Monday, March 30, 2009
Monday, March 16, 2009
Before we knew it, our sinful trip was drawing to an end. It was the last day already. We wanted to rewind time, or freeze it, at least slow it down. We were up bright and early to take my uncle's 2 year old daughter to the Monterey Bay aquarium. It was like watching two excited kids. My cousin could not stop exclaiming "Fish! Duck! Froggie!" in her adorable baby talk. Arun went crazy, trying to move faster than the fish to catch them on camera. My uncle and aunt must have been glad seeing how much saner their toddler was in comparison. I got to touch starfish and watch penguins with my nose pressed to the glass. So I guess ALL the kids had a happy time after all!
Soon we were on a tiny aircraft on our way to LA where we had a 3 hour layover. Of course we didn't book our tickets early enough to get a direct flight. But we didn't mind the layover one bit. We reminisced and relived and talked and talked some more about the past 10 days. Time flew by and we were whisked into the red-eye bound to Philadelphia. We vaguely remembered the flight taking off and whining something about how terrible it was that we had to go to school and work in the morning. The next thing we knew was the wheels touching the ground in Philadelphia Airport. Boy! Were we tired? We both went our ways, in utter disbelief that the road trip we endlessly anticipated, the road trip we tirelessly obsessed about was actually over.
So applause please. For... We did it!!!
PS: And we did it without getting pulled over even once by a cop *smug*
Day 09 - 14 March
Lake Tahoe was the only part of our trip that was uncertain until the very last moment because we were always a little behind schedule. When we were faced with the choice of getting to the Bay Area on Friday night or visiting Tahoe and reaching sometime on Saturday evening we naturally chose the latter. Again, good judgment there! *snicker*
The drive to Tahoe was distracting, to say the least. It's not always that you get to see deep blue water and sandy beaches on one side and snowy slopes on the other. We drove up from Carson City to Kings City in Tahoe.On the way up we stopped to chat with some locals who had a great big Golden Retriever. He was a really well groomed dog. I spent the longest time petting him and playing football (or noseball) with him. He was such a darling. Even Arun was tempted into touching his coat and playing with him. I might have almost convinced him about the pleasures of having a dog at home.
The dog's owners directed us to a snowmobile rental store that offered a 2 hour self guided tour. We jumped at the proposition, albeit slightly expensive. We are all about bolstering the economy, as always. The snowmobile ride was nothing like we expected. Years of driving motorcycles in India did not help one bit. First of all, this machine need not be balanced. It runs on wide chainlike structures. Secondly, it is a little too heavy to topple over. It was too heavy for me though. I kept driving it up the slopes on the side of the trail and just could not steer it. Arun, with all his power, managed to tame it and off we went bouncing up and down the slopes. We followed a trail of bright pink ribbons tied to branches and tree trunks along the way. The patches of blue lake between the trees became tiny specks as went deeper into the hills. We made many stops to click some fun pictures.
We had the hills to ourselves except for a couple with a child who we met on the way. So we made complete fools of ourselves. We played cricket with snowballs using the helmet as a bat. We hit sixers and threw wide balls. It brought back fond memories of street cricket, it was like a quick flashback of our childhood. We had a snow fight and a contest to see who can hurl snowballs the farthest. We played till we got snow all over ourselves and were totally out of breath, before we completed the rest of the trail. It was fun speeding at 50mph on a snowmobile with a mind of its own.
The snowmobile did not sate us. We tried to rent a motorboat and go into the lake. Unfortunately, although the river was not frozen, it was too cold for boating and all the rentals were closed. So we drove down to the bottom of the hills to get a closer view of the lake and the beaches. The view of the lake was a little too obstructed, so the drive down was nice but not too fruitful for Arun.
We then drove towards San Jose where my uncle lives, our final stop. We were to meet him for dinner and spend the night at his place. We had thus far only heard of the informal 80 mph speed limit of the Californian freeways. I'm glad I caught a bit of the action. I was pelting at 85-90 mph to keep up with the flow of traffic. East Coast cops urgently need an upgrade! Arun sat by my side with his heart in his mouth as I shifted in and out of lanes. I thoroughly enjoyed the adrenalin rush. And of course I miraculously got us to my uncle's place in one piece.
Green, blue, white... We felt like we were traipsing through a painting as we drove to Yosemite. The blue skies contrasted the young green grass and bunches of clouds formed shadows that only enhanced the shades around us. Are we glad we deferred this drive to morning?! This is us at our best judgment. The roads meandered gently through carpets of green on either side. The drive was full of little surprises. A pretty house atop a hillock here, a fleeting snow covered mountain there, flocks of Spring birds flapping past, a soft breeze, dewsdrops melting in the morning sun... This is undoubtedly the most beautiful part of our trip. It brought such unbearable joy to the deprived East Coast eye. We spent about 5 hours inside the park taking a disproportionately large number of pictures. Every vista point had irresistible views to offer. Every creek tantalized us with its shiny reflections. We stopped for lunch at a place called Iron Door Salon. It was a quaint little place with a unique decor. The interior was all dark wood with stuffed animal heads mounted on the walls. The ceiling was really interesting, it had thousands of dollar bills tacked on to it. Apparently, one needs to drive a tack into a dollar bill, roll it around a quarter and toss it at the ceiling. If the person manages to tack the bill to the ceiling then he/she gets invited to the "Dollar Party" that happens in May every year. The restaurant has been doing this for the past 16 years. Arun took sweeping shots of the place with his newest toy, his $400 wide angle lens.We first visited Bridal Veil Falls. The water flowed like a sheet of milk from hundreds of feet above. To reward us for the all the hardship we underwent to reach the place, there, right in front of us was a crisp cheerful rainbow. And it stayed for the entire hour we spent there. We had to drag ourselves away from the falls to ensure that we saw the rest of the place before dark.
Our next stop was at Yosemite Falls at the bottom of the valley. These falls were bigger but at a longer distance away. We waited there until sundown and got some great twilight pictures of the entire scene- the falls, the mountains and the acres of trees and grass around.
Death Valley, true to its name, was fairly successful in convincing us that we could be left there to die. Fortunately we did not go there when the temperature touches its annual high of over 100 deg F. The terrain was just miles and miles of rock and sand, both of which radiate heat to make the place the burning hell it is. We drove for hours through the mindnumbingly dry roads. There were points in time when the visibility ahead was more than 5 miles. We stopped to take pictures of undisturbed sand dunes. It was fun walking up and down the dunes, reminded us of walking on Elliot's Beach in Chennai.We finally reached Badwater which is the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere. It was just a large basin with boards describing how the place came to be. We were rather unimpressed until we realized that we were standing 282ft below sea level. The sea level was marked on a hill in front of us. It was only when we saw it that we felt kind of dwarfed.
We planned to do the Artist's Drive next. But luck had it that there had been an "incident" there (as the cop put it) exactly when we entered the drive. So we had to turn and head out.
We had little idea of what the night had in store for us. We had meticulously planned our route from Death Valley to Yosemite. Or so we thought. After driving for about 8 hours, at half past midnight we reached the Tioga Pass entrance to Yosemite to find it closed for the season until May. You would think we would have checked this beforehand. We did know that large areas of the park are closed this time of the year but had no idea that we could enter only from the Northwest. Another testimony to how badly we can slack. But then again, what good is a cross country trip without some adventure?!
We were stuck in no man's land with no mobile signal and the GPS refusing to show us the only other alternate route which was to drive up North, all around the park to the West entrance. The GPS was all help though- "Turn around when possible", it bleated faithfully at 2 minute intervals. All the hotels en route were full for the night. So we stopped at a hotel parking lot, stole the wi-fi signal and figured out the alternate route, saved it on our laptop and started driving again. We were determined to get the 4 hour detour out of the way the same night. Ambitious, eh? We did not go unpunished. One of the roads on the alternate route was also closed and we were left randomly driving around in the dead of the night with a rapidly depleting tank of gas. Fortunately we came across a restricted area manned by a cop. He gave us the exact route to take with landmarks as specific as a Starbucks store, a high school, gas stations etc. etc. He was such a champ!
We drove on, yapping away to keep each other awake. Suddenly we noticed that the landscape around was breathtakingly beautiful with lush green meadows and moonlight shining off the ice capped mountains in the background. We didn't want to miss this delightful drive in our tired stupor. Just then we entered Nevada and a casino invited us in with its bright big "Rooms Available" sign. It was 2.30am. In 15 minutes we were checked in, washed up and snoring away, merrily dreaming of the scenic drive awaiting us the next morning.
A little anticlimactic, but WHEW... really!
Saturday, March 14, 2009
You would think two people, Engineers that too, would plan a 10 day cross country trip to the T, maximizing efficiency and coverage. Hell No! A couple of slackers, we are. We like to say we go with the flow though. We did "plan" to go to the Grand Canyon Skywalk on the West Rim today. What we did not do was find out if it was worth its hype and more importantly how to get there. We started driving fresh and early and thought and thought about a good way to do the skywalk and still have plenty of time left in Vegas. We finally decided the Skywalk was not worth it ($120 saved right there!) and drove straight to Vegas through Hoover dam.
When we were planning our stay in Vegas, I insisted on Hard Rock Hotel - firstly because I'm a fan of the all-rock decor, secondly because I missed staying in Hard Rock in Bali, thirdly because I make it a point to visit Hard Rock Cafe in every city I go to, if there is one (cheap thrill!). Arun really had no say. But even he agrees now, it was a great choice. We loved the feel of the hotel and the service.
The best part of our night in Vegas was "O", the Cirque du Soleil show at Bellagio. The show was true to its promise "Where all the world is water and the stage is all the world." The show had such high artistic class and our respective interests in photography and theater made us notice very different things. Arun could not help being impressed by the lighting effects, the timing and other photographic aspects of the show. My attention naturally gravitated to the script, the abstract depiction, the props and other theatrical elements.
The artists wove magic as they swam and pranced and flaunted their acrobatics atop a stage that was water one moment and unexpectedly turned into a dark jungle the next. The production screamed of creativity, discipline, passion and perfection achievable only through meticulous practice. Even the way the artists themselves cleared the stage between acts was replete with artistic thought. The curtain wildly flew up (literally) once at the beginning and softly floated down once at the end. This is the only time we've seen people sink and disappear underwater after clearing the stage. The orchestra and singers were par excellence, the crests and troughs in the score perfectly accentuated what met the eye, holding the audience in rapt attention. The show, a last minute impulse decision, turned out to be one of our best splurges ever.
I will not go into the details of walking around the strip into the wee hours. I will let the pictures speak for themselves.
The fifth day of our road trip has come and gone. We first drove from Farmington, New Mexico to Monument Valley. It was single jacket weather, just slightly chilly. It was amazing to see the terrain change from the snow covered ranges to large rough rocks. The road carved through the rock was like a roller coaster track, its steep inclines and sudden downslopes visible for miles. The shiny mirages were a welcome distraction on the otherwise soporific stretches of tarmac.
Three hours and a gazillion pictures later we drove to the loop's exit to be firmly stopped by a large white dog. He demanded attention. And food, of course. Arun, as we all know, really likes animals. But only on TV screens and inside cages in zoos. So I clambered over him, to the driver's window and fed the dog almost an entire pack of Chips Ahoy! He was pretty good at catching the cookies in mid-air. The change of company was refreshing after four days of uninterrupted Arun.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Needless to say, Central America has comparitively drier terrain than either of the coasts. Hence we decided to spend the fourth day of our road-trip predominantly hotfooting past the Midwest and Central America. To meet our target of 600 miles for the day, we were thinking of setting off at around 9am. But we started driving around noon. Blame it on our "mutual trust" on each other to set the alarm.
We started driving through Kansas, mostly through miles of barren-land, dry enough to give one hallucinations while driving (hallucinations just like those one gets minutes before falling asleep). Yet, thanks to the nonstop chatting (No No I'm not calling Kavitha a chatterbox), even driving through Kansas was pretty exciting! What we did not know back then was that we were in for a much "cooler" experience once we reached Colorado.
The first sight of the snow-clad Mountain ranges around Colorado Springs was definitely a pretty sight.
About an hour later, we were driving through the same Mountains, which made us gape in wonder earlier. The drive through the mountains was an experience in itself. Kavitha did an amazing job driving, as the winding roads snaked through the mountain ranges. For about an hour, views around were increasingly magnificient, with the Colorado river flowing alongside the road and the cliffs shading us from the sun. I have to be honest - I was tempted to stop the car at every corner and take photographs.
Then came the best part. As Kavitha was driving through the mountain ranges and climbing the high mountains, what started as a mild snowfall quickly graduated into a blizzard of sorts. I took the wheel. We had to switch seats without getting off the car to avoid getting completely drenched. I drove for the next hour - carefully following a Honda Civic that consistently maintained a speed of 10-15 mph.
The roads were hazardously slippery and the visibility was less than 10 meters. It was quite an experience to drive through the mountains. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge.
After getting back to ground level, we stopped for a sumptuous Chinese dinner. We are now about to hit the sack for a well deserved slumber. All in preparation for Monument Valley and Grand Canyon tomorrow!
Monday, March 9, 2009
Thanks to a good 3 hour delay in Day 2's schedule and the want of proper sleep for the past 2 days (as in proper sleep, for a lazy ass who otherwise maintains a consistent 7 hours of sleep everyday!), we started Day 3 with a delay of 2 hours. The plan for the day was to play tourist at St. Louis and then drive about 600 miles to reach Kansas. As we were loading the car to leave, the rain Gods greeted us with a magnaminous downpour, wishing us good morning in their own style. Delayed start and then heavy rain - not a great way to start the day. Or so it seemed.
In a few minutes, as we approached downtown St. Louis, the clouds cleared and the blue sky smiled happily. So did we. The day turned out to be marvelous, the temperature touched low 70s, the wind was soothingly chilly and the sun shone brightly throughout. And yeah, some good pictures!
St. Louis is one of the very few cities in this country out of which I had the least expectations but it ended up pleasantly surprising me. The city was neat, nice & modern. Gateway Arch is certainly an architectural marvel and thanks to my new wide angle lens, I got some fulfilling pictures.
An hour of walking around near the waterfront and a great many pictures later, we treated ourselves to sumptuous pasta at Cecole's. The garlic bread definitely deserves a special mention- it was arguably the best I have ever had in my life!
Though our next mission of visiting the Basilica ended up without excitement (the Sunday service was in session and they do not allow tourists to take pictures at that time) the drive to get there and back was certainly not. Kavitha was driving that stretch. GPS once suggested, then screamed succesively to join a freeway, but there was no road to be found. Apparently, there was road construction work on Interstate 64 and so we could not find a way to enter the freeway nor to head West. Later, with the efficient help of Jesus, we found some local roads, alternate routes and lots of action before reaching I70 West heading towards Kansas city.
Before getting back on track, yours truly was sitting tight and maintained his cool, as our able driver skipped a STOP sign, got a little tensed, then jumped a red light, got more tensed and missed yielding to flowing traffic, got dangerously terrorized and almost hit the curb on the ramp. All these in about 5 minutes! I felt like a kid taking a roller-coaster ride for the first time with no warning beforehand. What the kid did not know is that the ride was going to be exciting, yet safe. As much as I'm attempting to ridicule Kavitha, I gotta give it to her, as she has driven an even 50% of the distance so far. Considering this is the second week she is driving in this country, that is quite a feat!
Now, as I type this, she is making 80 mph on I-70 passing vehicles with effortless ease and shifting lanes like a pro. Practice doth maketh a man perfect. Er... and woman too I guess.
PPS: We thought we had forgottten nothing with our meticulous list making. We made up for it by forgetting our laptop charger at the hotel in St. Louis. So we had to buy a new charger from a Radio Shack at Colby and we're posting this from a Rest Area on I 70 which loudly announced it's wi-fi connection.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
The 3 hour drive so far has been really interesting and rather challenging. For about an hour after we left Purdue it rained cats and dogs. We had to take a two-way state highway with visibility of about 10 meters. I drove in the rain for half hour before the rain Gods came down on me with renewed vengeance. So I handed the wheel over to Superman here. But I must admit the adrenalin rush was kind of fun...
And the best part! As we write this, the trip meter clocked the 1000th mile. We're about 25% of the way there. Yippie!!!
Saturday, March 7, 2009
Much to our disbelief,our road trip really is happening. Drumrolls, hoots and cheers!
We're writing this from the road about two hours away from Pittsburgh- our stop for tonight. We've rented a red SUV- a Toyota Rav 4. Given the 4000 miles we will be clocking over the next week, I guess it is a good thing to have a car that promises us good mileage. And of course, we were two hours behind schedule even before we started. Thanks to work, good deeds such as picking up a friend's stuff to transport to California (we are hoping all the good karma will tide us through the recession) and horrendous Philadelphia traffic.
The past two days were full of envious curiousity from people who have always wanted to do a road trip, lots of good wishes from our friends and colleagues, words of kind advice, suggestions and caution from practically everyone we know.
It's been a long week for both of us with exams and work related crises and what not. But what the heck! The week is over, it's Friday and our road trip will not remain just one of our grand plans. That's all that matters in the end.
Our pulse races in excitement as the car cruises and careens on the road. We will rule the freeways!