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'Whats up Dwagg!'
U.S.A - NOV/DEC 2003
'Have a magical day!'
Tuesday 11th November 2003 San Juan Hotel, South Beach, Miami

To be honest I have been looking forward to getting to the States for a while. Just because things should be a lot easier, more organisation and speaking the same language... It took 2 hours to get out of the airport. I wasn't too surprised about that, We then tried to take the public transport to South Beach but the information boards where so confusing and there wasn't anyone that looked willing to help us so we ended up catching the extortionate airport shuttle service in stead... so much for things being more organised.

We ended up at San Juan Hotel as it was the only name of a place I could remember. It doesn't look that inviting from the outside but the rooms are really nice and it is one of the cheapest hotels in South Beach. We decided to stay for 2 days and then find a cheaper Hostel as It looks like there is loads to do in Miami so we may stay for a week or so. Our first task was to get some tucker. It is Veterans day today (in line with Remembrance in the UK) so the streets seemed pretty quiet. We took a short walk down Collins Ave and where amazed by all the ARt Deco buildings. Stopped at the first Restaurant we could find had a slap up meal and then returned to the Hotel. Sarena stayed in and rested while I went out for a walk along Lincoln which is the main Pedestrian street in South Beach. It is full of smart Restaurants and amazing people. There are some very interesting characters walking the streets all seem very friendly and extremely colourful, some haven't made it out of the 80's and some seem to be inventing new fashions. Its such a contrast to South America that I felt revitalised just by walking down the street. I think I'm going to really enjoy the States.

How excited was i when we got off the plane!

The airport was really tough to get through though, the passport control took an over an hour of standing and waiting to get checked by a really grumpy bloke who too his job fat too seriously. We went to check out the train information which was far to complicated for our poor tired brains so ended up taking a shuttle bus which was expensive but worth it. I was so surprised at just how beautiful the City was, so clean and green and spread out. It actually looked like we were traveling through a model village it was just so perfect. He took us straight to our hotel - Jan Juan, which was the cheapest. It was still not a cheap place (for backpackers anyway) but the room was really clean and tidy and had a microwave and fridge - bonus. We dumped our stuff in the room and got changed as the weather was really hot then went out for some food as we hadn't eaten since the plane. The walk around just took my breath away, everything is all Art Deco style with pastel colours, huge beautiful hotels and palm trees - it was like stepping back in time as they were all so perfectly preserved. The weather is hot but has a wonderful breeze so not uncomfortable, so we had some lunch sat outside watching people walk past. Some were a bit of a sight though, specially the older ladies as they don' t seem to want to grow old gracefully. Other girls just don't wear anything,. there are all sorts of all ages rollerblading everywhere or sKateboarding. Everyone just looked healthy and happy and to be honest i felt so much more relaxed and happy than i have felt in quite a while.

 

Wednesday 12th November 2003 San Juan Hotel, South Beach, Miami

DIdn't get breakfast until 10:30 but we are both feeling so relaxed. We then stopped in to check our emails quickly and then took a walk down Ocean Drive for a sit in the shade. We weren't the only ones with that Idea as a couple of Parrots decided to sit in the grass next to us. Sarena spotted one of these Segway people movers going down the pavement and we found out you can rent them, They are a pretty new invention and the ultimate in laziness but looks like good fun for tomorrow. I couldn't sit still for very long so I left Sarena there and took a walk further down the path. There I discovered a load more restaurants, one had a tropical theme with a Guy standing outside with a beautiful Macaw and Cockatiel. The waitresses where also wearing near transparent leopard print body suits so I went back to get Sarena and we returned together to play with the birds! Also had a beer or two too, nothing like a liquid lunch.

Time seems to go so fast here, all we did for the rest of the day was wonder around people watching and looking at the amazing buildings and already it was getting late. We went back to the Hotel for a swim, checked out the weather forecast for the next few days, sunny but windy and then went out for some Sushi and Thai. You can get whatever you want here! It was the first time I have had proper Sushi. Wasn't too impressed but at least I have tried it now.

Had some b'fast next door which turned out to be a bit nasty then went for a walk in park which was on the beach front. Loads of people blading and running, weight training and bench pressing - there are a lot of poesy men around these parts - body image is everything. We had a lay down in the shade under all the trees filled with noisy birds and parrots, Toby went off for a walk whilst i just chilled out. It was then i noticed a woman whizzing past on some sort of contraption that looked pretty new, when i told Toby about this a little later he got really excited and explained what they were - Segways. Ok i wasn't as excited as him though, but had to chase him down the path whilst he went to find out if you could hire them - found a bloke who did and told us where the shop was, that's on tomorrows agenda then. On Tobys early wandering he had come across a whole strip of restaurants and sand castles which he wanted to show me, especially the man stood outside the Tropical Bar who had 2 beautiful birds, a macaw and Cockatoo. The Macaw was so friendly and i fell in love with him straight away - he was a very happy bird and loved to be loved. The tropical bar had all the women walking around in see through leopard skin outfits with just thongs showing through, the men had trousers and a shirt on - something not right about that. We had a couple of bottles of Coronas which we have wanted for so long so they tasted bloody good - very expensive though, that ended up substituting as lunch. Wandered around for the rest of the day looking at the buildings and just drinking up all the sights and sounds and the feel good factor. Went back to the hotel and had a good hours worth in the pool doing lots of lengths - felt good to be swimming again. Dinner time we went out to a lovely restaurant so that Toby could have some Sushi which he had wanted to try for a while whilst i settled for Thai, all in the same place of course. Mine was lovely and his looked really interesting but not my cup of tea. Went back the hotel ad crashed out.

Thursday 13th November 2003 Clay Hotel, South Beach, Miami

Found a cheaper Hostel to stay at so we checked out at 10 and moved a couple of blocks down South Beach. This Hostel didn't have mixed dorms so I went in with 5 over guys. We then grabbed some breakfast and went down to the Segway shop. What's a Segway? its the ultimate in laziness, basically its a self balancing electric stand that senses the movement of your body wait and moves in that direction. We got to the shop and signed up for an hours tour of South Beach. First we had to learn how to control it in the shop. It is a very weird sensation but after a few minutes it starts to seem more natural and you find yourself doing spins backwards and forwards just by moving you body around.

A Canadian couple also joined us for the Tour so 5 of us scooted out of the shop door and along the pavement. At first we where limited to 4 mph and by the time we had made it to Lummus park this seemed a little slow. We took the Segways up past Versaces house to the top of the park where our tour guide switched our Segways up to 8 mph. This was a lot better and actually felt pretty nippy. We went back down the park past all the Art Deco houses and the area where Scarface was filmed and then headed onto the main pavements and down to South Pointe Park. We got lots of strange looks and many photos taken. Not surprisingly we got comments about being lazy and what's wrong with exercising. I totally agree with them but must admit this is good fun. South Pointe Park is pretty stunning we got a great view along the entire length of Miami beach (well as far as we could see) and drove along the fisherman's pier. Our hour was nearly up so we scooted all the way back to the Segway shop. Toby masters the Segway (1,335 kb). Sadly we weren't allowed to take the machines up to their full 12.5 mph, never mind. Back at the shop my legs actually felt pretty tired, I guess I have been standing still for a full hour. Right opposite the Shop was a genuine American diner, We couldn't resist so went in and sat at one of the booths for a slap up meal... It was massive. The whole place was shiny aluminium and played 50's music on the radio. After all the exercise and a huge lunch though I needed a lie down. Very really for me though I decided to go and lie on the beach so I left Sarena to go and do her own thing and found my way onto the sand. South Beach is probably busy every day of the year. Everybody is very body conscience in this place so the beach is the perfect place for them to strut there stuff. I found my own little spot though and settled down. Sarena joined me about an hour later and gave me a running commentary on what everybody was wearing, doing or looking like which saved me the effort of lifting my head off the sand.

Went back to the Hostel later and met up with my room mates, what an eclectic bunch. We have David the struggling Actor, Dan the Psychic, Bill the born again preacher, Mark the gigantic abusive red neck and John from Australia. Mark wasn't even in the room when I turned up but I had a good 2 hours worth of stories of what he was like from the others. He had even turned the holy Bill into a babbling swearing wreck and then in turn Bill would sermon everybody on the Evils of Bulletin boards and naked statues. What a weird lot these Americans are.

By 10 O'clock Sarena disappeared off to bed so I went for a walk around the Town to see what action there was. I guess it was still pretty earlier but I was amazed that even though every single place on the sidewalks is a restaurant every table was full. The place was heaving. Especially the Tropical Cafe which had replaced the friendly Peruvian Macaw handler with practically naked women gyrating on a podium. Shame I had already eaten!

Got up and showered then packed and heading down to the other hostel - Clay Hotel, to check in. The place looked really nice, especially the reception area, looked like the rooms were going to be nice. The girl gave us a swipe card and sheets then told us to go back out the building, down the road past the restaurant and then through the black gates, which we did. It was like a maze of alleyways and rooms leading off from everywhere, my accommodation consisted of two rooms divided by a kitchen and bathroom with 4 beds in each - not a bad set up but very very cluttered and my bed was covered in other peoples stuff which i soon cleared off. All girls dorm and most were quite young so very untidy, one older lady who seemed to live there was like the mum of the dorm as she seemed to tidy everyone's stuff up all the time. We had a ballerina in the room on the bed above me. there was a skinny woman who hid every time she ate anything and a couple of others who kept themselves to themselves. I met up with toby 10mins later and he didn't look very happy, seems his room is a right hole and very smelly - blokes for you! This seemed to put him in a bit of a bad mood for most of the day unfortunately for me....... We had a quick b'fast of fruit and yogurt then went to find ourselves the Segway shop to see if we could hire out one each - turns out we couldn't but they did do a City tour of $34 each which we agreed to do. I hadn't seen a segway up until the day before when i saw a lady zoom past on on. They are basically a platform which you stand on with 2wheels and a stick with handle bars which had a steering control thing which turns up and down for left and right. You can stand completely still on these things balancing on 2 wheels and just keep turning around on the spot. To move forward and backwards you just lean forward or back. You have 4 keys, each of which makes you go faster and that's about it. oh yes the 2 batteries are in the platform. We had to have a little practice in the showroom - and i felt like such a jerk on this thing but it took a little getting used to, very sensitive and have to have balance. 2 others had also joined our merry group so before long there were 5 of us going out on these Segways. I must admit the idea of them is bad really - just a lazy way to get around and i thought that so many people were over weight anyway that these things would make it worse, but it seems you have to be of a certain weight to go on one and not heavy. I suppose if more people had one and didn't use cars and busses then that would cut down on pollution but i don't really know......... Anyway with that in my mind we headed out down towards the beach front getting lots of comments and stares from people - they did look weird and the guide gave us all a running commentary on the area and showed us Versaces old house where he was shot. After 15mins on the things we were given the faster keys, as we had all got confidant by now. The guide then turned us around and we went up to the end of the beach detouring around the harbour way, it was all so stunning - i really have never been in a City so beautiful. Lots of photos then headed back to the shop and give back the Segways which i have to admit were an awful lot of fun. We said goodbye and walked across the road to a traditional Art Deco American diner - proper silver old cabin place full of stalls and chrome - really very very cool, it was like stepping back into the 50s. We both had a huge salad which we had to take a photo of cause they were that big. Toby then wanted to go straight down to the beach for a lay down but i went back to the hostel first to don the bikini and get some sun screen then went and found him. Funny enough he had parked himself not too far away from a scantily clad lady who seemed to have attracted a lot of male company and who wanted to get their photo taken with this little lady. When she stood up i could see why - she had the body of a porn star and seemed to be modeling like she had done this before......doesn't do much for the old ego when she is donning a yellow thonged bikini that just holds it all in, brown and toned to perfection and i'm sat on the beach with my bikini covered in 30+ sunscreen and my big Llama hat i got in Peru - not very attractive. Anyway we stayed on the beach for an hour, Toby sleeping and me reading when we were approached by a coloured girl wanting a cigarette. Half an hour later when we were about to leave she went up to Toby and called him 'Master' then asked for a hug, which he complied. then wondered off - weird.

Went back to the hostel and then later sat around by the kitchen outside and had some bagels and cream cheese and started chatting to a few other people also staying in the hostel. All from different parts of the world, one of the guys who had lived in the UK for 3 yrs and was from somewhere in America, was really friendly. They all went out for a drinking session whilst i went to my room to read and have some Milo which i had found in the supermarket earlier - bloody lovely. Toby went off to do his own thing so didn't see him for the rest of the evening. I ended up sitting outside on the step chatting to the older Spanish (mother lady) who chatted away in Spanish and i looked i understood every word. A big group came back all looking worse for wear and very loud so i took my Milo and book back inside and to bed.

Friday 14th November 2003 Clay Hotel, South Beach, Miami

Woke up deciding that we must rent out some Harley Davidson's for a few days. Obviously the previous days events on a Segway has got me pumping for some other powerful means of transport! Met Sarena for breakfast and then we headed out in search of a local Harley Davidson rental shop. It took us 3 attempts and then we found the right spot A shop full of Harley's and we could have anyone we wanted. Initially we where going to get one so we had to find one that Sarena was comfortable with. It ended up being a 1450 cc 2003 Dyna Low Rider, yeah right. Unfortunately it was booked out for tomorrow but we could have it later tomorrow afternoon. The Motorbike man (Todd) then gave us such a good deal that we decided we could get a bike each. Not to be outdone by Sarena I went for the 1450cc 2003 Fat Boy, pretty much the same bike just a bigger tank, frame and tyres. Todd even said I could have mine all day tomorrow for free while we wait for Sarena's to be returned.

On the way back to the Hostel we popped into a book shop to look for some guide books. The shop had a little cafe where you could read so we got a drink and a sandwich while we gened up on places to go on our bikes and the road rules of USA. Then who should walk into the shop. Only Cliff bloody Richard, obviously he's jacked in writing hit christmas songs in favour of musing 'round Miami. Judging by all the fake plastic parts that most people seem to be wearing around here I'm sure you can get some discount Botox injections. ohhh ain't I mean. Obviously Cliff Richard isn't to famous in the states as nobody else recognised him.

After that excitement Sarena decided to phone her mum so that she could keep her worried over the next few days knowing that we will be cruising Florida on massive bikes. Checked the Internet after that and got all the stats on the Hogs - well we need to know what where talking about when we meet up with over Hell Angels!

Met up with a load of people back at the Hostel and discovered that they where giving out free entry to a club across the road. Also includes free drinks until 12 so we snapped some up and then got some beers of our own to consume while we waited until a decent time to go out... That ended up being about 11 so we hopped across the road and que'd up for the 'Crobar'. We ended up getting in pretty quickly as we all had a gal on our arms. The club is an old art deco theatre and was booming out some tunes. The free drinks ended up being a bit of a con as it was only 2 drinks of certain types and none of us could actually taste any alcohol. Probably not a bad thing seeing as we are riding tomorrow. Once in the club with the free drinks consumed every in the group dissipated Sarena and I where the only real couple so everyone else is keen to go off and socialise. We ended up chatting to a huge black guy - well Sarena did most the talking as I go pretty deaf in places like this. This guy seemed very popular as everyone was coming up and shaking his and and getting photos with him. Obviously not wanting to ask who he was or getting all excited about being with him we both acted very normal and I think he appreciated having a decent conversation with someone. We ended up finding out his name Lawrence Taylor or BLT and I guessed he must be a sportspersons but we didn't really find out. Sarena kept him amused so I went for my own wander around the club but didn't pull within 10 minutes so soon returned to Sarena. BLT had now been ordered to circulate by his manager so we finished up our shared bottle of Corona and made our way for the exit.

Woke up early but couldn't get into the shower for ages due to the other girls getting ready to either go to work or to Ballet classes - women! I met up with Toby outside the kitchen area where they had a few seats and tables at 9am for some B'fast of bagels and some cereal then went out to look for a Harley hire shop. We knew it was on 18th street but didn't realise the road would be so big or split up over a river. So we walked around for ages trying to find the place, eventually we did though, and what a place! they had so many cool bikes and all of them were soooooooooooooooooooo big, oh dear how on earth was i going to fit on one of those things. We had an idea of getting one bike between us and taking turns to ride and pillion. The bloke who worked there seemed really nice and extremely helpful and was quite surprised when i said i would be riding as well. He said he wouldn't have any smaller bikes available for the next day, which is when we wanted to hire it from. He took me outside to this monster of a bike and told me to try it out for size. It wasn't too bad when sat on the thing but my little arms just couldn't reach the handle bars comfortably so he took me indoors to try out a Low Rider which was still big but just the right size for me and my arms - very comfortable, if only my mum could see me now!. I was then told to try out the Fat Boy bike which was, again too big for me. I could drive the thing but it wasn't as comfortable as the Low Rider. The blokey suggested we take both the bikes which of course we would love to do if it weren't for the money, so he offered us a deal we couldn't refuse of $400 for both bikes for 3 days - very good deal. So it was settled i had the Low Rider and Toby had the Fat Boy - 2 beautiful bikes and i was really excited.

We then walked back to the pedestrian part to the book shop so we could read up on the rules of the road whilst having a sandwich and drink. Whilst sitting there drinking my lemonade, who should walk in the door, but Cliff Richard...... I said to Tobes 'oh look that's Cliff' and then we both just carried on drinking and reading. He did say hello to me though when I was looking for a new Dean Koontz book - looks fantastic for his age and very laid back and cool.

I phoned my mum to tell her about the bikes and she nearly had kittens - ooops, i then told her about Cliff which calmed her down a bit....... We then went to an internet place to check my account as mother had put some Xmas money in there for us - thanks mummy. Found out that the bikes we had hired were both 1450s - the biggest bike i have had so far. I then left toby there and went and bought some pasta for dinner and then went back to my room to do my diary.

Went out in the evening to a club which a whole bunch of us got given complimentary tickets to. Seems the club opposite the hotel are in cahoots with each other otherwise it would have cost $30 each to get in. We got given a couple of tickets allowing us 2 free drinks each so we all had rum and coke to start with only to find out it was just coke with not a hint of alcohol.......... the second drink was a little better. The two Irish girls, Pearl and Melanie wandered off for a walk around the club whist John the Ozzy guy went off with Dan the American guy (our little gang) which left me and Toby stood on the wall watching everyone wander past. A hell of a lot of collagen and plastic boobs and buts with low tops and shorts skirts wandering around the place. The men were all huge and very muscled up, some to the extreme. Made our UK guys look like midgets, they were all so tall. I couldn't get into the whole thing as the music just wasn't doing it for me so was just happy to watch. I ended up standing next to a 7ft coloured guy who was just massive and really very sweet, got talking to him and he was really interested in our travels etc. But every 5mins someone kept coming up to him and asking to take his photo or just happy to shake his hand, everyone seemed to know who he was apart from us it seems. I did ask but he just said he sold insurance............................

It was a constant stream of people all of whom were so excited to see him and shake his hand, girls were coming up to me and apologising and asking if i minded if they had there photo taken with him etc, i couldn't give a shit! Turns out he was a football player called Lawrence Taylor? i know nothing about American Football so meant nothing to me. We ended up talking to him for a couple of hours and he was so amazed about our diary and what we had seen, really nice bloke. At midnight he decided to leave with his agent as he was tired so gave me a huge hug and disappeared. We left a few mins after feeling tired, so just went back to our dorms and to bed.

Saturday 15th November 2003 Floridian Hotel, Homestead

Very exciting day today. We get our Harley's. In fact I get mine first as Sarena's isn't ready until 3 so the Motorbike man said I could have the Fat Boy for free for the day while we wait. Cool. First task was to ask around about the guy we had met. Lawrence Taylor is a 'Hall of Fame' American Football Line Back. Apparently the best there was until he got caught with some cocaine and sent packing to Miami from his home team in New York. With that mystery unraveled I went to pick the bike up at 9 but didn't get away until 11. So rode straight back to the Hostel and picked Sarena up. She was a bit wary about getting on the back of the bike with me, but was still game, so we headed north up Miami beach and took the slow route to Fort Lauderdale. It was mainly an exercise in cruising but I also wanted to change the dates of our next flight. It seemed to take for ever to get to Fort Lauderdale and my clutch hand was aching well before we arrived. The airline office was closed so we just grabbed some lunch at a cafe next door then cruised along the waterfront and headed back to South BEach to pick up Sarena's bike. I had a great time riding the bike and even think Sarena felt pretty confident in me by them time we got back. Now its her turn...

...Sarena's Dyna Low RIder didn't arrive until 4:30 which meant things where getting a little late as we wanted to head into the Everglades to camp. She had to do a little test on the bike first... drive round a car park and then we where off. First stop the garage I had already chugged through 130 miles during the day so we filled up and set off to battle the rush hour traffic. Sarena faltered a little leaving the Garage and lost a battle against the weight of the bike which left it on its side in the middle of traffic. No harm done though. A guy in front jumped out and gave us a hand to lift her bike and we where on our way again. Just some usual wear and tear minor scratches to one of the exhausts and a loosened up mirror, hopefully the motorbike man won't even notice when we return them.

Stopped off at the hostel and picket up our minimal stuff for 3 days on the road. My bike has 2 small saddle bags and Sarena has 1 behind her seat so there is no room for luxuries. I carried the Tent and a cotton sheet to sleep in so hopefully the nights won't be cold (I doubt it). Probably made the wrong choice with the route we made for going south but I wasn't ready to lead Sarena onto the Freeway so we took US 1 instead which ended up having us stop at nearly every block for traffic lights. 2 hours later and we where just coming to the outskirts of Miami. We where both very tired and it was getting dark so we abandoned our run for the campsite and decided on stopping at the nearest Motel. There wasn't any. The first available place we found was a run down old Hotel just outside of Homestead. Then we found out that this weekend is Nascar racing so everywhere is booked out, so we had to pay and extortionate rate for the night. We went to our room and I was very dehydrated so popped over to Macdonald's for a drink but ended coming back with loads of stuff which I promptly collapsed in the chair and ate. One little luxury was that this room had a bath. My first one since NZ. I got in it and immediately fell asleep only to wake up very wrinkly. Being a Hells Angel is very trying work!

Woke up early and met Jonesy for B'fast of cereal and coffee then Toby went to collect his bike for 9am leaving me to sit and read in the sun. He came back a couple of hours later with an extra helmut in his puds and ready to hit the road. We had both packed up our bags and just put enough clothes etc into a bag each that would fit on the bikes which meant taking out all the camping stuff apart from the tent as we had far too much. We then went to put all of it in storage and checked out of our rooms. The big old Fat Boy was sat outside the front waiting for us to hop on, must admit i was nervous as Toby hadn't done pillion before but he was just brilliant and didn't make one mistake. Within 10mins heading down to Fort Lauderdale i felt very relaxed and enjoyed to ride. The journey down seemed to take ages and the whole idea was to pop into the American Airline company over there and see if we could change our flight tickets. We drove all the way over only to find out it was shut - damn!. So we had a quick light lunch of salad whilst everyone around us was eating grease and chips and general lardy stuff then drove all the way back to the bike rental shop to pick up my bike - by now i was nervous and had a really bad stomach - i really suffer badly with the ole nerves! We arrived at the rental shop about 3.00pm as the bloke said the bike would be coming back in around that time, but it wasn't brought back until gone 4pm so i was in a right old state by now. Toby told me to expect a little bike test before i take the thing away just so i could get to know the clutch and weight etc, i really didn't want to drop the bike or do something stupid which luckily i didn't. It was such a big bike, 1400 cc size engine is the biggest i'm sure i will ever get to ride. We said our thanks and donned our helmets then went straight the garage to fill up as the man before hadn't filled up properly. By now it was 5pm and the traffic was back to back, not a good time to hit the roads and it was going to get dark soon. We filled up and then went to leave the forecourt having to make a sharp and slow turn right onto the road and into slow moving and busy road. Well i obviously moved a little too slow and turned a little too sharply to the rights and the weight of the bike just took over. Yes i fell off and the bike fell over - within the first 5mind of getting the bike and i drop the bastard,. all on the chrome exhaust and polished bits. A lovely bloke got out of his car and picked up the bike for me whilst Toby ran over and moved it to the side a little, The traffic was chocka so everyone saw me make a fantastic arse of myself. Luckily the bike wasn't damaged. the only thing was my pride. I must admit all i saw when i fell off were dollar signs in my eyes - oh the cost, oh the insurance etc. Well i straightened myself out tightened my helmet and got straight back on and headed off into the traffic determined not to be afraid. I whizzed off ahead of Toby so had to pull over and wait for bit, noticing the bike kept cutting out, Did this for a while which was a little disconcerting but then used some choke and it was fine again. The plan was to travel down the Everglades and camp around there somewhere but the traffic was soooooo bad it took over 2 hrs just to get to the outskirts of the City, and by now it was dark. We rode for about 3hrs in total then went to find a hotel of somewhere to stay as we were both knackered. The first hotel was fully booked and the second (next door) was charging $169 plus tax for a double - bloody terrible but we just had to take it cause neither could ride any more especially in the dark and traffic.The room was average and i really couldn't understand why it was so expensive. We both couldn't get the water taps to work in the sink so rang up reception who sent up a really nice bloke to sort it out. We had been sooooo stupid ! he just walked straight in and turned the thing on, not as simple as left and right. He then explained the area was having a huge car racing event going on which is why so many people were on the road and the fact that all accommodation in the whole surrounding area was taken by the fans,. we were lucky to find the room we had. Also explains why it was so expensive,. they double the cost - not such good timing. But then if we had carried on traveling we certainly wouldn't have found a place to stay........ maybe we should have left the next day first thing in the morning. I poured a hot bath whilst Toby purchased some crappy MacDonald's - i had a salad leaving Toby to eat 2 big mac meals! Had an early night feeling like i had done 3 rounds with Mike Tyson.

 

Sunday 16th November 2003 Boyds Campground, Stock Island, Florida Keys

Had the crappiest breakfast ever. This hotel has been such a rip off. Never mind we didn't have much choice. We headed off and I hoped that Sarena would be feeling a little more confident on her bike now. The riding is pretty easy, its all straight lines and hopefully a lot less traffic lights from now on. The only problem is the 25 mph winds, not enough to effect a big bike like these but makes the ride a little more tiring. We passed through Homestead pretty quickly and continued south to the Keys. The first section to Key Largo was very windy but as soon as we turned west to begin our drive along the Keys we had the wind behind us and a really enjoyable cruise 100 odd miles to Key West. Saw our first road kill on the way... A couple of bloated raccoons and a squashed cat. Also made my own road kill when a wasp type thing embedded itself in my arm. Its stinger stayed in and my arm began to swell straight away. Being a tough Biker though I just pulled it out and kept going without even a wobble on the bike! After a couple of hours we made it top 7 mile bridge. That was pretty amazing to ride along so we stopped the other side for a few photos. A couple of miles on I looked in my mirror to find Sarena stopped at the side of the road. She had ran out of fuel. Luckily she had a reserve switch on her bike which gave her enough juice to get to a garage. By 3:30 we had arrived in Key West - very knackered. Stopped at a corner store for some drink and Wild Bills beef jerky and then went in search for a campsite. The only one in Key West itself is horrible, very very expensive and they expect you to pitch the tent on gravel. So we ended up having to drive just out of town a little. Found two campsites but I opted for the one with the swimming pool as I was desperate to jump in. It was actually in a great spot. We camped on the beach overlooking the Caribbean but the coral sand was only marginally more comfortable than the gravel option in Key West. As we are traveling light I only have a cotton sheet to sleep in so the softer the ground the better.

By the time we had set up camp, gone for a swim and a shower it was getting pretty late (and dark). So we chained Sarena's bike up and both jumped on my bike. We threw caution to the wind and left our helmets behind and cruised into Key West's old town to where the action is... Key West is a beautiful old colonial town which is now a booming tourist trap full of restaurants and Bars all brimming with activity and music. After cruising the high street trying to look as cool as possible we parked up and found ourselves a bar. Irish Kevin's was pretty lively so we popped in to find an English comedian doing his act (a cross between Roy Chubby Brown and Jethro). He was good fun and helped my Budweiser go down. We where a bit stuck for cash as my card was tied up with the deposit on the Bikes, so we found a street seller and got a hot dog. That just made us more hungry so we managed to scrap the remains of cash from our New Zealand account and treated ourselves to a massive meal at the Hard Rock Cafe. Much to my pleasure we sat right next to one of Jimi Hendrix's Jackets. Sarena's diner was absolutely huge but she did a good job of making a dent in it. It is just so hard to get a normal sized meal in this place.

By about 11 our energy was all used up so we cruised back top the campground. The air was still warm and the sky clear. It was such a great feeling to be riding massive 1500 cc Harley Davidson's along the Caribbean coast with no helmet and looking up at the stars. Very very lucky!

Woke and went down stairs for B'fast which was just awful and even and plastic cutlery and paper plates - how they could charge that much for a room then give you cold coffee and paper plates and donuts is beyond me. We packed up the bikes and were on the road by 10am ready for another day of adventure, i was still really nervous but getting used to the bike and starting to enjoy myself. We decided to drive straight down to Key West and then do the Everglades on the way back up, just until the car racing thing was finished. The drive was amazing and the bridges leading out to the sea onto all the distance islands was amazing. Florida Keys is a whole bunch of islands in a line which they joined up with these huge bridges - pretty impressive stuff. The weather was hot and the sky was blue, the sea was aquamarine and beautiful. Everywhere you looked was something interesting and wonderful, the pelicans were in abundance and would just hover next to the side of the bridge. You could almost reach out and touch them - they are such big birds. The towns had the usual tacky stuff but somehow didn't look wrong or too ugly, it was all just lovely. We finally made it all the way down to the last island and had a drive around the town looking for campsites which we new were around the area. The town was lovely and full of huge white colonial houses now been turned into hotels or restaurants with grand gardens and wonderful shops and interesting stalls. The whole place was buzzing with life, people just got around on push bikes or mopeds and were all just so laid back and relaxed. We rode down to the harbour where there was a campsite but they were charging $50 just to park your tent on some gravel so we declined and found another park just outside the town which was cheaper but not nice at all. So on we rode until finding a campsite we liked which was still a little expensive but a nice spot. It must have been around 6pm by the time we got the tent up and and had a shower, both gasping for a cold beer. We took one bike back into town both with no helmets which felt really nice.
Spent the evening in a couple of bars, one of which had an English guy singing dirty songs and just being crude, he was quite funny but did play on the American soldiers and the boys fighting over on the other side of the world, ranted about Saddam etc. This got all the Americans riled up and hooting and cheering which was the aim, i think. We then listened to a young lad called Paul who sang a few songs, the crowd were really getting into the whole thing - a lot more outgoing and fun filled than the English people. After a couple of beers we went and had a walk around. the place is fantastic at night time, full of bars with live music and many cafes and restaurants We decided on some dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe and ordered a starter for one person so we cold share , only for it to come out the size of a small continent! how they can say that was for one person i don't know. Actually that is something i have noticed whilst being here is the amount of food everywhere, the quantity, portions, fattening foods everywhere. You go into the shop and you can get any kind of salad dressing and toppings for waffles and pancakes, peanut butter with jam mixed in or chocolate spread. You really can get anything and they have very little healthy food.

less of the ranting......

The salad i had then ordered was ridiculous in size and after spending 30mins eating the thing it still hadn't looked like it had been touched..... so i had to leave it. We cruised back to the campsite on the bike which was wonderful, looking up at the stars on a warm night whilst sitting on the back of a Harley, wind blowing your hair - dream come true for me.

Monday 17th November 2003 Long Pine Key, Everglades

Rained a little in the night, but when we got up the sky was clear. So we headed back to Key West for a ride around the town in the daylight. Sarena left her bike at the campsite and jumped on the back of mine. First stop was the southern most point of Continental USA. A completely pointless place to visit bit something I had to do seeing as we have traveled so far. As soon as we had got some black clouds moved over and we raced the rain to the centre of the old town to find somewhere for breakfast. The rain beat us. Didn't get too wet though and it wasn't cold so I actually felt pretty refreshed. We drove right to the end of the old colonial high street and stopped off at Papa John's for some breakie. The rain showers came and went pretty quickly, but we found a long enough break to cruise the street and take some photos.

We then headed back to the campsite to find that the rain hadn't passed over this part of the keys, but as we arrived a huge black cloud was looming nearer. We raced to the tent and got everything packed up just as the first few drops started to fall. The rain ended up falling until 12:30 so we hung around at the campsite for a clear break and then headed back out of the Keys. We where very lucky only to hit a couple of spots of rain but they did fee like needles as we cruised through them. Driving through the Keys takes a lot longer than I imagined so we took a break half way along at a place called Marathon for a slice of famous Key Lime Pie. It was just like a flan type thing with lime and meranguine and a fit sickly for me. Sarena liked it though, but not enough to finish my slice so I forced it down and we fired up the Iron horses and continued on our merry way.

By 4 we where back in Homestead, so we stopped for some gas and supplies for tea and then took a short ride west into Everglades National park. As soon as we entered the park it became a dream to ride. No rain, clear open roads with a few bends with visible exits, no wind and great scenery. Unfortunately it was only 6 miles to the campsite, but good news for tomorrows riding. At the campsite we where immediately greeted by a huge swarm of friendly mosquito's (pretty much expected in a hot swamp land). and immediately covered ourselves with our supper strength 'Bushman' repellent. and set the tent up. By the time we had done that and eaten our wholesome garage sandwiches the sun was setting and there wasn't much for us to do except settle down for the night. Fortunately this time the tent was on soft grass rather than hard coral so I was hoping for a better nights sleep.

Had a terrible nights sleep.

Looked a bit rainy and windy when we got up so just took one bike back into town for a last look around and some b'fast. It did start to rain which isn't good, i hate riding in the rain with the slippery roads. We went and had our picture taken down at the furthest most point of Continental USA then went back to the campsite and quickly packed away the tent before it started tipping down over our campsite. We went and sat in the games area watching the weather channel for half an hour waiting for the rain to ease off, which it did luckily. We then hopped on the bikes around midday and started making tracks to the Everglades. The weather got a lot better the further out of town we got, but the wind was dreadful and it took all my strength just to hang onto the bike, especially on the bridges!

On the way we stopped off at one of the many many places that sold the famous Key Lime Pie so we could say we had tried some - it was bloody lovely but a little sickly. Back in Homestead we stopped for some fuel and some supplies then headed into the National Everglades park where we found ourselves a wonderful camping ground and pitched our tent for the night. The park was wonderful, on way through i saw so many herons and egrets and some dear. The sun was just starting to set and the wind had died down so it was perfect riding conditions, peaceful and no other cars.

Lots of mosquito's though much to our disgust, managed to give us a few bites before donning our bushman repellent. We watched the sun go down over the swamps whilst eating our sandwiches then Toby went into the tent whilst i watched the stars come out before joining him.

Tuesday 18th November 2003 Clay Hotel, South Beach, Miami

Woke to an amazing sunrise and less mosquito's although one attached itself to my face as soon as I popped my head out of the door. Sarena was up a few minutes later and we just jumped onto our bikes leaving everything in the tent and cruised for 40 miles down through the Everglades to the fishing port of Flamingo. The roads where empty and the sky was blue, it was a great feeling to ride without our helmets and I even managed to get some good shots of Sarena in action on her bike.

Not actually that much in Flamingo, except a restaurant that does the best buffet breakfast I have had in ages. It was set up on stilts and overlooked the Gulf of Mexico and the Everglades, a pretty good spot! After filling our bellies and Sarena filling her day pack with food we turned around and took a slower ride back to our campsite. This time we stopped at a few side spots with views across the swamps and ponds. Didn't see any Alligators but there where loads of Coots, Herons and Egrets.

Packed up the tent, loaded the bikes and headed out of the park. Just outside we stopped at an Alligator farm. Not really to see the Alligators but to take a ride on an Airboat (Gentle Ben Styleeee!) The Alligators where actually pretty cool too. Some where massive and we arrived just in time for a feeding. The 'Feeder' was a little blazé and dropped his cap on the ground, it was immediately snapped up by a big ole gator which started a wrestling match which the gator was always going to win. Quite funny to watch though. The Airboat ride went on for about 20 minutes first it went slowly along a main river that was jammed pack with Alligators and the ugliest turtles I have every seen. The weren't afraid of the boat at all and in fact all seemed to swim up to it. The turtles had big snorkel like noses and small beady eyes. After a while the airboat turned from the river onto some reed swamp land. The driver gave us all some cotton wool for our ears and cranked the fan up. We then went for a skim across the swamp twisting through the reeds and doing a few spins It wasn't exactly adrenaline inducing stuff but great fun and the driver was very funny.

After the Airboat we caught the snake show, Sarena loves snakes so she wouldn't miss it. The show went on for about 10 minutes but with the constant distraction of a couple of tortoises humping in the enclosure behind us (the male tortoise was very verbal about it all). The final snake was an albino python which the 'cap-less' guide passed into the audience so that we could all have a go at holding him. And pretty damn heavy he was too.

By the time we had finished at the 'Gator farm the time was getting on so we choose the windy freeway to take us all the way back into Miami, This was a much quicker route but we ended up having to stop at a couple of Tolls on the way, this is pretty annoying in bikes when you have to stop and fish around for change. Got back to our hostel at 3:30, checked in and dumped our bags and then headed back to the bike shop to return the Hogs. It was sad to hand them back, I think I might add a Fat Boy to my christmas list!

Met up with everyone back at the Hostel and spent the evening sitting around chatting. Most of them went out partying at midnight so we retired to bed although didn't get any sleep until about 2, must be buzzed from my Hells Angel experience.

What a beautiful morning, the sun was shining and not a cloud in the sky! A few mossies though giving us a couple more bites to add to our collection. We got dressed and left everything in the tent then jumped onto our bikes and roared off down the road for a 40 mile journey to Flamingo Bay where they had a few lodges and a hotel, for b'fast. Sarena cruising the Everglades (1,336 kb). The journey was fantastic and it was great to have no lids and no bags on our backs. The roads were empty and i just fell in love with the Everglades, such a wonderful and peaceful place. We passed so many birds and animals just bimbling around, also hit quite a few big insects which hurt like hell when whizzing along and they whack you in the face.

We finally found Flamingo which really didn't have much there but did have a fab place for b'fast - buffet style, fatal as we were both very hungry. I did manage to pack a load of fruit and donuts in my bag for later before heading back to the campsite. Stopped off on the way to look at an eco pond which was beautiful and had a whole flock of white herons sitting in a tree looking like huge flowers. We packed up the tent then back on the bikes again, this time with helmets and headed to just outside the National Park to an Alligator park. We first went and watched the feeding of these monsters - they were the biggest ones i had ever seen! The feeder man went into the enclosure with all of them, must have been at least 150 of the buggers all laying around on the shore or wallowing in the water. The only thing he went in with was a large stick which he would tap on their backs and get them moving into the water. He then fed them some chicken portions but as he had his back turned an alligator came up behind and stole his cap which he had left on the floor. He jumped on the beasts back and tried to wrestle the hat out of his mouth but the alligator wasn't having any of it and nearly dragged him into the water. No way was the man getting his hat back!

We then went for an airboat ride, the boat carried about 20people at a time. It was a gentle ride to begin with so we could see all the turtles that were swimming around in the river, they had little hooked noses and were very funny looking. Saw lots of alligators and birds. The guide, who was really funny then took us off onto one of the side streams and started to speed up. It wasn't a scary ride at all but good fun and a little wet as he did a few spins.

After the boat ride we went to the snake show where the same guy who fed the alligators showed us a few snakes and to try to teach us a little about them. It seems it's very very easy and common to buy baby snakes in a pet shop then the owners realise they can't cope with them when they get bigger so let them out in the back garden - mmmmm that sounds sensible. Now they are wondering why the family pets and small children are going missing because these snakes are eating the buggers,. why don't they change the law so you can't buy and sell snakes from a corner pet store? The last snake he showed us was a wonderful albino Python who was just the most beautiful creature, I held her and couldn't believe how strong and powerful she was, would an awful why to die being squeezed to death by her.

We said our thanks then rushed back to the bikes and headed back to Miami so we could drop our bikes back, not that either of us wanted to - maybe we could just post them home....

dropped them off with no hassle then walked back to the hostel and spent the evening sat outside with a load of others including the 3 UK girls from my room and the Irish gals who were very loud, funny and friendly. I cooked some dinner then we both drank a few cold corona's and had a good evening watching everyone else get drunk before they all headed out to a club and we went to bed.

Wednesday 19th November 2003 Clay Hotel, South Beach, Miami

Couldn't stay asleep so got up early and started to Sort out travel plans for the US. I am actually enjoying it here but it is very expensive compared to most of the other places we have traveled so we need to be a bit more careful. Yesterday I saw some good deals on car hire which meant that maybe we could travel to Dallas cheaper then catching buses. But Today is the start of the High Season so all the prices have tripled. Bugger, I spent the morning going to several different Car Rentals but they have all upped their rates. Looks like we will have to use the buses after all. So I moved our flight to Costa Rica to the 11th of December which gives us a bit of extra time in the States and then phoned home.

Spent the afternoon catching up with my diary and generally being reclusive and getting on Sarena's nerves as much as possible.

Didn't get to sleep until 2am just reading and enjoying having the room to myself for a couple of hours. The girls didn't get back in until 5am and were actually very quiet. I didn't wake up until near 10am feeling a little groggy, so went out looking for Toby but couldn't find him anywhere so i went and bought some B'fast and sat down to eat when he walked around the corner. Seems he had been out sorting out tickets and transport for the next few days - he is very organised. But he was in a foul mood so we just did our own things for the rest of the day, meeting up now and then for a quick scowl. I did my dairy and then found out why he was in a foul mood - i hadn't said thank you properly for the having the bike - sorry.

Thursday 20th November 2003 Clay Hotel, South Beach, Miami

Booked a train to Orlando for tomorrow. Every one at the Hostel has said don't go near the Greyhound buses as they are pretty bad. Spent most of the rest of the day reading and chatting to various people at the Hostel. Dan the Clairvoyant had loads of useful tips for when we get to New Orleans (N'Awlines) so looks like we will be having loads of fun there. Sarena did her own thing for most of the day.

Sat around the Hostel in the evening drinking Corona's and talking to more people. This place as the most mix of people I have come across. A lot of them are totally mad and very annoying, but there are enough sane interesting people to keep us amused for the night.

Sat and read around by the kitchen area for a lot of the day occasionally talking to Mathew and Dan who would come and sit for a while. Toby was still in a foul mood which was made even worse when he went up to the internet cafe and i said i would come and meet him a later. We had crossed info though and i went to the wrong internet place and thought he had already left when i couldn't see him. I went back to the hotel where he turned up 15mins later demanding to know why i didn't turn up! this made him really uptight so we decided to just stay apart for most of the day so that i couldn't annoy him any more. I went for walk along the beach and took in the last sights of Miami before having to leave on Friday.

Went to sit on my own in the afternoon to do some more reading only to be joined by the maddest bloke.......... he started off by making some sense about work etc and then started talking about sex and how he shaved his pubes, had threesomes with his ex girlfriend and how everyone should have an open relationship. He then thought i was giving him 'the sign' and wanted to show me how he had made a tent out of his bunk bed............mmmmm i don't think so! i walked off and made my excuses and leaving him to annoy someone else with his crap. Turns out to be one of the many mad Americans we have met whilst being in Miami - most people are very outspoken and open and don't seem to have any qualms about being loud and verbal outside or just in public, something the English just aren't very good at, which is also an annoying trait as we come across as snobby and unfriendly.

Did loads of washing which we were both desperate to do after the biking trip then spent the evening just sitting around and drinking Corona's having a laugh with the rest of the inmates.

Friday 21st November 2003 Palmlake Resort, Orlando

Been in Miami for long enough now SO I am quite glad that we are moving on. The train leaves at 10:30 but the station is a good hour away so we ended up checking out by 8:30 to catch a bus. Actually arrived at Amtrak Station at 10. So didn't have to wait long before we had to board our train. It was amazing. The seats where huge, comfortable and very reclinable with loads of leg room and airplane style tables. There is even a power socket which I took advantage of for most of the 5 hour trip to Orlando and caught up with my diary. Grumpy old Sarena was getting irritated with everything I did or maybe I was intentionally Irritating her, sometimes it just comes so naturally to me. Anyway we arrived in Orlando at about 4:30.

The main thing about the States so far is that information about public transport seems to be very sparse or confusing. Instead they have these 'rip-off' shuttle vans waiting at every station or airport. So we got ripped off and ended up at Palmlake Resort and Hostel. It was recommend by us from a friend in South Beach and is basically an older style Motel. It is run by a young guy, AJ, and is very friendly, we got a good deal for a weeks rent and got a private room. Cool. AJ gave us lots of tips as did some other guests including Shasel who offered us a lift to Downtown DIsney in the morning. We where then directed to a 'Locals' bar across the road as we where dying for a drink. It is called the Big Bamboo Bar, and has got to be the best, most friendliest bar we have been in since we have left the UK. The Beer was cheap and it was packed full of locals. Most of the locals seem to work for Disney and we met loads of cool people. One guy, Tom, was celebrating starting a new job. He was very friendly and ended up offering a free pass into Disney world on Sunday, amazing. He then bought us drinks and him and his friends amused us for the rest of the night. We also met a very passionate guy called Steve who talked endlessly about Politics and how much he loves Tony Blair!!! and a really sweet girl called Cheryl who is an animator for Disney. She invited us to a Thanksgiving party on Sunday too. Looks like we will be having a very busy day. Ended up getting a few more drinks bought for us and skipping eating all together. A very good night!

Woke up early and had a quick B'fast with Toby who was now in a much better mood. Then finished packing and checked out of the hotel and walked up to the bus stop to catch the bus to the train station. The journey took over an hour and made me feel extremely nauseous, curdled coffee and natural yogurt - ain't a good mix!

Checked in our bags then sat and waited to board the train for 15mins then gathered our stuff and were shown on board. The train had to be the nicest one and have ever been on, we had so much leg room and could put the seats right back, even had a socket for the computer. Unfortunately it is my time of the month so even Toby's breathing was irritating the hell out of me................

The ride was great and we soon arrived in Orlando and couldn't work out the best way to get to our hostel as the bus routes were all just too confusing so ended up catching the shuttle bus which was a mini van that charges the earth. After driving around for hours dropping everyone off (we were the last as usual) we finally arrived at the Palmlake resort which looked like a motel type place. The owner wasn't around so we sat and chatted for a while to a couple of regulars, one of them was an Indian guy called Shasel who was very friendly and offered to drop us off at Down Town Disney in the morning where he worked. We sat and chatted staying there until AJ turned up. Turns out the place is great and has a fully equipped kitchen and a huge garden with pool backing onto a lake. We got given a discount for a room for the week and was so much cheaper that Miami. We dumped our bags in the room then quickly got changed to pop over the bar for a drink, as JC said it was a really cool place to go. The bar was fantastic and was jam packed full of atmosphere and fun. There wasn't an inch of space that wasn't filled with something, whether on the wall or ceiling and was full of locals all seeming to have fun. The bar just looked like a run down old bungalow from the outside and really didn't fit in with the rest of the area at all. The roads are lined with neon lights advertising steak houses and grills and every kind of food or bar, anything your heart desires basically. Not a place for healthy people! Anyway this little bar was sort of set back in with some trees and turns out that not many people no about the place apart from the Disney crowd who frequent the bar. So it turns out the place is full of people who work at Disney and are having leaving parties or b'day parties.

I got talking to a lovely older guy who was sat next to me at the bar and was traveling around in a big trailer thing and was a real sweety. He seemed to know just about everybody else in the place and introduced us to a guy called Thomas who was having a leaving bash. He turns out to be an absolute sweetheart who entertained us all for the whole evening, introducing us later to his friend and client, Kerry who was up for a good evening! We ended up having so much fun that we didn't bother with dinner and just stayed for a few more hours. We also got chatting to a guy called Steve who talked politics non stop and a girl called Cheryl who laughed all the time and invited us over for thanksgiving! Tom had told us to go to Disney on Sunday and he would sign us in on his pass so we didn't have to pay! how nice are these people...... you could just turn around and start chatting to everyone and they would all be just so happy to talk and get to know you.

We didn't end up leaving until 11.30 with lots of hugs all round and said we would meet up with Tom on Sunday morning then went back across the road where we fell into bed.

Saturday 22nd November 2003 Palmlake Resort, Orlando

Shasel from the Hostel had agreed to give us a lift to Downtown Disney in the morning as he works there. He forgot though that he doesn't work on Saturday. So we ended up getting pretty early with a slight hangover for nothing. Well not quite nothing... A mad old lady from San Diego who talked constantly about nothing offered us a lift into town. So we took it. Haven't a clue about what she talked about on the 20 minute car ride, something to do with old roads that go to nowhere!!! She dropped us off outside the Information Center where we ended up buying 2 tickets to Universal Studios and jumping on the free Tram (today only). It was a mile walk from the tram to the theme park and we got there about 11. Sarena has not been to any of these kinds of Park before so they are probably going to be a bit tame compared to what she is imagining.

Our first attraction was the Twister sound stage. Basically it recreated a Tornado ripping through a small town. It was very well done, apart from the plastic cow flying in front of us on a rope. Next we did the Jaws trip. Full of big plastic Sharks and overacting! Then it was Men in Black - Alien Attack. A themed shooting range where you are transported though a city street overrun by aliens. Obviously I got a score twice as high as everyone else. Next was the Back to the Future Ride which I have done twice before in California but its still pretty good. The Terminator 2 3-D battle across time was amazing. It was the first time I have been to a 3-D cinema before and I was very impressed at the effects. Similarly Shrek 4D was nearly as impressive, the story line and the jokes where just as good as the film though so it was well worth seeing. By the time we had rushed through these it was 4 O'clock and time to head home. This took longer than we thought as the Bus routes in Orlando seem pretty crappy. We have to catch 5 different buses just to get 15 miles back to our Hostel. About half way back we got tired of waiting for buses that seem to take ages to arrive so ended up jumping in a Taxi.

Sarena cooked up a wonderful Curry/Stir fry type thing and whilst buying the ingredients at the Supermarket she found an English section. I immediately rushed back over there and purchased myself a jar of Marmite. Yum Yum. Dinner was very filling and it wasn't long before I conked out for the night.

Got up early to meet up with Shasel for 8am so he could give us a lift to Down Town Disney, but at 8.30am he still hadn't turned up. AJ thought that maybe he had forgotten it was Sat morning and wasn't working so we ended up getting a lift up to the info centre with an older lady who was working at the Disney Convention that was on. We waved our goodbyes in the car park after dropping us off feeling exhausted at her talking non stop for the whole journey and not understanding a work of what she was saying. We walked into the info centre just for some ideas and times but ended up buying a ticket to Universal Studios for that day. We then caught the bus and walked for a bit, walking into the gates at around 11am and raring to go.

I won't go through the whole day as Toby has written about the rides and what we did, but i will say i have never seen so many fat people and family's in my whole life - it was a real eye opener. The park didn't seem to have any healthy food restaurants so everyone had to eat burgers and chips, candy etc.

It was an impressive place though and really good fun, the way it was built and the whole street sets were very good. We spent the day going from one thing to the next (see Toby's diary) all of which were very tame and not scary at all so i was getting itchy to do something a bit tummy turning but they were all 3D and animatronics stuff. Did get to see Shrek though which made me instantly think of our Friend, Beau so had my photo taken with him - thats for you Mate!!

By 4pm we were both tired and wanted to get back so caught the bus which ended up to be a confusing mess so caught a taxi which was expensive but so much easier.

I went and bought some food for dinner and managed to cook up a fab dinner. Toby went to bed at 8.20pm whilst i managed to stay up until 10.30pm with a bottle of white and got talking to a guy staying at the hostel who also worked for Disney and said he had a pass to get us in for free if we wanted........ great another day for free, what with Toms free pass as well. I also got talking to a friend of AJ's who was passing through and owned a few clothes outlets and wanted me to do some modeling for him ( i get paid and keep some clothes) gosh we are doing well !!

 

Sunday 23rd November 2003 Palmlake Resort, Orlando

Theme Parks again today. Where meant to get to the Gates of Disney MGM park by 9 to meet up with our new friend (and holder of the golden tickets) Tom. But unfortunately I discovered Marmite in the local supermarket so ended up having and extended breakfast. Got to the park at 10 instead. Sent a page to Tom and then 'as if by magic' he appeared at the gates and give us a couple of special passes. These passes you can't buy as they are 1 day park hopper tickets. Cool. We thanked him and then 'as if by magic' he disappeared again. Looks like the start of a 'Magical Day'. First stop was the locker room and then we started our tour in DIsney World.

Started our experience at the Indiana Jones show. This was a stunt show with loads of explosions and big scenery changes. Its very impressive - how much then can fit in a show in just 30 minutes. Then we got our fast pass ticket for the 'Twilight Zone Tower of Terror' and Sarena decided she wanted some lunch. Sarena had said before that when she gets to Disney World she is going to join in with all the cheesy stuff, but just 2 hours at the park and she is annoyed by all the screaming kids and fat tourists (what did she expect!) so we found shelter at a restaurant where we got half an hours solitude. The Tower of Terror was pretty cool. Just queuing up is an experience as all the themeing is so well done. Not that we had to queue up for long as the Fats Pass meant we could skip right to the front. Once at the front you are hustled into one of many available lifts and 'taken to your room' unfortunately the lift ends up in the twilight zone where randomly strange things happen before you are inevitably bounced up and down the lift shaft several times. It was really good especially as each ride can potentially give you a completely different experience - who knows what's in the twilight zone!!!

After that we did the more sedate Studio back lot tour where we first saw some recreations of special effects used in Pearl Harbour and then jumped on a train that took us around some working sound studios ending in Catastrophe Canyon where we nearly get doused in fire and water (but not quite). Next we got shrunk to the size of an ant on the 'Honey I Shrunk the kids Movie Set' unfortunately there where still a lot of people a lot smaller than us there so we didn't hang around for very long. Then we boarded a Star Wars transporter to the Moon of Endor. Things went a bit wrong during hyper space though so we had to do some dodging and shooting before returning to our take off point. Space travel is tricky business! Finally we took a ride of Aerosmith Rock and Roller Coaster. The Boys gave us backstage passes and a lift in their Limo which ended up blasting us around the skyline of Los Angeles and twisting us upside down. By the time we had done all that it was 4 pm. So we decided to miss out the more sedate rides that where left and headed over to Disney's Epcot Theme park.

Took an hour to get to Epcot. And our first task was to get a Fast Pass for Mission:Space a brand new space flight simulator. Then we took a walk around World Showcase which is different areas representing different countries. We went straight to the UK where we found a Harry Ramsdon Fisn n Chip shop. It wasn't quite value for money but damn good Fish N Chips, so we sat in a tiny English Garden to eat them where we where joined by an English Family who sat on the bench opposite and complained.. Just like home. We then took a brief walk around the other Nations just as it got dark. Made it around the lake just in time to catch the 'Honey I shrunk the Audience' show, this was another 3D film where we had large people, rats, snakes, and dogs coming out of the screen at us. By 7 most of the attractions where closed, I did a few kiddies rides, One in Mexico and one in Norway and then we could get our ride at Mission:Space. Basically they put you on one of those spinning gyro thingies that you always see Astronauts train on. Except this one is fully enclosed and themed like a space capsule with all the pilots controls and a big video screen. WIth no bearing to the outside world, the screen displays images that confuse your orientation. We went through the lunch procedure, weightlessness, Luna Orbit, Hyper sleep and a Mars Landing. Obviously I don't know what all this would feel like in real life, but it felt very realistic to me. The weightlessness was amazing.

After Mission:Space we had 15 minutes to get back to the main lake and watch the famous Illuminations Fireworks and Laser show. It was pretty cool and well worth staying until 9 to watch even if one of us was getting pretty tired and grumpy - just like a kiddy winkle ;).

Made it to the Hostel by 10.30 where we pretty much went straight to bed.

Wahey another day of parks! had a really big B'fast with us eating tons of marmite that Toby had found in the supermarket - yummy yummy

Caught the bus to MGM and then paged Tom to say we were at the gates. 10mins later he comes down all suited and booted and gets us into the park so with big thanks and hugs all round we arrange to meet up later in the week then let him get back to work whilst we investigate the park.

This one had a lot more adventurous rides within it which we soon found ourselves on, the Tower of Terror was really good and so was the roller coaster - still not the worst i have been on though. I did start getting a headache during the day not helped by thousands of kids with foul manners talking to their parents like shite and me wanting to run them all over. Lots of queuing in this place but if you used the fast pass system, which we did, it saves a hell of a lot of time.

Once again the whole lay out and building of the park was fantastic - yes cheesy and plastic but not all bad. I had promised Toby i was going to get into the whole cheese thing, but could do nothing but moan about the tantrum kids, fat parents, amount of bad food, and people wearing whole disney outfits to the park. Some had denim shirts and shorts, T-shirts, disney shoes, jewellery, handbags etc and you just knew they wore this out all the time.

How horrible am I, i tried my best but the headache was persistent and i was feeling hormonal and tired. Toby said to pop to Epcot which the pass Tom had given us would also get us in for free. We went and phoned Cheryl leaving a message saying we couldn't make it for Thanksgiving, just didn't have the time do it all but said we would catch up again soon. We then caught a bus taking us to Epcot which i found to be the best so far. This was a little less cheesy and a lot bigger and spaced out thus not running into so many tantrum kids.

We got ourselves a fast pass to Mission Space which we weren't allowed to use for another 3 hrs so went and had a look at the Country areas. This was part of the park which they had built different parts depicting different countries. So they had England and Japan, Mexico, Morocco etc, first port of call was to the England area and we found a whole village with streets and pubs and a harry ramsdon chip shop. Couldn't ask for much more than that, grabbed ourselves some fish and chips and went to sit in the little English garden filled with lavender and privet hedges. It was brilliant and once again built really cleverly. We soon moved onto the other Countries which were just as fascinating but by now was getting dark so really couldn't see as much as we wanted. Spent the next couple of hours walking around and taking the whole place in, it was lovely at night time though with all the lights and the huge lakes and water fountains and waterfalls all lit up.

Toby wanted to stay until 9pm so we could see the fireworks that they have at the end of everyday and supposed to be amazing but i honestly could have gone home there and then i was that knackered. We hadn't stopped walking for 9hrs by now and my back was killing me. We did manage to get onto the Mission Space ride at 8.15pm using our fast pass, it was extremely clever and the feeling of weightlessness was great.

We did see so much more but Toby has gone into detail so won't repeat the whole day for you again!! At 9pm they set off the fireworks, and yes it was spectacular and we all ooed and aaaahed, then all ran to the entrance to get the monorail then train back to home. Didn't get back until 10.30pm and both collapsed into bed.

 

Still need to find some scary rides though!!

Monday 24th November 2003 Palmlake Resort, Orlando

Great to have a bit of a lie-in. At 9 I popped back over to the supermarket to top up our breakfast supplies. This time I found proper British Weetabix's, Cool Weetabix's and marmite for breakfast just like the old days back in blighty.

Had a quiet morning updating my diary and annoying Sarena who is trying desperately to finish her reading her current book. We then took a walk up the road to a themed Crazy Golf course... Congo River... This used up a couple of hours. For the evening we went back over to the Big Bamboo. This time it was a lot quieter so luckily we took Shasel and a few others from the Hostel.

No theme parks today so had a lay in until 9am then had a monster b'fast of toast and marmite then didn't do much for most of the morning but read my book which i have to say is one of the best i have ever read. In the afternoon we went and played adventure golf just up the road, turns out to be a huge place made to look like the congo with lots of rope bridges, rivers and waterfalls. That passed a few hours before heading back to the hostel where i wrote my diary then had salad for dinner and a few pints over the bar opposite with a few people from the Hostel and i ended up trying the local specialty called the Big Bamboo - lethal.

Tuesday 25th November 2003 Palmlake Resort, Orlando

We have really 'Lucked out' on the free ticket front. Tom got us 2 free tickets for DIsney a few days ago and now another guy, Matt, who is staying at the Hostel and works for Disney has also got us 2 more free tickets. We met up with him at 10 and the 3 of us caught the bus and Ferry over to Magic Kingdom. We decided to visit this Disney park first. It is very much for the kiddies but seeing as we have come all this way we may as well have a go on some of the more frightening rides in the park. First task was to get a fast pass for Space Mountain and then we went straight for the Haunted Mansion ride. Not very scary but clever effects. Then we did Splash Mountain which was very good, it seemed to go on for ages with a huge drop right in the middle. Then we did the Pirates of the Caribbean which was also really good for the animatronics. By the time we had done these we where able to use our fast pass on Space Mountain, so we jumped right to the front of the queue for a spin around a roller coaster in the dark. Not much else in the way of decent rides in Magic Kingdom so we decided to head back over to Epcot for the rest of the day.

At Epcot we all went straight back to the UK pavilion and popped into the Rose and Crown for a nice refreshing pint of snakebite and sit down and listen to Pam the Pearly queen singing 'knees up mother brown' and playing the piano (both badly). Matt doesn't drink much so got drunk pretty much straight away. We spent the rest of the daylight hours visiting the different countries and then headed back to the Hostel. Shasel offered us some of his curry and then we headed to bed.

Met up with Mat who was also staying at the hostel and working for Disney which meant he could get us in for free - result! It was his day off as well but seemed keen on going in with us for the day. We all caught the bus in and didn't get to the park until 11ish, went to the Magic Kingdom first. We caught the ferry over with a million other people then spent the next 5hrs with a squillion kids and pushchair's and not a lot of space to walk. This park is obviously for the younger children so we bypassed some of the areas, did go on a roller coaster which wasn't scary at all and on the Haunted Mansion ride taken from the new film. Best one i thought was the Brear Rabbit water ride which had drop at the end of the ride, 5stories high and really gut wrenching - just my cup of tea..... ended up getting really wet. We all then went to Epcot (again) so that we could see some more of the park but in daylight. First place we went to was the English pub and bought a pint of snakebite each, which Mat got very drunk on, not being the hardened UK drinker. Walked around for a few more hours and just got time to see some more things before it got dark again then all decided to go back to the hostel for about 7.30.

Shasel had cooked a huge Indian cuisine which he offered to everyone, so had some authentic Indian food for dinner then went to bed once again exhausted

Wednesday 26th November 2003 Palmlake Resort, Orlando

Shasel is flying back to Chicago for the Thanksgiving holiday tomorrow. He works in Downtown Disney so we said we might meet him there at lunch time. We didn't, The bus service is very slow in Orlando (most people have cars) and we had to catch 3 buses to get to Downtown DIsney so it took us an hour longer than I had thought it would. We missed Shasel but spent the rest of the day there. Its all a very cheesy place mainly just shops selling Disney tack, we ended up at the Cinema though so bought a ticket to see the Haunted Mansion with Eddie Murphy. It was a kids film and really crap. After the film we went for a beer at the House of Blues and then took another walk around the town before going to see another film. The Missing was really good a cowboys and indian film which is pretty appropriate seeing as its Thanksgiving tomorrow.

Had a mediocre meal at the House of Blues and then went home.

Called Clare but no answer...

Made arrangements to meet up with Shasel in Down Town disney where he worked for lunch. By the time we had done some washing thought and messed around we didn't leave the hostel until late. We then caught the bus and went to the wrong stop so had to catch another bus which made us later. Didn't get to meet up with Shasel in the end which we felt really bad about so went to look for his place of work and still couldn't find him. Went and had a look around the rest of the park. This was more like a town with shops, restaurants, cinemas, bars etc, so we went and bought some tickets for 2 films. The first film was the Haunted Mansion which was pretty crap and the second was for The Missing which wasn't until 7pm so we went and had a couple of drinks at the Blues Bar. The second film was really good and well worth going to see.

Didn't come out until 9.30pm then went back to the Blues Bar for some dinner which wasn't all that impressive then caught a taxi home and to bed.

Thursday 27th November 2003 Palmlake Resort, Orlando

A great American holiday today. Thanks Giving.

It seems like a bigger family event than Christmas so I joined in the spirit of things and sat in the room and watched E.T and then James Bond. Instead of the Queen we had a speech from a guy called George W Bush. And that was most of the day gone. Aaron however had put on a Thanksgiving dinner in which a lot of other guests had contributed. (We supplied some ice cream - slack asses).

Even got the usual post christmas dinner bloatedness. It was a great meal with about 8 of us from the Hostel all sitting down together. There where Piles of Turkey and Ham left over so it looks like Dinner covered for tomorrow as well.

Happy Thanksgiving!...........

Rang Clare again but still no answer...

Weather had turned cold but still very sunny and blue skies but had to wear jeans instead of my summer attire. Aaron had bought loads of food and was putting on a Thanksgiving dinner in the evening for everyone which was extremely kind of him. Everyone pitched in and helped donating a few bits here and there then at 5pm we all sat down and had a fantastic dinner of honeyed ham, turkey, stuffing, veggies,. potatoes. corn, cranberry, gravy, salad...... and then an assortment of puddies It was bloody lovely and we all ate to the max especially CK, the Japanese girl who seemed to eat all day and was still eating her dinner 2hrs later! didn't have a late night, both feeling stuffed and tired

Friday 28th November 2003 Palmlake Resort, Orlando

Had to take a parcel to the post office. Due to the crappy bus service and me missing my stop this actually took nearly 6 hours! the rest of the day was spent recovering from this harrowing ordeal!

Once again didn't do much in the day or evening but vegged and read, just enjoyed the weather and the company.

Saturday 29th November 2003 Palmlake Resort, Orlando

Didn't have much planned for the day so ended up walking the neighbourhood for a store that sells nice new clean underpants that don't have holes in them. Ended up walking for miles and coming back (on the bus) not just with some Underpants but some new pair of jeans too. They are pretty cheap over here.

Gave our 'Orlando Savour', Tom, a ring in the afternoon and we all agreed to meet up at the Big Bamboo in the evening. Nikki who is also staying at the Hostel also aid she would join us so by 7 we had made it across the road and began sinking a few drinks. Nikki seemed a bit of an expert in drinking and first got Sarena downing an Irish Car Bomb and then got her on the very strong Long Island Iced Tea's for the rest of the Night. Tom was on great form and it was fun to meet up again, Some other familiar faces turned up later in the night too so we ended having quite a shindig. 2 Londoners also appeared. The have been coming here for 18 years and only just discovered this cool bar. Any way we lasted until 2 when we where chucked out of the Bar. and carried on to 3 when we had to chuck Nikki out of our room back at the Hostel.

Didn't do much all day but did spend a little time in the sun by the pool but got bored of that after 20mins and went back indoors for some book reading. Toby phoned Tom and organised to meet him over the Big Bamboo later on in the evening. It was Nicky's last day so she came over with us for some goodbye drinkies, getting me to drink 'car bombs' and ' long island tea' both of which were lethal. Tom came over at 8ish and it all got better from then on. More people came in the later it got, all of whom we had met on the first night of the Big Bamboo experience so had a good crowd and lots of fun. Nicky ended up getting quite pissed, i was ok for a change! also met an English couple who entertained us for a little while. Didn't get back until 2ish but Nicky came in our room for a while and we talked crap until 3 and i chucked her out.

Sunday 30th November 2003 Palmlake Resort, Orlando

WOke up feeling a bit muzzy but not to bad. Finished the last of my Marmite :( and then collapsed on the bed for another hour. At 11 we gave Tom a ring to see what he was up to. He said he would pick us up and we could grab some lunch and spend sunday afternoon chilling at his house. Sounds perfect.

Good ole Tom picked us up at Midday and took us to a TGI Fridays near his house. Perfect some big fat food can soak up the last of my hangover. Forceful old Tom collected the bill, he had no intention of letting us pay. We thanked him but didn't put up much of a fight as we guessed he would be stubborn on the matter. We should be getting his dinner seeing as how good he has been to us since being in Orlando. Never mind I have come to realise that there will always be a time to repay someone's kindness later on. Our first visit into an American home came as a bit of a surprise. Tom's flat mate, Gene, collects a unique range of minature town pottery. For christmas he sets up is collection to form the scene of a 1950's christmas town. It was massive and amazing. Every house and building was light up with a drive in movie and ski slopes. A very impressive collection and must be worth quite a fortune. Tom gave us a tour of the rest of the house. Supplied us with coffee and sat us in front of the TV where we relaxed in front of some typical Sunday Afternoon shows.

Just before Dark Tom gave us a lift back to the Hostel, but not before he managed to come up with another Ace. He found some complimentary tickets to Busch Gardens, which is a African wildlife theme park in Tampa. Looks like we have some plans for tomorrow. After arriving back at the Hostel he gave us a card and we thanked him for all his help and kindness over the last week. We made him promise that he would visit us back in England and then he sped off into the sunset. Sarena opened the card to find a really kind message and some money for us to have a drink. How amazing is this guy. I promise, Tom, that this cash will be spent very wisely on a big Bourbon drinking session in 'N-Awlins'. THANK YOU SO MUCH.

Didn't sleep a wink all night so couldn't wait to get up as soon as it got light and went for some coffee and b'fast. Tom came and picked us up at 1pm and took us out to TGI Fridays where we all gorged ourselves, Tom paid for all of us which we weren't expecting but very much appreciated. Then he took us back to his place which he shared with his best mate. He had told us how his house mate collected all this pottery called collection 56 which was set in the 50's but wasn't quite prepared for the Xmas ensemble which greeted us on entering. He had set up half of the lounge room with massive tables which he had then laid out his collection and made a whole town out of it all with snow and lights and Xmas trees etc. The whole thing was amazing and you really could have studied it for hour and still not seen everything. There were diners. theatres, snowmen, children. houses, churches the whole lot. Even had moving sledges and skaters!!! when we moved into the rest of the house there were still hundreds more of the collection, resting on shelves and cupboards, all buildings and houses which i thought were really nice, maybe a bit too many but i liked the design. Tom showed us around the rest of the house with huge bedrooms and a wonderful patio with pool covered in a massive net covering to stop them pesky insects in the summer. We spent the rest of the day chilling out and watching TV enjoying a terrible series called, ' For better or worse' where a group of mates and a wedding planner organise their friends big day - really addictive watching, whilst cringey at the same time. We decided to get home at about 6.30pm but not before Tom had dug out some free tickets to Busch Park saving us yet another fortune.

He dropped us back to the hostel and we had lots of hugs goodbye making him promise to stay in touch and to come and stay with us when he travels to the UK - make sure you do Tom! he then gave us a card and told us not to open it until he had gone. When he drove off i opened the card and $50 fell out!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! he had got us a wonderful goodbye card and some booze money -wishing us all the best, has to be one of the kindest things anyone has done

You really didn't need to do that Thomas, it was thoughtful and generous and so very sweet. Make sure you pay us a visit when in the UK so we can repay all your kindness and love you gave us.

Monday 1st December 2003 Palmlake Resort, Orlando

Our last visit to a theme park. We avoided Disney and caught a shuttle bus to Tampa to spend the day at Busch Gardens. Thanks again to Tom, as he also managed to get us some free tickets for this park too. By 11 we where in the park which is actually a kind of zoo as well. First we paid a visit to a few Chimps and Gorillas and then realised that this park is pretty empty. We ended up at a Rally ride where a ranger takes you through part of the African wilderness in a Land Rover. It was pretty good as we saw some cool animals, then the tour turned into a bit of a thrill ride as the bridge we drove over collapsed and left us floating down the river. After that excitement we grabbed some lunch and then started on all the attractions.

Haunted Lighthouse 4D was their attempt at a Disney style 3D film with added surprises, It was a bit weak and not up to Disney/Universal standards. The good thing though is that at Bush Gardens there are a lot more Adult type roller coasters. First was Scorpion - very sort and sweet. Then Kumba which was amazing, Then Python - tiny, Flume riding, Tidal wave drops, Bone Shakers, Hangy Upsidy downies and a choo choo train through the safari part of the park. We even fitted in a very clever bird show which featured a parrot that told a story and sung songs, and a massive condor flying around the audience.

By the time we had done all this it was time to find the shuttle bus for the 1 hour drive back to Orlando. First stop for me was BK and then we headed back to the Hostel to chill out for the evening.

Well we had our free tickets to Busch Park thanks to Tom so caught a shuttle bus from Old Disney, taking us nearly 2hrs to get to the park. Couldn't believe how empty the park was and how better it was all set out, a lot less cheesier and tacky then Disney. We first went to some of the Zoo section of the park taking in Gorillas and reptiles - the settings for all the animals were fantastic with plenty of space and very beautiful. I was like a small child taking in all the gardens, plants, birds, flowers and animals and was enjoying it so much more than the parks we had been to. We then went to try out a small roller coaster which was still quite scary but got us into the feel of it all. Then it was the water rides which we got soaked on, then the big roller coasters which i have to say was the best fun and really really gut wrenching - just what i was looking for! those things used to scare the shit out of me and i wouldn't step one foot in one but now i just love them. Spent the whole day on rides or looking at the animals, going on Safari around the 'Sarengeti' where all the animals roamed loose on huge areas of grass land made to look and feel like Africa.

The last ride of the day was a roller coaster, ranked in the top 3 coasters in the world so you can imagine what it was like and just how scary it was - my favourite.

Went to a bird show and got to see a huge Condor which flew over our heads giving us a close up of just how huge their wing spans are. Also got to see and hear a parrot which had been performing for 20years and was very very funny doing a routine with it's owner and sounded like a human.

The bus picked us up at 6pm giving us just enough time to do the whole park, even though i could have done it all again! When we got home Toby had a horrible Burger King whilst i had a salad then an early night feeling all tuckered out! thanks Tom..........

Tuesday 2nd December 2003 On a Train to New Orleans

Off on the road again today. We have had a very relaxing if slightly cheesy time in Orlando, but met some great people and hopefully some more lifelong friends. Had to take the god awful bus system to the train station, The buses themselves are not too bad its just the routes and timetables are pretty naff - most people use there own cars so there is not much call for public transport. We said goodbye to Aaron and the Hostel at 10:30 and sat on various buses for the next 2 hours until we got 20 miles up the road to the train station.

We caught train '1' which is an Amtrak train that goes all the way to Las Angeles. It left dead on time and was just as good as the last one we caught when we came up from Miami... Loads of leg room, comfy reclining seats and power sockets. Sarena bought herself a packet of Jolly Rancher sweets and so continued to annoy me and get hyperactive for the rest of the day. We used our time on the train to plug in the old laptop and catch up on the last few days of our diary. Met some crazy ole coot who talked and talked away haven't a clue what half of it was about but he wanted some advice about his PC and in turn gave us a love poem and his web site address (www.rlwagner.com) - strange!

Woke up early and went and had some b'fast and said goodbye to Shasel before he went off to work. Packed our bags and then went over to the supermarket to get some supplies for the train as food and drink is quite expensive on board. Caught the bus at 10.30am then transferred onto another bus which we stayed on for an hour and a half until our stop. Checked in our bags at the train station and then boarded the biggest train i have ever seen with 2 floors and a viewing car and settled down for the 20hr journey. ONce again i was so impressed with the train and it's facilities. The bathrooms even had a separate room to do all your pampering in. They had a snack car which sold beer and loads of snack foods with a seating area, a scenic car which had a glass roof and sides with seats facing outwards, and a proper dining buffet car that looked just like a posh restaurant inside. All seats had as much space as last time so you could just stretch out etc - not anything like BR.................... I ate loads of sucky sweets called Jolly Ranchers which i hadn't had since leaving home, and i love em! problem is they taste so good you can't help sucking them really hard which makes all the top of your mouth really sore.#

Toby got chatting to a very loud man who wrote poetry and wanted some info about computer stuff so i left em to it and went for a coffee but they were still at it when i got back. We ate most of the food we had bought then tried to get some sleep at about 8.30pm

Wednesday 3rd December 2003 India House Hostel, New Orleans

Got snapshots of sleep on the train. Every time I woke up we didn't seem to be moving and then later on in the morning we discovered that the train was 4 hours late. Nevermind at least its comfortable. Did my best to try and annoy Sarena for the rest of our time on the train.

By 2 we had disembarked the train and managed to work out the public transport system to get a couple of buses to the India House Hostel which is a couple of miles north of the French Quarter of New Orleans. The Hostel was an old colonial house (well two in fact) and seemed really nice despite the recent horror stories we had heard about it from people back in Orlando. Reed, the manager, checked us into an old wooden shack out the back for the same price as a dorm room, not sure if it was a bargain, but had a nice comfy bed and privacy so we where happy. Some shopping, eating and a shower later and I was feeling much more human although quite tired, So we decided to spend the evening at the Hostel with a bottle of wine.

Ended up spending the evening in a room with some musicians who had turned there dorm into a recording studio. We all drank Bourbon whilst they sat around and made up songs on the fly about anything they could see to read. It was pretty funny and some of it very clever. I wish I could still play guitar, Lots more practice needed for me. Got to bed about 1

Really didn't get any shut eye so i was glad to see the dawn coming up......... at 6am though a bloke next to us decided to switch his computer on and listen to some funny show thing full blast and piss himself laughing which woke everyone up in the carriage - nice.

The train ended up being 4 hours late which was a bit annoying, we then caught a couple of buses taking us to the India House hostel which we had heard mixed reports about. Some said it was really cool whilst some people had heard it was really dodgy and some person had been murdered etc. Though we would find out for ourselves, so trapesed on in and got a room for a few days. Reed, the manager took outside and gave us the 'shack' which was a snug wooden cabin which just had a bed and a light but it was fine. Unpacked our stuff and went for a look around the place and found it to be really very nice. Everyone was friendly and chilled so didn't take long to get chatting to a few people and feeling at home. We went up the supermarket and bought some provisions but ended up eating most of it outside the store in the car park, as we were both so very hungry.

The evening consisted up me drinking most of a litre and a half bottle of white then ending up in someone's room and listening to them jamming on guitar, harmonica, bongos, whilst an Kiwi guy sang all the quotes that were written on the wall from passing travelers - very cool.

 

Thursday 4th December 2003 India House Hostel, New Orleans

Didn't have much of a Lie in as Our wooden Shack is built right over a Turtle pond with running water so all night I kept wanting to pee. At breakfast we met up with 2 Aussie girls, Katherine and Patrice. So we arranged to go out and explore the French Quarter together.

Our first excursion was a boat ride on the Mississippi. Not much of a ride but free nonetheless as we caught the passenger very from the west bank to the east bank and back again. We where told not to get off on the Algiers side if you wanted to stay alive. New Orleans has a very high violent crime rate. After the river trip we walked through a couple of the usual malls before ending up on the (in)famous Bourbon Street. This is the party street of New Orleans. It was just who I imagined it to be, Packed if bars, clubs and cafes blaring out live music from Jazz, Blues, R&B and rock bands. Even at midday it was tempting people in to party. So we stopped in one bar for a quick Budweiser before carrying on up the street past Voodoo and Vampyre shops, Strip joints and more live music. It got us all in the mood for going out tonight.

We tried to find some cheap New Orleans Stylee food, but didn't stand a chance find anything of good value on Bourbon street so we headed to a different street and eventually found some reasonably priced food. I had a Jambalaya which is rice, shrimp, chicken and sausage. It was really nice, good and spicy. After the tucker we headed back to the hostel for a few hours to re-group before hitting the night life.

Katherine Cracked open a bottle of Barcardi and we where joined by 2 more Aussie girls, Courtney and Anna. We spent a good few hours drinking and I was just getting myself mentally prepared to escort 5 girls around New Orleans when 3 Aussie blokes turned up to give me a hand (although I don't think they where actually that interested in helping me), We headed out by 9:30 and went straight to Bourbon street. It was heaving. Courtney had got very pissed on the Bacardi so we all had to watch out for her a bit. The best thing about New Orleans is that you can drink on the streets so it was like a massive party. All the bars where overflowing, and the balconies of the colonial houses packed with revelers throwing beaded necklaces to people on the street. The necklaces are an old traditional method of paying for sex in New Orleans and still works today, although only between the tourists. The first bar we stopped in had a rock band in it. They where pretty average until a big hairy guy joined them up on stage. He had the gruffest voice and ended up blurting out old and new AC/DC. It was brilliant. It got me right in the mood which was probably helped by a waitress jumping on me with 4 test tubes of liquor in her mouth and pouring it down my throat. Obviously I had to pay for it after she got off me but at least I got a free T-Shirt! The band stopped for a break so we headed on to another bar. We had also met up with Marlin who plays Saxophone, he escorted us around the town. We said we anted to go somewhere for cheap beer, so he ended up taking us the the 7-Eleven, very funny, but it sure was cheap beer so we bought a carton and drank on the corner. The girls where just interested in going to party bars where I would of liked to see some Ole Time Jazz and Blues, but decided that would have to wait for another day.

Spent the rest of the night in another lively bar, Pissed Courtney disappeared which got us all worried, but we still carried on until the early hours...

Woke up with the most terrible headache and couldn't even lift my head off the pillow - why oh why............

Had some b'fast and met up with a couple of ozzy girls called Patrice and Catherine who were planning on going to the French Quarter for the day so we said we would join them. Reed came and swapped us out of our room into one that had a heater as the weather was getting colder - good move! We then all caught the bus into town and spent the next few hours walking around and taking in all the most wonderful sights, sounds and smells, what a fantastic place! Also all caught the free ferry over the Mississippi to the east side but were told not to bother getting off as it's a 'problem' area so just went back again. Bourbon Street, one of the most famous roads in the area was fantastic, completely full of cafes, voodoo shops, fetish shops, strips shows, restaurants, masks and beads. bars and clubs and very loud music from all directions - really cool. Wasn't long before we were all drawn into a bar offering 3drinks for the price of one. The music was incredibly loud so conversation was minimum but the beer went down well even for me with my now very bad headache. Katherine wanted to buy a pair of jeans so we all walked around for a while looking for some but to no avail so went and had some lunch instead trying our first bite of New Orleans food, lovely.

Catherine managed to purchase some jeans which were in the sale so even better! we then all went back and they all cracked open a bottle of Bacardiand a few more people from OZ and drank the lot. I didn't fancy drinking anything because of my hangover so couldn't get into the swing of things. Ended up being a really big crowd gathered in the kitchen as we had now been joined by Liam, Steve and John, Courtney and Anna. Courtney was already very drunk by 8pm and managed to fall over a few times so we were all a bit concerned at her going out and getting lost but she said she would be fine.......
All caught the bus into town and walked to Bourbon street which was packed with people many of whom were covered in beads and feather bowers, masks and costumes. Went to a bar for a few drinks and ended up listening to a live band who were absolutely fantastic and the lead singer looked just like Ozzy Osbourne and sang ACDC songs and sounded just like Brian Johnson - they were bloody fantastic. Unfortunately the rest of our group weren't into that type of music so wanted to move on so off we all trotted to find another bar. Marvin, who knew the area came the leader of our group of 10 and was asked to take us to a place selling cheap beer (unheard of on Bourbon Street) he ended up taking us to the supermarket so we could buy some! everyone ended up walking around with a can of beer in between bar hunting which was turning out to be a bit of a mare due to being so many people wanting different things. I ended up taking everyone into a really cool place which had a live band playing all the 80's sole music and was packed. They had a big garden out the back and a really big dance floor which we all ended up on at one point or another in a drunken stumble, apart from me who still wasn't drinking. Everyone else ended up snogging each other much to our amusement. The group sort of split up and we all mixed with loads of different people, from all parts of America - all of whom were warm, friendly and lots of fun. Courtney disappeared at some point in the evening and then we lost Catherine whom we also thought had gone home. The rest of us all found each other in the garden at about 4am and then caught a taxi back to the hostel. Within 5mins of getting in, Catherine walked in and was really angry thinking we had left her behind as she had still been at the club. Don't know how we didn't bump into each other as we were the only group left in the whole building apart from a couple of others, but we had and she was pissed. Ended up all sat chatting till 6am when Toby and I just went to bed exhausted.

Friday 5th December 2003 India House Hostel, New Orleans

... We ended up back at the Hostel by about 5 in the morning I was covered with beads and lipstick but then so was everyone else. Hit the sack at 6 then got up for breakfast at 10 and went back to bed again.

Due to last nights revelry my voice had gone so I was talking to everyone with a bit of a squeak. The girls went for another walk around New Orleans during the day and came back to tell us that they had booked us on a Ghost Tour in the evening. Our friend Tom from Orlando had told us that the Ghost tour was a bit long winded but we decided to go with the girls anyway.

The weather has turned and it is freezing cold. We have been moved to another room as our original shack won't keep any heat in. At 7 we met our tour guide, Lord Chaz. He was a very eccentric man with a top hat, lots of make up, and razor sharp nails. He took us for a very theatrical walk around some amazing parts of the French Quarter. the buildings where beautiful and his stories very in depth. Even though Lord Chaz has done this tour a million times he still seems very passionate about it and even though they ghost stories aren't very scary you can see the truth in there origins which for me made it more interesting. The Girls, however, weren't very impressed with it all and after 2 hours they decided food would be a better option and disappeared just before Chaz's last story. Vamprye cults and stories are very prominent in New Orleans (Anne Rice wrote Interview with a Vampire here) and all through the Tour Chaz has been hinting about has tendency to blood sucking. He is half Apache and half Irish, but has very gray eyes, he never blinks and has strange puncture marks all up his arms. His last story was about two Vampire brothers and how they drained the blood of there victims. To demonstrate this Chaz stabbed his sharp fingernails into his arm he drew blood and then sliced his nails across the puncture to open the cut up wider. It bled quite a lot and Chaz looked in pain so he bandaged up his arm and continued with his story. As he talked his arm bled more and soon the bandage was red and the blood dripping of the end of his fingers. He ended up with blood all over his face as he started to drink it. He even ate some of the blood soaked bandage. Finally he grabbed a tissue and wiped the blood away. There wasn't a scratch left on his arm. Very clever.

After the tour we grabbed some dinner in a bar with a very loud blues band, that weren't that good and then headed back to the hostel to try and warm ourselves up.

I woke up at 9am feeling really hungry so got up and had some b'fast being joined by Toby at 10am looking like warmed up vomit - it was his turn for a hangover!

Toby had also lost his voice much to everyone's amusement and sounded like a plonker. Didn't do much for the day apart from read and sit by the fire whilst the girls went out around town again booking us all up for a ghost tour later on in the evening - cool

Met up with Chaz, our guide in a bar at 7.45 and he looked just like his picture! all in black/goth clothes with hat and long black nails. He walked us around the streets for the next 2hrs stopping at different points to tell us a ghost story that happened in a house or church etc. He was very theatrical and i thought told the stories really well but the girls didn't seem to be enjoying it at all and wanted to leave early so they could catch the Japanese restaurant before it closed so buggered off. Chaz seemed to enjoy telling the gruesome tales of blood letting and torture even though he probably told the same storied all the time he was very passionate and very good. But the last part of the tour took us outside a house where they had found 2 brothers who had been drinking the blood of passing people. Chaz then demonstrated the blood letting by sticking his razor sharp nails into in wrists making 2 big holes which started to bleed, he then rapped a bandage around his arm and continued with the story all the time his wound is getting bloodier and bloodier and running down onto his hand. He wiped away some of the blood then ate the cloth which everyone screamed at, he then started sucking his own wrist covering his face in the bloody, once again causing everyone to scream, but then he took the bandage off and wiped away the blood and there wasn't a mark on his skin! how strange is that!!!!!!!

That was the end of the tour so we thanked him and went off to find a restaurant for a quick bite to eat then went home and watched TV which was showing a horror film - very appropriate..... The girls got back a little later after eating the Japanese food and said how they thought the tour was crap etc, the funny bit was when Courtney looked up and told someone not to bother as she didn't see 1 ghost, and she was serious.

Saturday 6th December 2003 India House Hostel, New Orleans

Didn't achieve much before 12 but then headed to the library as they have free Internet and Internet Cafes are practically non existent in New Orleans. It is still very cold, something we are not used to anymore. But we braved the weather and took a walk around St Louis Cemetery. The cemeteries are pretty famous as everyone is buried above ground due to it being swamp land. It was pretty interesting but not half as impressive as the cemetery in Buenos Aires. We found Marie Levau's grave, Queen of Voodoo, and then ran into Chaz's evil brother who was giving a tour. In fact it was Chaz but with all the make up, nails and weird beard removed. He was trying to pretend that he was Chaz's brother but slipped up when he said he recognised us.

Had some lunch in a cool cafe which was part of the 'Street Car Named Desire' film, I had Gumbo Soup. Then visited the tiny Voodoo Spiritual temple where you can sit down with a Voodoo healer and get your fortune told or have some special potions mixed up. Instead I opted for the doll of Sarena but with the mouth sewn up... It didn't work!

Ended up walking past Louis Armstrong park and getting into the antique district. Sarena was in heaven and had to look thoroughly around ever store. I waited in the freezing cold for the rest of the day. Spent the evening chilling out at the hostel and keeping warm.

Went to the library so we could use the internet for free then went for a stroll around the old cemetery which was really run down and neglected. We did see Chaz again who was doing another tour but looked very much different. He had said the previous evening that his evil twin brother did the graveyard tour and looked a little like Chaz but without the nails and a shorter beard. It was definitely him though which meant the nails must have been false and he had been wearing contact lenses

Went and had some lunch in a really lovely cafe then went to a voodoo shop and temple which was a really cool place, bought something to send home. We then ended up in the antique district of town which was full of the most wonderful shops selling old and antique pieces from clothes, jewellery, household items etc, much more interesting than our antique shops back in the UK. Also on the street they had some really cool clothes shops which had some pretty retro gear, reminded me of Camden Markets type of place actually. It was then time to get back to the hostel so we could pack our bags and do some diary.

Sunday 7th December 2003 Miss Mollies, Fort Worth

Up by 4 packed and left the Hostel by 4:45. Caught a Taxi to the airport as we have a flight to Dallas, Texas. We didn't fly until 8 but had to get in early to pick up our air tickets as this is an extra flight we have added with some left over miles on our Round The World Ticket. It ended up taking us ages to check in as they had messed the tickets up, at one stage we where told that we wouldn't make the flight, but they sorted it out in the end.

At 7:30 they announced that they had oversold the plane and where after volunteers who could delay their departure (with an added incentive). We agreed $100 EACH cash back and took a flight at 11am instead. This was great as we hadn't really paid for the flight anyway. Just meant we had to sit around at the airport for another few hours which is something we have gotten very use too.

We ended up at Dallas -Fort Worth airport by 12:30 so then had to decide where we should head to next. By all accounts there is not a lot in Dallas. We checked out accommodation and it seemed all a bit pricey too. So we decided to head to Fort Worth instead. In typical US style the public transport system was diabolical. In fact it doesn't even run any services at all to Fort Worth on a Sunday. Instead we ended up on the airport shuttle. This proved to be a blessing as the driver was very friendly and ended up sorting us some discount accommodation on his mobile as he drove us. By the end of the trip we ended up being booked into a Whore House! It was still a little more then we would usually pay. But hay we were feeling a little flash with our windfall. By the time we had arrived at the Whore House we were very glad that we had agreed to stay...

...Miss Mollies is an old Brothel in the oldest part of Fort Worth called the Stockyard. The whole place looks like a Western movie set but is actually the genuine article. Miss Mollies was also closed but the owner, Dawn, agreed to let us have a room at discount price. Obviously it is not a whore house anymore more is still very traditional to the 1900's. It was fantastic, we couldn't of imagined anywhere better to stay in Texas. Even better was the fact that below our bedroom was a cafe that served Lone Star Long necks and Chili and Jalapeno Burgers. Hmmmmm scoffed that lot down in record time.

Did a bit of shopping and rested for a couple of hours before we headed out to Billy Bob's Honky Tonk Two Stepping Showdown music bar for a bit of Country and Western, Line dancing and a few more Long necks. Billy Bob's was dead quite. Only a handful of people where in the massive bar. So we had a couple of games of pool, sat and watched some love bird teenagers dancing to Billy Ray Cirus and then got kicked out at 10.

Up at 4am and at the airport for 5am ready to catch our flight to Dallas, Texas. Problem was when we went to collect the tickets at the desk they had messed it all up so it took us ages, waiting for them to sort out the problems, saying that we might not be able to get on the flight............ luckily we could in the end. We went through the whole customs thing even had to take off my shoes which was a first!. Sat down in the departure lounge and waited for our flight with 2hrs to spare. Not long before the departure of our plane there came a tannoy announcement saying they had over booked the flight and were looking for a few volunteers who had flexible flying plans to miss this flight and take the next available one along with $200 vouchers - hey we jumped at the chance if it meant some dosh. So we caught the 11am plane and were in Fort Worth - Dallas just after lunch time then had to catch a shared shuttle bus as it seems they don't run public transport on a Sunday.................... really the worst public transport system we have come across in a very long time, but then everyone has cars over here - so much for the environment.

We really didn't have much of a clue as to where we were going to stay only a couple of ideas that we had read about or heard, but when we were in the shuttle bus the driver said we should stay at Molly's place in Fort Worth as it was really very nice. He phoned up and Toby had a quick chat to the owner, Dawn who said she would do a very good rate for us, so we thought we should give it a go. Turns out to be an old whore house which was absolutely wonderful and had been decked out inside in the original style of the 1900's, we were very lucky to have ended up here. It seems we were the only guests staying in the place so were just given the front door key and told we could have the run of the place and use it as our own house! So the first thing we did is take loads of pictures then to take some more of the street which was just like stepping into a country and Western movie - bloody brilliant.

We went down stairs where they had an old Texas cafe and stuffed ourselves with chili burgers and beer then went i went back upstairs to the hotel whilst Toby went out for a walk. The hotel has 3 bathrooms all with the claw legged deep baths so you can guess what i did for the next hour! We went out in the evening to a place called Billy Bobs which we had been told was the best place to go to on a Sunday evening as the rest of the town was dead. We turned up at about 9pm and the place was empty. It had to be the biggest place i had ever been in though with massive dance floors and many bars and games. There were a few couples on the dance floor under a glitter Saddle which was spinning around - very cool. They were doing all the proper Country dancing around the outside of the dance floor so we sat and watched them for a while drinking Lone Star and suppin in the feel of the place. They shut the place down at 10pm because of the lack of people, seems folks only come out on Friday's and Saturdays.

Monday 8th December 2003 Miss Mollies, Fort Worth

Took a walk around the Stockyards in the morning. Everything looks so cowboyish - its great. The old stockyard now has shops built under it, most are just for tourists but I found a Mexican Restaurant there that does 'All you can eat' lunch buffet for just 7 bucks. I immediately ran back to the coral to tell Sarena the exciting news. She came out and joined me for a brief walk and then we sat down and stuffed our faces with as many Fajitas as we could. hmmmmm my favourite.

After lunch we rolled ourselves into a local museum, then stroked a few cowboys horses and caught a bus to Downtown Fort Worth. First stop was a bar to quench our thirst from all that Fajita eatin'. The we found the Library where I got an upsetting email so we headed back to another bar for a few comforting pints. This bar was called the Flying Saucer and had over 70 draft beers from around the world. Outside of the pub was a car lying across the street on its side with cops everywhere, must be a good sign for the pub! Monday was also 'Happy Day' so the beers where dead cheap. I settled down for a few Murphy's and then we talk a long walk to a famous blues bar , JJ's. Finally found it on the outskirts of town only to discover its closed until Thursday. Bugger. Only thing to do was catch the bus and head back to the stockyards and seek comfort at the whore house.

Had a donder around the town in the morning taking lots of pictures of people on horses and all the stockyards which had now been turned into shops etc. Toby had found a Mexican ' all ya can eat' place so dragged me in there as soon as the clock struck 12pm and we really did stuff ourselves on Fajitas and other lovely stuff. Went for a stroll around a museum and got chatting to some old timer - the people are so incredibly friendly!!

We then caught a bus into Down Town Fort Worth and went for a beer in an Irish pub then went to a huge library where we could use the internet for free for an hour - which we did. Toby received an email which upset him terribly so we went off to find another bar called the Flying Saucer which we heard sold over 75 draft beers from all over the world and sold them for just $2.50 on a Monday - what more could you ask for! We sat in there for a few hours, i tried to cheer Toby up but he was having none of it so decided to go find a Jazz bar called JJ's which we had read about in the Lonely Planet and sounded really cool. We ended up walking for bloody miles to find this place and when we did eventually get there, it was shut! Decided just to go back and get some sleep.

Tuesday 9th December 2003 Miss Mollies, Fort Worth

Made a few phone calls in the morning and then decided to go and explore Dallas. Sarena wasn't bothered so I headed out on my own. First stop was Downtown Fort Worth where the Train leaves for its 30 mile journey east to Dallas. It took about an Hour.

Everyone we had spoken to about going to Dallas has said 'why bother', well obviously to see JR and Sue-Ellen. Downtown Dallas is pretty small. from the train station I walked a few blocks and ended up at Dealey Plaza. This is the site where JFK was assasinated They have painted a cross on the road and you can see the Grassy Knoll and the School Book store where Lee Harvey Oswald apparently Shot JFK from the 6th floor. They have actually turned the whole 6th floor into a museum now so I went and took a look around.

The museum was really interesting, obviously I wasn't around in 1963 so it was well worth finding out about JFK and the state of the world in that era. They had a pretty unbiased attitude to there displays and covered how unpopular JFK was at the time and all the conspiracy theories and bodged investigations into the shooting.

After the museum I took a walk around Dallas. There is nothing here at all. As I headed over to the Historic West End I got chased down the road by a Cop on a bike. He wanted to slap me in irons for Jay Walking! I pleaded the dumb tourist and he sped of only to be blown across the street... It got very windy and I had a job to walk around the deserted streets so ended up diving into a bakery for a sandwich and a lotta mocho choca latte expresso thingy before heading back to the train station.

Got back to Miss Molly's just before 6. I didn't have a key so banged the door and threw stones at the window of my fancy ladies boudoir - just like the good ol' days.

Went out for a big Texas steak for dinner. Tried some local beers too, Fat Tire and Buffalo Butt. they where actually very good. We had planned to go to the White Elephant afterwards but it was dead in there and I had eaten too much as usual.

Had some brekkie then Toby wanted to go into Dallas but i wasn't fussed and thought he could probably do with some time to himself to mull over a few things. I spent the day wondering around town and looking around the shops then sitting and doing my diary and reading, it was quite a cold and wintry day so i was all cosy in my lovely whores bedroom...

Toby didn't get back until 6ish when i was starting to get worried about him, little bugger. Later on we went out for dinner at a local steak house and ate far too much which completely knocked out our plans for going out after for a drink, we just went back and to bed!

Wednesday 10th December 2003 Miss Mollies, Fort Worth

Was forced out of bed due to Miss Sarena pushing me off the side. Spent the morning updating my diary and then we went to watch some cowboys drive some long horn cattle around the stockyards. The sun was back out but there was still a nippy wind. We took shelter in a Wagon museum which was basically a museum with lots of old western wagons in it, not much of a surprise.

Grabbed some lunch, made a few phone calls, did some more diary and generally got ready for our early morning flight to Costa Rica. Did a final round of the bars in the evening and found them to be a bit livelier then the beginning of the week... But only slightly. Our first visit was the White Elephant which is famous as being the bar frequented by Walker Texas Ranger! It had a few people in and a pretty good guy on the Guitar. Billy Bob's had Ladies night so Sarena went in to check it out. Not much action but a live band and a free pool table so we hung out there for a while. Its a shame that we weren't in the Area at a weekend as I imagine the place is very interesting with all sorts of cowboy types.

Toby woke up early and started to annoy me as usual so we both had to get up.......

After b'fast we went out to watch the cattle train which they run through the town twice a day just for us tourists. All the cowboys wear the authentic outfits and then drive a heard of Texas Long Horns which are wonderful looking creatures from one end of the road to the other. We also saw a cowboy who was riding a long horn and told us how it was a very famous cow appearing on many films and TV, and that he (not the cow) was a friend of Lily Savage, quite a funny bloke. We then went and had a mosey around the museum which was interesting and gave us all the history of carts and boots etc. They even had a Cowboy Hall of Fame which was really good. Toby then rang his dad and i rang my mother and my mate Clare ( who was in for a change) then we went for some lunch back at the Cafe under Miss Molly's for a burger. Spent the afternoon finishing our diaries and relaxing before our night out on the town. We first went out for a drink at the White Elephant for a couple of beers and to listen to the lonesome guitar singer who was really good, doing all his Country melodies. It soon started to get busy with groups of cowboys moseying on in. But soon Toby wanted to go check out the Billy Bobs place as they had a free ladies night. So i went in to check the place out then came back to get Toby who was stood outside, it was certainly a lot livelier than the other night and even had a live band playing, much to the tooting and hollering of the crowd who seemed to love em. We had a couple games of pool then sat and watched the music and tried to get our picture taken on a big pretend bull they had set up, with false crowd background. Supposed to make you look you were doing the rodeo in a cheesy kind of way, so we thought it would be good for a laugh. But the photographer was nowhere to be found so we buggered off home and to bed.

Thursday 11th December 2003 Big Apple Hostel, New York

Got up ay 5 and caught the bus to the train station, then the train to the Airport stop and then a bus to the airport car park and finally another bus to the airport terminal. Arrived at 7:30 it was a load of hassle but only cost us $1.25 each. I'm such a cheapskate. We boarded the plane in time but then it was delayed on the runway for an hour. By 10am we where up in the air though and heading to sunnier climbs of Costa Rica...

Must of caught the wrong plane as we ended up making a very foggy landing in New York. We had changed our plans back in September so we had not intended to go to Costa Rica but instead spend a week in New York before we head home for christmas and surprise everyone.

Taxi's in New York are pretty damn cheap. Good News. we had booked a hostel in midtown Manhattan just off of Times Square. Not too flash a place but a great location. Times square was heaving with people. I probably haven't seen this many people in one place since China. We found a Noodle house for lunch and then went to a massive cinema and watched Gothika, a pretty average film.

Back in our Hostel room a couple of Germans had checked in. They had also just come form Texas and had been studying there for months. We didn't talk for too long as we where all pretty tired.

Got up at 5am and caught the 5.45 bus which then took us to the train station where we had to catch another bus which took us to another bus which finally got us to the airport - what a work up! the plane ended up sitting on the runway for 1hr before we could take of thanks to Air traffic control, but we soon headed off once more into the clouds.

BBBBBBBut landed in New York!! all a big hoaks just to fool in the family into thinking we were still going to carry on traveling but all the time we were going planning on going home for Xmas!!!! so excited but also not to sure about how we are going to cope with being back home again. We had planned this since the 8th September, the day Clare and Beau said they couldn't come to chile.

Anyway landed in NY in the afternoon and caught a taxi straight to the hostel which was very basic for being the most expensive hostel we had stayed in. We were up on the 5th floor using the stairs every time as we weren't allowed to use the lift. We made our beds and dumped our bags then went straight out to investigate the big city. Time square was just at the end of our block so was very handy, had a quick look around there which looked very much like London, had a drink then went to watch Gothika at the Cinema which i thought was very good. We just went back to the hostel afterwards and had an early night but not before saying hello to our new German room mates.

Friday 12th December 2003 Big Apple Hostel, New York

The weather was amazing, clear blue skies but very chilly, made it feel just like christmas. We took advantage of this and went straight out to the Empire State building. We then had to queue for 2 hours before making it to the top. But it was worth it. We could see most of New York and at least all the major sights, Chrysler Building, Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge and Central Park. We probably only spent 30 minutes up there though and soon headed back down and found an Italian Deli which served slices of the best Pizza I have had in ages.

The bad thing about the Empire State building was that it is right next door to Macy*s department store. We popped in to warm up and have a 30 minute look around the store. The 30 minutes ended up being 5 hours and I found a coat and shirt at amazingly cheap prices. As I had something Sarena too had to buy something and ended up with a couple of cool tops.

We finally made it back to the Hostel so had a quick chat with our german friends, they had spent the day touring New York on an open top bus. We then went out for a snack and ended up at a bar and chatting to a Boston couple, Barry was pretty drunk and ended up buying me a shot after we had told him how long we have been traveling for. Very good of him, Unfortunately I chose a Jack Daniel's which he didn't get on with so his fiance had to drag him home. No more free drinks for us then :(

We woke up early in the morning and went to find the empire State building and had to wait in a queue for hours for a ticket then wait again to get upstairs to the top. But what a fantastic view! the only problem was the cold! my god it was freezing and the wind was whipping around the top so didn't stay too long before heading back down again. We had a quick lunch in a Deli opposite which was lovely, they have an awful lot of these Deli places doing hot and cold dishes which you help yourself to, also salads and soups, pizzas and yummy stuff.

Both feeling sated we mossied around for a while before going down to the famous Macy*s store for a look around. We ended up staying for 5hrs in the end, Toby bought himself a new coat and shirt and i bought 2tops so were both happy and extremely tired but enjoyed the whole experience. I thought the store was going to be really expensive but it ended up being really cheap especially as they had a 20% discount on top of an already big sale. We both went straight back to the hostel and collapsed then went out for something to eat.

Saturday 13th December 2003 Big Apple Hostel, New York

Had our first ride on the NY subway and headed right down to the south tip of Manhattan and Battery Park. From here you can see the Statute of Liberty across the harbour and be entertained by the Squirrels who will climb all over you if you stay still for a few seconds. Sarena got a pair of cloves from a street stall and with a massive Starbucks in hand we caught the free ferry past the statue to Statton island. We actually got very close to the statue which was great. It is closed for refurbishment so you can't climb it at the moment so I reckon this ferry must be the best way to see it. The view from Manhattan from the water is amazing too.

Statton island is pretty much just a residential place. As soon as we got off from the ferry we found a library so did a quick check of our emails - nothing. Then Sarena found a second hand shop so he sneaked off to the Barbers next door. It was hilarious. Not sure if any one has seen the film Barber Shop, but I was the only white brother in there. I was half expecting to come out with a shaved head and some slogan etched onto the back of my head! They where all very funny and friendly and gave me loads of tips of where to go in New York. Especially that I will be popular with the Honeys now that I have a new cut! Sarena got some bargains at the shop and I found a wooly hat. so we grabbed a Taco Bells and caught the ferry back to Manhattan.

It was starting to get dusky so we walked up through the financial district and ended up at the site of the world trade center. It was very emotional there and also for us the tragedy on September 11th marks our first day of our trip. after soaking in ground zero we found the nearest subway and found ourselves at the ice rink in Rockefeller centre. It was absolutely packed so we headed back to the hostel for some tea and a few more drinks.

Had b'fast then took our first subway trip down to Lower Manhattan to Battery Park and our first glimpse of Statue of Liberty. It was so cold i had to get some gloves, Toby was snug as a bug in his new coat! I had a quick cuddle with all the squirrels who came to sit on my lap on one of the benches in the park then decided on catching the free ferry over to statton Island. We had a good view of Brooklyn bridge when going over on the ferry, and had a fantastic view of the Statue of Lib. Our first stop when landing was the library to check our emails then for a look around. It wasn't really a nice place but i did manage to find a thrift shop and had a mooch around there for an hour whilst Toby went off to get his hair cut at a barbers with his black brothers. I managed to get some real bargains and was especially made up with my boots which were only $12! and not even worn. We had some lunch at Taco Bells (my first experience) then caught the ferry back again. We walked up to the wall street area then went and visited Ground Zero which was very moving, such a lot of devastation which was still evident in the surrounding buildings. They had now reopened the underground which you could see from the edge of the hole which must have been a huge task. Next stop was the Rockefeller Centre to see the ice-rink and Xmas tree. The tree was big but completely over done with millions of lights and the ice-rink, in fact the whole area was pact full of hundreds of people taking in the feeling of xmas. We in the other had had to get out as it was too packed for us and went back to the hostel where i cooked some pasta then went out for a drink.

Sunday 14th December 2003 Big Apple Hostel, New York

The forecasters predicted 2 inches of snow in the morning. They were nearly right, instead we got 6 inches. It started at 9 and Sarena and I got all excited about it so we scoffed down some breakfast and headed out along the Manhattan streets. Being early and snowy on a Sunday morning it was fairly quiet so we headed to the Rockefeller Centre on the off chance that the Ice rink would be open. Cool it was and only a small queue so we got our skates on and had lots of fun going around and around in an anticlockwise circle for an hour. I don't know why but every single Ice rink I have been to has had the skaters go anticlockwise around the rink!

Sarena doesn't like the cold too much and was getting pretty desperate to warm her feet, So we left the Ice Rink and grabbed a Hot Chocolate. The snow was still falling pretty heavy so once we had warmed up we took a walk 10 blocks north to Central park. It was perfect, just how I had imagined Central park to be... Cold and covered in deep white snow with horse drawn carriages towing people around the park. There where loads of Photo opportunities in the park but Sarena soon got cold again and all the snow did make everything look the same. So I left her to find her way back to the Hostel while I continued walking through the park. There where kids with toboggans sliding down any hill they could find, Some people where even walking through the park on Skis! I got a bit disorientated and ended up walking in completely the wrong direction to which I had thought. The snow was so thick that you couldn't see any of the Skyscrapers and had now fixed bearings. I ended up at Strawberry fields which is a part of the park dedicated to John Lennon (he used to live next to the park). After that I decided to head back too, so took a walk back to the south end of the park and all the way down Broadway until our Hostel.

By about 5 the snow finally turned to rain, which started to wash all the slush off the pavements. I did some laundry while Sarena took a walk around the shops and then we decided to see if we could get any discount tickets for a show on broadway. I took a short walk to the ticket desk but stopped to help a lady in distress. Just a New Yorker in a 4wd who had a flat tire and didn't even know it. I offered to change her tire and it was a good job that they have never taken there off-roader off road or else I would have gotten filthy. After changing the tire I queued up at the discount ticket stall only to find that they still didn't have any tickets for any shows in our budget. Oh well at least we have some money for some dinner instead.

Woke up in the morning to snow falling!!! how exciting is that. Toby was so excited he was up and dressed within minutes desperate to get outside. By the time we had b'fast it had laid quite a lot so we went straight to the RockefellerCentre and the Ice-rink. This time it what a lot quieter so we went and queued up for the boot hire and rink payment which was so overpriced. So we got our boots and headed out onto the ice which turned out to be so much fun! haven't been skating for years but it soon came back to me, i was surprised at how good Toby was as well. We had to wait on the outskirts for 30mins whilst they cleaned the snow off the ice which by now was coming down thick and fast. My feet were by now freezing and my toes really hurt but we still went back on the ice after the cleaning for a few more turns and spins. We saw a really romantic marriage proposal there and then on the ice. A man got down on all fours and presented his girlfriend with a ring whilst everyone started clapping. How very sweet and romantic.

The snow had now become very deep and was really very beautiful, very xmasy. We walked up to Central Park which was just stunning and i couldn't believe how much snow had laid in just a few hours. The horse and carriage rides were still going around, and the horses didn't have any covers or coats which i thought was a bit nasty. It was now so very cold and i had seen enough of the park so walked back to the hostel whilst Toby carried on around the park.

I finished reading my book in the warm watching the snow out of the window. I went back out in the afternoon after Toby had got back to see if i could find some cheap jeans but by now it had started raining and i was cold and wet so just went back to the hostel but not before stopping off to see if i could get some cheap tickets for a show. Toby went out after me to purchase the tickets which were 50% discounted but still very expensive so didn't bother. Ended up going out for some dinner which we could now afford.

Monday 15th December 2003 Roosevelt Hotel, New York

Checked out of our hostel and walked 2 blocks to our new abode... The Roosevelt Hotel. Check in wasn't until 3 so we left our bags and walked over to Grand Central Station for a look at the Star painted ceiling. We got there just before 11 so managed to watch a laser show that was projected on the impressive ceiling. We then walked past the Library, usually a good source of free Internet but today its closed. so we ended up back at Macy's... Well Sarena did I wandered around outside for an hour while I waited for her.

Got into our room by 3 and pretty much spent the rest of the day chilling out. Got ourselves a bottle of Jim Beam and amused ourselves in front of the TV for the evening.

Sooooo looking forward to getting to the hotel for the last few days of our travels so packed and raring to go much to early. We walked up to the hotel which was only a couple of blocks away and was very surprised at how very expensive and sophisticated it all looked. It was a huge place and very beautiful but unfortunately we were too early to check in so had to leave our bags and go straight back out again. This time we went to grand central station for a look around and saw a lasershow which they put on every hour on the huge ceiling of the train station. Then it was a quick tour of Macy's again where i picked up another couple of bargains which were in the sale then back to the hotel. We went out to buy a bottle of Jean Beam and coke later on and sat in the hotel room and watched TV and drank - very nice and a lot cheaper.

Tuesday 16th December 2003 Roosevelt Hotel, New York

Didn't even wake up until 9:30. We pretty much got straight up and headed to the subway and to Little Italy. Couldn't find anywhere for breakfast so ended up with a coffee and a slice of pizza. Only saw a few typical 'mafia' type new yorkers with their broad accents, the area actually seemed to have more chinese wandering about. This isn't much of a surprise as Chinatown is right next door and we all know how the chinese mange to sneak in everywhere. Chinatown was packed with chinese and no Italians! we wandered around all the stalls that all sell the same tacky plastic trinkets and wondered who the hell buys this crap. Sarena then found a takeaway and bought herself a bag of food which we took to a local park and ate on one of those tables with a chess board on... Very New York!

After the second lunch of the day we took a walk further downtown to city hall and Brooklyn bridge. Sarena decided to head back to the hotel so I led her to the subway and then walked on to Wall street. After watching the choir and the stock exchange men in their funny jackets I turned around and worked all they way back up manhattan to the Hotel. Through Tribeca, Soho, Greenwich village, Union Square, Madison Square Gardens and Times Square. On the way up Broadway I bought some tickets for Lord Of The RIngs for tomorrow and then got back to the Hotel at 5.

Woke and showered then caught the tube to Little Italy which was a certain area full of Italian culture, cafes, shops etc. It was a fab place so we took lots of photos and had a wonder around then had some b'fast/lunch. We both just had a snack (well i did) so i wanted to wander into China town to try some chinese food which was very very tasty.The difference between the 2 areas was amazing, the Italian side was clean and pretty whilst the China side was full of stalls selling tacky plastic items and the streets were filthy dirty, covered with litter and full of people, just like being back in China.

We wondered around for a bit longer wandering around the Brooklyn bridge,. i then caught the tube back to the hotel so i could write my diary leaving Toby to wander the streets.

I caught the train back and wondered around enjoying the sights before meandering back to the hotel, just got some food from the deli next door for dinner.

Wednesday 17th December 2003 Roosevelt Hotel, New York

Visited Tiffany's in the morning. Good job we had breakfast first as there is nowhere at Tiffany's to do it. Haven't a clue what that song is all about, unless there is a different Tiffany's! Anyway at least Sarena had a pee at Tiffany's! we then walked along the south stretch of Central Park and found ourselves at the Carnegie Deli. It is famous for the biggest sandwiches so I got my self a roast beef one that was the size of a cow. Sarena got herself some pick'n'mix and popcorn and we went back down to 42nd street to watch the final Lord Of The Rings.

It was an amazing film marred only a little by the dungeons and dragons freak sitting behind us and talking about all the monsters and jeering and clapping at all the action bits. He was actually quite amusing although Sarena got pretty angry. By the time the film had finished we spent the last of our US dollars on a sandwich and headed to our room to drink up the dregs from the bottom of our discount bottle of Jim Beam. Ahhhh don't you feel sorry for us.

Thought it would be a great idea to visit Tiffanys for some b'fast as we both thought it had a restaurant for just such a special occasion, maybe it was just the film or my imagination but i could have sworn it had one. We walked around the surprisingly small shop just for a nosey and was very surprised at how not very special the place was. I really thought it was going to be out of this world but just didn't impress me.

We then wondered down to Carnegie Deli, the most famous deli in America thanks to its enormously huge wraps and sarnies attracting many famous people. Toby got himself a big beef sarnie whilst i bowed out seeing the price of the things. I bought some popcorn and pick 'n'mix to take to the cinema then sat down for the next 3hrs to watch Lord of the Rings. It was a fantastic film but i think i preferred the second one with the fab trees. We had such an annoying bloke sat behind us who was constantly talking and clapping until the woman next to me told him to shut up! good for her.

We were now down to our last dollars so just had some takeaway soup for dinner and finished off our cheap bottle of Jim Beam whilst watching some crappy tv.

Thursday 18th December 2003 Chris's House in Spain

Was woken to protesters making speeches outside. Then the phone rang... It was my brother with the sad news that my Nan had passed away in the night. I spent the morning talking to Gus and my Dad and making desicions on our plans over the next few days. We are due to fly to Madrid this afternoon and then back home on the 22nd. I decided that I couldn't sit in Madrid for a few days so we changed our flight and now just have tomorrow night in Madrid with Chris and Conchi before flying back to Heathrow.

We had one final walk around NY, I couldn't be bothered to face the public transport to JFK airport so we ended up taking a Taxi and hung out at the surprisingly pokey terminal for our Iberian flight to Madrid...

We were still in bed when we got the call from Ollie that their nan had died................

All very sad and such poor timing on our part as we had planned to go home since Sept and ended up being a few days short. Toby was obviously upset and i really felt for him but maybe it was meant to be that he had the last memories of grandma standing at the gates of her cottage waving goodbye.

Toby changed the flight schedule to only one night in Madrid instead of the 4 so that we could get back to the UK ASAP and help with the funeral arrangements.

Caught a taxi that evening to the Airport after having a fabulous time in New York - what a fantastic place. Spent all night flying to Madrid on a very very packed plane with horrible children everywhere.

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