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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!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Farewell to the United States

With the 90 day limit of our tourist visas all but up - we sadly departed the US taking with us the greatest memories and friendships which we will treasure for a life time.

Our rather epic journey began in the densely populated but very exciting east coast with NYC, DC and Boston. We then ventured north to the mighty Niagara Falls and nipped across the border for a weekend in Canada. Next it was off south to Dallas where we purchased the car and took a quick trip to Nashville, dropping in on Elvis on the way home. With the practice road trip done we returned to Dallas to then hit the road for our two month venture. Heading north we visited the super rock creations of Mt Rushmore and Crazy Horse, the incredible wildlife of Yellowstone National Park and the unique sound of Willie Nelson live in Montana. We continued westward and hit up the mighty Redwoods then it was back inland to visit a Ranch in northern California and then south to Yosemite National Park. It was then back to the coast for a few misty days in San Fran, driving the coastal highway and enjoying the sunshine of Santa Barbara. Next was the not so bright lights of Hollywood, a day at Disneyland and a few days to recoup at an OC beach. Feeling recharged we headed for the wonderful tack of Vegas, stopped in for a few days camping at the Grand Canyon and then continued north to southern Colorado for some frolicking in the snow. Completing our loop we headed home to Dallas via Albuquerque. Before we knew it the three months had flown by. We had driven 8,600 miles (~14,000 km) and covered 22 of the 52 states.

We have nothing better to say about our travels and experiences in the US, and would recommend to anyone to add it to their lists of places to visit. At home both the people and the country itself can sometimes get a bad rep often from preconceived ideas and notions feed to us by the media. Stories that represent the minority are often amplified and generalisations made, which cannot be broken until one experiences or sees different for themselves. We have certainly had our eyes opened as a result if this trip and although the US has so much to offer a traveller we are even more proud to call NZ home.

Perhaps the biggest benefit to travelling across the US is the variety of experiences you can have simply by moving between states. The natural environment, climate, food, culture, laws, and accents of the locals can change remarkably within miles of crossing the border. We often felt we were travelling between different countries as in Europe.

All of the people we met were just incredible. From the random strangers through to the people who opened their homes to us (many who know our family but had never met us), we could not say anything more positive about the kindness and generosity displayed by everyone we met.

The food was quite different from home - and this we had expected. We found that we had to go out of our way to buy unprocessed foods and constantly read food labels to ensure low sugar (or corn starch) content. Everything was very highly packaged and we found it difficult to purchase good fresh produce with the exception of California. As noted, we did however love the Mexican and southern cooking, this is hard to beat and it would be fair to say that our waist lines reflect this. During our trip we were also fortunate to try new foods including huckleberries (we even picked them), elk, buffalo and halibut. All very delicious.

As one chapter ends a new begins. South America here we come.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Texas (October 15 - October 20)

One stunning sunrise, 4 coffees, and 11.5 hours later we arrived into Dallas Texas, returning to where our road trip began. We were not only very excited to see David, Courtney and Daisy but we were also excited to have some familiarity - we pulled into a place we recognise for the first time during our entire trip.

A 640 mile (1,000 km) drive made us feel rather weary so we headed to the pub for some delicious Texan food and to catch up on the past two months.
The next day Cam and I returned to Fort Worth to check it out by day as our previous visit for the rodeo was at night time. We spent the afternoon trawling through the many cowboy shops including those converted from the old stockyards. We enjoyed the longhorn muster down the main street - the horns on these cattle beasts are up to 6 feet long. Owned by the city these animals are donated by local ranches and when retired back to the land once their ‘town days’ are over a formal agreement is made that they cannot be disposed of and must live out their lives on the ranch - pretty sweet deal. We then headed to Joe T Garcias for dinner where we had eaten on our last visit. You just cannot beat the Mexican food - such spicy cheesy goodness although over the past week we have eaten it for almost every meal. We are trying to make the most before we leave the country, well that is our excuse anyway.

We spent the remainder of our week trying to reduce our car load of accumulated stuff back into two 20 kg back packs. A very difficult mission as it appears we have gathered a lot from our time on the road. Sending a large and rather expensive package home to New Zealand we somehow managed to fit everything else in.
On our last day in Dallas David took us for a ride in the helicopter in which he instructs his students. With all three of us tightly packed in we took a 20 minute flight around Denton to check out the view over the gigantic Texas Motor Speedway and a bird’s eye view of suburbia. This was a very fun experience indeed and it was great to check out what David does every day as a job!

As mentioned earlier David and Courtney have truly been awesome to us for our entire US trip. We borrowed loads of their warm gear while away and it would not have been possible to purchase the car without David’s assistance. So thanks guys, honestly you really made it for us!
The car still remains in Texas with David and will hopefully sell sometime soon. We are confident that someone out there is just waiting to purchase the ultimate vehicle...she runs like a dream (want to upgrade your vet truck Mojo?).
With backpacks strapped to our backs and Spanish books in hand we head to DFW Airport to begin our rather epic journey to Santiago, Chile.

Albuquerque (October 10 - October 15)

On the journey from Trout Lake to Albuquerque we opted for the back roads and drove through some small and interesting rural communities which included a buffalo farm, a donkey farm and a lone camel with two humps. After 6 hours of driving we arrived into Albuquerque to the home of Cam’s cousin, Steve where we would be staying for the next few days.
For the first couple of days while Steve was away we explored the city and the popular tourist area of Old Town. Old Town was founded in 1706 and provides an historical snap shot of a traditional colonial Spanish town. The adobe style buildings which were once houses, are centred around the small plaza and are now the many shops and boutiques selling traditional Native American, New Mexican and Hispanic works. It was a pleasure strolling through the area absorbing the casual atmosphere and checking out the mixture of art for sale.

For the remainder of the week we enjoyed the company of Steve and his girlfriend Tara. Together we ventured about an hour north for a day trip to the capital city, Santa Fe. Santa Fe has a similar feel to the Old Town of Albuquerque, it is centred around a plaza and maintains its’ strong Spanish influence. Santa Fe is one of the biggest art centres in the US, with artists migrating to the city over the years to capture the unusual natural environment combined with the cultural mix of Native American Indians and the Spanish.
We visited the Saint Francis Cathedral and the Loretto Chapel known for its’ miracle freestanding spiral staircase, and then enjoyed a delicious New Mexican lunch. This cuisine differs from Mexican with the use of the local green and red chilli (its the same chilli but at different stages of ripeness).

Heading back to Albuquerque as the sun set we took a ride on the world’s longest tram - about 6km one way progressing to the 3000 metre summit. As the sky bleed beautiful pinks and oranges we were provided with gorgeous views over the city and surrounding country side, a superb way to round off the day.

On our final day we took a drive about 100km out of town to visit the Acoma Pueblo, a Native American community built on top of a sandstone mesa and one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the United States. Settled in the 12th century by the Native Americans, the Spaniards invaded in 1598 and over time the community decreased from 2000 to 250 survivors. Thirteen families still live in the Pueblo (or village) today without running water or electricity (though there are a couple of generators for some).

With summer temperatures reaching 50C and winter as low as 30C below, these people do incredibly well to maintain the traditional way of life. The walking tour of the village took us through the church, cemetery and small streets while hearing of stories of the people, religion, wars and agriculture over time. We learnt a lot and it was great to at last visit a functioning Native American community before we leave the US. This community in particular proved to be very entrepreneurial and manages to provide an income for themselves through the tourist dollar while appearing to maintain and restore their cultural identity in the modern world. We were very impressed. We ended the day at a health spa with a sauna and hot tub, followed by another yummy home cooked Mexican dinner.

Thanks so much to Steve and Tara, we had a lot of fun with you guys and were very spoilt. It was great for Cam to see the city that Steve has been living in for the past 16 years. We look forward to hanging out next year when you visit NZ!
The next day we head off early for our long-long drive across state to our home away from home Dallas, Texas.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Trout Lake and Telluride (October 3- October 10)

On the drive north toward Telluride we were treated to a superb display of autumn colours from the many Aspen trees that lined the road side and surrounding hills. The trees appeared alight as the morning sun filtered through and contrasted against the dark patches of Pines. The dry desert of the previous week had quickly folded away to lush green fields and gently flowing rivers which was very beautiful and somewhat unreal.

During our time in southern Colorado we stayed with Al, a previous host father of Geoff who lives at Trout Lake which is about 20 minutes south of the well known ski town - Telluride. The house sits above the shores of the beautiful aqua coloured lake and at the base of the snow covered Rocky Mountains. The house itself is built to provide the best views of the mountains and surrounding wilderness. With floor to ceiling windows and no curtains, every room looks onto the mountain and has the feel of living outside but with the cosy comfort of the under floor heating. To wake each morning to the sun streaming over the mountain tops and discover how much snow had fallen the night before was just magic.

During our week long stay we made the most of both the outdoors and down time to cook, relax and watch movies. We had an afternoon of extreme 4-wheel driving where Al expertly guided his ¾ tonne truck along the very steep and skinny path to the 12,000 feet summit. Along the way we were not only treated to picturesque views over the Telluride town but also drove through the remains of the old mining town that once operated in the mountain above Telluride.

This town had a population of around 2000 people and included a bowling alley, library and school. It was just mind blowing to think that not only had mules hauled all materials and supplies up the mountain for the mine and village to exist, but also that people lived up there in the most harshest of Winter conditions. Mining for zinc, copper, lead, silver and gold began in the Telluride community during the early 1890s with last operations closing in the 1970s. At this time a ski lift was installed and the ski industry began to slowly take off for the town. Now with 2000 acres of ski-able area this place is a popular wee haunt for ski bunnies from around the world.

After our 4-wheel drive adventure we calmed our nerves and visited the Telluride Museum to learn more of the towns’ interesting history. Amongst the many stories was that Butch Cassidy had his first successful robbery at a Telluride bank in 1889. That man was rather clever and we have heard stories of his robberies through both museums and western films during our stay here in the US.

The weather became settled later in the week so we got active on it did a 4 mile hike into the mountains towards Hope Lake. Setting off in rather crisp conditions we soon came to snow covered tracks and eventually ploughed our way through knee deep powder to get to the lake itself. With the sun shining and the entire track to ourselves we had an incredible time taking in the pristine and silent surroundings of this simply gorgeous place.

For the remainder of our stay we explored the cute but expensive shops of Telluride that cater to the ski junkies of Winter and festival revellers of Summer. Joining Telluride town to the ski area of Mountain Village is a free gondola service which provided lovely views of both the town, ski fields and the many multimillion dollar homes that are clustered around this area.

We thoroughly enjoyed our week at Trout Lake and really did fall in love with this place. Thank you Al for the lovely time. We hope that you visit New Zealand soon to enjoy the mountains and adventures it has to offer.
Our journey must continue - loading up the car for the second to last time we head southeast towards Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Grand Canyon (September 29 – October 3)

On route from Vegas to the Grand Canyon we passed the rather impressive Hoover Dam. Impressive because of the contrast of a body of water against the harsh desert landscape as well as the sheer engineering feat of the Dam itself which sits across the Nevada and Arizona border. The concrete gravity dam on the Colorado River was constructed between 1931 and 1936 and resulted in over 100 workers losing their lives. We stopped briefly to check it out from the top but with no shade and temperatures well above 40 degrees we were grateful to return to the AC comfort of the car.

Later that night we pulled into a campground at Williams, about an hour south of the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. The next morning on our way to the Park we visited the National Geographic IMAX theatre for our first IMAX experience here in the US. It seems to be a very popular medium in most tourist centres we visit but we usually avoid it due to the pricey cost of the tickets. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves as we rafted down the Colorado River at the bottom of the Canyon and soared over the top enjoying magnificent birds eye views of this great big ditch we were about to view in real life!
Once we had entered the Park we cruised the roads looking for the campground and stumbled across the canyon itself. We pulled to the side of the road and jumped out of the car to be within metres of the edge of the most magnificent natural feature we have ever seen. It was almost overwhelming to take in the tranquillity and beauty of such a feature that has been carved by water over 6 million years. This initial shock of the scale and beauty of the Canyon did not seem to diminish on subsequent viewings, which is likely why the Grand Canyon is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. We visited it several times during our two night stay in the Park and were very spoilt with clear days providing uninterrupted views of the entire canyon.

Feeling slightly under the weather due to a cold and slight altitude sickness we did a short 3 mile hike into the Canyon. This was excellent and provided a different perspective from the top, but we promised ourselves that next time we would return to make the full 8 mile decent to the bottom and then out to the less touristy North Rim. We were rather envious of those hiking up on their return from the bottom - it would be a fantastic achievement and completely doable with the right equipment. Alternatively there are mules which can take you to the bottom and back, a less active option but still a great way to experience the Canyon.

Leaving the gorgeous Canyon behind we headed north east toward Colorado. Along the way we stopped to take in the views and odd rock formations of northern Arizona and soon arrived at Four Corners Navajo Tribal Park. The Four Corners is the only place in the US where four states (Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico) meet one another.

We paid the fee to inspect the very uninspiring monument marker but this was made up for by the great market stalls selling Native American arts and treasures. We purchased a couple of items and hit the road settling for the night at Cortez in Southwest Colorado, approximately one hour south from our destination the following day, Telluride.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Las Vegas (September 27 – September 29)

After a very hot five hour drive through desert we arrived into Las Vegas, or the more aptly named Sin City. Some people love it and some people hate it, so we were eager to see for ourselves what all the fuss is about!
Driving down the Strip we were completely mesmerised by the bright lights (and it was day time), crazy replica buildings and the hundreds of people walking about. We were amongst extreme extravagance all built in the middle of a desert. We could not wait to explore!

We were very fortunate to be staying in a time-share hotel located on the Strip next to the famous Bellagio Casino and across the road from Planet Hollywood. Our room had a view of the gorgeous choreographed fountains in front of the Bellagio. One of the best locations in town, we were incredibly privileged. Thank you so much Margie and Tim for your generosity in letting us stay at your time-share.

We spent our two night stay absorbing the atmosphere and the craziness of the place and people by strolling the Strip and many casinos. We heard the biggest mix of accents yet with people from all over the world and all walks of life coming to see the city and try their luck at a spot of gaming. There were also very few children which made for a pleasant contrast from our day in Disneyland! We visited the Eiffel Tower of Paris, canals of Venice and New York’s Brooklyn Bridge; all familiar sights from our recent travels. Nothing is half-assed, the amount of detail and money poured into these casino attractions is phenomenal. My personal favourite was stumbling across the low key lion enclosure (with 13 lions!) in the middle of the MGM casino. Yep while trying your luck at the table you can also be distracted by the lions playfully wrestling their trainers in their glass home, and why not?

Vegas is also known for its’ quality of cuisine. Eating out we sampled a range of food, but the best was certainly homemade beef pies at the Irish Pub in New York New York - we were craving some homely goodness and were very satisfied with our choice. We also paid a visit to the fantastical M&M shop where we purchased the best M&Ms possible – purple coloured dark chocolate peanut butter flavour...Yum! We also went to a hypnotist/comedy show which was very funny though neither of us were game to participate, wise choice I think.

For those that visit Vegas without gambling as the sole focus it is easy to be entertained by the glitz, glamour and excess of the place. It is almost possible to forget that the city is built around casinos and thriving solely on the gaming industry. Our gambling was very novice and brief but we came out on top and had fun.

We certainly did not see any indication that the financial crisis had impacted on this city. In fact the opposite, Vegas was thriving and even felt untouchable. Anyone can be someone, play the game and win their millions. Our two night stay provided just the right amount of time to sample the city.
Wednesday morning we pack up and head to Arizona to see the Grand Canyon.