Over the past 8 or so months I have been quite busy. I decided to take a semester off uni to do some government work, following that I had enough money saved to take a trip to the USA (and an unexpected deviation from the plan). I was intending on re-enrolling for the second semester of university but found that it was impractical... So I'm currently job hunting!
After finishing up my 6 month contract I went on a trip to the USA to visit my partner's family and do some sight-seeing. I haven't really thought of an engaging way to write a post about my trip so I'll just put some mildly amusing pictures instead.
Many American tourist attractions seem to have penny squashers. They're fairly entertaining because you get to select the exact image you want pressed into the metal and then turn a handle and watch the gears turn as the image is rolled into the penny. I don't like souvenir knick-knacks but the experience only costs $0.51 USD and the resulting squashed penny can be easily tucked away and not clutter up your house. I think an Australian 5 cent piece would be a bit difficult to squash and imprint with an image due to not being made out of copper like a penny, so we probably won't see these machines in Australia any time soon.
I'd heard these were hard to find outside military bases, so of-course I first random truck-stop I walked into in Michigan had them. I suffered no ill-effects.
The above beer was brewed in-house at a bar in East Lansing, Michigan. It had a bit of orange juice added (on request) to make it taste similar to a popular mid-west American beer called Oberon.
The micro-breweries in the USA seem to produce very good beer - and for a very reasonable price (about $3 AUD/pint) due to alcohol taxes and licensing not being mind-bogglingly expensive. Their laws allow small restaurants to brew their own beers in-house. Microbrews in Australia are very much in-vogue, but they are forced to produce expensive beer just to break even. It seems to me that if restaurants could brew their own that they could be putting money into their own pocket rather than into foreign-owned breweries. I'm absolutely positive that if Australian microbreweries were given the same opportunity as the American ones they would be extremely successful as craft beer is already very popular.
The house I stayed at for a few days in Silver Lake was pretty nice - you can see Silver Lake itself, the sand dunes and then Lake Michigan on the other side of the dunes. Lake Michigan is really big - you'd swear you were looking at an ocean.
A local business gives 4WD tours across the sand dunes. In the above picture you can see two large fulgurites on display. I think they may be the longest in the world.
We went to the Red River Gorge area in Kentucky. Of course we had to see the Natural Bridge. This picture was taken from about 700m away on my brand new Cannon 1100D with 55-250mm Image Stabilised lens. I'm not a photographer at all but the hardware is reasonably entertaining and I managed to get it for quite cheap.
Cars take it in turns (there's no lights or signs) to work out who goes first from each end of this tunnel.
I did a few climbs in Red River Gorge. Unfortunately due to not being able to do climbing training in the previous 6 months I was restricted to the easier grades - but luckily Red River Gorge is definitely a world class climbing area and there were some easy but very good climbs. The above is Eureka (YDS 5.8, 16 Ewbank/Australian).
Boilerplate (YDS 5.8, 16 Ewbank - felt like an 18 near the top) in Red River Gorge.
General Grant in the Kings Canyon National Park (or the Sequoias) is pretty big, I guess.
Rather than pay to camp in an extremely overcrowded camp site, it's a little known secret that you can just camp out near Horse Camp in the Sequoia National Forest for free, without permit (except you're mean to have a permit for a gas stove - weird). In the above picture we set up on top of a hill that was covered in large boulders looking out over the forest. Some of the boulders had chalk marks from boulderers who'd obviously discovered some of the crimpy overhung problems.
Americans never talk about Marmots. This is a marmot.
A tour of Crystal Cave in the Sequoias is fairly cheap. We were fortunate to get in a small tour group (which is apparently rare). Although there are many large caves in the area Crystal Cave is the only one accessible to the public. It's "sacrificed" as publicly accessible (though you must go with the contracted tour operator - no self-guided tours) to stop people from going into the other caves and damaging the extremely delicate environment within.
It's obvious why they call this "The Valley" in Yosemite. What nobody mentions is how massively overcrowded the Yosemite Valley is. Apparently the majority of the parks in the USA are filled to the brim with visitors. The valley floor is covered in many thousands of cars and people. Frankly, this pretty much ruined the experience for me. Such an amazing place in terms of the nature, but as packed as a theme park.
The above is the Dawn Wall on El Capitan. It was only very recently free-climbed, and is a quite impressive piece of rock to see in person. I have some full-resolution pictures of the Dawn Wall, available on request.
You don't expect to see Australian Eucalyptus trees in California. They're everywhere. There's almost as many Eucalyptus as there are bad drivers in the state.
We had planned to spend the rest of our trip in Yosemite - however despite applying multiple times for a permits to climb Half Dome and do back-country camping months, weeks and days ahead we were unable to get one... So after seeing how crowded Yosemite was I just said "how far away is Mexico?". Definitely a better plan. So we jumped in the car and drove 500 miles or so down to Tijuana. I booked a hotel room on the way because it's a good way to make it look like you actually planned a trip to a country when you really didn't. The hotel was good so we ended up booking the room for the rest of our stay in Mexico. Around TJ there are enough English speakers, though knowing a little Spanish helps, and they are happy enough to take US dollars which is handy.
Oh, and although there are road signs, road rules and traffic lights in TJ nobody really pays much attention to them. However, I think driving in Mexico was more pleasant than California because if it looked like somebody was going to do something - they were going to do it. In California drivers give you no indication at all of what they're about to do. California drivers remind me of those in Sunnybank, Brisbane - but worse.
There's some nice street art around Mexico. I didn't get enough pictures in hind sight.
Pick up rubbish and make a sculpture thing. That's the spirit. You can tell people have contributed bits and pieces.
Not sure who the dude is - reminds me of a Korean dictator.
Monobrow girl, aka. Frida Kahlo.
The border fence runs right to the sea. It goes about 50m into the surf so if you went for a swim you could accidentally be dragged by the current across the border. There's nobody guarding the Mexican side of the fence but there's a dozen or so Americans on the other side on foot, on horses, in cars and helicopters. They didn't ask as for any ID when crossing the border to Mexico - just shined a light in the car and waved us through. On the way back we were questioned, of course.
Mexican Marines (I think they are, anyway) can be seen rolling around the place occasionally.
I quite enjoyed Mexico and I'd go back again. It's definitely a poor country a bit run down in areas (be careful when walking down the street - the manhole covers are broken or missing in many places) but at least it's honest about what is unlike the USA who try to hide their shocking economic inequality problems but do a poor job.