Sunday, January 16, 2005

Trekamerica

From 6th January 2005 to 15th January 2005, I traveled with a tour group called trekamerica. The group included 12 people (including me). 5 Koreans, 2 Britons, 1 Australian, 1 Estonian, 1 German, 1 Indian (me) and 1 American (tour leader).

More than anything else, interacting with this group for 10 days, made me conscious of my Indian origin, the fact that I do not have white skin (or yellow), my lack of knowledge about my own culture and religion, the fact that I know more about a foreign language than my own language, and that I am different. Though not as different as the others want me to be.

The tour started from a Hotel in Los Angeles early morning on the 6th. The German and the tour leader, being the only guys in the group, had a bad start. They had to load our entire luggage in the van. We tried helping, only to drop our bags on each other's heads. We head straight to San Diego.
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San Diego (6th and 7th)
The Sea World is huge. Pardon me comparing the Sea World to the Underwater world at Singapore. I suppose comparisons become imperative when you have seen two similar places. Even though the Sea World has many more shows, is much bigger, in my opinion the underwater world at Singapore showcases the marine animals in a much better way and has many more species there. Anyways, let's get back to the Sea World. There are some very good rides and shows. Especially the performances by the killer whales and the dolphins are spectacular. And from the top of the rides, we got a very good view of the entire Sea World.

By the time we finish enjoying the rides and shows at Sea World, its sunset time. So we hurry to the Crystal Pier at Pacific Beach to catch the sunset and the surfers. Not too good. Have had better view in other places. It was cloudy and drizzling. Still, got to see many surfers fighting against the waves.

At night, we did some of the craziest things in my life. Camped at a place called "Campland at Bay". It was cold and wet. Does anybody ever camp in such weather? It was fun putting up the tents and rolling out sleeping bags. The team leader, David, cooked bean burritos for us. Then the eleven of us got on top of the van, as David drove us to the beach, which was just five minutes from the camp. We had to struggle to avoid getting hit by palm trees on the road. For all of us on top, it was a good experience, with chilled air seeping through our skins. It reminded me of the trucks and buses full of people in Bihar, going to see a mela.

On the beach we burnt woods and sat around it. We were carrying folding chairs! Played beach volleyball and frisby.

The night was extremely cold with rain all through.

The next day was a free day in San Diego. It was a horrible day. There was so much rain that I just wanted to sit in a cafe, read and drink coffee. But forced myself to go to Balboa park, Gas Lamp
Quarters and Horton Plaza. Everything was wet and didn't enjoy anything. The only thing that I enjoyed was watching "Meet the Fockers" at Horton Plaza. Sitting in the theatre for 2 hours was a
relief from the wet weather outside.

San Diego is supposed to be one of the most beautiful places in California. And it is. In spite of the weather.

Went for dinner at the Dick's near Gas Lamp Quarters. Now this was some experience. I have never seen a place like this before. The customer service is known to be really bad. The waiters throw the
tissues, menu, food, everything at you. Talk really harshly and rudely. The people keep fighting with each other for food, throwing balls of tissues at each other. I really enjoyed it. There was live
music, which was really live. If you don't applaud after a piece, the singers swear at you.
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Cowboy Camp, Sonoran Desert (8th and 9th)
It was a long drive from San Diego to the Cowboy Camp at Sonoran Desert. Spent the whole day in the van, sleeping. I volunteered to make dinner for everyone. Made my usual aloo gobi and tamatar ki
chutney. Everybody liked it. The food also brought with it discussion on vegetarianism. And questions like "why are you a vegetarian? is it because of religion?"....Am I a vegetarian because I am a Hindu? As far as I know, even Bengali's are Hindus. But they are not vegetarians. So why am I a vegetarian? Just because my family has always been vegetarian?....I have no satisfactory answer.

It was good sitting by the fire and enjoying the dry weather. Everybody started getting drunk and I went to sleep.

Next day was a beautiful day too. Very sunny. It was a treat to be riding the horse through the hills and the desert, with sunlight on my face and body, after days of rain. It was very scenic too. The
cactuses are huge and high in this place.

Also got a chance to have a tete-a-tete with Betty and Rusty. They are the owners of the cowboy camp at which we were camping. Rusty is one of the oldest cowboy's alive in the area. He is fit as a fiddle at 95. Says he feels like 16. He says that Betty has grown old as she doesnot smoke or drink. So, according to him, she is not able to cope with him. Betty herself must be 80 plus. Though she is very active and even pretty. They have lived in this place all their lives.

They asked me a lot of questions about India. About Hinduism. They had heard about the Tsunami. So were very curious about India. Tsunami has brought India on everybody'd lips for the time being. They also asked me what is the holy scipture for Hindu's called. Just like its Bible for the Christians. Which is our holy scripture? Is it the Bhagvad Gita? Is it the Vedas? Is it the Puranas? Which one is it? I do not know.

The toilets in the camp were a nightmare. The Americans call them pit toilets. There is a huge hole. You just sit on top of it and do whatever you have to. No need to flush. How convenient! And you could have a shower by the well in the open! No hot water!

In the evening, we shooted cans and bottles with real bullets and guns! Gosh! Its tough to shoot. The noise can blow your ear drums. After that- Lassoeing, also called roping. I am bad at it. Very bad.
Could not rope the horse even once.

At night we had a traditional cowboy dinner, cooked by Betty on the wood and coal fire. It was delicious. I especially loved the smell and the taste of smoke in my food. Dessert was once again cooked in the same fire- chocolate cake. Yummy again. After dessert, entertainment provided by Betty and Rusty again. Betty was great on the guitar, and has a very good voice as well. Rusty, I guess, would have been a good singer once upon a time. But I could not understand a word he sang
because of his old age. Overall a great experience.

The next day was traditional cowboy breakfast with homemade bread. As we packed our tents, Betty presented me with an old horseshoe as she was fascinated by my stories about India and kind of liked me.
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Grand Canyon (10th and 11th)
We drive to Montezuma Castle National Monument. Its a fraud. How can they call just pieces of bricks and rocks kept together a national monument? There is nothing to be seen. These are supposed to be the ruins of castles built by Indians. But they are really ruined. Drive some more and reach Grand Canyon. Bad Weather. Its almost dark, so there is no scope of seeing the canyon. We check into the hotel rooms. The rooms are really good. Soak into the bathtub. After spending two
days in the cowboy camp without shower, this feels like heaven. Spent the night talking to friends on the phone and playing cards with the Korean girls.

Next day the bad weather continues. So could not see the sunrise and the sunset on the canyon. But whatever little I could see of the canyon, was breathtaking. We were on the South rim of the Canyon
(Tusayan). Went on a short hike on the Bright Angel Trail. The trail was slippery and washed out in many places because of the rain and the snow.

Probably the best view of the Canyon that I had was in the IMAX Theatre (7 storeyed screen) in Tusayan. The images of the Colorado River and the Canyon looked very different from what we saw. Grand Canyon is certainly the greatest natural phenomenon that I have seen till date. Want to come back here some day in the summers and see the Canyon as was shown in the theatre.

On 12th morning, we were supposed to leave early for Vegas. But, the weather was unexpectedly good. So we decided to have another look at the Canyon, sans the fog. And if yesterday was breathtaking, the view today cannot be described. The sky was clear, no snow, no fog. We got
some great views of the Grand Canyon.
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Las Vegas (13th and 14th)
We reached Las Vegas around 3 in the afternoon, via the historic route 66. You have to experience Vegas to know what it is. The place has a totally different feel to it. Its different from any other city that I have seen, or heard about.

We did Vegas in style. Starting with a buffet at Luxor, which had more than 200 dishes. I myself tried more than 20 of them. It included all the different cuisine that you can think of....not exactly though. Sadly, there was no Indian food! Then a Limo was waiting to drive us through the strip and downtown Vegas. My first ride in a limo. It makes you feel grand. Watched the Fremont Street Experience show in downtown Vegas. Then hopped on to the Limo and off to Rio to catch the Masquerade in the sky show. Not only did we watch the show, we also participated in the show. I participated in a live Vegas show, dancing on a decorated trolley in the sky! Amazing experience. Hop on to the limo again and now to Bellagio hotel and casino. We watched the water fountain shows there. Its certainly the best water fountain show in the world! I was so enchanted by it that I watched three shows in a row. And I watched it from the arcade where the Ocean's eleven team had stood towards the end of the movie.

Then to MGM Grand. Nothing much. Then to New York New York. We danced till early morning hours in the Coyote Ugly Club and then off to our hotel where I gambled off $10, playing various stupid games and lost all the money!

Walked on the strip the whole of next day. Absorbing the grandeur of Las Vegas. From Bellagio to Flamingo, Luxor to Excalibur, New York New York to Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand to Stratosphere, Circus Circus to Treasure Island. On foot for more than six hours. Came to the hotel and now is the time to go Bungy jumping. Nervous. Excited. Go there. The tower from which I had to jump was 171 ft high. Saw the others jump. I can't do it. I just can't do it. I'll have a heart attack if I do. Back out. Didn't have the courage to jump inspite of everyone else trying to coax me into doing it.

Come back to the hotel. Gamble some more. Lose some more money. I am broke. Living on the edge again. Had Mexican dinner. Very good and different from anything I have had earlier.
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Death Valley National Park (14th Jan)
Desert can be so beautiful? I didn't know till I saw the Death Valley! We went from point to point, seeing different faces of the desert. Badwater Basin- The lowest point below sea level in the Western
Hemisphere. 85m below sea level. It had Sodium Chloride crusts formed on the sand, which shone like crystals in the sun.

The Golden Canyon. As the name suggests, canyons formed due to the flow of the river. And Golden in colour. Shines like newly polished gold in the sun.

Camped at Stovepipe Wells Campground. Dave cooked brownie for us in the fire. And the Korean girls made special Korean food. Both were good.

And yes, there were so many stars in the sky. I was seeing stars in the US for the first time!

Sitting by the fire, watching the stars, eating brownie and drinking coffee, Enelie and I started talking about our countries. She definitely did not know much about Estonia. But I was surprised at how
little I myself know about India! It was an eye opener. Will try to read more about India in the future!

Next day we spent the whole day in the van, travelling from Death Valley to Los Angeles. Dave dropped me at Anaheim, from where Micky picked me up. And my trip came to an end. Back to Irvine and then back to Syracuse. The End.
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