Yosemite

3 Europeans and 1 Aussie at YosemiteYosemite was my escape from the bars of San Francisco.  While I hadn’t particularly researched much about Yosemite National Park, I’d heard enough to know that it was supposed to be an incredible place, therefore had it on my mental to-do list.  My decision to go to Yosemite came about as a result of seeing a notice posted at the hostel I was stayed at in San Fran asking if anyone was interested in sharing a rental car to Yosemite in a couple days.  This seemed like a good idea, I hadn’t driven since being in the States, therefore taking off to see some nature in a car sounded like an excellent proposition.  I therefore made contact with the organiser to determine rough costs and after hearing the plan, cancelled my last night’s accommodation in San Fran and agreed to join him and two others on the road.

I emerged slightly late to the lobby of out hostel just after 7AM in the morning, our entourage consisted of myself, Lukas from Switzerland (the organiser), Lucas from Germany and Lobo from Spain.  So it was that we embarked on a  mission to drive to Yosemite, stay one night in a hostel just outside of the park, then drive back the next day.  The cost of the hire car, including GPS navigation and a Satellite Radio was reasonable spread over the 4 of us and once we worked out how to hook up all the devices to the car, music options were plentiful.  Driving out of San Francisco was the shot on in the arm I needed, out of the city, driving and free to go where I wanted with 3 Europeans, things were starting to go right again.

Stops for fast-food were made, music tastes were shared and compared and after a few hours on the highway the weather started turning from warm clear skies to rain and while the road swept us up into the mountains.  We headed straight into Yosemite, not bothering to stop at our Hostel as we wanted to make the most of what daylight there was still remaining.  We stopped by one of the waterfalls (don’t ask me which one, we didn’t even have the park map by this stage) and thought to check it out.  It was absolutely freezing outside and I quickly put on a couple layers of clothes and as soon as we left the car we could hear the roaring of the waterfall.

Yosemite WaterfallWe all started up the path to the waterfall and then it started to rain.  Not rain from the sky though, spray coming off the waterfall!  Water began to cascade down our path and I quickly regretted not having yet invested in a pair of water-proof boots. Regardless we continued on until we saw the waterfall towering above us.  The volume of water, the noise and the spray all contributed to an incredible experience  and despite getting soaked I knew right away that I had made the right decision coming to Yosemite.

After that we headed into the stores in Yosemite to get some idea of what to do while we were there, it started snowing and in fact much of the ground still had snow upon it.  Luckily, we were told that tomorrow the forecast was for perfect weather and blue skies.  Some of the park’s roads were still closed as Spring was only just beginning and snow was still melting, in fact it was an unusual winter in that the snowfall continued quite late into the year.  We got some food and supplies, checked out the tourist center and drove around a bit more, but most of the sites were drenched in fog, so not much was to be seen.  We were sure though that assuming an accurate forecast, the weather tomorrow would be ideal to fully appreciate Yosemite.

We drove back out of our park to Yosemite Bug, a fantastic and highly recommended hostel/hotel, which sports individual cabins as well as dorms, has a health spa as well as a restaurant/bar all on-site.  We had hired a 4 bedroom cabin, which was right at the top of the property.  I quickly thought about staying in Yosemite longer, there was availability in one of the dorms, but alas I was the only driver actually registered on the car!  Therefore, unfortunately I was stuck going back the next day as it was agreed I should be the one to return the car.  After initially asking around for bars to go to nearby, we quickly realised the restaurant on-site was more than sufficient as it sported plenty of travelers, drinks and of course board games.

The Jenga Tower - Almost at its Peak!At dinner I cracked opened a Californian bottle of Red to be shared around, which was enjoyed by all and we then started up a friendly game of Texas Hold ‘Em Poker.  The card game was fun, but started to draw out and since there weren’t enough $$$ in the pot to keep me interested, I blew my lead in a couple bad hands then switched tables to play some Jenga.  Despite being annoyed by the playing of music from my laptop, the two Australians (recently married and on their honeymoon) and one Canadian were more than happy to welcome us to the game and some excellent Jenga with plenty of trash-talk commenced.

After finishing Poker, Lucas and Lukas joined in and thus begin the Epic Jenga match of Yosemite.  I don’t recall ever playing a Jenga match that went for as long, had such a high tower or where there was such pressure involved.  The last table in the restaurant, playing their own game of cards, would frequently cheer and yell out encouragement as the tower grew.  Round after round as the tower began to wobble more and more, each player carefully made their move, hoping it would be their last of game, only to have to suffer the tension of making yet another move as the tower remained intact.  Australia, Canada, Germany and Switzerland were all competing, national pride was on the line, focus and concentration was intense.  In the end there could be no one winner, only a single loser, the person who made the tower come tumbling down.  In the end, it was Canada . . . and the tower crashed into their female representative as she put her head into her hands in shame crying out “I am the Biggest Loser!”

The next day we set out far too late, but luckily the weather was perfect as predicted, majestic mountains that were once invisible behind a seas of fog were revealed in their full glory, rising up straight out of the ground to over 1KM in height!  Snow capped peaks gave way to massive waterfalls and the valley was revealed in all its splendor.  We hiked up to one of the falls, but rather than risk getting soaked again (especially in my new leather jacket) I stayed behind before we reached the top and let the guys go ahead.  Luckily I was entertained by feeding a friendly squirrel.  Fast running of time to get the car back to San Francisco airport in time for the return cut-off, I made the decision to personally fork out a bit of extra cash and keep the car one more day to give us more time to enjoy the park.

Sequoia ActionWe therefore had enough time to go have a look at the Sequoias on our drive back, which are the tallest trees in the world.  These trees were massive beyond belief and because we choose to see them at the end of the day, we had them mostly to ourselves with almost no other tourists around.  One tree had a gaping hole cut into it with a large enough space for a car to drive through and incredibly a sign informed visitors that the tree was actually growing inwards, healing itself to close the gap.  As the sun was setting, we set back to San Francisco where those of us who had previously driven (myself and Lobo) switched to the backseats and enjoyed catching up on some sleep.  Yosemite was an amazing experience, and although far too short, one which I’m keen to repeat in order to explore more fully and enjoy again at some point in the future.

(For those of you reading regularly, all half a dozen of you, I’ve recently added two new features to the website through the Menu at the top of every page.  You can view my full photo albums when they are published through the Gallery link (http://travel.prubin.net/?page_id=45) and you can also enter your e-mail to receive notifications when I post new articles through the Subscribe link (http://travel.prubin.net/?page_id=135).

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San Francisco

Golden Gate BridgeMy stay in San Francisco was fairly brief as a result of poor planning and my desire to afford expensive accommodation.  Hostels for the most part were quite reasonable, but my failure to book ahead on the 2nd weekend for the annual Bay to Breakers run left me with few options.  My first weekend in San Fran had me hanging around the city area and Mission District for the most part and I enjoyed a good variety of restaurants and bars.  Over in the Mission District, there was a street festival where I witnessed a 7-person bicycle being ridden (failed to capture on camera though  unfortunately) and some interesting stalls.  Partying most nights, followed by relaxation during the day was the main mission here, which was fairly successful.

My 2nd weekend in San Francisco was an extension of my original plans, as I wanted to witness the phenomenon known as the Bay to Breakers, the biggest outdoor running festival in San Francisco.  What makes the Bay to Breakers typically such a memorable festival is a number of things, notably including people’s costumes, tendency to start drinking before the event  in the morning, tendency to ditch the run half-way through and stop in at a pub and lastly but most importantly the high number of nude participants.  Booking last minute into one of the only available hostels in the area, I ended up staying at the Marin Headlands, located in a National Park north of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Concert Night OutWhilst affordable and scenic, the hostel itself was fairly shabby, alcohol was technically banned and there was really no entertainment or facilities outside of the hostel itself in easy walking distance.  After booking said hostel, I also discovered that no public transport ran directly to it, EXCEPT on Sundays so I decided to hike over from the bridge.  In the end, I reached the hostel before dark with one subway ride, a bus ride (where I didn’t have correct change, but was let off) and a moderate hike along a fairly easy trail.  The total distance of the hike came to about 13km, but included a fair amount of back-tracking and trying to work out where exactly the hiking trail was meant to begin.  In the end though, I managed it without hitch-hiking, so an achievement was accomplished.

I’d packed a couple tins of food to get me through my stay at the Hostel, luckily though I be-friended an English bloke with a car, which proved mutually beneficial for both of us, since he was looking for a drinking partner.  We ended up cruising down to Silicon Valley after a couple nights and took in a System of a Down gig which was good fun, but highly damaging on the wallet due to the usual over-priced drinks phenomenon found at most music venues.  San Fran as a whole was a great city where I didn’t quite cross of as many “touristy” activities as I could have, but which certainly held some good times.  I’ll be more than keen to go back again soon, definitely when some warmer weather prevails!