers to be about in these parts. We enjoyed the silent surroundings.
On Thursday we continued our journey east and were treated to another gorgeous scenic drive along side Lassen Volcanic National Park. We arrived at our destination; a ranch in Janesville, just out of Susanville late Thursday afternoon.