We travelled through true Mexican desert with lots of cacti poking out of the scrub. It's amazing to see all the different species, apparently there are over 800, most of which can be found in Mexico. There were also interesting tall, willowy plants topped with bright red blossoms, which looked a bit like red hot pokers, but it was hard to get a decent photo.
We stopped and pressure-washed both Nyathi's engine and under-body, and then a little later at a DIY place, we did her body too. We had a small hole in the exhaust welded too. It doesn't sound like much, but it's incredible how long these things take!
And then of course there are the self-imposed time-wasting things... I went to Ley supermarket and bought lots of stuff to use up our last pesos, only to discover when I got to the till they wouldn't accept my 200 note (especially when she saw I had more money in my wallet). So I left all the groceries in the bags at the check-out and left, fuming.
Michael had his turn to be fuming later on, when no matter how many places we went to, they would not give us deposits back for our beer bottles. They were quite happy to take them from us, but not pay us the almost $10 worth of deposit! We almost felt like smashing them all in front of the place we went to.
The USA border crossing snuck up on us. There were no exit formalities from Mexico, except to hand in our vehicle importation sticker before we got into Nogales town. The Americans were a pleasure to deal with and after our frustrating last day in Mexico, we were really pleased to be here. They did a quick search on the vehicle, with most interest in our foodstuffs and questions as o whether we had any stuff from Africa or South America. They took one can of Argentine corned beef from us (I'm still not sure why) and that was it. When we went to immigration the guy had already completed the forms for us and all we had to do was sign them and pay $6 each entry fee.
Michael decided he wanted to rely entirely on the GPS to get us to the centre of Phoenix, so after a lot of driving around, we ended up in a lovely suburb with the GPS declaring we had arrived...
Phoenix is a lovely city with some extremely interesting buildings. Very modern, big enough to have great facilities, but not too crowded. It's fairly sprawling so getting from one side to the other can take some time, but the traffic is not very heavy, so that makes up for it. We spent the day looking for things we needed such as polycarbonate for the cab windows (no success), transformer (no success) etc. We found good internet facilities at the central library. We received temporary library cards to gain free access to the internet, which uses a very effective computerised booking system. The library itself was most impressive and it was a pleasure to wander around and browse through all the magazines and books.
The evening didn't end so well, as we spent until after midnight searching for a campsite where we could camp. Unfortunately they all turned out to either not exist, or were RV parks with no facilities such as showers or toilets, who would not allow to spend the night, even for their handsome fees of $20. In the end we resorted to driving 45km south along the I10 to the rest area. We were absolutely exhausted by the time we got to bed!
When we started up this morning, Nyathi was making a new noise - a howling noise at high revs, when the engine is under load. It sounds like the turbo-charger might be on its way out...
We continued our search for polycarbonate and transformers, but still no luck. We wandered around a number of shops looking at loads of different thins and buying a few. We spent ages in an electronics and home entertainment shop looking at all the latest kit and drinking the very welcome complimentary bottles of iced water.
We went to Kinkos where the very friendly on-duty manager allowed us to use the internet connection for free, because they were unable to successfully connect our laptop. It was great and saved us not only a lot of hassle, but also money (at $12/hr!). Desperate for a nice hot shower, we looked for local campsites and other facilities, but could find nothing for 'tent campers', so we went north along the motorway to the Bumblebee rest area, ready to head north for the canyon in the morning.
We set off early and the day was wonderful, but the evening ended badly! First of all we stopped off at a new-age community, Arcosanti, which is the brainchild and design of Paolo Soleri. It is currently being built (slowly) in stages by budding architects and enthusiasts from all over the world. Upon completion the plan is for it to house 5,000 people in an eco-sensitive environment. We were not particularly impressed, but did enjoy a very interesting temporary exhibition they had on historic views of what life would be like in the 21st century. What I thought was quaint was the community post boxes on the side of the road.
We stopped off at Montezuma's Castle which had been recommended to us by another traveller. It is a cliff dwelling remarkably similar to those found in Dogon country in Mali. We were very impressed by the information available and the way the park, although small, was set up.
Then we took the scenic Route 89a through Sedona and the Oak Creek Canyon national park area. The scenery was absolutely spectacular with fiery red and orange mountains and stone formations carved by forces of nature.
We visited an interesting church which was built into the mountains incorporating a massive cross in the structure. It was lovely inside, but we felt it was a bit of en eyesore on the natural landscape.
We drove north through Flagstaff and joined the famous Route 66 for a while. We stopped and wandered about in a beautiful big bookstore called Barnes and Noble and bought the USA Rough Guide. We continued along Route 89 toward the Grand Canyon and the scenery was still wonderful, with forests, prairie-type fields and the snow capped San Francisco mountains in the background. We also saw a quaint little church on the roadside in the middle of nowhere.
Then we watched the snow clouds roll in and the sky became all gloomy and we had some sleety snow, but we were rewarded with the most fantastic rainbow afterwards...
About 35km south of the entrance to Grand Canyon National park we were driving along and the engine died abruptly! Michael managed to pull of the road slightly, but when he tried to restart the engine there was no compression, so we knew it was serious and Michael said straight away that the timing belt was broken. **!@?*! Using the starter motor in low gear Michael was able to get Nyathi sufficiently off the road to be safe and he even got us relatively level! We sat in the cab debating our options and decided the best thing was to sleep where we were for the night and hope that a highway patrol would spot us in the morning. So, still not hot shower and it was so cold we decided we couldn't face having a bush bath at close to freezing outside! We crawled into bed, put on our warm clothing and beanies and snuggled to keep warm (our duvet and electric blanket were safely packed away in the depths of one of the outside compartments).
We woke up to find it had snowed during the night. It was already starting to melt, but we were still pretty cold. Michael made a jerry can of hot water for us, which helped us to thaw out a little. We had very quick bush baths and not a moment too soon, because then the highway patrol stopped to see if everything was OK. They were extremely pleasant and called the AAA for us to give us a tow. they were very interested in Nyathi and chatted for a short while, before confirming the tow truck would be with us within the hour.
We thawed our feet in the remaining hot water and about half an hour later the tow truck arrived - oddly from what we thought was the wrong direction...
The driver David, was really nice and soon had Nyathi up on the back of the tow truck, safely secured. It turns out he was from the garage within the Grand Canyon National park and they were the closest outfit with an AAA concession, so we were towed up into the national park. It was gloriously warm in the cab of the tow truck, but it was very sad to see Nyathi on the back! Once we had entered the park David stopped en route for us to have our first quick look at the canyon, which was magnificent.
We went down to the garage and everyone was quite impressed with Nyathi. The manager, David, was very helpful and we decided the best thing to do was get the vehicle into the workshop and see what the damage was, particularly as we had a full set of Land Rover manuals (which took us almost an hour to find, as we couldn't remember which box we had buried them in).
The garage closed for lunch and we went and booked into Yavapai Lodge (the cheapest accommodation available at $91 + taxes per night)! We had chicken a la king for lunch and then went back to the garage. At about 15h30 they got Nyathi of the tow truck and used momentum and some heavy pushing to get her into a work bay.
We took the bonnet off (and a a result the window guard) and left them undoing the tappet cover. David had kindly arranged some complimentary tickets for us on the Canyon Sunset Tour for 17h30, so we went back to the hotel. Put on some warmer clothes and caught the shuttle to the Bright Angel Lodge.
The tour was lovely and the bus driver was a real entertainer, telling us all sorts of interesting facts about the canyon and the first entrepreneurs involved in tourism here. We stopped at a number of view points and went to the lovely shop at Hermit's Rest, where I posed in the dramatic old fireplace.
Our camera could not do justice to the view of the sun setting over the massive canyon, but we thoroughly enjoyed it.
We slept really well and Michael went down to the garage while I finished packing and checked out of the lodge. The mechanics were still trying to loosen the crankshaft pulley bolt and by lunchtime we knew they had the rocker cover off, to reveal a broken a broken rocker arm. We went for lunch at the Bright Angel which was very pleasant. We also walked along the canyon rim and sat and watched the squirrel darting about in the bushes below.
We wandered back past the train station to the workshop to see what was happening.
After some debate we decided the best thing to do was to go back down to Flagstaff and stay there for a couple of nights while we waited for the spare parts to be shipped. So we caught a bus at 17h45 and were in Flagstaff before 20h00. We wandered about looking for suitable accommodation (cheap, clean, phone, TV and preferably fridge and microwave). We eventually settled on Highland Motel which was run by a friendly lady called Gita, but unfortunately her English wasn't brilliant so it made communications a bit difficult. Nevertheless the room was large, clean and cost £30 plus tax.
We called the garage the next day to discover that we had also broken some valves. Michael called Merlin Land Rover in Nottingham and as always, they were extremely helpful and said they would order the parts and ship them over to us. Unfortunately the valves would only arrive with them on the Friday and then be in the USA on the Tuesday, but there wasn't anything anyone could do about that. So, we knew we were in Flagstaff for at least another week.
We spent three nights at Highland Motel and then swapped to the Autolodge Hotel, which was in a better location and although the room wasn't as nice, it cost us just $150 inclusive for the week. So we settled in nicely and stocked up the fridge.
Flagstaff is a lovely little town. It has the famous Route 66 travelling through it and is home to the surprisingly impressive Northern Arizona University. The NAU also has a fantastic library with (Michaels estimates) over a million books and exceptionally good internet facilities available to all Arizona residents free of charge. This was a real bonus for us because we spent most of our days doing research on visas, driving in China, trains across China, UK flights, polycarbonate, transformers, MP3s, tyres, shipping - you name it!
I went to the shops and bought a pair of Nike running shoes, socks, shorts, running bottoms and a light sweatshirt for less than $70! I ran most days, except for the day after my migraine from hell, which I never want to have again in my life.
At night we watched a lot of TV, especially as if we wanted to catch UK businesses or people first thing in the morning, we had to call after midnight. We tested a number of the fast food places and were pleasantly surprised, but our favourite was SouperSalad which was an buffet for just under $6 and you could eat as much delicious salad, soup, tacos, fruit and ice cream as you cared to - great value!
On Thursday we had a very heavy hailstorm followed by a flurry of snow, which settled for a while with some lasting overnight in the shade, but the rest melted.
I did two loads of washing at the laundromat and started packing...
When we were walking through the NAU grounds to catch the bus from the Amtrak station we saw the most beautiful ice crystal hanging from plants and the ice covered lawns crunched underfoot.
We caught the 08h30 bus back up to the canyon and were thrilled to see Nyathi drive past us just as we were getting off the bus! The garage bill was lower than we had expected, which was a very pleasant surprise and of course we took a picture of David and his motley crew, who had sorted out Nyathi's ills. David has been particularly helpful and friendly to us, and we would recommend breaking down in the Grand Canyon Park to anyone!
Unfortunately, the turbo noise continues unabated (but no worse than before) - we had rather optimistically hoped that the noise might have be related to the timing belt failure. We spent the morning stopping and looking out over the various rim viewpoints and to change a tyre (some things never change). The scenery continued to be breathtaking and we drove through an Indian Reservation with houses dotted across the land and the odd souvenir stalls set up along the roadside.
We stopped in Page and used the library internet for just $5 an hour and then we got some tacos for dinner. We were going to camp at the local campsite for the night, but decided at $17 we would rather continue and get closer to Bryce Canyon so we could make a full day of it tomorrow. We drove past Lake Powell which is a haven for pleasure seekers who love the wate life.
We drove through some impressive 'Rainbow Hills' which are striped with distinctly differently coloured soils...
We stopped just outside the Dixie National Park at the Glendale rest area and fell asleep feeling very happy to be back on the road again and sleeping comfortably in Nyathi.
Dixie National Park was beautiful with striking red mountains towering next to the motorway and in some cases stretching over in a natural bridge.
Bryce Canyon was spectacular. We drove all the way to the end of the park to Rainbow Point and we could see for miles in the distance. It was very different to the Grand Canyon and in fact we found it more interesting. There was still some snow lying in the shadier spots, but it was very hot in the sun. Nyathi attracted quite a lot of attention when we stopped at the various look out points.
We went for a mini hike at one stage. The rock formations were amazing - it is incredible what erosion can do. The altitude made it less than a stroll in the park, but we are quite used to altitude now, so wasn't bad.
Then we headed off for Zion National Park. Once again we used our annual card for entrance (it is definitely going to pay for itself before we are done). We stopped at a view point and there were loads of bikers there. many of them were Mexican and were very interested in where we had been travelling in their home country. We spoke to quite a few of them, but I was most surprised when a guy came up to me and started speaking Afrikaans. It turns out Steve wasn't with the bikers, but lives at a friend's house in Hurricane about 45 minutes away. We got chatting to him and his adventurous wife, Maria. They are both sky-dive instructors and enjoy canyoneering, rappelling and all sorts of adventurous activities. They invited us to go rappelling with them tomorrow and suggested we meet up later at their friend Rick's house for a braai (bbq).
Michael and I spent the rest of the afternoon climbing up to the top of one of the rocky outcrops and watched the hikers way down in the valley below. It was extremely beautiful and in a very different way to our previous canyons.
In the early evening we caught up with Steve and Maria (in fact we met in the supermarket, buying braai supplies). We spent a very pleasant evening with them at their RV, enjoying a big crackling campfire and then when it cooled down we went inside to watch Rick's sky-diving videos that he takes when someone does their first jump - it looked pretty scary!
We were up early. We had cereal for sustenance and then Steve rigged the rappelling gear up in a tall tree in the garden to give us a few practice runs.
I made a few sandwiches for our packs, filled up the water bottles and we were ready to go. They took us to the gorgeous Snowy Canyon. Steve walked down with us and did our first couple of test runs on a not too steep incline, while Maria and Rick arranged to leave one car at the end of the trail so we didn't have to climb all the way back out the canyon again in the evening. Both Michael and I enjoyed our first attempts and soon got into the swing of things.
Then Rick and Maria joined us and we began our trek into the canyon. The weather was wonderfully hot, with a slight breeze every now and again.
We did our first more vertical descent OK and encountered a narrow gap at the bottom which was a bit tricky. Steve rock climbed down and straddled at the bottom instead of using the ropes (rather him than me).
We spent a while picking out our next route and took the time to take in the scenery. Our next descent was slightly angled and much higher than the previous ones. It also required a mini 'sort of jump' to get started, which was a bit intimidating. Steve, Maria and Rick were all fantastic. They were patient and extremely encouraging. When we all got to the bottom, we had some lunch in the shade of canyon.
I learned the finer art of rope coiling and a little later, Michael put his throwing skills on display...
Our last descent was about 170feet (I think), anyway, it was very high and require a trickier start than the previous one (my main bruise and watch scratches were courtesy of this last rappel. If you had brought me to this spot after we left Rick's garden this morning I would have said there was no way I'd manage it by the end of the day.
Michael on his way down...
Followed by me...
It was fabulous. In the end our descents were much smoother and more controlled and we both thoroughly enjoyed our day - thanks guys - definitely a highlight of our trip!
We spent the evening relaxing outside the RV again. Steve grilled salmon for us all and then we sat around a roaring campfire roasting marshmallows and having a laugh. We collapsed into bed exhausted, but feeling fantastic, needless to say, we slept like babies.
We said our fond farewells and were on our way early. It was interesting to watch the scenery change from mountainous to desert. We arrived in Las Vegas just after lunch and spent a while just driving around taking in the sights. As expected, there were loads of wedding chapels...
Then we looked for a place to camp, but could find nothing suitable. Eventually we found the Station Hotel which was $35 per night and had two swimming pools, jacuzzis and a nice little gym with a good treadmill. So we were all set. Michael went off in search for an internet hook up, but to no avail. I went for a run on the treadmill and then had a refreshing swim, it was great.
We caught the bus into town (about 5 minutes drive) and spent a very enjoyable evening wandering around. We had a few frozen margaritas for just $1.50 at Hotel Tropicana. Then we zig-zagged our way up the main 'drag'. We saw quite a few of the hotels... New York, New York was impressive with a massive rollercoaster whizzing around the outside of the hotel, which was decked with a mini statue of liberty, empire state building - the works. Inside they had a Coyote Ugly bar, but at $10 each entrance we decided to gaze in wonder from the outside.
At the MGM Grand we got to see a pretty appalling live band and that was about all really, other than loads more slot machines and gambling tables. We wandered through a few more places and played blackjack for an hour or so, but when we were $50 down we decided to make it a night. We ended up walking the full length of The Strip past Circus Circus and then taking a slightly circuitous and somewhat unsavoury route home. En route, Michael took pity on a street person who was selling roses and bought one for me - sweet!
I ran on the treadmill and watched Dawson's Creek - it made the time fly by. Then I went for a swim and lay in the sun while Michael tried his luck again at internet searching, but came back unsuccessful. I spent the afternoon wandering around a fabulous shopping centre. Everything was far too expensive, but it was great to window shop. Then I caught (a very slow) bus down to Fremont Street, where I was going to go across to the outlet village, only to discover that it would be closing in half an hour and wasn't the most desirable place to walk to. feeling rather frustrated I caught the bus back to the shopping centre where I was meeting Michael, but he wasn't there. I got chatting to some really nice British girls who work for Virgin Atlantic and we talked for quite a while waiting for the bus to arrive with Michael on it and for them to get back to the hotel. I ended up waiting for over an hour for Michael as there had been a hiccup with the buses, it did make his day though, to be greeted by name by two stewardesses, who told him I would be waiting for him at the front of the building.
We sauntered along watching the displays of ship battles outside Treasure Island and then the volcanic explosion outside Miramar.
The weather was warm, so it was very pleasant strolling about. We had Chinese for dinner and then went into Bellagios. It was the most impressive of the hotels. The decor was exceptionally well done and they have a phased lighting system which simulates sunset inside the building.
The other place we were impressed with was the Venetian, they even had gondolas steered by gondoliers who beautifully serenaded their passengers.
We wandered back up to the shopping centre and caught the last bus back at 23h30. We spent a very pleasant couple of hours playing blackjack and were pleased to have had better luck than last night, walking away with $100 clear - enough to pay for our accommodation.
We had a leisurely start this morning and then I went for a run. We packed up and checked out by 13h00. We drove up to the outlet centre and I spent a good few hours happily wandering about picking up goodies for everyone back home. I also got a new pair of Oakley sunglasses, which I promptly put on and realised just how much better they were than my cheapies!
We drove into the night, delayed every now and again when the power wire came off the injector pump, causing the engine to die. Nevertheless, Michael sorted it and we got to San Bernadino on the outskirts of LA at about 23h00. Of course the rest area shown on the map no longer exists so we opted to spend the night in the Walmart car park.
One really annoying thing I discovered first thing this morning is that my new Oakleys have a scratch on them! So I wore my old glasses all day and will call them in the morning to find out what they will do to help me. (Of course their warranty doesn't cover scratches, but I literally wore them for three hours and was so excited I didn't really check them all that well at the shop) so we'll see!
We went first thing to British Car Services. It was wonderful to hear so many British accents. The owners, Steve and Bev are from Manchester and of course Ivor and John's friend Dave works there. They have a very impressive looking place and everyone was very friendly. We got to use the phone and internet which was really helpful and then we had a general natter about things. They cannot take the car until Monday, so we have the weekend to explore LA.
They suggested we camped down at Dockweiler Beach RV park so we headed there in the late afternoon. Michael had a job convincing the superintendent that our vehicle was an RV, custom built. He wanted to see the special sticker, so he showed him Foley's and persuaded him we should be allowed to stay for the night. It's all a bit ridiculous because when we drove in we saw people who were not nearly as well set up as us and they too used the on-site showers and toilets.
It was very pleasant. I cooked a dinner of spaghetti and we watched the sun go down over the ocean. We did two big loads of laundry too, which was handy.
I got up and found the number for Oakley customer services. I called them, but they were not at all helpful and suggested I call the retailer where I bought them. I explained that was in The Vault, Las Vegas and I was now in Los Angeles. I was not all impressed with their service. However, when I phone the Oakley store (The Vault) in Las Vegas they couldn't have been nicer. They remembered me coming in and said they would call the Hollywood Boulevard store and ask them to do a swap for me. They duly called back and said everything was in order and gave me the names of two people whom I could speak to at the Hollywood store.
I went for a long run along the beach path feeling very happy with the outcome of my conversation and squinting through my old glasses from the sand and sea glare. I had a great shower and then we got ready to leave.
So off we went, first to BCS and then to the Oakley store. They were very helpful - I checked the glasses carefully said thanks and off we went. We spent a very pleasant afternoon wandering along Hollywood Boulevard and the Walk of Fame.
We went to Mann's Theatre and saw all the hand and foot imprints in the concrete.
We had lunch upstairs at a Mexican place and saw a whole lot of bodyguards preparing for some event or important personality. They set up barriers and cordoned off walkway areas - it was all rather intriguing, but nothing exciting had happened by the time we left.
We drove along Sunset Boulevard admiring all the fabulous properties. You can't really see much because they are hidden behind big walls, fences and hedges, but the whole area of Beverley Hills and beyond just oozes money. Michael and I have never seen so many brand new Range Rovers on the road before. The sad thing is they choose them because they're the most expensive, not because they are really good off-roaders.
The Leo Carillo State camping park was full for both Saturday and Sunday and when I enquired about the others he told me they were the same. The other option was a rather expensive RV park, so after much driving about and contemplating we decided to opt for the shopping centre car park option again. We found a Costco and parked in the far corner away from light and noise and we made sure we moved all trolleys from our vicinity so we weren't woken up by people collecting them at the crack of dawn.
We drove down to a beach between Santa Monica pier and Venice. We spent a relaxing morning on a green grassy area under some palm trees, watching all the people go by. It was so fascinating. You very much get the idea here that anything goes. We saw cyclists on about ten different types of bikes, from tandems and cruisers, to recliners and trikes, then there were the rollerbladers, skateboarders, scooter riders, walkers, runners etc. Of course the people come in all shapes, sizes and colours (a few very bronzed bodies) and it was interesting to hear snippets of their conversations as they all passed by.
We also saw some very dexterous people flying kites, juggling, doing incredible frisbee tricks and much more. We had a lovely picnic of roast chicken, salads and French bread, followed by fresh strawberries.
We decided to try out some other beaches and went back to Nyathi (we'd parked in the short stay). We saw an old Camel Trophy Defender drive past, do a U-turn and come back. The owner, Michael Okoniewski was really interested in Nyathi and our journey. We chatted for quite a while and he invited us to come back to his place in the evening and that we were welcome to park up the Land Rover as he has off-street parking next to his house. We said our goodbyes and agreed to meet at his house later!
We drove further north along the beach, but decided the place we were to begin with was the nicest, so we went back and parked in the long-stay section and spent the rest of the day reading, people-watching and soaking up the sun.
We found our way to Michael's house pretty easily and parked next to his house. He was going out for the evening, so we went off to the movies in Santa Monica and watched Laws of Attraction. (Not worth the $10 each!) We also wandered along 3rd St Promenade - the pedestrian boulevard - and browsed in some book stores. We caught the Big Blue Bus back down to Venice and walked down Rose Ave to Michael's place. We crawled into Nyathi and fell straight asleep.
I didn't sleep too well, as I am getting painful twinges in my lower back and woke up every time I tried to turn over. Where is my friendly chiropractor when I need him? After a nice hot shower I felt better.
We spent the day at Okie's (his nickname, which makes it easier for us with two Michaels about) working on the two Land Rovers, drinking beers and enjoying the great weather. Michael spent some time sorting out Okie's internet connection and the great thing is, that we can pick up Okie's signal using our wireless network connection (as well as one or two others from goodness-knows-where). I spent the afternoon packing all the souvenirs we have collected, to take them back home.
We went out for dinner to a local Irish pub and had tasty wholesome pies for dinner.
It is really nice of Okie to open his house to us and he has suggested that we speak to his landlady, Sylvia, about using one of the little flats that is waiting to be redecorated, because then Michael can have a base while I am in the UK.
I packed the rest of my baggage and we stopped off at Ross' to buy some goodies for friends and family. It was fantastic value and we ended up buying loads of stuff for ourselves too (besides I needed clothing to protect all our souvenirs). We stopped off at BCS to see if our replacement credit cards had arrived from the UK, but unfortunately there weren't there yet!
Michael dropped me off at the airport just over two hours before my flight. It was weird to be saying goodbye. The check-in queue was fairly long, but it moved quite quickly, so it wasn't too bad. When I was about ten people from the front of the queue, a security women approached me and asked if she could check my baggage. It's unbelievable - it happens to me every time. I told the woman I must have a guilty face. She had a fairly good dig around and took me to the front of the queue. There were no window seats left, but when it came time to board I went to the front desk and the agent was able to give me a window allocation for someone who hadn't arrived. I am not sure it was the best decision, because the turbulence at the back was quite bad. Still, I had an interesting fellow passenger who was from the film industry and was flying out to Cannes.
We ended up spending a lot longer in Venice than we had ever anticipated and now we feel like locals! After I left, Michael was able to rent a little flat on the same grounds as Okie's for just $100/week (it is about to be refurbished). It is small, and hosts a number of little cockroaches and spiders, but it has a hot shower, a functioning toilet, two old armchairs and provides a place to work on the computer etc. It looks quite nice from the outside...
For the two weeks I was in the UK Michael tried to sort out a number of things, but discovered service in the US is far from what we had imagined:
The inverter was sent off (which was challenge enough at the post office) to the manufacturer, Sinergex, in Utah. Sinergex claims it is no longer under warranty - so he had to get the original invoice faxed through to them to prove we bought it less than two years ago. Sinergex's website claims they have a 96 hour warranty repair turn around, 6 weeks later, after much chasing they informed us the unit is now repaired.
The Lexan polycarbonate sheets for the windows were the wrong thickness, which Michael only discovered after he had taken the old window out, so he called Proglass up and asked them to send the correct thickness. Again, it took endless phone calls and we were continuously fobbed off. Eventually 5 weeks later they told us they cannot get the Lexan in the tinted version, so we told them to ship the untinted sheets and after some prompting, they agreed to refund the difference of the cost.
The transformer never arrived, despite them telling us they had taken the money from Okie's account (we couldn't us a UK credit card) and that it had been shipped. Eventually we gave up and bought one, at a premium, from a retail store.
Michael wrote a number of letters to potential sponsors and it took chase-ups before he got any responses (unfortunately all negative). Charles D'Andrade from Rover Accessories said he might be able to help us with sponsorship - so we are hoping something might come of that. Michael went down to his offices and had a great time looking at the work Charles and Rob do. They have some really good kit and know their stuff! They also have some amazing photos of various Camel Trophies on the walls. They were instrumental in equipping the vehicles for the Longitude Expedition too. Here is Nyathi parked in Rovers Accessories workshop...
The turbo noise on the Land Rover turned into something of a saga. David took one quick drive in the vehicle with Michael and agreed that the turbo was not long for this world- the shriek is definitely much worse now. He managed to find a new turbocharger - not common in the USA - for around $900, which took a few days to arrive.
A week or so (and $1300) later, the new turbo was in, and at the same time the 6x6 unit was removed and we discovered that the engagement dog was burred over, and could probably be skimmed by 2mm, rather than needing new parts. Good news all around it seemed. However, when Michael drove Nyathi out of the workshop, as soon as the revs were up, the howling noise was back in full force, which astounded both David and Michael.
To cut a long and expensive story short, it eventually turned out that there was nothing wrong with the turbo-charger - indeed nothing wrong with then engine at all. It was the bearings on the input shaft of the main gearbox which were shrieking - only at high revs and under load.
In the meantime, Okie arranged to have the machining done on the 6x6 part for $40, and BCS overhauled the gearbox, put in a new clutch and rear main oil seal while the 'box was out, and reassembled and refitted the 6x6 unit. The further $2K charge was way below their commercial price, but still makes a big dent in our dwindling funds. We will have spent over $5K on Nyathi while in the States!
My visit to the UK was quite successful. The RAC were exceptionally helpful and we had our new Carnet de Passage without any problems and we also got new International Driver's Permits. I now have a new British passport, after a somewhat hair-raising trip to Liverpool passport office. There was NO parking in the vicinity and I nearly ended up missing the appointment I'd booked, despite arriving in the city 45 minutes before my time slot! I did, however, get to spend a fabulous two days with Ashley at her university residence and I got to go out and re-experience life as a student for the night with all her great friends - it was terrific!
The other good result was the superb service we got from Merlin Land-Rover in Nottingham. They provided us with a load more spares and when I realised they had missed some off the list, they overnighted them down to me in Oxford - thanks Gary, Geoff and the parts team, it's much appreciated!
I also got to socialise with friends and family, play squash etc. It was great to get back home and see everyone again.
I arrived back in LA on 26th May and spent an over an hour waiting for Michael as there had been a mix up in the times (my fault - I think). It was so interesting watching all the different kinds of people being collected and dropped off. We had a refreshing ride down the beach in the early evening.
I gave the little flat a thoroughly good clean and it looked a whole lot better - I still wouldn't put anything on the burnt out stove, which has oil residue from months and months ago (yeugh!). We are still sleeping in Nyathi at night, but use the flat as a base and watch movies on the computer to pass away the evenings...
I got to hear about all the Venice adventures Okie had been introducing to Michael. One evening, Okie and Rob went out on the town, while Michael stayed at home, still suffering from the previous night's excesses. The other two came home, noisily, at about midnight, and Michael clambered out of Nyathi to supervise the final beer-drinking of the evening. Rob was very drunk and kept rugby tackling Okie, until eventually they crashed through the big front window. Considering the huge dagger-like shards of glass, Rob was lucky to get by with just a few deep and ugly cuts on the hand and forearm. It took Michael nearly an hour to get him patched up enough to fall asleep on Okie's couch - he kept forgetting to hold still, and demanding more beer. The inside of the house was awash with bleer (blood and spilt beer), and Rob looked like a character out of a horror movie, all bloody and unconscious on the couch.
At 3am, Michael was woken to the noise of a police car, and the police shouting into the house, "This is the police. Come out with your hands up. Keep them where we can see them."
Michael decided not to add to the confusion by getting out of Nyathi, and listened as Okie emerged from the house, dressed only in a pair of boxers. Dumbfounded at being ordered out of his own house, his response to the police was "Are you kidding me?"
"No Sir, this is not a joke. We have two guns pointed at you, and if you do not keep your hands in the air we will shoot you!" With that, they bent him over the concrete steps and cuffed his hands behind his back, and told him to not to move. In the meantime, Easton, his aging Labrador, started barking at the police, who told Okie to get the dog under control or they would shoot her. He pointed out that he couldn't get her under control with his hand cuffed behind his back, nor could he show them ID because he didn't have his documents in his boxer shorts.
It turned out that Elizabeth (his neighbour) had arrived home a bit earlier, seen the broken window, and called the police. Eventually, she explained to the police that Okie was indeed the owner of the house, (and not an eccentric burglar dressed only in boxer shorts, and accompanied by a geriatric Labrador). With polite apologies, the police released Okie from the cuffs, and departed, leaving the occupants of the property to laugh over the whole incident (relieved that the police hadn't actually gone into the house and seen Rob's dead-looking body in the blood-spattered room!)
Most of the other "outings" also seemed to involve wine, women, and song in various proportions. Okie bought some really old bicycles to cruise about on, but sadly, one night he and a couple of friends used them to go out, and of the three bikes, they only remembered to bring one home. That same night Okie lost his sunglasses, Easton (the dog), and his cell phone. These other things were eventually recovered one by one, but the bikes were gone for good. Here is Okie relaxing on the couch...
Okie has an interesting group of friends and we have got to meet quite a few of them - they've been great. Ben and Alan aka Chinasaurus Rex (both animators for Shrek 2 and now working on Tom Hank's movie Polar Express); Chris & Viviana and her two lovely little girls; Paige (works part time as a cocktail waitress at Chaya Venice); Rob (advertising creative - the one who went through Okie's window); Skeeley (tour manager for Alana Morisette); There have been lots of other fleeting meetings at various social events.
We went to a fantastic Hawaiian Luau courtesy of Ben & Alan's corporate apartment complex. We got floral leis and cocktails on arrival and had some food too. We spent the evening watching a fire eater and dancers wiggle their hips. Okie was pulled up to do the 'Hula' and of course we all had a good laugh. We ended up up the dining suite dancing and doing Karaoke. Michael & I left at about 01h30, found our bikes in the warren of apartments and cycled home.
On Tuesday we had to take Nyathi back to British Car Services, for them to sort out the gearbox. We took out the mattress and extra clothes etc. - not knowing quite how long it would take... A good thing, as after waiting for parts and a few other things, they had her for over a week, so we settled into the flat (after another good clean, before putting down the mattress). It's not so bad when we open the 'curtains' and let the light and breeze in. In fact, it's quite nice not having to wander through the garden to get to the loo at night.
At the weekend, we had a rather noisy party at Okie's place. Then we all went out for drinks and came back to Okie's again, where some of guys ended up skateboarding down the drive at 02h00 in the morning!
It is amazing how absolutely anything goes in LA. It is actually quite an eye-opener. Venice is great because it has an incredible diversity of people and cultures. In a matter of a square kilometre there are very upmarket areas, with multi-million dollar homes, areas where there is more Spanish spoken, than English, mixed with very trendy / arty areas, with colourful street people living on the corners. In fact we got a bit of a surprise one night when we heard some knocking on the door at about 21h00. We assumed it was Okie and I shouted "come in, but only if you're sexy" and a homeless woman opened the door and asked for money!
I have been running about five times a week from Venice down to Santa Monica pier. It's just over 6kms and I enjoy the time out in the fresh air watching all the people as I go by. There are so many homeless people! It's an ideal place for them... it's warm and dry, there are showers on the beach and they provide entertainment along the Venice boardwalk.
Having found Okie's bikes so useful, we bought ourselves some used mountain bikes from Ricardo at Perry's rentals on the beachfront. We plan to take them with us on the trip, because it has been so handy to have them. We use them to go to the shops, ride along the beach promenade, to go out at night (and wobble back much later).
Michael celebrated his birthday on 15th June. We spent the day working - Michael on the computer, updating disk drives and I gave Nyathi's cab a big scrub down (using ten soapy Brillo pads). In the evening we had drinks' at Okie's with him and Marley and they brought out a birthday cake for Michael aglow with candles. Then we went down to our favourite little local Mexican place called La Fiesta Brava. We had a bottle of wine and delicious, wholesome food and 'skipped' the two blocks back to the house.
We have also spent lots of pleasant hours riding along the beach path. Michael is improving his prowess on his bike...
However, not like the guys we saw down at Venice Beach one weekend. There was a big outdoor event with live music, competitions for BMX bike riders, skateboarders, rollerskaters, all sorts.
The weather was fantastic and we spent two afternoons wandering about soaking up the atmosphere and watching some daredevil action. The BMX bikers were jumping over 18.5 feet and the winner got a cheque for $2,500 plus all sorts of other prizes.
We met Okie and Ben there. They had their 'magic tiki mugs' with them (and a sneaky supply of beer in their bag). We spent a while soaking up the last of the sun, watching everything happening around us and then we rode along the beach path back home.
On Thursday we went to Six Flags Magic Mountain. There were some thrilling rides, but the queues were pretty long (we waited 1h45m for the most unique ride and needless to say only did that once) and the place was not very well organised. We saw lots of queue (line) jumping and the rides are not laid out in an easy-to-find way. Nevertheless we had a fantastic day and went on 'Goliath' three times which had a drop of 190 feet and some amazing loops and turns.
We went to another party at one of Okie and Ben's friend's places. It was great. There were so many fascinating people there and we got to see someone chucked out when he tried to skateboard through the house - it ended in a fight, because he was really drunk and very belligerent! Okie left a little earlier to take Marley home, who was feeling a bit worse for wear. We only stayed until about midnight and Michael and I ended up pushing Ben home in a shopping trolley we found at the side of the road. We deposited him on Okie's couch and left him, dead to the world...
The next day we went with Charles (from Rover Accessories) and a whole lot of his friends to Lockwood Valley. It was a terrific, but very long day. We met at a truck-stop at 10h30 and got home at 02h00... Firstly, Okie and Ben had a bit of a late start (understandably!) and got to the truck-stop over an hour later than everyone else. Then we had troubles with the six-wheel drive unit which kept slipping out and then Okie's Land Rover (the 'beer tractor') was overheating really badly, so we had to stop every now and again to let it cool down again.
Here Michael, Charles and the rest of the guys are eyeing out the first ascent (which proved to be easy compared to what was to come)...
The terrain was pretty tough and didn't play to Nyathi's strength. It was very rocky and steep and her weight counted against her. Still she got through it all, slowly, but surely.
We winched her twice. Once around a tree to get her over a very steep rocky incline on a hairpin bend...
Here I am posing with Charles and Okie, with Nyathi now winched over the giant step and ready to go...
The second time we winched was at an even steeper section where we used Dan's (a really nice guy we met on the trail) Toyota Tacoma as a winch point (chocked to the hilt, and strapped to a tree).
Dan was amazed at how effortlessly the beer tractor managed the trail, especially as it has no lockers or special suspension. We all gave Okie a had time about the overheating though - he took off the fan and decided "who needs it, anyway?". It's been fine on the motorways, or idling in heavy traffic, but of course on this trail it was slow but very heavy work for the vehicles.
Here everybody is having a breather in the shade of Dan's 'Taco'. What a well kitted-out truck for this kind of fun!
The scenery was pretty spectacular from, alpine forests, to lush green valleys with crystal clear streams in the valleys. The trail was unfortunately remarkably dusty (that fine powder dust that catches up with you if don't keep up speed, and then wafts into the cab in vast volumes) and by the end of the day you couldn't tell that Nyathi had looked like new inside the cab before we started.
Easton (Okie's fantastic old dog) came along for the day and and thoroughly enjoyed herself. By the end of it she was exhausted. At one stage she couldn't summon the energy to get out of our car.
She was travelling with us because Okie had a motorbike in the back of the 'beer tractor'. We rescued a rider whose bike had been stuck in the valley for two weeks. He was really appreciative and at the end of the trail he said he could not believe we'd made it through, especially with Nyathi. He knows the area really well and reckons we are the biggest vehicle to ever do the trail - I can believe it!
Here the guys are showing off Charles' D90's articulation - and of course their own fine frames!
The weather was incredibly hot and the dust made it even more claustrophobic. I donned one of the (rather large) T-shirts which Ben bought us to protect myself from the sun. Needless to say, I won't be wearing it anywhere in the Middle-East!
At the end of the trail we offloaded the motorbike and filled up all the vehicle's tyres with Nyathi's air. We stopped of at Jack in the Box for some food at about 00h30 - we were all famished. When we got back home we had hot showers to wash away the day's dust and fell into bed.
I spent Sunday cleaning Nyathi (again) and the rest of the week we spent chasing up outstanding items that were due to be delivered and at last, we put the polycarbonate windows in, after applying tinting to them (which we had to do twice, because the first time it was far too dark and made the car look like a 'pimp-mobile').
With Charles' help, we managed to find a refrigeration guy who thinks he can gas up and connect a new compressor to our freezer. However, we had incredible hassles trying to find a dealer who would sell us a Danfoss compressor (the one place told us flat out that they didn't sell Danfoss and tried to sell us a competitor's product and the second place told us they weren't prepared to waste their time with us) and these were dealers recommended to us by Danfoss customer services! In the end the Danfoss customer service person phoned up a dealer and got him to phone us with a price, but at $450 we have decided it is not worth it and will rather get a new 60 litre ARB freezer from Charles, so we are waiting for a price on that.
We said goodbye to Okie and Marley this morning. It was sad and felt strange after spending so much time here. Thanks Okie for turning us into Venice locals! Here we are at Shatzi's having happy hour cocktails and dinner....
They are off to Arizona to see Okie's parents for the 4th July weekend. We spent the rest of the morning packing and Michael took the test tyre from Firestone back to Charles in the afternoon. We had our last meal at La Fiesta Brava. I very much doubt we are going to find any where nearly as good as we travel further north!
Our neighbourhood cat adopted us and made itself at home. I think he is going to miss lying at Michael's feet in amongst all the computer cables and coming to sit our laps for a stroke.
I have spent three full days updating the diary now and it took four hours for Michael to upload it onto the web (until the wee hours of the morning). However, the great thing is that we are leaving for Death Valley tomorrow at last...
We were up early and spent the majority of the day packing up the flat and transferring everything back into Nyathi. Michael spent quite a while putting back the main computer and screen (it's working, but we still don't have touch screen anymore). We said our farewells to Jose and Petra and pulled out of the Rennie driveway for the last time at just before 16h00. We stopped off at the little Mexican Mariscos take-away and got delicious shrimp tacos for the road.
The traffic was a nightmare - though we had expected it to be. At one stage we were crawling along at 20km/hr on an Interstate highway with 7 lanes of traffic going in each direction! Once we were on the 395 heading north it wasn't so bad. We drove through Johannesburg and Randsburg (sic) - which was fun, but nothing much to see it being night time and the Johannesburg only having 300 inhabitants.
We stopped for the night at 22h30 at a rest area, which was unfortunately quite noisy, but at least it had toilets and a safe place to park.
We were awake just before 07h00. We had a quick wash and hit the road. By 10h00 it was 39°C. We drove through Panamint Springs and were glad we hadn't made the extra effort to get there last night. Then we stopped at Stovepipe Wells to pay the National Park fee (which would have been $20, but we used our National Parks card). I was keen to get a Death Valley T-shirt from the shop, but at $18 + tax, decided it was NOT worth it!
There were some Nyathi groupies in the car park who took photos of us and made us talk to them so they could video us. However, they were more mad than we are, because next week they are all doing a road race in Death Valley next week - in fact we saw two people training. They were both running on their own, in different parts of the park, in the intense heat - now that is crazy.
Death Valley is an incredible place. It is not nearly as spectacular as Bryce or Zion, but has its own appeal. It is amazingly stark with barren sharp mountains encircling salt flats that reach 86m (282feet) below sea level at Badwater.
There is a snail that is endemic to this area - how it survives in such a hostile environment is unbelievable.
The temperatures were pretty extreme. The maximum we experienced outside the cab was 45.8°C and inside the cab was 47.1°C. Needless to say we drank loads and loads of liquids and didn't spend too much time outside in the blazing sun, at least when the vehicle is moving there is a bit of a breeze - even though it feels like a hair dryer. we kept wiping ourselves with dripping wet cloths and kept cool that way.
We decide to take a 4x4 route out of the park which ran across the flats of Death Valley and through the mountains and valleys to the west. For the most part the route was either corrugated gravel or some rocky, bumpy and winding stretches. However, there one or two pretty tricky areas where there was a steep incline (or decline) with gullies and big rocks. The scenery was worthwhile - it was very rugged and we also got to see kangaroo rats, lizards and some kind of small rodents like squirrels.
At one particular spot we decided to winch Nyathi as Michael didn't want to put too much unnecessary strain on the transmission and propshafts. It turned out to be more difficult than we thought. The first big boulder we used as an anchor wasn't buried deep enough and although it was pretty large, when we took up the tension and really started pulling it gave way and shifted up out of the ground. Here, Michael is checking out the winch rope, while I sit with my foot poised on the brake...
The same thing happened with the subsequent two we tried, the latter sent two boulders rolling down the hill and we had to roll them off the road. It was quite tiring undoing shackles and trying to put the ropes around big granite rocks (surrounded by prickly bushes and who knows what little creatures) In the end we decided to go for a big cluster of rocks, the largest one of which was deeply buried. They were over to one side so the angle for winching wasn't ideal, but we slowly made progress, with me running up and down to feed in the winch rope each time we had too much slack or if the rope had wound too much on the left. It took us two hours in total and it was damn hot! Here I am tightening the wing nut on the security bar - I think it was still loose from our Lockwood Valley jaunt!
A short while afterwards the road improved as it followed a river bed down the valley, but once again we found ourselves going up a steep hill only to find no road on the other side. We could see a road in the valley far below, so we went back to find the road had taken another steep left turn and we followed it instead. It took us down a narrow rocky road in gorge, twisting and turning around the base of the mountains - it was spectacular. The valley was quite lush and there was a trickle of water running in the road.
We decided to camp the night in the valley gorge, instead of the wide open valley which we caught a glimpse of beyond. The wind began to pick up and we drove a bit further back up the gorge to a wonderful campsite (requiring about 12 manoeuvres to get into place). we both had very welcome bush baths a washed the heat and dust of the day away. I made sandwiches for dinner (it was still too hot to cook - at 22h00 it was still 36°C) and we were both feeling lazy. The starlight sky was terrific and the night was incredibly still and silent. Michael even heard coyotes in the distance. A fantastic end to the day.
We were up early and meandered our way through the steep, narrow valley. We broke out into the dry salt flats and headed north along a good dirt road. We saw a nig quarry carvings out the mountainside a little further along (they must be responsible for the upkeep of the road). We stopped and Michael disengaged the 6x6 unit while I held a shade up to stop him from being baked by the sun. We drove through the sparsely populated ghost town of Ballarat and headed west toward Highway 178.
We stopped and got a welcome refill of ice for the cooler box and drove through the backwater of Trona - a large salt-mining town which stretches for miles across the stark, dry landscape. We passed the massive grounds of China Lake Naval Weapons Centre and took the scenic route via Kennedy Meadows into Sequoia National Forest. The climb was long and incredibly steep. Nyathi took it slowly, but surely and we got to the top eventually. The national forest was beautiful with mountains covered in tall pines, some of which had been ravaged by fire.
We stopped in a shady spot to have a bite to eat and a bit of shut-eye. Our nap was kept to half an hour as we were greeted by a group of Land Rover enthusiasts who were out in three Discoveries for the day playing on the 4x4 trails. We chatted to them for quite a while and then we set off again.
The scenery was lovely, however, we were a bit surprised not to find any sequoias en route - it seems they are in the National Park, which we will get to tomorrow. (Michael wore his American - Yes I Am t-shirt in honour of July 4th).
Michael was doing a routine under-belly check on Nyathi when he discovered that the left hand side trailing arm bush had disintegrated. We decided we'd stop while it was still light, so we could repair it. Michael was happy doing the dirty work, so I went for one of the most unusual runs yet. There was an aqueduct running alongside the mountain about 100 metres up which had a wooden walkway on top of it. I ran along it and could see for miles down the valley. I had to be careful not to trip or land too heavily on a loose board and at one stage I got such a fright because I had startled a stag and he shot off underneath me - I'm not sure who was more scared - him, or me?
Michael successfully repaired the bush using a similar spare for the front radius arm. We both had warm showers next to Nyathi and felt a lot more refreshed when we started off again, only to discover the battery light was on and that the alternator was not charging. We drove down to Cow Mountain to look for a quiet place in the bush to camp, but had no success and ended up having to reverse down a narrow road with just the brake lights for illumination. We decided to go back the 10 miles near to where we had just done repairs and we drove up the little road which led to the aqueduct. We slept the night with the sound of the water flowing by just metres away.
Michael tried to sort out the alternator first thing, but didn't succeed. I went for a quick run, had a shower and we hit the road. We stopped off in Lindsay to get some salads, a block of ice and of course Krispy Kreme doughnuts for Michael. I photocopied all the insurance claim documents and got some breakfast from McDonalds while Michael unsuccessfully searched for a garage with air (despite the fact that it is apparently California law to have it available - as it says on all the non-functioning pumps).
The drive to Sequoia National Park was lovely, passing a few lakes with houseboats, water-skiers and other water activities. We met a South African couple (Colin and Kathryn) just inside the park and we spent some time reminiscing and chatting. The sequoias were most impressive and it's wonderful to drive along the road and see the massive trunks clustered together and stretching way up. In fact it makes photography without a wide-angle lens pretty difficult. Our first stop was at Big Trees Trail and the Museum. It was interesting to discover that sequoias need fire to thrive. The fires create an ash seedbed and open the forest canopy introducing much needed light. As a result, the park starts and controls fires on a regular basis - this also prevents build-up, which can cause much hotter and devastating fires when they do occur.
We saw the original 'auto log' which visitors used to drive across in the early 1900's, although it's rather worse for wear nowadays. We also saw a number of trees that had fallen down and were displaying impressive sets of roots for all to see.
However, trees were not the only thing we got up close and personal with. My window fell out of its slot (scratching the Lexan) and we ended up spending almost two hours fixing that. It was ridiculous - there we were in the forest drilling holes and filling them with epoxy to (permanently - we hope) fix the window to the slots. I fixed the air hose while Michael drilled some other bits and pieces, while we were waiting for the window glue to dry. All this time we were accompanied by pesky flies that bit and loved to fly in your nose and ears - just great! Needless to say there was much cursing.
We spent the rest of the late afternoon driving and walking through the park. The highlight was the General Sherman tree which is the largest in the park (and the world). It is about 2,200 years old and its largest branch is over 2 metres in diameter. Each year it grows enough new wood to make a 20-metre-tall tree of normal proportions! It is not the tallest tree in the world, but certainly the biggest by volume.
We were hoping to catch a glimpse of bigger wildlife (other than flies), but the closest we got were squirrels and this bear sign.
They are very serious about keeping the park's bear population as wild as possible and people are fined if bears gain access to food in their vehicles or property (bear-proof food containers are available at all camps as are bear-proof dustbins.
We camped in a lay-bye just outside the National Park, within the boundaries of the National Forest. I went for a late evening run (and skip - which must have been a sight for the passing cars) and then we both had a warm bush shower behind a big granite rock overlooking the valley below.
I was awake at 05h50. We got out of bed at 06h30 and were on the road before 07h00. We stopped in Pinedale just north of Fresno to buy ice, get fresh fruit and salads and do the photocopying for Michael's insurance claim (for his kit stolen in Argentina I got the claim form when I went back to the UK). Then we tried to find a garage with air, but weren't successful until we got to Exeter. We had lazy takeaways (which, sadly cost less than me buying fresh ingredients for ham tomato and cheese sandwiches for one meal).
We stopped of in Fish Camp just south of the entrance into Yosemite National Park to post some letters and other photos to people we'd met in Africa. There was a short queue to get into the park and we used our NP card again. We stopped of at the not so informative information centre in Wawona. I got a map and newspaper for the week's activities in the park and we set off to explore.
The scenery was spectacular. It seemed like every corner we turned we took more photos. Our first stop was at tunnel view where we got a good view of the entrance into the valley which had been carved out by glaciers and left massive granite rock faces exposed with waterfalls cascading down.
We drove down into the valley stopping at several viewpoints en route. We had lunch near the river in a dusty picnic spot with lots of squirrels scampering about hoping to score an easy meal from the crumbs others had left behind.
Then we drove down to Curry Village and parked. We decided the best way to see it all was on bike, so we took them down off Nyathi's roof and spent the rest of the day riding through the valley. We crossed the river a number of times and watched people floating downstream on rafts (some more deftly handled than others).
We rode up to Mirror Lake, which wasn't particularly full but beautiful nonetheless. The water was remarkably cold and still, making great reflections on the surface.
Yosemite Falls we impressive and the wind kept whipping the spray in all sorts of directions giving it a really misty feel.
It started to cloud over to the north east, with interesting, brooding clouds.
On the opposite horizon, it was still bright and clear. We stopped at the valley's lovely little church en route back to the car. It was set in idyllic surroundings, although looking at the sign which was erected nearby showing the flood level in 1997 (which looked to be at least 2.5m high) - I suspect the church got badly damaged and had to be rebuilt!
While Michael was busy strapping the bikes back on the roof we saw a coyote sauntering through the parking lot. He was totally uninhibited and oblivious to the stir he was causing. In the late afternoon on the way out of the park we stopped to have a dip in the river. It was absolutely freezing - not quite as cold as Lesotho in the winter (no instant-headaches from washing in the icy water) but cold enough to make it a very quick dip! It certainly didn't deter other people further up the river who were having terrific fun in their dinghies.
We had two further stops on the way out of the valley. One was to look at some excellent specimens of deer which were unperturbed by the crowd looking on. They settled down in the grass and made themselves comfortable.
Then we noticed a small group of people standing in a field with binoculars trained up on the mountain. We guessed there must be climbers scaling the sheer rock face. Sure enough, there were two people climbing up a very steep section of rock about a third of the way up. It was fascinating to watch their slow, careful progress. They were definitely going to be spending the night on some ledge - either brave or crazy, but nonetheless inspiring!
After initially stopping off at Mariposa in the rest area we ended up in Cathey's Valley in the rest area next to their lovely little municipal hall. Michael found an electrical point so we charged Nyathi's battery, the cell phone and then the laptop.
We met a rather eccentric man who lives in Mariposa whom we ended up talking to for ages about all sorts of things. An officer from the Sheriff's department also stopped by and we chatted to him. It was interesting to find out all about the on-goings in the local towns!
We had a great night's sleep and woke up to a bright, sunny morning.
The morning's drive was uneventful. As we got closer to San Francisco we saw hundreds of wind generators across the hills. We have never seen so many in one area before.
We arrived in the outskirts of San Francisco at about 11h30. We decided that as it was still quite early we should go and do a bit of city exploring... We drove across the Oakland Bridge and paid the $3 toll. We drove along the Embarcadero and it was fascinating to watch all the tourists along Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf. The whole area was just thronging with people from all over the world. The warm summer sun was cooled by a brisk wind blowing across the bay, and people colourful summer outfits were sobered with wind-cheaters.
We drove up the very steep Hyde Ave in Russian Hill and parked near the crest of the hill, making sure Nyathi's wheels were appropriately turned toward the kerb. We walked all the way down the hill stopping to take a photo of Crookedest Street.
We went to the Maritime Museum and then used our National Parks Pass to visit the Maritime Park and a couple of ships they had moored there. It was fascinating to see how sea-faring was done in the 'old days' - rather them than me!
Just before 16h00 we drove out across the Golden Gate Bridge (Peg had warned us it can get very busy after that). The GPS was brilliant and took us all the way to Peg & Joe's house, although Peg kindly came to the bottom of the rather confusing hill to collect us. We managed to pull Nyathi off the road enough for people to get past.
It was so nice to see them again. It's amazing how easily travellers become friends. Unfortunately Joe had one more late night shift to work, so he went to bed relatively early. Michael escaped to the bedroom with the computer and I became Peg's assistant chef in the kitchen. They are having a get together with some friends tomorrow night (apparently we will be the entertainment). We made a great chilli and lime marinade, a hot cheese dip, and Peg made a bean salad. All the while of course, the chatting never stopped - it was a great evening.
Michael took the alternator out and took it along to RiteWay in San Francisco (he used Joe's truck). They were very helpful and said they could have the unit repaired by tomorrow at 10h00! My day, however, was very frustrating. I spent the morning and most of the afternoon trying to get some positive (or at least useful) response about how to extend Michael's visa. We came into the US on the visa waiver programme which allows you to visit for 90 days, however, with the vehicle problems and having to fix the alternator (and collect some goods from Seattle), it is going to be impossible for us to leave by 13th July when Michael's 'visa' expires. (I am OK as I have been home and mine is now valid until the 26th August).
Phoning the immigration customer service line was like the perfect lesson in how NOT to treat customers. I made four phone calls in total, all of which had me waiting over 25 minutes. The first time I stupidly hung-up thinking it couldn't be right and that the message must be wrong. The second time I was cut-off while the girl was speaking to her supervisor. On my third attempt I was put through to an officer who then told me they were not the right department and that I had to phone the line and book and appointment with an officer (the same line from which I had just been transferred). He could not transfer me and was also rather rude during our conversation telling me twice it was simply the law and that's the way it was. When I said I'd already waited three time for thirty minutes on the other line he promptly told me "we deal with hundreds of people from all over the world and that's the best we can do", to which I responded "that's a pity - because it isn't good enough", (I was not feeling charitable). So I called back and waited yet another 30 minutes only to be told it is not possible to book appointments for the San Francisco office, but we'd be welcome to join the queue (line) which starts forming at 06h00 in the morning outside the building. In fairness, this guy actually read the 'book' and told me I really needed to speak to the District Director, who in special cases, could grant an extension of stay. He told me to come down and queue in the morning and when I queried whether I shouldn't try and make an appointment to see the District Director he asked me to hold and of course... I was cut off. So we resigned ourselves to going down first thing tomorrow to try our luck. As a last resort I tried phoning Barbara Boxer's (one of the Senators) office and although the chap was helpful, the lady who may have been able to help me, was not in until tomorrow. What a palaver!
However, the day got better. In the evening Frank, Laura, Hannah, Susan, Siobhan, Billy, Nina, Janet, Bruce, Roland and Kelly came round for a night of drinking, eating and quite a bit of noise. The food was absolutely delicious and we pigged out on giant prawn and chicken tacos, followed by dessert and Joe's fabulous special recipe cookies. It was a great evening which ended with us all in the street taking the 'grand tour' of Nyathi...
Peg and Joe's cats Monkey and Ziggy thought Nyathi provided a new place for exploration.
We were up early and and in the queue outside the immigration building by 07h30. Fortunately there was a lovely lady doing triage as she walked down the queue and she informed us that it was no good trying to see the District Director, as he no longer has jurisdiction over the visa waiver programme. However, what she did offer to do was walk us to the next entrance and when the security guards said we'd be sent back if we didn't have an appointment, she took us upstairs to the appropriate office to make sure we were attended to - she was really helpful! The security to get into the building was incredible. All bags go through x-ray and all people through metal detectors. Firstly, I couldn't take my camera with me so I had to rush back to lock it in the car, while Michael went up in the meantime. Then, when I got back I had let Michael take my passport with him, so I had no ID and after some deliberation the guy said I could go through. However, when they inspected my keys, they found Joe's key ring was made of a small pin with semi-precious stones and I was told I couldn't take it in, however, they couldn't keep it for me. So I hid it on a ledge outside the building and went back in again.
Michael was waiting for the technician to come back to him after speaking to her supervisor. When she did, she said there was nothing they could do. Michael would have to leave the country by the 13th July or he would be marked as overstaying his visa. We eventually convinced her we should speak to her supervisor. He was understanding and said he commended our effort to try and do the right thing, but following a long conversation it came down to the fact they they have no system for extension and tat it would only be picked up when we tried to re-enter that Michael had previously outstayed his welcome. We asked if he could at least type a letter to shoe we'd made the effort to rectify the solution, but after he spoke to his supervisor - the answer was no. They advised that we could consult and immigration lawyer, because they deal with the 'next level up' and might get a better answer. However, he informed us that an old lady who had been hospitalised and therefore had to overstay, did not successfully win her petition and she was marked as an 'overstay'. What a nightmare!!!!
We left feeling so frustrated and flabbergasted at the ridiculous systems they have in place, that make no provision whatsoever for special cases. In fact, in general it is very sad to see how America seems to losing all the things that they so proudly stand for (freedom of movement, speech etc.). From our perspective, we believe the war on terrorism has had a profoundly unhealthy affect on the nation, which ironically is just what the perpetrators of violence were hoping for.
We collected the alternator from Jeff (who had called us to let us know it would be ready just a bit later at 10h30). We were impressed by their service!
We got back home just before lunch and Peg & Joe knocked us up some delicious Mexican breakfast. Michael sorted out Peg & Joe's computer for them and spent and hour or two putting the alternator back in, while I spent more frustrating time trying to book an appointment for Michael at the US consulate in Vancouver! We have decided the best thing to do is for us to drive up to Seattle by Monday and for him to catch a bus up to Vancouver so he is out of the US before his 90 days expire. We just can't risk him being 'marked'. Then we hope he can get a visa issued ( for $100) and come back down to Seattle where we can collect the goods we need from ARB and the tyres from Firestone etc. If push comes to shove and he can't get back in, I can wait for all the stuff and drive up to Canada to meet him. After a lot more cursing after being abruptly cut-off by the switchboard operator at the US consulate in Vancouver - I gave up. Their web-based appointment booking system says the first available appointment is 26th July - so Michael will have to try his luck when he gets up there!
We decided to forget about it as there was nothing more to do and besides - Peg and Joe said they'd like to treat us and take us to a ball game between the San Francisco Giants and the Arizona Diamondbacks - so I started to get all excited about that instead...
I had a drink and then Peg and I had a riotous time trying to book tickets on the internet! After much giggling, shouting and to-ing and fro-ing we eventually found good nosebleed seats (so called because they are so high up in the stadium), but they were right behind the home plate!
Peg made some food for us to take along, Joe went and bought and collected the ferry tickets and Michael and I caught a quick half-hour cat nap. We caught the ferry from Tiburon across the bay to the SBC Ball Park. The views across the bay were fantastic and we got to see the infamous Quentin Prison where all the dangerous criminals are kept
The vibe on the ferry was great because everyone was going to the game and lots of people were sporting the bright orange San Francisco Giants supporters' gear.
Our seats turned out to be great! The view we had over the field and then the bay beyond was terrific - I am sure it has to be one of the best ball parks in the USA. We thoroughly enjoyed our night and the atmosphere from the crowd was quite electric. Michael and Joe pigged out on bratwurst hotdogs, chilli dogs and garlic fries, while Peg and I wolfed down the best gourmet food on offer at the park - the left over prawns and taco and all the trimmings from last night's party. (There was a little boy in front of us who was eyeing out our food jealously). We had a few beers and 'Hard Mikes' and just relaxed and enjoyed ourselves. The game had a good result too, with a relatively easy win for the Giants and Michael and I getting educated by Joe on the game and how to read the scoreboard!
The ferry on the way back was pretty chilly and Peg and I huddled together like two grannies underneath our blankets. We got home and chatted for a while and got to bed after 01h00!
We woke up to say goodbye to Peg who had to leave for work before 07h30. We crawled back into bed for another hour or so and were woken up with a friendly visit from Monkey (the cat) who climbed under the covers with us!
We packed up, Joe helped me to do a load of laundry and we checked our emails etc. We were ready to go by about 11h30. It was really sad saying goodbye so soon. We feel really irritated that our visit had to be cut short, but at least we got to see them for a short while. It is amazing how easily you make good friends when you travel! I enjoyed a few moments out on their deck before we hit the road.
We didn't make great progress for the first half of the trip. We stopped to get some ice and food for the road. Then the temperature gauge was faulty and Michael tried to reconnect and get it working again. Then, later on it stopped working altogether and went way above the red line. We stopped a couple of times to check that it wasn't in fact overheating, but it was fine.
The scenery was lovely en route and quite mountainous. Mount Shasta was very impressive and still covered in snow, but it was around dusk when we got there and we couldn't get any photos. I drove the majority of the way while Michael entered all the GPS data onto the website. We stopped at just before midnight and slept for 6 hours in a rest area. We had to move shortly after we arrived because some idiots (six people plus their dog, in one dilapidated pick-up) had decided to park right next to us (despite there being loads of bays open) and make lots of noise.
We were on the road shortly after 06h00. We stopped and filled up with fuel at what we thought was a cheap price, only to discover it was for registered truck drivers (but we'd already put 200 litres in by then) - damn! We stopped and had a McDonald's breakfast.
We made much better progress than yesterday. We drove through Portland and considered visiting Mount St Helens, but decided our priority was to get to Seattle without any delays. We stopped at Nisqually and bought some delicious cherries from a roadside stall. We ate lunch and relaxed for a short while.
We reached Richard and Lesley's house at about 16h30. Richard is one of Joe's cousin and they are kindly letting us camp at their house (although they haven't moved in yet). Wow - their place is very impressive! They are in the final stages of building their home on an 11 acre piece of property about 30 miles south of Seattle. They gave us a tour when we arrived and it already looks fabulous and it's not even finished yet. They have high vaulted ceilings and beautiful big windows and their fixtures and fittings are all fantastic.
They were so lovely. They welcomed us with a drink or two and we chatted for ages. They have told us we can use their bath (complete with jacuzzi jets) and just make ourselves at home.
We parked Nyathi around the front of the house and used the door in Bob and Eunice's (Lesley's folks) apartment (which is underneath the main house) to get in and out. Richard and Lesley left at about 21h30 and we settled in. We indulged ourselves and had a luxurious bath while we watched the night sky through the big windows. It was fabulous! Once again - I am getting the better deal, while Michael has to catch a bus up to Vancouver...
We had a great night's sleep and woke up to the screeching of the resident pair of owls down at the pond. We did a bit of info gathering and borrowed Richard's laptop to access the internet.
We called Charles to find out whom we should speak to at ARB. Unfortunately, the president - Jim - is not in until Wednesday, so Charles called to let the guys know we were coming. We were keen for Michael to visit ARB before he leaves for Vancouver.
We stopped at the wishy-washy and gave Nyathi a good scrub. I did the foamy brush work and Michael had the pressure washer. I got pretty dirty as a result, because Michael sprayed all the grease from under the car on my feet and legs - but nothing a hard scrub wouldn't get rid of (I am glad I changed into my working clothes first though).
We arrived at ARB at about lunchtime. Lots of the guys came out to have a look at Nyathi. They were all really friendly and welcoming. Michael and Tim spent a while looking at the catalogue and deciding what other things we might need (Michael was like a child in a candy store). Here the two of them are outside the ARB offices.
Then we checked the 60 litre freezer for size. It fits perfectly into the space (up-ended), so Tim is going to check what we need to do to the compressor to get it work if we put it in that way. I called and booked a ticket for Michael on the 08h00 bus to Vancouver tomorrow. I also spoke to Adam from Sinergex and they are shipping our repaired inverter to the ARB offices for us.
We got the sponsorship agreement from Firestone. That is really great news for us! Charles (from Rover Accessories) brokered the deal on our behalf and has managed to get two 2 x sets of nine Firestone Destination M/T tyres for Nyathi. He is also having some wheel rims made (the new tyres won't fit our current rims) and he is currently seeing what deal he can arrange on those - so he'll let us know! He also arranged a great price for us all the gear from ARB - he really has been fantastically helpful.
We spent the early evening driving along the waterfront and connecting to various networks with our wireless internet card. It was all a bit hit and miss, but eventually we found a reliable signal and were able to park and download emails and check some information on the internet. We got great news back from Ivor that he and Alison are going to be joining us for our timeshare week in Barrie, Ontario!
We got home at about 21h30 after stopping to buy some food, we found Zeb (matt & Suzanne's dog waiting to say hello).
I got the visa paperwork ready and packed Michael's bag for tomorrow while he sorted out the laptop ready to take along. We had a quick dinner, cut Michael's hair, had a lovely bath and fell into bed.
Up early and after a somewhat stressful trip to Sea-Tac Airport, I dropped Michael safely off to catch his bus. It felt weird riving away knowing it was going to be me on my own in Nyathi for a while. The drive back was uneventful. When I got back, Richard was already hard at work in the house. I got the battery charger out ready to charge the car. I took my bike off the roof and adjusted the handle bars ready to ride and I spent the remainder of the morning doing journal entries for the last three days.
In the afternoon I helped Richard around the house and piled loads of wood cuttings and other rubbish (garbage) into the back of his pick-up. It was remarkably hot, so it was a welcome break when Lex phoned from the UK and we chatted for ages catching up on all sorts.
Lesley arrived home and then she and I went and collected all sorts of stuff for Richard and went to Ikea in search of handles for their kitchen cabinets.
Michael phoned (after I missed his first two calls) to say he'd been to the US embassy in Vancouver and they told him he would still have to book an appointment (for Cd $15) through the internet system and then come first thing in the morning with his reference number and try to see someone as an emergency appointment. He said he didn't find them particularly sympathetic and would just have to wait until tomorrow to see what happens. He found a Cd $25 hostel for the night, where he shared a dorm with two other guys.
In the evening Rich and Lesley took me down to their local for Taco Tuesday - which was tasty. I met their friends Dave and Michelle, who came round to the house afterwards to see Nyathi!
I went for a run before Richard arrived and then watered all of Lesley's plants while I cooled down. I had a quick shower and then set about cleaning the house. It was the city inspector's visit today so we tried to get the house looking as good as possible and Richard was busy doing some last minute building touch-ups. With all the dust still settling, it wasn't easy to keep the place clean, but the place looked quite respectable for when he arrived.
Michael phoned at about 13h00 with bad news. The upshot is that the embassy says he really should return home to the UK get his visa, because he is likely to be turned down in Vancouver and it really isn't good to have to declare in future that you have had a visa refused. He explained our predicament that I am in the USA with a 'broken vehicle', that he has to come and get me and that he is travelling the world and hasn't been back home in over 15 months! The officer advised him to catch the bus back and try to re-enter on a new visa waiver for 90 days (they reckon he'll get that more easily than a visa). So what can we do? He going to come back tomorrow and see what happens. If he is turned away at the border he has told the guy at the consulate he will come back to see him - so now it's just a case of wait and see. Can you believe it? We have travelled through third world countries and had less hassles than this!
I was starving, so made Richard and myself a salad for late lunch. The good news is that the inspection of their house went relatively well, with just a few things outstanding so Richard has asked for a final inspection on Monday. I tried to phone Charles, read my book for a while, connected the battery charger and wrote the journal. I took a quick ride into town on my bike in the late evening, put photos into the journal and that was it!
I was up relatively early, went for a not too successful run and cleaned up the lounge ready for the furniture to arrive. Lesley and Richard have moved out of their apartment and are now in the house, so there were loads of boxes to unpack. Lesley and I chatted for ages while unpacking. Just after lunch Michael called to say he had made it through the border and was waiting at SeaTac for me to collect him.
The bad news is the officer at the border only gave him a two week stay to sort out the vehicle and collect me. This poses a number of problems for us as we wanted to visit Alaska and to ship our vehicle from the east coast of the US and if we want to do either of those, we'll have to get visas from UK or try our luck at getting in on another 90-day visa waiver.
When we got back from the airport we helped with a few moving things in the house and then Richard cooked some delicious salmon on the barbeque and I made a salad. We had a very pleasant evening relaxing together and we had tasty ice-cream for dessert.
On Saturday we went to a Hotrod show. Dave and Michelle had kindly given us guest tickets as Dave had his hotrod on display there. It was quite an education for me (not knowing anything about hotrods) and we both enjoyed wandering around looking at the amazing selection of cars. Some were particularly extreme and you can see people have spent a lot of time, effort and money into getting their vehicle to look good. Here Michael is looking at some of the older models.
We didn't get to see Dave and Michelle, but we took a photo of their car anyway...
Lesley and I spent the next few days unpacking boxes, cleaning, sorting all of their clothes and other stuff around the house. Michael and Richard installed the big screen TV and their new music system, while Lesley and I did some shopping for the house. Eunice (Lesley's mom) brought a bushel of fresh oysters from Tokeland and Michael and Richard spent ages breaking them apart and cleaning them up ready for cooking. I'd never tasted oysters before and Richard had cooked them deliciously - so that was a first for me! We also had halibut and prawns - divine.
Lesley introduced us to the delights of "s'mores" which comprise roasted marshmallow and melted chocolate in between honey biscuits - delicious, but very rich (and requiring some extra running effort the next day)!
Steve from ARB kindly brought the parts we'd ordered home to his house in Edgewood on Friday, so Lesley took me to collect them. On Monday, Michael spent five hours taking the bush bone assembly off the rear axle so he could replace the bushes. He didn't have the 20-ton press required to push the old, damaged bushes out, so he jerry-rigged a system using the high-lift and bottle jacks. It took a while, and each time he thought he had it the assembly would fall apart. Richard drove him up to Dave's place and then they went onto one of his friend's houses who had a press and Michael popped them out - no problem.
The next day was spent putting them back in while I phoned signage companies to get quotes on the list of country names for the side of the vehicle (ranging from $280 down to $40). One of the questions we get most often is "where have you been so far?" so hopefully the list will help. I watered Lesley's plants and had a close encounter with a beautiful garter snake which slithered out from underfoot into the grass, Michael and I tried to find it, but of course had no luck.
Michael chatted to Rob from Rover Accessories - our new Firestone tyres have been delivered, they are just waiting for the rims and the air bags. We are really hoping it all comes through - because Michael has to leave the USA before his short-stay visa expires and time is running out, not to mention we need to get up to Alaska!
On Thursday we went with Richard to Wynootchee River to fish for steelhead trout - it was fantastic. We did a small hike down to the river and then walked down the banks of the river watching Richard cast (he made it look easy). We waded across the river three times on the way down - one crossing was pretty deep so I took my trousers off and was glad I did, because even my shirt got wet. Luckily we had fantastic weather and the sun was shining so we dried off pretty quickly. Richard gave Michael a few pointers on how to cast and then he made his way further down river. I also had a go and discovered it's quite addictive. You want to keep trying until you catch something, so we took it in turns.
Richard came back up river and called us to let us know a big herd of elk were drinking in the river downstream. We crept through the forest and Richard graciously let me take the lead so I got to them first. I got fairly close, but there was foliage hanging down into the river so I couldn't get a good photo and eventually all I got was some video footage of splashing water and a view of their backsides disappearing into the undergrowth on the opposite bank. There were at least six bulls and they were all calling to one another - making squeaky bleating noises.
Michael and I spent quite a while casting into some pools just downstream of some cascades. He successfully pulled a small 20cm from the water, but it wasn't actually hooked. Shortly afterwards he got the lure stuck in some branches hanging over the opposite bank and we spent ages trying to unhook it and it got a bit cold after a while. Not, however, nearly as cold as Michael felt a bit later when he lost his balance and fell face first into the water - getting very wet. His facial expression was hilarious and I couldn't contain my laughter - safely holding the rod from the shore!
We started making our way back up the river and Michael went back out to try a few more times. While he was standing in the river, a massive herd of elk started coming down into the water about 70m upstream. Michael froze, the elk eyed him out for a while and then continued to push into the water - it was great to see and I managed to get a few better shots, thought the light was fading - so they were not the best. Richard caught up to us and led us on a virgin route up and down some ridges through some quite dense jungle, but we didn't have to make the deep river crossing again - which I was happy about. We also saw a garter snake, which sprayed Richard with its stinky odour to warn him off. When we got back to the car we had some refreshingly cold drinks and then made our way to Lesley's folk's house in Tokeland, where we all collapsed into our beds.
We packed up the trailer on Friday morning with some of Lesley's folks' goods and shackles and then we had a little scenic drive around Tokeland. Lesley grew up here and her home overlooked the view behind us.
It is a quaint, quite ocean bay town where they cultivate oysters in the clean water and do lots of crab fishing.
Here Lesley, Michael and Richard are looking out into the bay where they cultivate the oysters. They use rope and other materials for the oysters to cling onto. This is where the delicious oysters we had the other night for dinner were from.
We unpacked the trailer when we got back and spent the afternoon pottering about, reading and I made pasta for dinner and we watched a DVD.
Saturday, 24th we went to Mount Rainier. Richard's brother Mark had popped by with Matthew and John to look at Nyathi and he gave us a parking pass for the NW Forest region, along with a good map of the area. We made an unscheduled stop at a car parts shop to buy a water temperature gauge - as it was still showing that Nyathi was running very hot and Michael didn't want to risk it going up into the mountains. Two (rather frustrating) hours later, with a working gauge we were on the road again.
It was incredibly warm weather and seemed somewhat surreal to be surrounded by sno-covered peaks. (Note the muddy colour of the river here...)
Mount Rainier and the surrounding range are very impressive and have snow cover year-round. There are beautiful meadows in the surrounding area with lush green grass splattered with wild flowers and evergreen trees.
It also has loads of mosquitoes as we discovered at one of the viewpoints where we stopped to take photos of one of the lakes. We both got bitten about half a dozen times in a matter of minutes! Needless to say we made a hasty retreat to the car, especially as we both had shorts on because the weather was incredibly warm (in the late thirties).
In the evening we drove up a little side road off the National Forest Route 25 and camped in the woods. It was incredibly peaceful (except for the mosquitoes) and we sat in the cab late at night drawing designs of of potential new vehicle (a Unimog set up for indoor living and colder climes). It was fairly cool, which made for a very pleasant night's sleep.
On Sunday, we had a relaxed start and made our way to Mount St Helens, (which erupted to devastating effect in 1980 leaving 57 people dead). The route there was scenic, steep and winding. It was incredible to see the slate grey rivers rushing by (which we later learnt was thanks to all the volcanic ash). We stopped at a number of viewpoints along the way. The first major one had some cheeky squirrels who weren't shy (thanks to all the people who feed them)!
The trees were all burnt, but mostly still standing as it was in the periphery zone of destruction.
As we drove around the bend the full force of the volcanic explosion became apparent. The trees had been blown over like matchsticks by the fierce hot wind (averaging 360 miles an hour). It was amazing to see the devastation 24 years after the eruption.
The volcano exploded through a side wall (which had bulged magnificently to the north side in the days prior to the eruption) and you could see that all the south facing slopes in volcano's path were decimated, whereas the north facing slopes didn't receive quite as much full impact. Spirit Lake, which now sits substantially higher than it did before thanks to being forced up the side of the mountain and then settling back down on a fresh landslide bed, still has loads of the dead trees floating at the far end.
We climbed up to the top of windy ridge and you could see how the side of the volcano had been blasted away, and the beginning of the growth of a new dome. We walked back down and listened to an excellent ranger talk which was very enthusiastically and professionally presented. The ranger informed us that there were four key events which formed part of the Mount St Helen's eruption - 1)massive landslide 2)eruption 3)pyroclastic flow 4)mudslides. The surrounding area is remarkably barren, where nothing survived, but slowly, new plant life is sprouting and wildlife is coming back to the valley...
The other thing we enjoyed eyeing out were all the great-looking corvettes which were parked in one of the viewpoint areas...
In the evening we relaxed with Richard and Lesley and wrote a list of things we'd like to do on the vehicle before we leave Seattle. On Monday we phoned Rob at Rover Accessories to find out if the wheel rims from Procomp were ready - but they weren't. They guaranteed Wednesday morning, but it's very unlikely they'll be up in Seattle by Friday, as Rover Accessories are going to have them fitted and balanced before trucking them up. Procomp have been promising them to be finished for quite a while now and we are really concerned I am going to end up waiting for the wheels while Michael goes back up to Canada, before he is 'black-marked' for overstaying. We went to ARB and collected our new MT60 freezer. We also spent way too much time in Fry's Electronics - Michael was in his element!
We had a very productive today (Tuesday). We had the leather tear repaired on my seat. We had the country signage put on the vehicle. We went back to ARB and swapped out the MT60 freezer for the 43 quart. We decided it was going to be too crowded inside with the big one and are very pleased we changed our minds. It is surprising how much you can fit into it and how well it works. We collected the new (spare) drive shaft from North West Timelines - who did a fantastic job - thanks Mike! I bought some new running clothes at a bargain price at the Supermall and Michael got his new internet aerial to work (but then it got squashed by the game viewing hatch when it blew over)! We ended the day with 'Taco Tuesday' and then stopped by Dave and Michelle's place. We got to see all the fabulous collector's items they have and their amazingly large cat - I just had to take a photograph!
Wednesday and Thursday were spent doing lots of stuff on Nyathi. Michael sorted out the 12V problems, mounted the purge valves for the air lockers (prototypes we got from ARB). I went running both days and spent quite a while painting the tent with sealant, doing journal entries and sorting out the cabin area.
On Thursday morning the wheel rims still hadn't arrived. We feel really bad because we keep chasing Charles and Rob who are essentially doing us a favour, and they, in turn, chase Procomp - it really is frustrating. We had a nice end to a busy day and went out for dinner with Richard and Lesley to Salties - a fabulous little fish restaurant out on the waters of the Puget Sound. We had clams to start and then Michael had fantastic black peppered salmon, while I had calamari steak and prawns - scrumptious. Lesley and I walked down (in our posh clothes) to the pier to watch the fishermen pulling in squid with little nigh lights bobbing on the top of the water.
On Friday we spent the majority of the day repacking the vehicle (the contents of which had been spread out along the wall of the garage). I packed Michael's backpack. Michael fixed Lesley's computer and Lesley took me to get a DVD from the store for weekend entertainment. We decided to spoil ourselves and go to a movie, but after going to get some Columbia gear for Michael first, when we arrived all the good movies were already showing - I was in the bad books! So we ended up watching a DVD and eating at home.
Time flew by on Saturday morning, with lots of last minute things to do before Michael left. I dropped him off at SeaTac in plenty of time to catch the bus north and then spent a glorious afternoon wandering around the SuperMall and buying more running stuff from Brooks at their discount store. In the evening I watched 50 First Dates and then went for a run at 20h30 - it was nice and cool. On Sunday morning I cleaned the varnish off some of the front door panes for Richard and cleared the remaining bits out of the garage. I cleaned the tarpaulin and then spent ages on the phone to Andrew and Angela and then my sister (probably 2.5 hours in total)!
The afternoon was spent unloading all of Bob and Eunice's stuff into the garages and apartment and then Lesley, Rich and I just collapsed for the evening and had some very tasty prawns, clams (which Richard dug himself) and oysters for dinner.
I went for a 07h00 run and then got ready for the day's work. I called Rob to check the progress on the tyres to find out that they were already being delivered to ARB - what a great surprise. So, I rearranged my plans somewhat and hot-footed it over to ARB where Tim and Steve did a sterling job of swapping the old ones for new...
It was great because they had air tools and a floor jack which made the whole process a lot easier - thanks guys - it really was appreciated! (Note Tim's fantastic 'utility kilt' ;-)
I took the opportunity to take a team photograph of everyone from ARB. They have been nothing but professional, helpful and enthusiastic. We bought lots of things from them including OME (Old Man Emu) shocks, OME springs (5cm longer than standard to give some extra lift to accommodate our new tyres), the ARB 43 quart freezer, a full set of OME polyurethane suspension bushes, a couple of ARB snatch blocks and a few other things besides (all at a great discount - which helped our budget).
I filled up with fuel on the way back home, posted Karen's birthday card and stopped to get some groceries as I had promised to cook prawns and make chocolate fondue for dinner. I spent a while pottering about in the kitchen and then went out to buy some re-usable ice blocks for the freezer and some beers for Tim and Steve from ARB, which I dropped off on the way home. I vacuumed Nyathi and did a bit of tidying and then went into the house to socialise and make dinner.
I set the computer up in Nyathi for Billy and Alex to look at all our pictures - I think they were quite impressed and they both had loads of questions! Richard made the best fish for hors d'oeuvres that I have ever tasted. It was black cod in teriyaki sauce - absolutely out of this world. Then we still had prawns, fresh baked bread and chocolate fondue to follow - what a final feast!
I said goodbye to Rich because he is off fishing at 04h30 tomorrow morning and I told him I love him, but not enough to get up at such an un -godly hour! I'll always remember him using the term 'jerky' with affection.
Nyathi - her last night outside Rich & Lesley's home...