San Francisco: Hiking, nudism and a Jacuzzi

San Francisco: Hiking, nudism and a Jacuzzi

Much like my university city of Brighton (England), San Francisco has vibrant hippy and gay scenes, as well as being a hotbed of cultural and ethnic diversity. Being on the Pacific Coast, it’s had a lot of immigration especially from Asia. Also like Brighton, the city is cut into steep hills and has excellent public transport (for the US). However, unlike Brighton, San Francisco is a big city with a large tech/law/business side to it these days, which has given it a more serious, professional edge and had two unpleasant consequences. First, the rent prices are the highest in the US, having now surpassed New York (average rent for an apartment is $3,871 per month as of January 2017). Second, some say it has diluted the hippie glory of 60s San Francisco. Something is still in the air; there is a sense of freedom and curiosity that you can see from the hub of innovation that is Silicon Valley to the wild S&M hedonism of the Folsom Street Fair. Nevertheless, San Francisco is now the hippie that grew up and got a serious job. More than in most other cities, my time San Francisco was very much coloured by my Couchsurfing hosts; thanks to them, I saw three distinct sides of the city. So, who were they? Roger: The hiking My first host was Roger, an older man who has hosted hundreds of people and now lives in Larkspur (Marin County), which is north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Roger was kind enough to pick me up from the airport, and what ensued for the next three days was...
Grand Canyon, Twice: West Rim and South Rim

Grand Canyon, Twice: West Rim and South Rim

Round 1: Bus tour to the West Rim Imagine that you wake up at an ungodly hour before dawn so that you can get picked up by your tour bus and get on the road for several hours before arriving at this fabled world landmark for a once-in-a-lifetime view…then you arrive and you see this: That’s right – almost zero visibility. The helicopter ride I was booked in for is cancelled. It looks like this is going to be it. It’s cold and it’s still a few hours until we head back on the bus, and there’s nothing to do but wait. Then, in the last hour or two, the sun breaks through. And you see this: Well, that was pretty much my first experience of the Grand Canyon West Rim. Despite the undeniable beauty that eventually revealed itself, the whole thing had felt muted because of the slow reveal rather than shock-and-awe from the start, plus I had heard that the South Rim was much more beautiful whereas the West Rim was more touristy, probably because of its greater proximity to Las Vegas, a popular destination from which to take a Grand Canyon tour. As such, I didn’t feel like I was done here – I resolved to return. (By the way, this may sound strange, but the bus journey was possibly a better experience than the views. The bus driver, Thomas, was hilarious – he entertained us every step of the way by joking around, singing bits of what he was saying, and just generally enjoying doing his job with great panache. I love meeting these people...
Las Vegas: Debauchery and Canyons

Las Vegas: Debauchery and Canyons

When I first thought about going to Las Vegas, I wasn’t so sure it would be my thing. Most people agreed that it was a great place to spend a lot of money on partying and gambling and not much else – like some sort of adult Disneyland – and my scene is a lot more towards the cheap travel, hostels and Couchsurfing end of things. But I had thought about passing through anyway, since I wanted to go and see the Grand Canyon and Death Valley…and I was curious. So I went. Here are some impressions of Vegas: I won’t go into detail about what happened that Saturday because I now truly understand why everyone keeps repeating the old adage, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”. It’s exactly like The Hangover – a place where everyone has carefree anonymity and where anything can happen. If you ever express surprise at anything you have seen or heard, people will shrug, smile, and say “It’s Vegas!”. The strip of hotel and casino resorts is a mirage specifically set up to make you spend all your money, and the Vegas ideal is that you don’t feel bad about it. Sin City is not just a crazy place – it is a sanctuary from guilt, because everyone is in on it. Note: I will say this. If you go up to a good-looking girl who is alone at the bar and start talking to her, even if you think you’re rocking it because the conversation is good and you’re both smiling, EVEN if you’re now conversing in French because she’s Belgian...