Tuesday, June 24, 2008

East Coast of America Trek: Moosehead Lake & Baxter State Park

It was a really early start this morning - 4.45am we got up and left the campsite at 5.30am.

The reason for the extremely early start is our white water rafting trip. There were no hiccups on the trip from Canada to the USA, we even managed to get Tom back in after a bit of paperwork. The rafting place was just over the border. Karola and all the guys got into the rafting gear, then it was on the bus to get to the river. The rest of us were dropped off for our first hike to "Moxie Falls".

After the rafting we drove on to Moosehead Lake stopping along the way for lunch. We got to Moosehead Lake at about 4pm. The campsite is beautiful, it is right on the lake and we had it all to ourselves. The guys went for one freezing cold swim, from which they didn't seem to warm up.

Before dinner Stephen took some of us back down the road to get some good shots of the sunset over the lake. Dinner tonight was a steak barbecue. Afterwards we built the barbecue up to a bonfire and sat around it playing silly drinking games "bunnies" and "karaoke",

Oh and Stephen organised a competition between countries. "Chubby Bunny", it involves marshmallows and is disgusting, but hilarious for those watching.

We unfortunately had to leave the beautiful campsite this morning, we wanted to go to Baxter State Park.

Even leaving at 8.30am we didn't get there until 11.30am cause of the very slow dirt roads. But the park was well worth it.

I hiked with some of the others to Rocky Pond and Little Rocky Pond. It was beautiful and really peaceful.

They only allow a certain amount of people into the park so it wasn't at all overrun. Also the trails were still trails, meaning there was no concrete turning them into paths, it was just a trail in and out of trees and rocks. That way it all seemed really authentic.

We left at 3pm and we are now on our way to Acadia National Park. It has so far been a very "windy" drive, and it had nothing to do with the weather.

We set up camp at Hadley's Point and then it was up to me, Catherine and Robin to conjure up something edible! We had leftovers!
Meaning we used up the pasta and cauliflower. It made quite a delicious meal. After dinner some went into town and some stayed around the campsite.

East Coast of America Trek: Quebec

Cabins at Quebec! What luxury and even better they had little electric heaters. Half of the group went into Quebec drinking, but I stayed at the cabin with Erica, Catherine and Stephen. We sat around the "camp heater" chatting and Stephen made us hot chocolate with Yukon Whiskey. Very tasty.

We nearly had a good nights sleep, but those that were out drinking didn't all return to camp. Tom & Gary stayed out, unfortunately along with the cabin key, this meant that 3 of the guys were without a bed and sleeping bags. We didn't make them sleep outside, but I don't think they were too comfortable.

View in Quebec - Luvly!We set off at lunchtime minus 2 as "Tom & Jerry" (as they have now been renamed) still hadn't found their way back. Stephen gave us a walking tour of Quebec. Even as we pulled up, I knew I was going to like Quebec, it just looked so "luvly" in the sunshine. After our walking tour we stopped at a café and had a drink and small bite to eat. Then we were on our own for a few hours. I bought myself a fleece scarf to keep me warm on the wilderness campsite. Then I wandered the streets of Quebec with Erica and Cathy. We had a wander through where the peasants used to live, then went up to the Chateau with the funicular railway.

We all went out to eat together in the evening at a restaurant on Saint Jean called "Retro" I had a very delicious steak dinner. Those out partying the night before went back to the campground by taxi after dinner, which was a shame, the rest of us checked out a couple of bars on Grand Allée. Oh I almost forgot, Tom & Jerry bumped into us waiting for a table at the restaurant, they stayed with us there, but then left us to rejoin us at 4.45am.

East Coast of America Trek: Montreal

A beautiful sunny morning! Even warm. We had breakfast packed up the tents and punctually at 9.30am we were on our way to Montreal. It was a long drive and unfortunately we didn't take the "weather with us", it got consistently worse and by the time we got to Montreal it was really raining!
I suppose we were lucky we got stuck in traffic, as by the time we pulled up at the campsite the rain took a break, and we were able to build up the tents without trying to dodge the raindrops. We stayed at a KOA campground which had a shelter for us to cook under. That proved very handy, as it started raining again once the tents were up.

Dinner today was hot dogs and salad, then it was off on a rainy sight-seeing tour of Montreal. We drove up Mound Royal for a great but very cold night view of the city, then we went into town to a bar for a quick drink, the bar was called "Thursdays", we didn't all feel welcome there.
For a start we were given the once over, when we walked in and the waitress was extremely rude. When we paid we were all separately told "Service is not included", that's the first and last time anyone demands a tip from me. She was lucky though, we were too shocked to give her the reaction she deserved. We left the bar at 12.30 and it was back to the campground for a very, very cold night.

I think my face froze off last night. I will have to master the art of sleeping with my face in the sleeping bag. It was a bit cold when I woke to a frozen nose this morning. At breakfast we actually found ice on a puddle on the buckets, so the temperature was definitely very low last night. We packed up in good time and sunshine, the rain has completely cleared up leaving sunshine, but also unfortunately a bitingly cold wind.

Today was our sightseeing day in Montreal, or for some jet-boating, which everyone really enjoyed. I skipped that as I will all sports involving water, cause of my cold. Instead of drowning ourselves, Erica and I explored the old town of Montreal. Our first stop however was a café for a hot chocolate (or in Erica's case - tea) to warm us up a bit, as the wind is really icy cold!

Notre Dame in Montreal - Beautiful!We then made our way to the Notre Dame church via the Bureau de Change. The church was incredible, we were there at a good time and waited for a guided tour, which came free with the $2 entrance fee. It was very interesting. After that we were getting hungry and we found a very nice place in the old town, where they did sweet and savoury crêpes. They had a lunch menu which included a soup or salad and dessert. Soup was Asparagus - delicious, then we both had crêpes with ham and cheese and béchamel sauce. I left some of that to leave room for dessert which was a crêpe with warm banana and chocolate sauce. Delicious, the rest of the afternoon 'til we re-met the others at 3.30pm we spent in and out of souvenir shops. And now we are in the van on our way to Quebec.

East Coast of America Trek: Toronto

Today Toronto is on the programme, whilst the others went sightseeing, I went in search of help with my camera. I found it at "Japan Cameras" in Eaton Place. The guy there was really helpful and I now know that the camera is fine, it is the lens that is broken. I convinced the guy that I really did want to buy a new lens and am now the happy owner of a zoom lens, which I would have bought sooner or later!

Canadian Mountie MooseI did a bit of window shopping at Eaton Place after that and had lunch, I then decided not to waste all that beautiful sunshine and wandered the streets of Toronto, trying out my new lens. There is an exhibition on in Toronto "Moose in the City", which is a lot (as in 326) of painted moose, all over town. Some of them are really funny, I got quite a few pictures of them and eventually I sat down in the sunshine by the CN Tower writing postcards and this journal.

At 4pm we all met up again and Tom made it! He got to Toronto with 20 mins to the 4pm deadline - phew!

Once we had all gathered again it was back to the campsite for dinner (Tacos and dessert). After our "award-winning" washing up performance (Catherine, Robin and I), it was off back into Toronto to go up the CN-Tower. Great views of Toronto by night from up there, and funnily enough my fear of heights wasn't as bad in the dark!

From there we went to a bar called "Indian Cycle", there was a great band playing there. Erica and I had fun watching the people on the dance floor, luckily for us on-one there noticed us giggling about them. Except for Stephen who was amused by the pair of us!

At about 11.50pm Erica, Stephen and I left the bar and took a long route back to the bus to explore Toronto's roads at night. Back at the van we climbed on top, chatted and admired the view of the CN-Tower.

East Coast of America Trek: Niagara Falls

My trip got off to a "great" start. Not only am I fighting the flu, no the flight with Singapore Airlines was delayed from 8.30am to 10.15am.

Luckily I live close enough to the airport and Florian and I went back home and watched the Olympics. I got back to the airport for the correct check-in time, only to find after sitting around for 30 mins, that we were delayed even further! We finally left Frankfurt at 11.30am - 3 hours late!

Despite the delay Singapore Airlines was great, Ramona had got me a great seat, I had loads of room for my bag next to me at the window, so my feet had freedom. The service was good, the stewardesses looked great in their uniforms which looked more like traditional costume than uniforms. The food was nothing to write home about, but then aeroplane food never is!
What was GREAT, was the video screen in the seat in front, that meant no straining my neck to see the film. I saw "Gone in 60 seconds", had I wanted I could have seen another 2 films. Instead I watched some sitcoms and played Nintendo!

I finally arrived at JFK airport at 1pm local time. Getting through immigration, baggage claim and customs took an hour (not too bad). I found the bus place right away, booked a seat on the Gray Line Shuttle and was on my way by 2.15pm (I only booked a one way ticket, I have since found out that they do a return and that way it is $5 cheaper). I don't think JFK is that far out from Manhattan, but it took forever to get there, I was at the hotel at 4.15pm.

Checking in wasn't as easy as normally, as the hotel first couldn't find my reservation, in the end they did, otherwise I would have been kicking up quite a fuss! Then it was first things first, and I tried to get the calling card to work to call Florian. It wouldn't work from the room, but I found a pay phone and gave him the number to call back.

After the phone calls I decided I needed fresh air and went for a walk to Times Square, where I had a BigMac Meal, that was about all I could face! On the way I got pretty wet (rain!), so I dried off a bit in the room, then it was down to the lobby to meet the rest of the guys. Not all were there but those that were, seem like a great bunch.

Let's see: Catherine, 23, from England, Karola, 27, from Germany, Shu-Min, 24, from Taiwan, studying in Cardiff, Wales. That makes us 4 girls so far and there are the following 4 guys: Jamie, 29, from Australia, Gary, 31, from England, Robin, 31, from Holland, Ivo, 33, from Holland (sorry both Dutch guys are from The Netherlands not Holland as they so often told us!). This time I have a male tour guide, Stephen, he suggested that we save our welcome evening until we are all there, nice gesture, so we all went out on our own together.

Gary has been here for three days already and knew some bars, and we headed to them. So we all got to know one another a bit. Cathy, Shu-Min and I left at 10pm as we were all jet-lagging. I am sharing my room, but I haven't met her yet. Finally switched off the light at 10.45pm.

Well, my room-mate was in the other bed, but we never met. When I left the room after dressing and repacking with my torch, she was still asleep, and I never bothered her, it is strange though sharing a room with someone and never speaking!

We are now in the van on our way to Lake Ontario (near Niagara) once again, I am doing the tour backwards, this time this is to ensure better foliage colouring towards the end of the tour. Most of us have "trekked" before, so packing the van up went really quick, now it's just a long driving day - 450 miles whatever that is in kilometres!

We met the two missing Trekkers Erica, 31, from Australia and Tom, 22, from England, since then Erica and I have discovered that not only 69 a great year, but that we were both born on the 5th June - wow!

And now for the really annoying thing of today, my camera has packed up on me again - GREAT! I feel sick just thinking about it, I have one more theory, which I will try out, when we get to the campground, and if that doesn't work, then I am really going to be pissed off. I have already changed the film and batteries, but that didn't help. My next plan entails testing it without a film in it and if it works then, then maybe it is the cheap Aldi films, and I will buy something here and test it.
Jamie has a spare camera, which he has lent me, so if it all fails at least I won't be completely without.

Well, we have since arrived at our campsite and the camera doesn't work without a film in it either - AGH! I was so upset I had to call Florian to calm down again. But I won't write about the camera anymore, otherwise it will annoy me all over again.

The american view of the FallsWe made good time getting from Seneca Lake to Buffalo, so we got to see the American side of the Niagara Falls, that was good as I hadn't seen them before. From there it was on to set up camp on the banks of Lake Ontario. It was a really clear evening and we could clearly see Toronto on the other side of the lake.

Unfortunately there was an extremely cold wind blowing off of the lake, so it wasn't exactly a comfy meal we had, but around the campfire it was nice and warm, also very smoky so even now two days later we all smell like a campfire!

Cause of the wind the campfire party was not that late as we all crawled into the warmer tents and even warmer sleeping bags.

The wind had died down in the morning, so breakfast tasted even better, as I wasn't fighting with my hair! We were all packed up and ready to leave by 8.30am and it was off to the Niagara Falls, but our first stop was Walmart for things like hats, scarves and gloves for more windy evenings!

There was a huge hiccup in our tour at the Canadian border, Tom had left an important piece of paper in his bag in New York and the Canadian officials wouldn't let him in.

Whilst the rest of us went to the Hard Rock Café for lunch and on the Maid of the Mist tour, Stephen and Tom went to see what they could do about the problem on the American side. We met Stephen again at 3pm but no Tom, he will hopefully rejoin us in Toronto, once his papers have been fedexed to him from NY.

The Maid of the Mist tour is a boat trip right up to the Falls, everyone gets a blue poncho and then everyone gets a free Niagara shower or drowning, whichever you want to call it!

From Niagara it was on to the "planes, trains and automobiles" campsite, so called by us as those are the sounds that surround us. Other than that the site is OK. After a delicious pasta dinner, we went to downtown Toronto to a couple of bars for a drink. We got back to camp around 1am, wrapped ourselves up in our sleeping bags and went to sleep. Well I guess we all did, I know I did.

Hawaiian Dream Trek: Big Island

Woke with a jump this morning, my tour today included an unwanted wake up call at 5.30am! 6am would have been much better, but oh well!

Was up and waiting at the front door to be picked up by 6.25am. Was actually picked up at 6.45am. Then it was off to the airport, where I got to be a " real " tourist and wear a silly badge!

The flight was again uneventful and only took about 40mins. We were picked up at the airport by our guide called Karen and were in a small bus - 24 of us. Everyone seemed to feel sorry for me as I was on my own (the only one!), but I obviously looked happy enough as they all soon stopped worrying about me, but they all insisted on helping getting me on my pictures, it was easier to let them, than try to explain, that I prefer landscapes to pictures of me!

Our tour started off with a trip to Akaka Falls, for me the hike was nothing, but the older generation were quite puffed. But the falls were beautiful and we saw them from a completely different angle to all the other falls I have seen this holiday. From there we went to the Macademia Nut factory, we got a free bar of chocolate cause we were stood in the wrong line, but who's to complain. I bought a small tin of nuts for Mum, I wanted to get some uncracked ones, but they didn't sell them. After 1/2 hour there it was on to an orchid farm. There I got Mum loads of Hawaiian plant seeds and roots.

And then finally we made our way to the Volcanoes National Park. First stop there was Volcano House, where we had lunch looking out over a crater. Then we carried on our journey stopping to look at various craters and lava flows. We got to the sea and in the distance you could see the steam cloud, where the new lava was going into the sea. Unfortunately that was the closest we got to the lava. I would have liked to have seen some hot stuff, but it didn't happen.

From there it was back to the airport and back to Oahu. Once back, I found out that Nicki's scuba diving had been cancelled that was annoying 'cause she could have joined me. Can't be changed!

We met Albert and Mei for dinner at 20.30 and today we went to Duke's Canoe Club which is directly on the beach. It was fun there, as I got carded! Yes, nearly 30 and the waitress thought I was not yet 21! GREAT! Nicki at 26 was not quite as pleased, but when she is pushing 30, she will be!

Dinner there was delicious, I had " Opah " fish, (Hawaiian Moonfish) Then it was back to bed.

Last Day

Nicki and I went out shopping this morning, first we went to Crazy Shirt and bought loads of T-shirts (one for me, Mum and Ramona), then I wanted some new Tevas (smart ones) but they didn't have any in black, so I went without. Nicki bought a bag for all her goodies. Then it was back to the hotel to pack and see Mei and Albert off. We checked out after Mei and Albert had gone, and then went to lay on the beach.

We left the beach at about 4pm to have a shower at the hotel, they let you have a room for 1/2 hour after having checked out. I thought that was great service.

After our shower we went to Keo's for dinner, delicious, we should get the cook to move to Germany. But why would he want to leave Hawaii! After dinner we made our way back to the hotel and Nicki left at 7.50pm. I waved her off of course and then did some last minute shopping. When I got back to the hotel the bus driver that the others had had, was waiting to say goodbye to me. That was so cute, cause I wasn't actually going to the airport with him, as I had booked a return shuttle coming in. Won't do that if I go again. Two single fairs would still have been cheaper!

I left the hotel to the airport at 21.00 and was there in plenty of time to check in and buy a couple of magazines. My flight left on time at 23.00pm and that apart from the long flight home was the end of another great holiday!

Hawaiian Dream Trek: Waimea Canyon, Kauai

As we had all decided on the short hike today, we had a bit of a lay in and had a big fried breakfast at nine with scrambled eggs and bacon! Of course, I started with Cocoa Pebbles first. After breakfast and the washing up, we set off for Waimea Canyon which is the Hawaiian version of the Grand Canyon. Although not as big, it is still as beautiful, and when you are stood at the viewpoint you feel just as small as you do at the Grand Canyon.

Too close to the edge for me!After the viewpoint, we went on a short 3 mile hike along the top of the canyon. This time I took notes of how much of the trail went down hill, so that I was prepared on the way back up! The hike was relatively easy, but would have been even easier, if I hadn't had been a bit scared cause of the height and sheer drops. The hike took us to the top of some waterfalls, which I didn't actually see cause I didn't go down the scary part. Nicki and I sat up a bit higher worrying about the others dangling their legs over the edge!

Going back up Ulrike and I went at our own pace rather than at Nicki's Mountain Goat speed. So we arrived at the top a bit later than the rest. Then we went further on up the road to some picnic tables and a museum for lunch. After lunch during which we also fed the cockerels, we went to the Kala.(something) lookout point, which was totally in the clouds, so that was a big shame.

swimmingWe turned back then and headed to our campsite, where I headed straight for the shower, I was so filthy. Nicki, Todd, Albert and Mei went for a swim in the little lake in the campsite. Ulrike and I had by then showered and wandered over to watch them. Nicki was trying to teach Mei to tread water, but she didn't really succeed, from where I stood with Todd it looked more like the pair of them were drowning! Apparently they were laughing and not choking, could have fooled me!

Nicki cooked for us today: Falafel, delicious, I think I will have to see if I can get the mix for that at home. I have only ever had them on Trek!

Again we postponed the washing up, which was probably not the best of ideas, but I was sleeping in the other cabin, so I didn't have to go to sleep in a garlic infested room!

We went to bed quite early as we all had to be on the road by 7.15 for the helicopter ride over Kauai.

Well, I woke up twice in the night and heard the rain, but was convinced it would have passed by the morning. And when I woke at 6.45am I could hear birds outside chirruping, so I thought all was well outside. But I was soon proved wrong, when I made my way to the loos!

It was grey extremely cloudy and drizzling. Todd was up and scrubbing out the van, so I asked him if it was worth waking up properly, he is like me, forever an optimist and assured me it was!

Well, Marcus was not too pleased he had to surface even though it was raining. And when we all set off at 7.15 he more or less complained all the way to the helicopter place. There they told us what Marcus had predicted, that our flight would be put back two hours to 10am. Todd was to phone them at 9am to reconfirm that. Well, back at the campsite the weather just got steadily worse come 9am! And our flight was cancelled all together. I'm quite disappointed, but I suppose that is a reason to one day come back to Hawaii.

After doing all yesterdays and breakfast washing up, we packed the van up, and headed for the airport, we had decided to go back to Oahu on an earlier flight as there there are more things to do on a rainy day. But this also meant that Todd left us earlier. I actually missed saying goodbye to him, as I was baby-sitting Ulrike, who checked her baggage in before we left the airport to Waikiki. Instead of us all getting a taxi to the hotel, we took the city bus ($1 each and ever so easy as we knew where we were going!)

We all checked into the hotel and then headed straight back out for some lunch. We went to a Japanese noodle house, where only a few days earlier Albert had entered a competition. He had to eat a bowl of Ramen (noodles in a broth - huge portion) in under 20mins. He did it in 11! I would have liked to have seen him beat his own record, but he decided to be civilised and eat at a normal pace. I had fried noodles which were delicious. After eating we all split up and Marcus and I went to the Imax Theatre and saw the film about the volcanoes (Ring of Fire). Scary seeing as I am going to the Big Island tomorrow.

We met up with Nicki after the film and we all headed to the shopping mall. Nicki bought more clothes at Gap and I got a T-shirt for Sven. We got back by 7pm with time for me to shower before we saw Ulrike off to the airport. She got a shuttle bus at 7.50pm and we all waved her off. I think she was having a hard time trying not to cry!

We re-met in the lobby at 8.30pm for dinner. We went to the " Shorebird Beach Broiler ", where you are responsible for cooking your dinner. They have a salad buffet and you get raw meat which you barbecue yourself and the whole thing is directly on the beach. Beautiful setting and great fun. We were going to go have a drink after that, but I had an early morning ahead of me, so we headed back to bed! It was gone 11pm anyway.

Oh, I nearly forgot, I tried a Mai Tai at the restaurant, which was really delicious, so I will probably have another tomorrow!

Hawaiian Dream Trek: Kauai

The flight to Kauai was uneventful. Todd was there waiting for us, when we arrived, as was our luggage, which had obviously travelled on an earlier flight than us. What I liked about the baggage claim, was that as we left they compared the stickers on the bag to the stickers on our tickets. That stops anyone taking the wrong bags accidentally or even on purpose.

We drove from the airport straight in the direction of our campsite only stopping on the way to shop for dinner. We decided on Burritos again and I made my " Schichtsalat " (a delicious German salad, click here for the recipe).

Sunset on KauaiOur campsite had cabins with bunkbeds so we didn't need to build up tents, it also had a kitchen, so we didn't have to boil water for washing up, it was already there coming out of a tap. After dinner we went to the beach and made a campfire. Campfires on the beach in Kauai are actually legal (the only Hawaiian island, where that is so). Ulrike didn't want to sleep outside, nor in the cabin on her own, so I joined her in the cabin, although I would have liked to have slept under the stars, but I got a good nights sleep in bed instead.

Trail along the Na Pali CoastlineToday was a nice long hike along the Na Pali Coast, which is just beautiful. The trail goes right along the cliffs edge, but there is so much growth that it isn't really frightening. The first part of the trail was 2 miles long and didn't seem too strenuous. And our finish was at a beautiful beach, which is only sandy in the summertime, in winter the waves wash all the sand away. We stayed on the beach for maybe about 30mins, then 5 of us (Mei, Albert, Ulrike, Marcus and I) went on the hike to Hanakapi'ai Falls (another 2 miles), someone had told Nicki and Marcus, that it was a difficult hike but except for the last bit, I didn't find it too bad. I was of course out of breath and sweating like a pig, but that memory will soon fade.

I didn't go swimming in this pool, the water so cold. So I only went in up to my thighs, Marcus and Albert went in for a swim, and a quick shower under the falls. The falls were beautiful twice as high at least as Sacred Falls. Speaking of which, there was a tragic accident at Sacred Falls on Sunday (Todd told us about it on our return from our hike). There was a landslide and 7 people (in the meantime 8) died and about 40 were badly injured. The rocks some as big as small cars came down the mountain right by the pool. We were only there 4 days earlier, it makes me feel a bit sick just thinking about it. Especially as we had sat at the waters edge and said: " Just think, all these rocks here were once up there! " Scheisse!

Anyway back to the hike on the Na Pali Coast. We didn't know about the Sacred Falls Tragedy, so we weren't bothered at the Hanakapi'ai Falls. The hike back from the falls to the beach was mostly down hill so that was quite easy but we all still needed a little breather at the beach. And then we set out on what we thought was the easy part of the hike. We were wrong! We had forgotten just how far we had gone down on the way in, and every time we thought we had reached the highest point and could relax and start going down, we'd turn a corner and find the trail was still on it's way up! Not to worry a couple of Traubenzucker kept us all going.

But I even had problems with the going down. I love my Teva's, but towards the end of the hike, I could feel every single stone through them and my feet were really aching, but I made it!

Although when we found Todd and Nicki on the beach, I must have looked knackered, as they both commented on it. But that way I got a little rest, before we set off to our next campsite.

The next campsite again had beds for us all, actually it was a real surprise, as not only did it have beds the two cabins had kitchens and towels for everyone. Wow!

Todd cooked for us tonight. Hawaiian, I really enjoyed it. It was pork wrapped in a Tara leaf with sweet potatoes (which were purple) and Poipoi sauce, which was also a purple colour and looked a bit like that slime stuff kids play with. I can't really describe what it tasted like but the texture was a bit strange (like what the dentist uses to take an imprint of your teeth!).

Hawaiian Dream Trek: Honolulu

We were on our own today and we all split up and went our various ways. Nicki wanted to take back her GAP dungarees, so she headed off on her own to Ala Moana Shopping Mall.

Ulrike and I headed off sightseeing on our own. But our first stop was breakfast at Denny's, where we both had a Belgian waffle with strawberries.

Iolani PalaceThen we caught a No. 2 bus to Punchbowl Street in downtown Honolulu, which is the nearest stop to our first port of call - Iolani Palace. We went on a tour of the palace, which was great fun. It was so beautiful and the guide made it very interesting too.

After that we wandered down to Aloha Tower Market Place. To start with we wandered around there looking for a place for a quick something to eat, but couldn't so we just had a drink and sat down and watched some Hula girls (We found out later that Mei and Albert were there at the same time, but we didn't see one another) After our drink we went up the Aloha Tower and took a few pictures. Then we did a bit of shopping and I bought myself some new sunglasses (polarized). I also got Lee (my brother) a South Park T-shirt, I don't know what I'll get Ramona (his girl-friend) yet.

Then from there we caught a bus to the Ala Moana Shopping Centre, where I got all my postcards and some of those strange gummi bears. Ulrike had a look at some backpacks but was undecided. We left the centre and went to the internet café, where we had to wait an hour before we could get on the computer. As we had to wait so long they didn't charge us for our drinks.

After sending Mum an email we made our way back to the hotel for a quick shower before we set off to Keo's, a Thai restaurant, where obviously all the stars go, as there was loads of pictures of them all with the Chef.

I had an " Evil Jungle Prince " which I washed down with an " Evil Princess " cocktail. It was all very delicious. After that we were all totally bloated and enjoyed the walk back to the hotel. Mother's Day today, but I sent the email for that yesterday. So no worries there.

Marcus, Ulrike and I went to breakfast together. We looked all around but we couldn't find the 99c breakfast, so we ended up at Chili's. Which was nice but not quite so cheap. After breakfast we picked Nicki up at the hotel and hauled all our bags into Mei and Albert's room. Then we set off for the Waikiki Aquarium. I thought that was fun, as instead of having to read everything we had a sort of telephone thing to listen to. Just one thing was annoying. I heard all about corals about 1000 times!

After the aquarium we all grabbed a bite to eat before meeting back at the hotel for our shuttle to the airport. Well, that got us to the airport way too early. Our flight was at 3.45pm and we were at the airport at 2:10pm! We just hang around there for a while, and I wrote and sent all 30 of my postcards! But I don't suppose they will make it to Germany before me! (surprise, surprise they did!)

Hawaiian Dream Trek: Canoe Sailing

We were all a little later up today, cause of the windy and rainy night. Ulrike and I were the first to the " kitchen " where we realised that not doing the washing up the night before, was not a good idea! Well, we set about boiling some water for the washing up and got down to having some breakfast which was followed by doing the dishes. Having done that, we had to pack everything up as it was our last morning in " Jurassic Park ".

The sailing canoeWe then headed to the beach just south of the one where we had kayaked and there in two groups we went sailing on a sailing canoe. I was on the second tour with Nicki, Ulrike and Todd. It was great fun, even though after two minutes I was drowned. We were out on the water for about an hour, we sailed towards the Mokulua and then back again. It was fun. The sailors dropped us back off at the beach and Todd went for another quick spin on the boat, whilst we all had lunch.

After lunch it was off to Waikiki, where Todd dropped us off at the hotel. We were all meeting at 19.00pm in the lobby to go to an authentic Japanese restaurant. In the meantime Nicki and Ulrike went and did some laundry, I am saving mine for a decent German washing machine!

The meal at the Japanese restaurant was delicious, I should definitely try and convince Tsuji-san (my ex-boss) to take me and Moni (my colleague and friend) to one. I had raw Tuna fish in a hot sauce (starters), then I had a combination which included Garlic tuna fish (cooked) and battered veg, which is dipped in soy sauce. Very yummy. Once back from there we all fell into bed exhausted.

Oops, nearly forgot: The restaurant didn't have a liquor license, so you can buy your beer at a store and take it in with you! Never experienced that before!

Hawaiian Dream Trek: Pearl Harbour

We were on the road by 8.45am heading for Pearl Harbour and the Arizona Memorial. It is hard to describe the memorial, I felt sad for all the young men that died there on 7th December 1941, but all I really could think is " War is stupid ".

The V.C. is the start to the memorial and before you go out to it on a boat, you watch a 20min video about the Arizona and its part in World War II. All in all we were there 2 hours. After which it was time for lunch.

But first we went to get some Boogie Boards, which the others are trying out now. I am gonna try tomorrow, without lenses or glasses, so that I can't possibly lose them. I have my goggles with me, but after losing the safe key, I don't feel so lucky!

a better picture than the non active blowhole From there we drove to the " Blow Hole ", which didn't do us the favour of blowing, but according to Todd, there is another on Kauai, so better luck there.

Mei and Albert cooked for us tonight, but before then Todd took some pictures that could be used for the catalogue. If they are I will be in them, as I was in the shower at the time! After dinner we made a campfire and we had s'mores and marshmallows.

All except Ulrike and I decided to spend the night under the stars. Well at about 5am they all joined us back in the tents as it started to rain!.

Hawaiian Dream Trek: Sacred Falls

Set off today at 9am and our first stop was the hike to Sacred Falls. That was fun, even though I did nearly break my ankle, when I slipped on the mud, but I luckily only grazed my palms!

The falls were beautiful, and I am glad Nicki convinced me to change and go for a swim in the pool. I think I probably shocked most people when I just changed then and there, but as I always say, we are all made of the same stuff!

When we got back to the van, it was time for lunch, so Todd drove us to a nice picnic spot, again on the beach, and then we headed for the North Shore. That was a bit disappointing, as the sea was as calm as a mill pond, so there wasn't a single surfer to be seen. But there were some beautiful beaches. One of which we went to after checking out Haleiwa. In Haleiwa we had the Hawaiian speciality " Shaved Ice ". It was nice, but it was so big, that it got a bit sickly about 1/2 way through and I threw it away.

The beach we went and sat on was Waimea Beach, there was a big rock not far off shore, where they were all jumping from. They were fun to watch, but none of us tried it. When it got cloudy we made our way to the shops then back to camp. Where Ulrike made us Spaghetti with a tomato sauce.

We all got dressed up (meaning jeans and T-shirt) and went "to the movies". We went to see "Never been Kissed", with Drew Barrymore, nothing spectacular, but the guy in it was just adorable!! (I have since found out that his name is Michael Vartan!)

We got back to camp at about midnight and all went straight to bed.

Hawaiian Dream Trek: Kayaking

We were up really early, but then again the first night on the floor isn't always the best nights sleep! Anyway we were up and had had breakfast, ready for the off at 8.15am.

Today was Kayaking! We drove to Kailua and then kayaked to the " Twin Islands " Mokulua (moku=island, lua=two), it was beautiful there. The island we stopped on was a sea bird sanctuary, and all these birds had made their nests in the hill face. So cute! Unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me (in case the boat tipped!) Todd took us to the back of the island, and showed us where they sometimes do cliff diving. Marcus, Albert and Ulrike jumped in after seeing that Todd came up safe and sound. I didn't try I was too afraid of losing my lenses! And it was quite a high jump, at least I thought so.

Once we got back to the front of the island Todd took Marcus, Ulrike and Nicki out in the kayak to ride the waves. Marcus and Ulrike did well. When he took poor Nicki out they tipped the boat twice!! But both came back in fits of laughter, so it can't have been too bad. And they did manage to catch one wave.

Once they were back we started paddling back to the beach. God it was exhausting, I would have loved to have given my poor shoulders a bit of a rest, but if we stopped paddling Nicki started feeling ill, so I just kept on going, slower than on the way to the island. We nearly made it back without Nicki throwing up, unfortunately the poor girl didn't quite make it, and about 20m from shore she did throw up.

After giving the kayaks back, it was time for a well-earned lunch on the beach and some of us not brave enough to try out the showers with a view, had a shower at the beach.

This hill was steeper than it looks! After lunch we left Nicki snoozing under a tree and went for a hike up to a view-point overlooking the bay we had just kayaked through. It was a short but very steep hike. But the view made it very worthwhile. Getting down was the most difficult especially the last bit, where the others got a picture of me hanging from tree to tree like a monkey!

We then went shopping and back to the camp. Where I had my first shower with a view! Best one ever I think. It was so much fun. Even when it started really raining.

Nicki made dinner today, we had a vegetable stir fry and cous-cous with a tangy sauce. Poor Marcus missed out on food, his back was bad from kayaking so he stayed lying flat.

Hawaiian Dream Trek: East Coast of Oahu

Nicki and I were awake extremely early, probably excited about meeting the rest of the group! We just lolled around reading all our free Hawaii brochures. Until at about 8.45am, after repacking our bags we made our way down to reception. The CrewIn the lift we met Marcus, who is on the Trek with us. He is 26 and from Germany (somewhere near Munich). We checked out, and I paid the $50 for a new safe key. Then we waited for more to arrive. (Oh, Nicki went shopping for something to drink and a beach towel (map of Hawaii)) Todd was next to arrive, he is the tour guide, he told us that there are only 6 of us. Ulrike (an Au Pair from Germany, living in Boston) arrived next, well actually she'd been there all along, we just hadn't spotted her around a corner. Mei and Albert were next (and last) to arrive they are from San Francisco, the first Americans I've been on a trek with !

We filled in all the forms and then Todd showed us on the map, what was planned. We headed out of Waikiki to the east side, and stopped at the Nu'uanu Pali Lookout. A beautiful view.

From there it was on to our campsite to set up the tents. We are camping in/at Ka'a'wa Valley, which I call the "Valley of the Dinosaurs" as some of Jurassic Park was filmed here. In fact quite a few things have been filmed here (Fantasy Island, Birds of Paradise, George of the Jungle, Joe Mighty, etc.) Also this campsite is for Trek only so it is just idyllic.

Valley of the dinosaurs

Well, we set up camp admired the view, had lunch, and lessons on how to work the toilets and shower, then it was off to the Polynesian Cultural Centre. That was fun, Todd didn't join us, he had to do various other things, such as get something for dinner!

The Polynesian Cultural Centre is like a living museum for the Polynesian Islands and they each have their own area, where they do shows to introduce you to their culture. We saw a show from New Zealand, Marquesas, Tonga and Hawaii. We also saw the Canoe pageant and played a spear throwing game in Tahiti.

Willy Junior, the big guy on the right! The show in Tonga was the best. It was this huge guy called Willi Junior, teaching three guys the drums. Well he had picked out a Japanese guy, who didn't seem to speak a word of English! It was hilarious. He told the guy to shout to the audience: " Are you ready " No problem, then he asked " Japan " to shout: " Are you ready " in Japanese. So Japan repeated parrot fashion " Are you ready in Japanese " He played this game about 4 times! So funny! We left the P.C.C. at 18.00 and went back to the campground, where we had Burritos for dinner. Delicious as always. Then Todd made us a campfire, whiched proved slightly difficult as most of the wood wasn't really dry! But we got it going eventually.

Can't remember when we went to bed, but I don't think we were very late.

Hawaiian Dream Trek: Lei Day

Got up earlier today as I didn't want to miss anything on Lei Day!

"May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii"

There was a big festival on in the park with Lei making competitions and Hula music. The kids also entered the competition and there were kids under 6 making beautiful leis in the shade of a tree. Then I watched all these Hula kids line up for dancing, I didn't watch them dance then though, as I made my way back to the hotel to meet Nicki. She was already there and showered, so I marched us back off to the park. Where we sat and watched the Hula performances and the lei competition winners.

In the evening we went to Planet Hollywood for dinner after having looked everywhere else. After that we went to the cinema. We saw " Matrix " with Keanu Reeves, which finished better than it started. As Nicki put it, it was extremely bizarre, but by the end of the film, I think I got what it was all about. I have since seen the film again, and understood and enjoyed it!

What a day! I would start at the beginning but I have to get something off my chest first. I managed to lose the safe key! We had decided on a bit of time on the beach and walked right along the waters edge to the park, where I must have lost my key from my trouser pocket, when I stripped off down to my bikini. So stupid! We did go back to the spot when I realised I'd lost the key, but we couldn't find it. Well, the hotel managed to sort out the dilemma and let us get at our valuables again. (Cost me $50) But I am still very annoyed with myself!

But I didn't only lose the key today! Nicki brought us both an ankle chain, which had gone missing by the time we went for dinner! Spent most of the rest of the evening worrying about taking out my contact lenses, as things always come in threes, but I have just remembered I have already lost a third thing today - my big (dead) toe-nail. Yucky! So I should be alright in a minute, when I take out my lenses. Once we were able to get the money out of the safe we went to a large shopping mall (Ala Moana Centre) and from there we went for a Thai meal (Singha), it was delicious.

Hawaiian Dream Trek: Waikiki

Well, so far so good! I am on the second leg of my journey and am safely on board my flight from Cincinnati to San Francisco. There was no problem connecting in Cincinnati, the flight was 1/2 hour early which left me with plenty of time even for a MacDonalds! The flight to Cincinnati was totally uneventful, except for the guy sat two away from me, who snored for most of the journey! Oh, and maybe the gay couple who insisted on sitting two rows apart and sending love sick looks to one another! Aah, how cute! Now it is just a case of fingers crossed that this flight is also on time or even early, as I only have 50 mins to change in San Francisco.

Well, my wishes came true, I arrived in San Francisco 1/2 hour early too. So no problem whatsoever changing. I also didn't have to pick up my luggage this time.

I also arrived in Honolulu 1/2 hour early, so I was finally able to get to bed at 22.30 Hawaiian time. Meaning I had been up for 27 hours. Not too bad really!

My very first impression of Hawaii was when I stepped off the plane - it smells beautiful, all flowery but not overpoweringly so! Just that smell made up for all those hours travelling!

View from the hotel room Woke up feeling quite alright at about 8am took my time getting up though. Had a look at the view from the balcony, that looks better at night, but it wasn't too bad, we aren't surrounded by skyscrapers. I had a good look at the free brochure the hotel left in the room. And decided to set out and explore and find an internet café. So on went the shorts and T-shirt and off I went in search of the VC (Visitors Centre).

Found that in a shopping centre and they knew where to find the or should I say a café with a computer. Sent a mail off to Mum and Moni, then I moseyed on down to the beach. Beautiful, less crowded than I expected. I walked right along the beach to Kapiolani Park. I had lunch at a snack bar there and sat in the shade admiring the view of Waikiki and people watching.

Eventually went back to the hotel, showered and went to a steak place for dinner. But they really rush you with eating in the States. I was in and out of the restaurant in just under 45 minutes. I then went for a walk, where I encountered a gospel choir. I listened to them singing and preaching on a street corner for about an hour and then made my way back to bed.

Best of the Rockies Trek: Seattle

Oh dear, last day, We had to get up quite early as we had to clean up everything and count all the things. Well, we showed Andrew's grumpy group, how to do it all quickly and having fun! Then it was on to Seattle. First stop there was an outdoor store REI, where a lot stocked up on outdoor clothes. I looked at the hiking boots, but the ones on sale unfortunately didn't fit.

Start of Underground TourFrom there it was on to Pike Place Market. Wandered around there until it was time for our "Underground Tour". That was fun. The guide was hilarious, but had I have been from elsewhere, I wouldn't have understood a word!

After that we went out to eat again. This time to a Mexican restaurant. Again very delicious! Then it was back to our hotel for our " Farewell Party ". And what a party it was. Oh, what a night!The T-shirts say it all really! I haven't a clue how many beers I had, but it was a hell of a lot! We partied until it closed at 2am, then we went down to Janny and Sally's room and carried on there!

I wish I could write everything down, but that would be impossible, and not because of any memory losses! Well, we finally went to bed at 3.40am. Linda and Mike shared a bed and I had one for myself!

Best of the Rockies Trek: Vancouver

We all stayed together as we went through Chinatown, Downtown and Gastown. In Gastown we went into the Irish pub for a drink, before we headed back to the van. Then it was on to our first campsite in a city. I wasn't impressed! But oh well. We were cooking again and we had Burritos, yummy! Then we had a hot tub party (Jenny, Gillian, Linda, Mike and me), and an early night, got to bed at about 11.30pm and slept like a log until the rain woke me at 3.30am.

Again no skydiving! It is absolutely chucking it down, which left us with the problem of what to do with the stuff for a barbecue. Well we did not want to waste anything, so we had it all for breakfast! Steak, Chicken, Potato salad, salad! Delicious, even though it was only 10.00 in the morning!

After that feast, it was into Vancouver for all of us. Sally and I opted not to join the others at the IMAX Theatre (the film was about Mt. Everest). We made Vancouver unsafe instead. First we hit a coffee bar, and did some people watching. We then went to the VC for a map so that we knew what we were doing. We then saw Canada Place (built for the Expo 1986), then we went to Stanley Park (small hike) it is probably really beautiful in the sunshine, but we had a light drizzle (who cares though we had fun!) From there we hiked up Robson Street and found a shop selling freshly made crisps. We both bought a bag and had them sat in front of the Art Gallery "people watching". It then looked as if the clouds were lifting, so we went up the harbour centre. Had another drink and were about to head back down, when a guided tour came. So we tagged ourselves on to that and learnt a lot about Vancouver.

We then wandered down to Gastown, looked at everything and found a great people watching café and waited until the others arrived. We then all went for dinner at a place called "Brothers", where all the waiters were dressed as monks. I had a beautiful piece of salmon with potatoes and a sauce hollandaise, delicious! From there we went to some club with slow music. Very loud and full of Asians. So we moved on from there to the pub next door. I wasn't in such a party mood though. Tiredness overcame me!

We eventually got to the campsite at about 1am, where it was straight to bed for our last night in our tent!

Best of the Rockies Trek: Twaal Ranch & Thompson River

It was up a really windy road and right in the middle of nowhere. It was great. We were the only ones there, and were able to make as much noise as we felt like!

It had pit toilets, but it did have warm showers! I actually had one, whilst Mike and her team were making dinner. They made Couscous, it was delicious (nothing like in Tunisia). After dinner I helped Jennifer light all the candles on Patricia's cake, (it was her b-day), only she didn't realise we all knew. And was so surprised to get a cake and present!

Then we all went and sat around the best campfire so far and had another party. First we played "Murder in the dark" (one tap detective, two taps murderer, the murderer kills by winking). That was good fun, then we played Yeehah, followed " when we were all well and truly drunk " by a truth game "I never ever...." those who are guilty of whatever have to have a drink. It was funny, but not too embarrassing - after all "we're all brothers & sisters". Sometime we all stumbled up the hill to bed. (I found out today that it was around 1.30am).

Well, I may as well keep this well up to date even though we are only halfway through Tuesday. We have just left the white-water rafting. And that was great! Extremely wet, but great. The ride started off relatively harmless, but it soon hotted up. About half hour into the trip. I thought seeing the bald-headed eagle was going to be the only highlight, and that was awesome.

I had my eyes shut for most of the trip after seeing the eagle, that was because I hadn't wanted to go in my old glasses a) I can't see too well with them on and b) I must be vain!!. We all had to wear yellow rainpants and rainjackets (bright yellow) and of course life jackets. A good job too, we were drowned even with all the gear on, we'd have frozen without!

We left the rafting and the sun was shining, but the nearer we got to Vancouer the worse the weather got. So there was no skydiving for us. I think I was kind of relieved! I had had flashbacks of skydiving on the boat (the wind in my face!), and I don't think I would have been able to do it. As the weather was too bad, we made an appointment for the next morning and drove into Vancouver.

Best of the Rockies Trek: Jasper National Park

Afterwards we had lunch and drove on to Jasper National Park where we stopped to see the Athabasca Falls. I could have stayed there for hours, waterfalls have that effect on me! Well, we didn't though, we drove on to the VC in Jasper, got the usual maps, then it was on to the campsite. I was on the cooking team again, we made sweet & sour pork with rice. Considering we forgot the pineapple and had substituted most of the veg, it was delicious. We found a tin of apricots in the drybox, so we used them instead of pineapples. Everyone enjoyed it.

After dinner we sat around trying to get the journal up to date and not really succeeding, but we were having fun. I can't believe that it was daylight until 23.00hrs and then it started to get slightly darker but not much! We all had really wanted an early night (only Jennifer got one!), but it was probably about midnight, when we went to bed!

Pyramid lakeHad a bit of a lay in today, we didn't leave the campsite until 9am. All but four of us were going mountain biking. Geert, Gillian, Audrey and I had decided on hiking. Especially with the weather as beautiful as it was. First of all though I went to an internet café to send a quick message to Mum and Thorsten. I had an ice-cream to go as well. Delicious! Then at 10am we left on our hike, which in the end turned out to be a lot longer than expected. All in all we did about 18km! Out of choice - we could have just lazed about Jasper, but no we went hiking! The hike took us past a couple of flower covered fields (we felt like Heidi, Peter, Grandad and a goat) Then on to Pyramid Lake, where we had a 20min break (crisps and water). The hike back was more of a march, as we had a time limit!! We made it almost, but no one was around to notice we were 10mins late.

Once we had gathered everyone together again, we drove to Mt. Edith Cavall for lunch and more hiking!! I only did the short hike to see Angel Glacier, and there we all (Janny, Audrey, Sally and I) sat down and chilled out, whilst the others went on an uphill hike!

Back in Jasper at about 6pm the others went swimming. I wandered about Jasper with Janny, Sally and Geert. I couldn't be bothered with swimming and my lenses!

We got back to camp about 20.30hrs, we had pasta with tomato sauce and salad. Very nice. Then we all sat around the fire chatting and drinking too much.

Left Jasper this morning, we are heading towards the white-water rafting place, but first we stopped to take a couple of pictures of the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies - Mount Robson (approx. 4.000m).

Helicopter RideJennifer phoned the helicopter place from the VC and they came to pick us all up from just near there. As I had already been in a helicopter before I let Sally and Geert have the window seats. And we all let Patricia have the front seat seeing as it was her birthday. The flight was beautiful and it was fun talking to one another using a button! We flew right up to the mountain and over a couple of "Mars Bars" (Glaciers).

From there we drove more or less non-stop except for a grocery stop to our next campsite - Twaal Ranch.

Best of the Rockies Trek: Icefields Parkway & Athabasca Glacier

Seeing as no one got to bed before 3am, it was a surprise that we were ready by 8.30am. Janny and I actually were ready at 7.20am, God knows how we managed that!

Christian made us all Kaiserschmarrn for breakfast, delicious (and there were no raisins!) and great for all those with hangovers (no not me, I was only on beer!). We set off at 8.30am and headed down the Icefields Parkway. Beautiful scenery, but extremely difficult to stay awake, after only 3hrs sleep, most of the rest didn't succeed! Athabasca GlacierEven though we were an hour late leaving, we made it to the Glacier walk on time (Athabasca Glacier). That was brilliant it went for about 3 1/2 hours over lunch time, but it was really interesting! We all had to wrap up really well, hats, scarves, gloves and then off we went. Walking on a glacier is nothing like I imagined it would be. The ice was not at all slippery, but still dangerous if you haven't got a guide! But still people were on it without, they were marching on the snow, which we learned was very dangerous, as the snow hides crevasses. Scary stuff!

Best of the Rockies Trek: Banff

From there we drove on to Banff and went straight to the campsite as the VC was already closed.

It was quite good that we got there earlyish! We were cooking and had potatoes planned and they take forever! Well we kept everyone happy with my Schichtsalat for starters. And at about 9.30pm we served Mash with spinach and meatballs! Everyone seemed quite grateful not to have rice or noodles for a change!
We tried to get a campfire going after dinner, but after using loads of lighter fluid, we gave in and called it a night.

Hiking day today, but first we went into Banff to the VC and a wander around town. I thought I might find an internet café, but I didn't. Oh well, not a problem.

Rainbow at Banff

This is a picture taken in Banff, I am quite proud of this, and would at this point like to say that all pictures (except those of me) were taken by me and should you wish to use them for anything, please ask me nicely first. Thanks!

As the clouds were pretty low, we went to Johnston Canyon for a short morning hike. During which the weather cheered up quite a bit and we were able to do another hike in the afternoon.

Borgeau Lake

But little did we know, how strenuous it was going to be. The hike guide Jennifer has (Trek America) said it was not for the weak, and how true that is! The trail to Borgeau Lake went up, up, up, up and up some more and up some switchbacks and up and up and up! For 7.4km!!! I hiked with Gillian, Audrey, Linda and Mike. We were pretty determined we were going to get there and kept thinking it was around the next bend, but the promised lake and meadows seemed not to be in existence. Well we kept on going, but in the end Audrey gave up! And went back down, taking Gillian with her. Oh well the rest of us plodded along. The last bit of the climb was probably the hardest bit, and a couple coming down told us that we had nearly done the hard part, then comes the muddy bit, then at last the lake. Well the muddy bit, turned out to be a swamp. But most of us made it through with dry feet. Except Linda, who sees a puddle and steps in it. The lake was beautiful and well worth the effort, luckily! We got our breath back and after 20mins headed back down! Just as bad as up only quicker. Once back down it was worth having gone, but I was knackered!

We headed back to the campsite for some food. Sally's group made Sloppy Joes, which are Hamburger buns with runny flavoured mince on them. Very nice I must say. After that Geert got a good campfire going, and we had s'mores (marshmellows grilled between chocolate and crackers) Mmmmh!

I think we got to bed at about midnight, but not before lugging all the stuff back down the hill to hide it from any bears! First stop today was Lake Louise. A beautiful turquoise lake with an ugly hotel on the side of it (the Canadians call it a Chateau!) Well, even though my legs were still shattered from the Borgeau Lake hike, I didn't want to miss out. So it was another hike uphill as usual, to Lake Agnes, where there is a little tea house. The thought of something chocolatey at the top kept me going. That and Mike.

It was beautiful when we got there, we are now quite spoilt with beautiful scenery, it's everywhere we go. Anyway back to Lake Agnes, I had a chocolate chip cookie and a hot chocolate. Yummy! After we'd all (Sally, Jenny, Mike, Geert, Christian and I) eaten up, we marched back down. Where we met the others and had lunch by Lake Louise.

us on the brochure benchAfter we drove on to Lake Moraine, there Jenny showed us the bench, which is in the brochure (Mountie). We found another willing tourist for 14 photos! Then we headed back to Banff looking for nesting bald eagles on our way! I think some Dutch guy was pulling Frank's leg! Oh well, it was worth a try.

Then it was on to the hot springs for a soak! We all rented historic bathing suits, and made quite a spectacle of ourselves. We all went to the pool together so there was a long line of girls in blue matching swimwear. Then along came the guys in the same suit! Hilarious! We brought the whole pool to a standstill! And one poor guy got 14 cameras for pictures of us in our cossies (swimming costumes)!

We must have looked great in the pool, as loads of people passing stopped for pictures. One man was even convinced to try it himself. We were good for business I'd say!

After relaxing in the pool it was grocery shopping time. Bad time to choose Friday night, but we got out of there eventually. Dinner tonight was 4 cheese pasta followed by Kaiserschmarrn! I only had the Pasta. Then after everything had been cleared up it was Party time. Meaning we caught the bus to " downtown " Banff and joined 3 other Trek groups at the " Rose & Crown ", I think the other journal sums the evening up better than I would be able to, so I will leave it at that and just say it was a great night out.

Best of the Rockies Trek: Waterton National Park

Left Glacier National Park today. Bye bye Yogi! First stop though wasn't far from the park, at Two Sisters Café, for breakfast. They do about 15 different kinds of pies, I had cheesecake with strawberries and peaches. Delicious. I also tried some of Gillian's Chocolate Pie, that was nice too, but a whole piece would have been too sickly and too much.

From there we drove on to Canada. On our way to Waterton National Park we had our second bear encounter. He was stood in the middle of the road, as we drove up, he looked at the van, and then decided to run back into the safety of the woods. Wow, two bears, GREAT!

In Waterton Park we drove to Cameron Lake to do some canoeing. That was fun, especially as I didn't have to paddle. Mike and I were in the middle of a canoe for 4 and all we had to do was get comfy and organise our "slaves", Geert and Linda. It was fun.

After canoeing we stayed by the lake for lunch. Then we went to see " The Prince of Wales Hotel ". Nice but not that spectacular, but I did enjoy seeing a Mountie there. Only stupid me, didn't get a picture, cause I originally thought he wasn't a real one, that was until I spotted his police car! Oh well, at least I've seen one. Maybe I'll get another chance.

Best of the Rockies Trek: Glacier National Park

We drove from Sun Canyon to Glacier today. First stop was of course the VC, then as the weather wasn't too brilliant, we went to our campsite, and built up the kitchen tarp, to have lunch under. At the campsite entrance was a sign saying "People have been maimed and killed by bears in this campsite". Kind of scary, but who cares! The site was beautiful.

After lunch we all went hiking in the rain up to Redrock Falls. Stopping first at the campsite store to get something waterproof for Audrey. In the end most got Ponchos like mine (Euro Disney thank you!) We met a guy called Josh, who joined us on our hike. The falls were beautiful even though we were hiking in a shower.

This is the bear In the evening we all sat under the kitchen tarp waiting for dinner, when I spotted a bear, just a mere 20m from us, with a river separating us from him. Wow, that was something else! I told everyone, when I left Germany, that I wanted to see a bear, but I didn't expect to, not for really real. I am glad that water was between us though. (I have since found out, that if that bear had been hungry that water would not have stopped him!) This brown smudge is honestly the bear!
That was the beginning of another drinking/party night. We certainly had a lot of cans to clear away when it came to packing everything in the van!

The weather today was terrible. When we got up, it was chucking it down, UGH!! Well, we eventually crawled out of the tents and then went over to the coffee shop. Where they wouldn't serve us, cause of a power cut. So we just hang around there for a couple of hours, until the power came back, by which time breakfast was no longer necessary, so we had lunch (Pizza)!

After lunch we started a hike in the pouring rain and I mean pouring, the kind you don't normally venture out into unless absolutely necessary! Well, I hiked with Mike and we were joined by Linda and Gillian, who were left behind by the speedy hikers! We had to cross quite a few rivers, on the way up (they are not normally rivers, most of them!) Once the trail itself started to become a river and the wind started getting up, I wanted to go back, but luckily I wasn't the only one. Although we were originally undecided, Gillian swung us, when she said that they'd rescued people off of mountains in this kind of weather and told them they were stupid!

So we turned and headed back down. The rivers were by now much higher with all the rain, and our shoes were slowly but surely being saturated.

By the time we were back down, we were all soaked from the waist down. We spotted the laundry place and went there to dry our soaking clothes. But unfortunately the shoes wouldn't go in. So after sitting around in the lobby for a couple of hours, drying the shoes with newspaper. I went to the "restrooms" and held mine under the hand dryer, which helped quite a bit. So much so, that I even put them on again.

The weather did actually clear up a bit for the evening, so we were able to sit around the campfire, where Christian dried his shoes. Most of us had quite an early night, after all the partying the night before. Frank and Mike were the last to go as they were joined by Josh, who wanted a chat! According to Frank and Mike he is quite a chatter!

Best of the Rockies Trek: Sun Canyon Lodge

Driving day today. But as a reward at the end of it we got to sleep in a bed. But beforehand we finished off our sight-seeing in Yellowstone. First of all we went to the Mammoth Hot Springs, which were again different, it was sort of layered and all white (like salt). Then we drove our of the original Yellowstone entrance, where I took pictures for everyone, without getting out of the car. Today was my turn in the front!

Riding in Montana The drive was long and uneventful, we drove through Montana and there are not many houses here, but beautiful rolling hills. We were slightly late getting to Sun Canyon Lodge, but they still let us go riding. I am really glad I went, the countryside was so beautiful. My horse's name was "Cupcake", and he had a "tree thing", he insisted on heading straight for all the smallish Xmas trees and walking straight over them (scary for me as I had no control whatsoever!). Apart from that he also was extremely hungry and we stopped for a munch, every 5 metres! All of this resulted in me bringing up the rear again!

When we got back from riding there was no time for freshening up, as we had ordered dinner, which was delicious! Steak, Hash browns and salad! LECKER!! I had my steak medium rare. I can still taste it just writing about it!! After the meal we went back to the biggest of our two cabins, and had a party! With Gin & Tonic! We played a few games - we did the one Linda did with us on the last Trek, where you describe your favourite things with adjectives and it actually means something else. Then Jenny taught us a couple of drinking games. One I want to try and remember for Xmas so I'll write down all the necessary things:

* Yeehah - either right or left
* Haybarn - hands above head, skip one person in the going direction
* Hoedown - elbow downwards, change direction
* Cowgirl - hold boobs, changes direction and skips one
* Cowboy - hold men's parts, changes direction and skips two
* Draw - point to two people, who have to get up and the first to shoot wins (doesn't have to drink)

The other game we played was called "Calling all vegetables!, where everyone is a different veg, and it must be said without showing teeth. Hayato was so funny, he was lettuce and looked hilarious trying not to show his teeth!

Mike taught us a good game too, we all had to choose a road sign on the first round, and then on the second round had to add "Between my legs... + road sign. That was a great laugh! Then we all had a comfy sleep, even though the bed was extremely squeaky!

Best of the Rockies Trek: Yellowstone National Park

We had a bit of a lay in and didn't leave camp till about 9am. First stop was grocery shopping in Jackson. Then we drove through Grand Teton National Park and had lunch at a beautiful spot on Jackson Lake. From there we drove on to Yellowstone National Park.

First stop there was the Geyser " Old Faithful "! Wow, that was really impressive. It squirts so high, and it was so kind as to go off 10mins after we got there. We then all walked around the area to see the various other geysers, all except Patrick, who decided to sit guarding the van! Oh, well, it's his holiday I suppose.

After our hike around and about Old Faithful, we drove on to the Grand Prismatic Springs, where we all got drowned by the hot steam coming off of it. From there we all chose to go straight to the campground.

This was our first night of camping in bear country, which means just about everything except ourselves has to go in the van at night. Quite a chore really. Christian's cooking group did a barbecue and it was delicious, but then we had to make 100% certain, that the " Rost " (grill) was totally meat free.

Well, I slept fine, I am not really worried about bears coming to eat me, I don't think they would be able to make much of a meal of me.

Still in Yellowstone today. We went to Yellowstone Canyon to hike along the rim from Inspiration Point to Artists Point. It all started our great, then a storm blew up, and we all got soaked! And most of us didn't even have raincoats on then as it was sunny, when we left the van. Well the storm kept coming and going and so did we, all the way round, even if it did take some convincing t get out of the van again, after having found it at one rainy break.

The only other setback was when Patrick, who was leading, took a wrong turn and marched us all the way down some steep switchbacks to some viewpoint, which we weren't actually heading for. I never actually got right down (only nearly), someone came towards me and said that it had been the wrong way, so I turned straight back around and went back up!

Oh I forgot, before we actually got to the Canyon, we went to some other geysers (Norris...).

After the Canyon we had our lunch with some huge black crows watching. Actually we were pretty lucky we had any lunch, as Jennifer had to be reminded by Janny!
Then we drove on to Yellowstone Lake (on the way there I saw a beaver in the stream, by the road!) At the lake were more geysers. Two were really different as they were actually in the lake. Legend goes that the person who found them caught his fish in the lake, turned round and boiled them in the geyser. From there it was on to more geysers, although by this time, we were all getting a bit tired of geysers, except Geert, who couldn't get enough. The next geysers were different again, they were called paint pots", and were all pretty pinkish.

Somewhere along the line, we also saw some muddy geysers, but I am no longer sure when. Then it was back to the campsite, where we were on cooking duty. And we made Chili with rice. We were going to have a party with the other Trek, that had arrived, but unfortunately, it really started to rain hard, and we had to abandon that idea. And concentrate on keeping as dry as possible and away from too much metal (the storm was right above us!) In the end it really meant an early night for all of us.

Best of the Rockies Trek: Jackson & Grand Teton National Park

From Craters of the Moon we drove on to Jackson, which is a very touristy cowboy town. We had a wander around there, whilst Frank went in search of yet another sleeping bag. The rest of us decided to have a whip round for him and we each contributed $7 towards a sleeping bag - he was quite touched.

It was us cooking for tea, so Gillian, Linda, Patrick and I didn't join the mad rush for the showers, but started preparing dinner. We made Burritos, which went down very well with the hungry crowd. After dinner it was off to the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar for some country music and dancing. I managed to dance with all the guys from our group. It was quite funny really. Patrick had not a clue, but he was a good sport. Hayato was willing to learn, he loves huge steps. Christian, said he had never danced before, but he had rhythm, he should take it up. Geert would only dance to a slow song, and Frank fast ones. Frank can Foxtrot, so that was great.

They threw us out of the bar at about midnight. But the band were pleased we were there cause we kept the dance floor full! Everywhere seemed to be shut so we went back to camp to bed.

In the morning we went hiking in the Grand Teton National Park around Jenny Lake. We had only walked about 5mins and were all still together, when we saw three moose, right by the path, munching away on their breakfast. That was just so " awesome ", amazing, incredible. - I hope the pictures come out!

Jenny Lake
The walk itself was great, not too " anstrengend " (strenuous). First stop was " Hidden Falls ", where we (Janny, Mike, Patricia, Frank and Geert) sat for a while engrossed in the falls. We then changed our minds about going further up, but decided to carry on and go all the way around the lake. That was so beautiful. It was a shame really that we had a time limit, as we did have to walk quite fast to get back in time. But we made it! Just!

We saw quite a bit of wild-life on this hike (we must have been quieter) - a couple of small furry things, which may have been marmots, a squirrel, that thought it was a bird! (It was making very loud birdy sounds). And then we passed an elk right by the path, he was most obliging and posed for 7 pictures. And then carried on with his lunch.

We had the afternoon off, and could do whatever we wanted. Patrick and Christian went mountain biking, the rest of us stayed around town (Jackson). Janny and I went for a drink in the Internet cafe, where I picked up my e-mails and wrote to Mum and Wolfgang. Then the pair of us went and got some postcards and sat in the park writing them. Some of the others eventually joined us. Unfortunately it then decided to pour, so we sheltered. Whilst deciding where to go, Christian and Patrick, hardly recognisable under all the mud, drove past. We went to a real American diner for a drink, waiting for the rain to clear and Jenny to return.

Well, the evening started off kind of boring. I was at the laundry place for most of it. But once I decided to get us all a beer it turned into a laundry party. I can now describe nearly all the groups underwear!! Once it was all washed, dried, folded and sorted, we all went back down to camp, to sit around the fire. Janny and Sally got back first and went to sit at the campfire, both lighting their way with their torches, and shone right on Mike and Frank laying by the riverside. Which is why the laundry party first carried on by the stove. But that got slightly cool, so we moved to the campfire anyway. (Janny, Sally, Audrey, Christian and me). We had a great time. Eventually Frank came to join us. He took us teasing him rather well! Janny, Sally and I couldn't be bothered to walk all the way to the " restrooms ", so we did some more bonding and had a joint weeing session by the river. At about 2.15am we all went to bed!

Best of the Rockies Trek: Craters of the Moon

Today was just a driving day, with wine-tasting along the way. From Mt. Rainier to Craters of the Moon. It was quite tiring, we never got to our destination until about 22.00 hrs. Luckily for the cooking team (which I am on) we didn't have to cook, as no one really wanted to eat. We just built up our tents by the light of the full moon, and then went to bed.

Frank slept with Patrick, as he had lost his sleeping bag. We assumed we couldn't find it in the dark.

Well, you could say that today was more like Friday 13th for Frank! We couldn't find his sleeping bag at all. Then he finds he has somehow broken his glasses, lost his sunglasses and broken his walkman. Talk about accident prone! Oh well, nothing much we could do about it at Craters of the Moon.

We had a walk around the VC, then we all went on the loop trail hiking. It is a strange place, I suppose it is a bit like how I imagine the moon - desolate and eerie. Our hike took us past a couple of craters. The next short walk took us to a couple of caves, where in the second one, we did some bonding. The Beauty Cave was so dark, that we all held hands to go in and out. It was good fun.

Best of the Rockies Trek: Mount Rainier National Park

Got to a beautiful campsite and yeah, there was another Trek group here. They are doing the same Trek as us, only round the other way! So they are nearly finished. Their tour leader Dave had his B-day the same day as mine. Only the Best!! Unfortunately for those guys though, there are only 3 of them left. Although we only met 2 of them, Mark and Claire. They and Dave joined us around the campfire last night.

Today was a hiking day, but it didn't start as early as usual, as we convinced Jennifer that Yoga shouldn't start until 8am, which meant we didn't set off until nearly 9am. It was a beautiful day, and amazingly Mt. Rainier was clearly visible with hardly any cloud - as Jennifer says! " We're so lucky!"

First of all we went to " Paradise", which is where the VC (Visitor's Centre) is. There we hiked a short trail all through snow. We were all in shorts. It seemed kind of strange, but fun! After that hike some of us went to watch the film in the VC all about the volcanic action at Mt. Rainier.

We had lunch at Longmire, then we split into two different hiking groups. Half went up Eagle's Peak, and the rest of us (Linda, Gillian, Audrey, Patricia, Frank and I, Janny and Patrick speeded ahead) went to see a couple of waterfalls (Madcap Falls). The walk was less strenuous than the climb the others did!

We got back earlier than they did and weren't really expecting them back on time, but they made it. The other Trek joined us around the campfire again. And we chatted and had plenty of beer. What happened then, who knows, Janny came to the tent, and I was in my sleeping bag, with my socks on, and no mattress! That was by the fire! Sorted out that problem and then slept like a log until morning.

Best of the Rockies Trek: Olympic National Park

OK, this is it! After hours being cooped up in a plane. I am finally in the hotel in Seattle. I arrived at 14.00 Seattle time, that would make it 23.00 German time. The journey was pretty good considering how long I was "underway". On the long flight the seat next to me was free, so I didn't feel so cramped. I had a window seat, but stupid me left my camera in my rucksack, which was up top. So I didn't get any pictures of Greenland and that looked beautiful, all ice and mountains and not a single town or village to be seen.

The weather here in Seattle is the total opposite of what I expected. There is blue sky and it's pretty warm. But I still think those jumpers were the right thing.

Once here I hid in my room, well, I showered then I decided that maybe a couple of hours sleep would do me good! And actually I do feel slightly refreshed. I've just come back from dinner (I went to Pizza Hut) and bed looks very inviting again. But I have decided not before 21.00 if possible.

My room-mate hasn't appeared yet, but I expect she will soon. And hopefully she'll be on my tour. We'll see.

Well, Janny arrived at about 21.30 last night. And yes, she is on the same trek. She seems friendly. We went together for breakfast (to Denny's) and had a good chat. I then went for a little walk, I was actually looking for somewhere with Internet, nothing to be seen anywhere. But I had a very nice walk. The area is surprisingly residential, even though it is right next to the airport.

After my walk Janny was asleep, so I went off shopping. I caught the bus from the airport to a mall. But apart from a Hamburger, I didn't buy anything. At 19.30 it was time for the Howdy Party. It seemed like a good crowd. We were all there except for two of the guys, Oh there are 5 guys and 8 girls.

Janny from Holland, Audrey and Gillian from Ireland, Linda and Sally from England, Patricia from Switzerland, Mike (f) from Israel, Hayato from Japan, Patrick and Frank from Holland, Geert from Belgium and Christian from Südtirol (Italy). Jennifer is our tour guide. We are all between 24 and 38 so the group is older than last time.

Well, my 29th Birthday, oh dear, thirty is looming! It didn't really seem like my Birthday until the evening, when everyone sung for me. And then they all started singing again, and Jennifer came with cake and a candles. That was so cute. Anyway back to the rest of the day.

Our first day on the road. We set off at 7.30 drove to Seattle and caught the ferry to the Olympic peninsula. First stop there was a store in Port Angeles, as Frank needed a sleeping bag. From there we headed for lunch and our first hike. We had lunch in a beautiful spot, right by a lake with a snow-capped mountain in the background. We were at Lake Mills.

Our hike took us up hill to some hot water springs (smelly), I didn't go in as earlier I couldn't be bothered to unpack my rucksack to find my swimming costume. Quite a few of the others did. What did we do after that...erm...oh, I remember, we went for another short hike, just off of Lake Crescent to Marymere Falls. Then it was on to our campsite, which is right on the beach (Pacific Ocean). Jennifer cooked dinner for us tonight (Spaghetti with Tomato sauce and salad). In the evening we had a talk about the ins and outs of trekking and then everyone introduced themselves.

I am sharing a tent with Janny and she was really good to me this morning. I have a very sore blister on the back of my ankle. And Janny has this wonderful plaster (Compeed) that makes walking easy again. Which was good as we had a lot of hiking planned again. First the shopping this time I was really brave and I am on a cooking team, and so my team was in charge of shopping today. We cooked Ratatouille and rice. Everyone seemed to enjoy it.

Our first hike today was in Hoh Rain Forest. And we were so lucky!, as we had beautiful sunshine. This hike was really interesting, all the trees were full of moss (covered). And it was quite eerie in places, but at the same time beautiful. We walked in quite a large crowd so we were too loud to see any wild-life. We did both trails there and had a little sit down in the shade before lunch.

After lunch we drove to the coast for a beach hike. Unfortunately it wasn't quite as sunny on the coast, but that didn't bother us too much. We saw a bit more wild-life there. Sea gulls (not too exciting) then loads of star fish in the rock pools. On our walk back Frank, Geert, Mike and I saw a sea-lion (that was exciting), but it was too quick for a picture. We also saw a cormorant and an eagle (flying over, so it was some kind of big bird). The most exciting thing happened after tea, back at the campsite. We saw two whales! A bit better than on my last trek, where I only ever saw a spout of water.

We had another campfire. We all sat around it, talking and telling jokes, one of which I must write down:

What do American beer and making love in a canoe have in common?
Both are fucking close to water!

I had a couple of beers and was feeling very happy. Frank, Geert and I were the last up. We tried to ignore the Indian guy, who wanted to join in with our conversation. He just wouldn't be gone, so when he went to spend a penny, we did a disappearing act to bed!

Not such a good nights sleep today and it had nothing to do with the beer I drank. At threeish I woke up and thought the others were doing their planned Yoga on the beach. When I looked at my watch it said 3.15am, I thought it had stopped and rolled over, hoping someone would get me up. The next thing I know is that Jennifer was shouting to us, that someone had stolen our beer and not to go to the bathroom alone. Well, when I got up this morning, I wasn't sure if it wasn't all part of some weird dream, but Janny had heard the same.

What had happened, was that some Indian teenagers, had been around the campsite, broke into one car and pinched our beer and drinks cool box. Luckily though they didn't break into the van. A smashed window and lock would have been worse than losing some drinks.

Today was basically a travel day, but we did go back to Olympic National Park again, to Hurricane Ridge. Where we had a beautiful view of the Olympic Mountain Range. We were about 6.000ft up, so we even saw some snow. Not that I got excited! From there we are now on our way to Mount Rainier National Park.

3 Week Tour of the West: Disneyland

Last day of our tour today and what better way to finish it, than at the " happiest place on earth " to take our minds off leaving one another. It took 3 hours to get from Santa Barbara to Anaheim, so we weren't actually there for the opening of the park. I still vividly remember my first impression of Euro Disney, Paris, and I'm afraid to say the " original " Disneyland does not measure up to it in the least. In fact I was disappointed. Still I soon got over that. Oh, one more thing that was disappointing was Cinderella's castle, it was so small! Oh well, obviously not everything is bigger in America!

First stop in Disneyland was " Space Mountain " the queue was long but could have been a lot longer! We were next but one in the line, when the ride broke down and they announced a 45 min wait! Well, we'd queued this far, we weren't going to be discouraged. We just leant on the wall, got the Pringles out and had a picnic! whilst I wrote a postcard to Lee. The 45 mins seemed to go quite fast, especially when we got serenaded. We found out later that there was a choir competition on and it was probably one of these singing " The lion sleeps tonight ", " You've lost that loving feeling " and other oldies! It was like Karaoke all over again! The ride was great, when we finally started, a great opportunity for a good old scream! Nicole and I went in together, and had a wonderful time screaming and laughing!

Next stop was " Star Tours " which after a real rollercoaster seemed quite tame. So after that we aimed for the " Matterhorn ". Now that was good. It was two to each carriage, so I got have a cushioned ride between Neil's legs. Actually for part of the ride I cushioned his knees with my arms, as he was complaining of banging them! After the Matterhorn, we went and wandered around Mickey's Toontown, where I posted two postcards in a talking post-box, hopefully it was a real one! In Toontown we all tried a " frozen banana ", delicious, but in the beginning extremely hard. Next we did " Pirates of the Caribean ", where we all got slightly wet, but not wet enough! Next door was the " Haunted Mansion ", Nicki and Juliane sat this one out, lucky for them, it was a short queue! Neil made Nadia jump there and nearly had his nose smashed, she was not amused!

We rejoined Nicki and Juliane and went to " Splash Mountain ", the queue led us past the drop, so we knew we'd get probably pretty wet. So I did something not seen or heard of outside of Europe - I got changed in the queue! I took my jeans off and put on my shorts! Better wet legs, than wet jeans! The ride was brilliant. Nicki who was right at the front, got drowned! I did alright I was third from last. Poor John got well and truly squashed at the back, as Nadia and I both put our weight on him, going up the hill!

After this ride, we wanted to go again, but decided to save it " for Ron " (later), and went to visit " Indiana Jones "! Another great ride. Not your usual roller coaster ride as there was 16 of us in a car thing, that gets shaken about as well as dropped and spun round fast corners. I think that was probably the longest queue. Then we went back to get drowned again. Coming off the ride the queue was extremely short so we jumped on it again. This time Nadia wanted the front seat, so we did another striptease in the queue. Trouser swapping, she borrowed my shorts and I put my jeans back on. Laughs all round! Neil wanted to charge $10 a head to watch! With our legs he would have made a fortune!

After that ride we went to see the " American Journey " at the Circle Vision Cinema. Most of the sights there we'd seen. So it was a case of " been there, done that! " Then it was group photo time (our little group!), then shopping. Another T-shirt for me. Unfortunately it was then time to go. More group photos, and then on to spend the rest of the food kitty money. 1/2 Pizza time, followed by fresh strawberry cheese cake. Delicious! Then back to the hotel, where it was time to say good-bye to Cilla, Rochelle, Nicki, Annie and Katharina.

3 Week Tour of the West: San Francisco

Well, what can I say, it is definitely as beautiful as I imagined if not more! And I am in no way disappointed! I was a bit worried that my expectations were a bit too high, but they weren't.

We drove into San Francisco over Oakland and came over the Oakland Bay Bridge and we did it just as one should. We drove over the bridge playing and singing " If you're going to San Francisco ", and wearing flowers in our hair! I was actually quite choked. Going over the bridge, we also got our first view of the Golden Gate Bridge. God, if I had been on my own I'd have been in tears of joy.

Golden Gate BridgeLinda drove through town and pointed out some of the different districts and Cafes, etc., she took us to the Golden Gate Bridge first. We all walked out to the first pillar. It is just so beautiful and the view was lovely, over to downtown and Alcatraz. For a prison island Alcatraz looks quite tiny, I'm not quite sure what I was expecting there. We had lunch on the beach where Hugh Grant filmed " 9 months ", another great spot for views of the Golden Gate Bridge. From there Linda took us to Twinpeaks, the highest viewpoint in San Francisco. Back down from there we drove through the Haight Ashbury district, which was the flower power district in the 60s. Gosh, there are some beautiful houses here.

Next stop was our hotel, where we literally just dropped off our bags and then went out wandering. We wandered (Neil, John, Katharina and I) straight to Planet Hollywood, where I bought a T-shirt. Then we carried on and decided that it was probably a bit too late for sight-seeing, so we entered the Virgin Megastore, where I spent yet more money and bought two CDs. Then we had to check out the price of jeans, but they have to be tried on first, but we weren't in the right mood. We got back to the hotel at 18.35 and we were meeting in the lobby at 19.00, but I managed to fit my shower in.

We had dinner at a Mongolian restaurant. It was delicious, and after we'd made pigs of ourselves, we made fools of ourselves with Karaoke! Even I got up to sing! It seems that this holiday is a holiday full of firsts! I sung two duets (I wasn't going up on my own!). First song was " I'd like to teach the world to sing " and the second was " Tie a yellow ribbon ". We all had a great evening, and most of us turned in at 23.00 as we have a lot to see and do in the morning.

Woke up somewhere around 7.30 sat up straight in bed and wondered where on earth I was, and who had pinched the tent! I soon solved the problem and went back to sleep again.

We had breakfast at 9.00 and then left for some serious sight-seeing. Which actually didn't start until 2 hours later as Juliane and Nicole did some serious shopping first. From there we went and bought our three day bus passes (cheaper than buying two single days!). We used it straight away and went on a bus to walk around the financial district. We found the Transamerica Building, and from there walked to Chinatown, that was just like being back in Hong Kong, only slightly less smelly. We had lunch at McDonalds in Chinatown, as we couldn't decide on Chinese and we didn't want to be sat around too long.

After lunch was a historic moment for us, our first ride on a cable car! Great fun. It was full so we had to ride on the step of the cable car. We went right to the end of the line got off and happened to be right by the Hard Rock Cafe, so we all went and collected our free shot glasses, and I bought my T-shirt!

From there we walked up and down the streets to find Pacific Heights. Beautiful houses (I probably took a whole film of them!) We then went to a couple of parks, looking for the view of San Francisco's skyline above some of the houses (postcard view). We were at the wrong parks, but we eventually found the right park on one of the many free maps, I'd picked up. So as Nadia was complaining of sore feet, we went on a bus to find it. Even Nadia then thought it was worth it. More pictures!

After a short rest there we walked to the Haight-Ashbury district, which is where there are a few Hippies left over from the 60s, when they all used to be there. On the bus to the park we met two people, one young girl coming from a demonstration, and one older woman, who had taken part in San Francisco's original peace rallyes and demonstrations. Somehow that seemed fitting for us to see in San Francisco.

Anyway back to sight-seeing. Haight wasn't too interesting, but it could have been that we were at the wrong end of the street, we walked all the way down Haight to market street, then on a bus back to where we had started, the V.C. By then we were all slightly worn out, so it was back to the hotel, where we had an hours rest, before we went out to dinner. We all went for Japanese tonight, after checking out 1/2 dozen different places beforehand. We = Neil, John, Juliane, Katharina and I. After dinner we went back to the hotel, to get another coupon for a Hard Rock Cafe shot glass, then it was off to the Hard Rock Cafe - Nicole and Nadia joined us again for that. That also meant more cable car rides! We stopped at the Hard Rock Cafe for a couple of beers, I'm becoming quite partial to Corona. John left earlier, so it was just Neil and us 5 girls, I'm sure Neil was happy! We all got back here at about 11.15, and I then phoned home to organise a shopping list. Eventually I was in bed at about midnight.

Got up with a start this morning, Katharina's alarm clock is SO loud. Well, I suppose we had to be up! Went down to breakfast at 8.00, also to pick up my fax from Mum and Dad. Only I couldn't get it because the people in the office don't get in until 9am so that threw our " we'll leave early " plans overboard! Eventually got two faxes with orders for jeans for Dad and Lee.

Where was Herbie?We started our tour at the cable car turntable, only four of us (Nicole, Nadia, Juliane and I), we took the cable car to Lombard Street, which is the " Crookedest street in the world " The cable car to get there goes up Hyde Street, which is the up and down street from a lot of movies with a direct view on to Alcatraz. We walked down the stairs at Lombard Street, but the last corner I pretended to be a car and ran down. I was all excited again about being in San Francisco. We walked down the rest of Lombard Street stopping on the way for a hot chocolate and to get out of the light drizzle.

At the other end of Lombard is the Coit Tower. The money to build it was donated to San Francisco sometime in the 1930s by Lilli Coit, who loved San Francisco so much she wanted to leave something to add to San Francisco's beauty behind. From the Coit Tower we caught the bus to Fisherman's Wharf. This was the first free ride on our bus pass. We went to pick the tickets to Alcatraz up first, then we went over to Pier 39, which is a very touristy part of Fisherman's Wharf. I bought Mum and Dad a sketch of San Francisco and me 3 and then I got carried away and bought yet another T-shirt. This time from the Warner Bros. Shop. I also got a Tazmanian Devil T-shirt for Ramona. I couldn't resist.

Now who could I think of to lock up here?We had lunch at Fisherman's Wharf. From there it was on to the ferry and over to Alcatraz, where we had booked a guided audio tour, meaning we walked around with a walkman on, listening to the different things about inmates and cells, etc. Very well done, and very interesting. We got back on the mainland at about 4.45 and Nicole was looking very green (she doesn't like boats!), even though the journey was only about 10 - 15 mins. I did OK, my tummy is trained to hold out 75 mins!

We then wanted to catch the cable car back up Hyde Street, but it seemed everyone had had that idea. So we thought we'd walk up the street a little way. Then we found a trolley bus and took that to get us back near the hotel. We split up when we got off the bus as Nicole had to pick up her photos, Nadia needed a bank, Juliane CDs and me jeans for Dad.

At seven we all met back up for food! Neil and Nicole weren't feeling well so we were only 12 for dinner. We ate in Chinatown and then went for an ice-cream. After the ice-cream it was only 21.30, so 4 of us went to the Hard Rock Cafe again for a drink (Julian, Cheryl, John and I). We got back at 23.30 and I cleared my bed off and went straight to sleep.

We left San Francisco at 8.00 the next morning. I will definitely go back again, the sooner the better!