The Rocky Mountaineer

Today is Rocky Mountaineer day and we have an early start and breakfast before arriving at the station to board the train. The shiney train arrives and rolls out a short red carpet and a call to hop aboard – good start we are thinking! We board the upper level of the glass-topped carriage and get the drill – there are two breakfast sittings and we are in the second one. What? But we have had breakfast! Because we are in the second sitting we get served tea and scones to keep us from starvation. Oh my goodness – this is a two-day trip and now we get the feeling the clothes are going to shrink even further so, after a 5-second discussion, we decide we will flag a second breakfast because, strangely enough, we have only ever been used to having one breakfast each day! It just gets better (or worse actually depending on your habits) because at 10 am the blimmin bar opens up. Well, I guess it is 5 o’clock somewhere!

The Rocky Mountaineer rolls on quietly surrounded by beautiful scenery on both sides and the conversation in the cabin gets a little chirpier as the morning progresses and, here it is 10.30 am and I am sipping champagne. Heaven forbid! Can you belieeeeeve it? The boss is doing a sudoku puzzle – can you belieeeeeve it? By the way, we had to put the clocks back one hour so it is kind of 11.30 am! Of course, we are also in the second lunch sitting so to “get us through” we are served a little bowl of cheese, fruits and crackers and wine. Oh no!!

This amazing train slows right down for all the important scenic points like high Mt Robson (highest peak in the Canadian Rockies at 3954 m) and Triangle Falls. We pass Blue River which gets 10 m of snow in winter – this seems incredible but it is true. In fact they shoot cannons in some places to create avalanches. It is starting to look like this train is all about the food so we make our way to the second sitting of lunch which is three courses with more wine, tea, coffee etc. Then back upstairs to recommence the bear watch and blow me down it is happy hour. Now really, you must be kidding! Then someone yells out “Bear – left” and everyone dashes around like mad people trying to see this jolly elusive bear. Then it all gets ridiculous as people are yelling out “chooks left, horse right, pigs left, donkey right”. Well you know the hilarity just got worse and worse as they afternoon wore on – I wonder why?

Tonight our stay is in Kamloops and magically our bags are there before us – and no – it wasn’t because they were in the front carriage of this long train but actually they went from Jasper by truck. The coaches are waiting at the station to transport us to our hotel in Kamloops for the night and the driver, like all the drivers here, is on form. He points out the sage plants because Kamloops is considered a desert area. He says he knows three types of sage – the spready outy kind, the sticky leafy kind and the roundy bushy kind!!

I told you about the lady with the teddy bear. Well, today the teddy has got married. Yep – he with the glasses etc has married a good old-fashioned Canadian teddy who got dressed up in black satin and lace for the event!

Here we are now on Day 2 of the Rocky Mountaineer on a warm Canadian day, the food is still being served, the blue rivers are still flowing and the Rocky Mountains are bathed in sunshine today. The landscape has changed now as we head out of Kamloops and towards Vancouver as this is considered desert country so we are back to the sage plants and a few pines scattered around. We have seen bald eagles and osprey this morning but we are out of bear country now (thank heavens our eyes don’t all need to be searching for these cuddly creatures) and we have apparently entered a rattlesnake breeding ground so we are thinking we are pleased we are not on a walking track today.

The teddy bears who married yesterday have had a baby – can you belieeeeve it? There are now three bears looking at the scenery as we travel along and I am wondering how big this family will be by the time we finish in Alaska. I am so pleased I only have to look after the one teddy bear sitting next to me reading the news.

We pass Frog Rock in the Jaws of Death Gorge, Black Canyon and the horseshoe turn. We go through Thompson Canyon and enter Fraser Canyon and at the confluence the river turns brown – we have not seen too many brown waters here. Well, wouldn’t you know it – we are called for the three-course lunch and, of course, we are starving because it is only 3 hours since breakfast!  This beautiful Rocky Mounaineer train trip is like a fine restaurant travelling along the rails with some spectacular scenery thrown in for good measure!

We prepare to farewell this beautiful country and head for Alaska tomorrow on the ship. We think that Canada is New Zealand on steroids – beautiful clear blue rivers and lakes, pine forests (although many different types of pines here), huge granite mountains, a love of outdoor activities like rafting, mountain biking, skiing, cycling, fishing, lovely friendly people and nice clean cities. However, there are still plenty of homeless people in every city, beggars on the streets, house prices rocketing and low interest rates. We certainly have loved our time in both the eastern and western side of Canada. We will remember the eastern side for the French influence and the western side for the amazing scenery. So we roll on quietly on this train towards Vancouver and prepare for icebergs and huskies.

Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper

Well, here we are in beautiful Banff with its lovely memories of a family holiday here in January 1991 when the streets were covered in snow and the skiing had long long runs amongst the trees dripping with snow. It is summer here now so the landscape looks very different but still beautiful. The Main Street is a busy place and it has changed with new buildings and lots more accommodation. Just before dinner we are watching the Olympics on TV when suddenly the screen is filled with a warning and the voice is blaring to let everyone know of a tornado warning near Calgary and what to do if you are out walking, on the highway, on your bike, in your garden etc.  
After a lovely Japanese dinner we make our way back to our room BUT we get to the room we think is ours and it has a “Do not disturb” sign on the door which is puzzling. So we have a debate in the hallway – is it 238 or 239, or is it 228 or 229? We walk up and down the corridor and off to the sides in this rabbit warren and still can’t decide which is our room. There is only one thing to do and that is go down to Reception and get them to sort this out for us! Oh deary me – we are losing our marbles!!

Our choice of excursion this morning was rafting on the Bow River so off we set dressed up for all weathers. We get aboard the raft and off we go about 8 km down the river seeing elk and osprey and lovely scenery on the way with a Canadian guy rowing and entertaining us for the duration. After that a walk downtown to try and find the place we stayed in years ago – found it we are pretty sure so take the required photos and then lunch and a walk back to the beautiful Banff Springs Hotel (which is an iconic symbol of Banff) to rest up before our Hoe Down dinner with the group tonight.

Well, we did the Hoe Down dressed up with cowboy hats and entertained with great music, good food, lots of dancing and, who would have thought it, lessons in Line Dancing! Can you belieeeeeve it? Probably not.

This morning we departed lovely Banff after an 11 minute gondola ride to the top of the 7500 ft Sulphur Mountain. This mountain has lovely boardwalks and stairways at the top so you can walk around and up to look down on Banff and into the distance. Banff has a resident population of 10,000 but you can only purchase a house or condo there if you have a job in Banff. Otherwise – no! Four million visitors a year descend on this beautiful World Heritage town and most of them decided to come yesterday!
On to the picturesque Lake Louise with its Chateau Lake Louise looking directly out to the lake surrounded by mountains. A bit misty today and a few droplets of rain, little cooler but we don’t mind one bit. After the heat of the desert I can tell y’all that cooler temperatures are no problem at all. A visit to the gorgeous Emerald Lake (Lake Louise was once called Emerald Lake but was then renamed after one of Queen Victoria’s daughters) completed the day which was one of picture-postcard photos. By the way – I got a hug from a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman. Well, actually, that is a myth now because the RCMP’s stopped wearing their red coats, big hats, boots and jodhpurs some years ago and they only come out for ceremonial occasions now. The only time you will see the uniforms and horses now is when you see the Musical Ride Tour – a group of horses and RCMP’s performing beautifully to music and touring the world every three years.

Well, a little surprise was in store in the bathroom today – a heated toilet seat. Yep – really tickled my fancy!

We leave for Icefields Parkway in the Columbia Icefields today to visit the Athabasca Glacier. The highway is 250 km long and is considered the most scenic highway in the world. We pass almost 100 ice glaciers, glacial rivers, streams, lakes and more tall straight Christmas-tree forests on the journey all the while looking for these elusive black bears and hoping they are about to spring out from between the trees to nibble on berries. We are not actually sure why the bears would walk out of the forest at the side of the road to wave to us when they have a whole forest to hide in but we live in hope. We haven’t sighted any yet and we haven’t sighted Goldilocks either.

The first glacier comes into view and it is a “wow” moment. The grey and white ice looks like it is tumbling down the enormous rocky slope. Nature has provided the most stunning landscapes for us to admire as we drive along this highway. Avalanches have wiped out long wide lines of trees. We stop at Bow Summit at 7000 feet to see Peyto Lake, the bluest lake in the Rockies, and walk to the lookout. Stretched out in front of us is a vivid turquoise lake reflecting the mountain and the glacier off to the left. Wow!

On arrival at the Visitors’ Centre at the Athabasca Glacier we are ushered into one bus to take us onto a 4-minute journey to get onto another big snow coach to take us to the glacier. The young drivers are very entertaining – the first one reminds us to take everything off the bus and “if you by chance leave it behind you can log onto e-bay and see if you can find it” he announces. We climb onto the snow coach and off we go towards the glacier descending a 32% grade rocky incline on the way to get there. Thank goodness for the huge rubber tyres on this thing! We arrive to do our walk on the glacier and our Tour Director, Tara, is handing out little plastic shot glasses to us all and she produces a bottle of whisky and we all down a toast! Heaven forbid – here we are dressed up warm, standing on slushy ice and drinking whiskey before noon! Well, you have to partake don’t you! This glacier moves 1 cm every 90 minutes so we are back on that snow coach rather quickly so we don’t move with it.

Now talking of being dressed up warmly, our Tour Director told us about six times to dress warmly for the glacier. This was also written on our daily sheet. We are travelling with 36 other people so you get a mixture, of course, but one lady got on the coach this morning (remember it is “visit the glacier day’) and she has a t-shirt and jandals on. Can you belieeeeeve it? Yes – she did visit the glacier in the t-shirt and jandals! Another lady carries around a huge bag over her shoulder every day like a shopping bag and she struggles with this thing so much that her husband has taken to sitting in a separate seat. Well, the other day she produced a box of washing powder out of that bag! Heaven knows what else is in it. Another lady travels with a teddy bear sticking out the top of her backpack. The teddy is sometimes dressed in different clothes each day and the teddy is propped up on fences, rocks, tables etc to have his photo taken in all the scenic spots. It is all interesting to observe. They all probably think we are odd too!

This morning we set out for Maligne Lake to do a boat trip down to Spirit Island and we are still craning our necks to look for bears but it seems they are all having a sleepin. Darn it! We pass a long mountain range with sawtooth ridges and more Christmas-tree forests – I think they must cover all of western Canada. The scenery is still absolutely stunning everywhere you look. Maligne Lake is 22 km long and freezes over to a depth of 1 m in winter. The summer season is from around May/June until end of September. Average temperature of the lake is 4 degrees so no swimming done here during the summer. On our return we decide to go for a walk around the lake here at the beautiful Fairmont Jasper Lodge (which is a whole lot of log cabins set around the main building and beside the lake – beautiful). We are going on a bear hunt and those critters had better be out there because we are getting sore necks trying to look for them. Off we go – camera at the ready – along the track and off onto a side track and guess what we saw…………. bear footprints. Yep – that’s as close as we got so I took a photo! After walking approximately 10 km, according to the boss, we rest up to watch the Olympics and Yay – the Sevens are playing Fiji. But that was short-lived! Boo hoo – they are out of the Games.

Tomorrow we board the Rocky Mountaineer to travel to Kamloops and then on to Vancouver on Friday. Then we farewell this beautiful Canada and enter Alaskan waters on the cruise ship.

Victoria, Whistler, Sun Peaks

We arrive in Victoria a little weary but are soon perked up as we check in to the beautiful Fairmont Empress right on the waterfront. This magnificent hotel dates back to 1908 and, like many of these hotels, resembles an old chateau. The place is buzzing because the Victoria Symphony Orchestra is performing tonight on a large stage on a pontoon right out in front and thousands of people are picnicking on the lawn here and are gathered right around the area. We walk along the front to find a place to sit for a while and listen to the music and to have dinner. On the way back to the hotel the bagpipes are playing and somehow we managed to get ourselves into the throng following them so we march back to the hotel to the tune of “Scotland the Brave”. We have a couple of rest days now to recover and do the housekeeping before movin on.

This morning’s visit is to the beautiful Butchart Gardens here in Victoria covering 53 hectares and dating back 100 years. There is a sunken garden, a rose garden, Japanese garden, Star Pond, Italian garden, Piazza and Mediterranean garden and every single one of these is truly a place of great beauty, colour and tranquility. Seventy Gardeners tend the gardens and many of them are out today dead heading, weeding, lawn mowing, trimming etc. One of them told us that there are 26 greenhouses with plants which will go into the gardens at some stage and that in November they will be planting 300,000 bulbs. When annuals are removed they are composted to go back into the gardens. There are stunning fountains, sculptures and ponds and we loved it all.

Tonight’s included excursion is Chinatown Lantern walk and dinner so off we set all wrapped up warm because the wind is chilly. After a rather large and tasty dinner at a small Chinese restaurant, our guide presents us with a bamboo pole with a lantern and off we set to wander down the street and into Fan Tan alley and another narrow alleyway dating back to the early 1900’s. Well – didn’t realise we would be walking around with a lantern at the end of a pole!!

We departed Victoria on the ferry passing many small islands and arriving at the terminal in Twassassen and then driving towards the centre of Vancouver seeing bald eagles, blue herons and very large seagulls on the way. We also passed crops of blueberries and cranberries. The visit to Granville Island, which is a heritage site, was pleasant with its large Marina and markets and was a hive of activity with the street entertainers playing away. Here the buskers have to audition to get a permit in order to entertain on the streets. This was followed by a visit to Stanley Park to look back at the nice landscape of downtown Vancouver.
Now the bathrooms – well actually, as you will have noticed, there haven’t been any major problems of late. Yay! However, today on the ferry I did have a tiny wee problem. I walked into the Men’s by mistake and banged into an Indian man who, with a look of surprise, said “Maaaam – wrong side, wrong side Maaaam – go to other end”. Well, for heavens sakes – why can’t the Canadians make those Male/Female graphic images clearer!!!

Now there is a little blurring of the lines of responsibility here on tour. I am in charge of the P’s, the boss is in charge of the B’s. We have that sorted. However, I had a prior arrangement, which was agreed upon, and that was that if I had the responsibility of navigating us through new towns I would need to bring the Tom Tom – I didn’t. That means the apprentice is in charge of navigating but over the past two days he has tried to hand the maps over to me. “Fine – OK – won’t argue” I said but after he thought about it for 5 seconds he decided he would need danger money if I was navigating so he has agreed to take full responsibility for map reading. Whew! I can put the Stress Remedy back into my bag!

We departed Vancouver this morning and drove the picturesque Sea to Sky highway to get to Whistler visiting Shannon Falls (no kidding) and passing the tall rainforest here of varying types of pines, cedar, red alders and broadleaf oak trees on the way. We passed Stawamus Chief – a huge granite mountain with forest and trees with its gondola rising up to the top of the valley. This is the second highest granite rock in the world after the Rock of Gibraltar. By the way – petrol here in Canada is around 112c which is about $NZ1.30 per litre – why do we pay so much in NZ?

An inclusion in our tour was a Freechoice dinner and we chose the Fairmont Whistler Golf Club. We went with one other couple and on arrival we were each given a golf cart for a “wildlife” drive so our golf cart set off with a lady from the Club driving out in front to guide us through part of the course to look for black bears or elk. Well, we saw none but we did see absolutely magnificent scenery around the 8 holes of the course we drove around with Vern at the wheel – have to admit that at times it felt like we were in the dodgem cars at the fairground!! Honestly, he hasn’t driven for 7 weeks and as soon as he gets his hands on the wheel the power goes to his head!! This is a 6630 metre par 72 course with 400 feet of elevation and magnificent valley and mountain views. It has a signature 212 yard par 3 8th hole and the 18th finishes in front of the lovely casual clubhouse where we had a very enjoyable dinner and then a walk back to the hotel on a mild night here in Whistler.

We depart Whistler for Sun Peaks passing crops of potatoes and large areas of pumice in this farm bowl surrounded by mountains. Suddenly there is a black bear on a side road – possibly eating the plentiful berries in the early morning sunshine. We fleetingly see another brown bear through the trees and are pretty glad we flagged the early-morning walk!! We pass First Nations reserves which are easily identifiable because of the many car wrecks on all the properties. Up we climb on this windy road with lovely views of glacial rivers and lakes, mountain glaciers and Christmas-tree forests. We see salmon-spawning channels and green pastures as we climb and descend all day through these enormous mountains. Suddenly in this mountainous wilderness we come upon a lake with a large camping ground and off to the left cliffs of white rock with fir trees clinging by their toes to the sheer surface. We join the Trans Canada Highway and see crops of Ginseng (for alternative medicine) while listening to the music of Joanne Shannondoah – can you belieeeeeve it? Wasn’t me! Incidentally, the Trans Canada Highway is 8000 km long and runs from Newfoundland to Victoria.

We arrive at the small intimate ski village of Sun Peaks for the night and the first thing we do here is take the long gondola ride to the top of the mountain saying “hello” to a little deer sitting quietly right under the chairlift. The mountain is a hive of activity with all the mountain bikers enjoying some fast rides down the mountain. It seems a lot of the ski fields here have developed these mountain bike trails with various grades, just as they grade the ski runs, and this means that the mountain is being enjoyed both summer and winter.

Today we have seen extremely long goods trains – trains that stretch out approximately 1.5 km in length and are pulled sometimes by two engines, sometimes with another engine in the middle of the long load and another at the end. The shipping containers are stacked 2-high and the train seems to go on forever. We pass more glaciers on the mountains, lots of snowy peaks and we drive through several avalanche snow sheds built to protect the road from being blocked by an avalanche and keep the traffic flowing. So we make our way to beautiful Banff where we holidayed in January 1991 with the family in winter in the freeeeeeezing temperatures and were confronted by elk on the streets.

Yosemite, San Francisco

Well, you wouldn’t believe it would you. I turn my back for 2 minutes and the apprentice gets hold of the iPad and writes the first thing that comes into his head like something about me using the wrong brand of toothpaste etc! Now really – as if I would do something like that! Well, maybe! Actually, what I do need to say is that we had this enormous jacuzzi bath with a shower at either end and I am just so glad the boss didn’t decide to share the shower that night because I would have had no one to fetch the 7-Up from ze fridge!I am writing this on a flight from San Francisco to Victoria and, as I do so, the guy sitting next to the boss has fallen asleep and his head is almost resting on Vern’s shoulder (he is also asleep). I am a little worried that the boss might subconsciously put out his hand and place it on this guy’s knee. Then all hell will break loose here in this row I fear!! So I am hoping one of them wakes up very shortly!

I know my apprentice has told you a little about San Francisco but I will backtrack a little. After the breakdown in the desert and all that excitement we travel up the Tioga Pass (which has an altitude of 9941 feet and is the highest automobile pass in California) to get to Yosemite National Park. Louis Armstrong is singing “What a wonderful world” on the bus and “we are seeing trees of green and skies of blue” as we climb the narrow road through the mountains to get to the top. We pass through the entrance gate at Yosemite National Park and drive on passing pretty meadows, granite mountains, gorgeous little lakes and streams. We are now at 10,000 feet and many of us are feeling the effects of the altitude with a little chest tightness when we breathe. We had a stop in the park and a large RV managed to scrape the side of our bus. Well, we are in the USA and the paperwork takes an hour with the Park Rangers involved as well. Everyone is happy to wait because today the temperature is great and the air is fresh and we are no longer in the desert!  

You enter the beauty of Yosemite after you exit a long dark tunnel and when you look right your jaw literally drops as the sun lights up the valley, the mountains and the forest. To the left is El Capitan 900 metres high standing straight and tall and magnificent. It is a little dry here so the water tumbling over Bridalveil Falls is not a torrent but still visible. The huge white granite walls tower up above us and the pine trees stand straight and tall with their feet embedded in the rock. It is breathtakingly beautiful everywhere you look. The tour director has beautiful music playing and we feel like we are viewing a spectacular movie. The sheer beauty is so moving it makes my eyes leak a little.

We start to descend down to Yosemite Valley and are now seeing red fir trees and, further down, cedar trees and sugar pines which have enormous pine cones. Sadly there is still also evidence of the big fires here in 1990 although they also carry out “managed burns” here and in other places to clean up the forest floor and encourage vegetation. We look out for black bears but see none although they are prevalent here and the rubbish bins are designed to puzzle them and keep them from foraging and even manage to be a challenge for people to use because of the design! We descend to the valley floor for free time in the park and we go on a walk to Yosemite Falls with our Tour Director. The heat is once again intense here in the valley so the walk is a bit of a challenge, made very much more difficult when Vern gets a call from Dene with some sad news (which he didn’t pass on until we got to the lodge thankfully). The visit to Yosemite will be remembered for its sheer beauty and the sadness of the news from home which the apprentice talked about when he wrote yesterday. We know Taryn has found her peace and is now with her brother Ryan. Two young lives lost too soon.

The next morning we exit the valley slowly and in the process the bus gets swiped by another large RV and the side mirror gets bent. These RV’s are enormous and they are rented so we figure that the drivers are simply not used to manoeuvring them. This one speeds off so it can’t be caught for the lengthy paperwork!

We make our way north through the Central Valley of California which produces 25% of food crops for the US – all this on 1% of the land in this huge continent. There are lots of rivers but not much water. However, these crops of stone fruit, cotton, tomatoes, citrus, cereals, grapes, almonds (70% of world’s almonds are grown here), walnuts and pistachios get irrigated somehow and migrant workers work in this valley.

We are now back in the state of California and the green crops of the valley give way to the golden hills and pasture. We pass a place called Gilroy and the aroma of garlic penetrates the bus from the large pastures of garlic which grow here. Actually, you can even get garlic ice cream here – yuk!!

We travel past San Jose, where the famous Silicon Valley is situated, and Stanford University. We have left the scorching temperatures of the desert far behind and the temperature now has plummeted to 17 degrees – oh deary me! We pass the famous San Andreas fault line where, in 1989, there was a very bad earthquake. 

So, as the Apprentice has already told you, San Francisco was covered in fog, fog, fog. This is apparently very common at this time of year. The Golden Gate Bridge was a Golden Gate Half Bridge because, after two attempts, we only saw half of it!! Apparently, if you show the locals a photo of fog, they say “so you visited the bridge”. We visited a Japanese Tea Garden, (where we purchase a bag of fortune cookies – the first one said “you can start planning an exciting adventure” so we figure we must be about to win Lotto), Chinatown where 100,000 people live in the space of 3/4 of a square mile and is the largest Asian population outside of Asia. We saw San Francisco from the water with a lovely boat cruise (bridge still in fog) and Alcatraz and spent a few hours at the very busy Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf which was a bustling area with street performers, fish and seafood restaurants, boats and shops and people, people, people!! I have to say I didn’t “leave my heart in San Francisco” like Tony Bennett but it was an interesting place to visit. We have farewelled the US now for the next few weeks and will be arriving back in Canada shortly.  

There is something I am completely over here and that is the queue at the Ladies. Whoever designs the Ladies’ Restrooms here seems to have the idea that women need to make new friends and they do this by queuing at restrooms. For heavens sakes, why do they only build them with just two or three I ask myself? And to make matters worse, this is a worldwide problem of enormous proportions. I wonder if Donald Trump has thought about this because he might plan to fix this as well as build the wall, expel the immigrants and destroy Isis all in a day’s work. Heaven forbid.

I am relieved to report the boss has woken up (unlike the guy next to him) so that’s a relief! We are flying due north to Vancouver and then onto Victoria and we are looking forward to that. 

A few words from the Apprentice

It is an absolutely stupendous day on tour today ……….the lady who looks after the “P”s has given the travelling Apprentice the opportunity to create today’s blog POST, by way of an assignment to see if the Apprentice might be sufficiently skilled to do this on more occasions on tour. The Apprentice is really flattered that his huge potential in blog writing has finally been recognised by TL. Only problem is he has to “hand it in” when finished so that TL can review and mark it to see whether he has passed the test!!!! Oh well…..lets see what happens!!!
BUT…… It is with very heavy hearts that we write this blog, as we have recently received the very saddest news of the death of Shannon’s young niece Taryn Bartlett, in tragic circumstances in Australia. It feels real lonely here right now being so far away from home and family, and our thoughts go out to Lianne, Leon, Corlette and Jordan and their families. Taryn should have been starting the most exciting period of her life and her passing is such a waste of a talented life. Be at peace, Taryn.

On a lighter note, (well not really, as in my opinion this is a real issue here), it is obvious to an unbiased travelling Kiwi that America has a real culture issue with its community service organisations, namely the police, park rangers, and fire fighters. It smacks of macho male bullying and the Wild Wild West. We have watched white policemen on TV shoot black males including innocent helpers on the street. We have personally witnessed a male park ranger walk out onto a congested street at Yosemite and whistle and shout at a lady driver going thru an intersection that she had already been waved to go thru by another young female park ranger controlling the traffic, and we witnessed a fire engine in a very congested San Francisco yesterday afternoon go roaring around a 90 degree turn at high speed (way higher than was safe at the time, in my opinion) whilst still putting on his fire jacket at the same time. It really was a close run thing. At Yosemite I was moved to give the Ranger a quiet blast about his behaviour but before I did so I did check he wasn’t carrying a gun in case he got carried away!!!!! He thought he had the last word and whistled and shouted at me when I was 25 metres away and said “I am the Boss”. But a burst of “I don’t care who the hell you think you are, and I am a visitor in your country, and you should probably listen to what I said”, along with the famous one handed Kiwi salute which seemed to shut him up!!! The politicians really do need to do something about this ugly culture

And talking of politicians, there have been 150 channels on some of our TVs and 149 of them have been covering the Republican or Democratic Conventions live, the same conventions by political commentators, or advertisements (which go on forever). Repetition, repetition, repetition……. Boring. Couldn’t find a decent program to watch anywhere……… Except MMA of course but TL can’t stand it so guess what……we move on!!!!

The political choice facing Americans is quite stark. Trump vs Clinton. Now that the conventions are over, the alternatives a very clear and very different. It should be obvious to all thinking Americans that there is only one real choice……and its Clinton. Trump’s foot and mouth are both getting larger every day and by November the Apprentice thinks it will be no contest!!!! You heard it here first. The Trump choice will change the world, change America, and change NZ for the worse if it happens. I hope the Democrats can find enough thinking Americans!!! This is not a politically based statement but an observation from a travelling Apprentice who admits to not understanding the basics or the nuances of the American political system…….don’t want to be shot by the CIA or monitored by the NZSIS you see!!!

Well, I must tell you about a strange call I had from TL the other night whilst watching the politics on TV (I told you there was nothing else on). “Vern, could you bring me a can of soft drink from the fridge please?”. Nothing wrong with the request, except if the person asking is in the shower!!! You all know that the Apprentice is not very smart (otherwise he would be TL wouldn’t he) but he thought……why would TL be wanting soft drink in the shower? Well turns out that TL has got ready for her shower without her glasses and has taken the Cortizone cream which I have been using for some heat rash on my forearms from my toilet bag, put it on her tooth brush, and started to clean her teeth!!!! But she is very quick on this matter and has figured that something, perhaps the heat, has ruined the toothpaste!!! Then she realises the real possibility, actually the reality, so I check out the warnings on the Cortizone which say consult a doctor if taken!!!!! Smart eh, but where do you find a doctor in the Yosemite National Park at night, and in the absolutely darkest sky. What to do? Easy……consult Doctor Brendan back in NZ…….yeah right… cell phone coverage. But all is not lost……call on the landline from the lodge/hotel. Great, the good doctor is just finishing his operating list for the day and can take the call. The Apprentice explains the problem…….and there is this huge burst of laughter from the other end of the phone…….just tell Mumbo to clean her teeth with toothpaste a few times and all should be well. (The next sentence something about foaming at both ends has been censored by the editor!!!).

I am sure some of you are interested to know how my cycling has been going whilst on tour. Well I am pleased to report that it has been going extremely well. I must tell you that we have had Tino Tabak and Nola on tour with us this time. If you don’t know who Tino is, google him. In my opinion, he is one of NZ’s best ever cyclists, perhaps even the very best of all time ……Dulux 6Day Winner, Olympic and Commonwealth Games representative, Dutch Road Cycling Champion, multi Tour de France rider, professional rider in Europe for several top teams

Tino and I have been riding together most days. We love the climbs, long and steady and on that smooth Tarmac that NZ cyclists rarely see at home. We share the work and cover distances anywhere up to 150kms at a time. We are able to use the tour bus as our support vehicle and enjoy the cold cans of drink from our driver Tutti’s chilly bin at the back. Generally the traffic is well behaved and we have not had any close shaves as yet. Whilst riding along for so long together, we enjoy talking about the recent Tour de France, how Chris Froome can be so strong (we are going to check out what milk he is drinking!!!), who’s going to win the Olympic road race, the use of performance enhancing drugs in cycling, and wonder how the Russian cyclists are going for Rio. So you can see we are developing into a great team together, Tino and the Apprentice. Only problem so far…..he doesn’t ride a Pinarello!!!! So my riding is going really well and I should be really fit by the time I return home. Sorry, seems I forgot to clarify that we were riding in the bus!!!!

Also, congratulations to my great riding buddy Lynley for a top performance in her latest Ironman event at Challenge Roth in Germany. Great swim, usual very good ride, and a solid run to finish. Wish I could have achieved that time!! Well done, and with all the training I have been doing I am looking forward to some more Sunday long rides again.

TL had created a big buildup for San Francisco and the wonder of the Golden Gate Bridge. We duly arrived but unfortunately so did the sea fog that is frequent at this time of year and all TL could see was a very small piece of red poking out above the fog for two seconds. TL is hard to pacify in these circumstances. We revisited the bridge the following day and lo and behold, so did the fog!!! But this time we could see the bottom half of the bridge. Enough is enough for the Apprentice and we didn’t go back the next day to see the missing middle section of the bridge!!!  

However, the visitors park near the bridge had some outstanding engineering, physics, and bridge construction working models and information. They were very very educational and I thought just how much Oliver would have enjoyed and could have learned by being there with us. Great shame every inquisitive young boy could not see this open air display

We enjoyed an afternoon at Pier 39 and watched an English street entertainer fleecing the crowd of their money. Said he had come to America to follow his dream of making it as an actor. He hammered the Americans with his humour at their expense and at the end asked for their help in achieving his dream. They poured forward with big notes for the hat. For 40 minutes work he did very verysbad well, dollar wise!!! And they loved him taking it off them. Slow learners??

Got an email from Adrean, my Little Buddy’s Mum, explaining that she had discovered I was sending postcards to my young mate but to the wrong number in the street, 28 not 18!!! Sorry mate. All is not lost tho, a young girl in the class below Marcus at his school has been collecting them all and will deliver them to him at school tomorrow. Must be the extreme heat that is destroying my memory……..that’s my story anyway. 

Well we have come to the end of the second tour on our trip and are now heading to Vancouver and Victoria to start the final tour to the Rockies, Alaska, and the Arctic Circle. This has been a better tour than expected, and the stunning grandeur of what we have seen has been mesmerising. Truly spectacular. The Apprentice learnt it is better to view the 1000+ foot canyon walls from the canyon floor rather than the canyon rim!!!! So it’s two down and one to go. We are suffering a little with the relentless up and go every day, but it has been huge fun with a good tour group. So on we go today with still a month to go!!!

Our altitude maxed out at 10,000 feet at the pass into Yosemite National Park, on the Tioga Highway (slight misnomer here….. It is a narrow road climbing the last 2000 feet in altitude in very short distance, and is only open 3 months of the year in high summer). It is very very scenic with drops of 3500 feet to the valley floor of the side of the road. But the apprentice was huffing and puffing at the smallest exercise here and had a blinder of a headache all day, presumably because of the sudden rise in altitude. So family at home will be pleased to know that any slight dreams the Apprentice may have harboured to climb on Mt Everest have been quietly but deliberately removed from the bucket list. If the old and weary body won’t work well at 10,000 feet, it certainly won’t do so at Base Camp (18,000 feet) nor at the summit (28,000 feet)!!! Oh well, just proves what he has been reluctant to accept…….we all get too old for some things at some stage. Future climbing will be restricted to Mt Pauanui with the grand kids ……..can’t be too bad, can it.

But now for the real test of the day. The Apprentice has handed over his assignment for marking and the results have been Posted by TL. Reader Interest = Fail, Humour = Fail, Grammar and Language = Fail, Future Potential = Fail. General comments = should have been written on tissue paper and it would have found its way to the right place

So it is with some regret that the Apprentice will not be appearing again as writer of the blog Post and TL will be back on the job tomorrow again. But he will go back to carrying the bags and keep practicing in private in the very faint hope the lady who looks after the “P”s may further review his performance and will relent a little!!!! Unlikely, I know, but I know just how much you all are wanting to hear from me again!!!

Las Vegas – “Sin City”

Well, here we are in Las Vegas and had we known how much energy you need to explore “Sin City” in 43 degrees we would have got ourselves a prescription for “performance enhancing drugs” to prepare for it. This crazy place has 45 million visitors a year and 150,000 hotel rooms to accommodate them. The population of Vegas is 2 million. We are staying at Treasure Island which is in a good position on “the strip”. The strip is about 4.2 km long. On the way here Elvis is playin on this ‘ere bus to get us into the groove for “the Vegas experience”.We arrived in the afternoon and checked into the enormous Treasure Island Hotel. Just to get to the room you have to walk a distance past several restaurants and the very large casino. It is pure madness with a parade of trolley cases making their way to the elevators all day and all night.

So – out we go and we are gonna tolerate this heat because we have to do what everyone does here and that is walk the strip. Ken the tour guide has given us all a lesson on what to see. He has also told us that there are people on every corner giving out cards to men to entice them to meet up with “a lady of the night” let’s just say! Well in two days the boss only got approached 3 times. To be honest, he thought he was going to get a collection of those cards! The first day he didn’t get approached at all and wondered why. I told him it was because I was behind him making an angry fist at each of these guys as soon as they produced a card in his direction!! Not good for his ego tho!!!  

Everything you can imagine has been recreated here in Vegas. We visited the Venetian – well that is Venice recreated with gondolas, the Rialto bridge and shopping plaza; the Eiffel Tower is here with a replica of a cafe from the Champs Élysées in front of it; Caesar’s Palace has recreated Rome with its famous statues and who would have thought that the 12 apostles are sitting above Vatican City right here in Sin City! Well actually, on a closer look we notice a few of the “apostles” are naked so I am not sure what happened here. To get to the shopping plaza here at Caesar’s Palace you go on an escalator which ascends and descends in a spiral. There are magnificent fountains like the Bellagio fountains which we watched 3 times because each sequence to the music was different and amazing. We visited Penn hotel where the entire enormous foyer is a magnificent garden with the most beautiful flowers and plants, fountains and luxury in every corner. The Cosmopolitan hotel has the biggest chandelier in the world and there is a bar within it.

Now the people are something else – there are girls dressed in very little as Moulin Rouge dancers, cops, etc. I got distracted at one point and put my sunglasses on over the top of my other glasses and this was all because Elvis had come back to life before my very eyes. I can also report that Michael Jackson is here too – about a dozen of him actually. There are also versions of fat Elvis and thin Elvis. Mickey and Minnie come out at night and various other creatures wearing things that are very odd and often made out of very little if you get the drift! I swear some of these girls are suffering from memory loss (like us) and got up this morning and forgot to put on the shorts and top and are wandering around here in 43 degrees in their underwear! I can tell y’all that anything goes here in this city in the middle of the dessert. You know there is nothing much around Vegas but Vegas – it was created here in Nevada in the desert.

The boss isn’t very happy with me actually because I am having a problem with the cards to get into the rooms. I keep losing them and last night I found a collection of them in the little bag I only use when we go out at night. Now I am in a quandary as to whether I admit to him I have found this little collection or just shut up about it! Another problem that has arisen is that each day we move on we have the huge task of remembering what floor we are on and, even more importantly, what our room number is. We get out of the lift and turn left instead of right (or is it reft instead of light!!!) and run straight into a window or a wall! I wish I had packed the Tom Tom!

Last night we went to Cirque du Soleil “Mystere” at our hotel. This show has been playing here for about 15 years and was one amazing show. The stage went up and down in all sorts of shapes and forms; things appeared from the roof and sides of the theatre; performers were astonishing with the things they did and we were blown away with the whole performance and so glad we went. We went out onto the strip after the show to view the lights and I can tell y’all that it was over 30 degrees late at night! This place doesn’t seem to cool down in any fashion and the girls are still parading wearing itsy bitsies; the men are still handing out the cards and Elvis is still alive!

Yesterday we had a great excursion to the Hoover Dam. This is considered by many to be a marvel of engineering second only to the great pyramids of Egypt. We went in a big pink jeep but this time we weren’t jiggling around on a bench because it was very comfortable. We travelled out through Boulder City with the heat haze from the fires burning in California clouding the landscape a little. Boulder City was built to accommodate the workers who built the Hoover Dam. Originally, the workers who arrived to work on the dam lived in tents in the desert with their families. That would have been tough. Anyway, it has developed into a nice little city with a population of 15,000. The houses are nice – some are large. Apparently prior to the GFC the average 3-bedroom house was worth $325,000. It dropped after the GFC to $125,000. The effects of the GFC here in the US have been dramatic in places. A little bit of trivia too – property owners pay 1% of the value of the house in a combined property and schooling tax. Now Boulder City is quite a beautiful small city and Oprah Winfrey clearly agrees with me because she has a house here.

We arrived at the security checkpoint for Hoover Dam where all vehicles and persons get checked for bombs or any other device which threatens security. It appears that since 9/11 the security industry has grown because these checks are commonplace and searches are carried out before you enter many of these places of significance. Hoover Dam is truly enormous and, of course, the boss understands all this engineering but even for a dummy in the matter of physics like me it is impressive. The walls of the dam are 600 feet thick at the bottom and 45 feet thick at the top, and with no steel reinforcing! The lake level here on Lake Mead has dropped 120 feet and the states of Arizona and Nevada, which the dam spans, use all sorts of methods to conserve water. When we saw all those fountains playing in Las Vegas we wondered about that but they do and have won awards for it. The water is way more important to them than the power. Hoover Dam has 17 turbines and generates enough power for 1.2 million homes and to irrigate 2 million acres. By the time it was completed in 1935 6.6 million tons of cement had been poured into this dam which reaches a height of 726 feet above the canyon floor. At that time it was the tallest dam in the world and 96 men lost their lives during the build. Contrary to rumour, and the movie, no bodies are buried within that cement!

The boss thought he would just have a little go with $20 at the casino. Trouble was we wandered around and couldn’t work out how to play the slot machines and it was too late to enrol in a course to help us, although the TV in the room has an abundance of channels showing you how to play all the games under the sun. I tell you everywhere you go in this city there are casinos. Las Vegas is full of hotels, restaurants, shows, crazy people and casinos, casinos, casinos.

Breakfast is sometimes as big an education as ze problem of ze bathrooms. This morning, for example, the buffet restaurant was enormous and you get your morning exercise by doing three laps of the blimmin place just trying to find the cup of tea. This morning we did three laps trying to find fresh fruit and yoghurt, cereal and milk. The milk really got us – we had to employ help to actually find the milk machine even though it was labelled in huge letters. But then you had to place your bowl or cup under it and we felt like we were in a cowshed. There was a big stainless bar attached to this jolly machine. Well, we pushed, we pulled, we lifted it up and down and then the waitress clearly noticed the Kiwi oddballs struggling to get a drop of milk and came to our assistance! By the time you get everything you want you sink into your seat exhausted. We are also odd apparently because we don’t have three courses at breakfast time. You can have everything from bacon, sausages, fried potatoes, eggs etc to waffles, pancakes, every type of pastry on the market, fruit pies, muffins the size of a softball and every type of coffee, herbal tea or soda pop, slushies etc. But I can tell y’all that you try finding a piece of bread to make toast and English Breakfast tea and you have an enormous problem! You can do 10 laps of the buffet and sometimes not find that!

I divert for a minute because we are currently travelling in the desert and passing the jail where OJ Simpson is on vacation so we wave to OJ and I can tell y’all that there would be no fear of anyone escaping from this institution. For one thing there is nowhere to go or hide for miles and miles!

Today we have been “promoted” to the front seat on the coach and Tutti Fruitti is drivin along ‘ere with her HUGE tumbler of soda to keep her going! We have left sin city behind and we are happy that today the temperature drops to around 35 degrees. Yay! Oh deary me – we are drivin along ‘ere in the desert – nothing around us and then suddenly we see a HUGE sign for a brothel – right beside a place selling fireworks! Imagine that!!!!! There is nothing else around except for brothels and fireworks! Can you belieeeeeve it?

On a more serious note, as I write this our bus has broken down right on the edge of Death Valley. An alarm sounded and it turns out one of the fan belts has broken. We are presently at the side of the road here and the temperature is soaring to just over 100 degrees F. The tour guide and bus driver have been trying to contact the company to get some help pretty urgently because there are 29 people on this bus now with no air conditioning. We have all been outside to see if it is better but it is seriously hot and the breeze is hot. The update is that they are trying to get a belt that will fit and a mechanic from Tonopah which is about 1 1/2 hours away so we are going nowhere. Everyone is keeping up the fluids and another bus has just stopped to see if it can help but no luck. Mechanic arrived but didn’t bring the right tools so had to travel on to Beatty to get some. Eventually, after 2 1/2 hours sitting here in this pretty extreme heat the mechanic managed to fix the belt and it took all of 1 minute! Tutti’s next job is to turn this big bus on this narrow road. Not a heap of traffic here so she manages to get us turned so we can go back to Beatty and get some food and relief for a while because we are all very hot and the clothes are soaking wet.

On we go after getting cooled down but we have a big distance to travel on this long straight road as far as the eye can see. We pass salt flats and Joshua trees which provide no shade at all in this vast landscape. Some big dust devils are sweeping along the side of this very long straight road. In the midst of this we just saw a sign “For Sale – 4 acres”. Now the boss has a brilliant idea. He thinks he could buy this and set up a shop selling drinks in large containers, food and fan belts! Suddenly upfront there is a big truck rig swerving all over the road. We think the driver is having trouble staying awake.

We pass Goldfield which is an historic town with tumbledown cottages and huge yards of car wrecks which have been abandoned on this desert highway after they broke down. We get to Tonopah, a mining town with a population of 25,000. This is an interesting small town because it is here they do testing for the stealth bombers and also missile testing.

We turn off this longggggg highway 95 and onto 6 to and we start to head towards the mountains to exit the state of Nevada and back into California passing a large borax quarry on the way beside the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. These are considered the most stunning mountain range in the west and, oh my goodness, the landscape is becoming green and after days in the desert it looks magnificent. Suddenly it is raining when we get up to 7500 ft and we make our way to Mammoth Mountain and our lodge at the base of this rather large ski field. It has been a long day with unexpected excitement on the way. However, a meal and a welcome drink is awaiting us we are told so the company have handled this well.

Canyon Country – Arizona

We depart Kachina Lodge and travel out along the Desert View Trail around the rim and the Cameron Trading Post for a lunch stop. This is a big trading post run by the Navajo. We have been driving through land beside Indian Reservations (in this area there are 27,000 square miles of Indian Reservations) and at the side of the road we pass little markets selling jewellery and pottery. The jewellery is made from turquoise and silver and the pottery is in the colours of the clay and rock – shades of blues, greens, oranges, browns. Housing is basic with tiny simple houses propped on rock and sand. The drive is picturesque through the painted desert valley and on to Lake Powell and Glen Canyon and our accommodation is right on the edge of the enormous lake. Lake Powell is a reservoir which straddles the states of Arizona and Utah and there is a large dam called the Glen Canyon Dam. Our visit begins with a truly awesome boat cruise through the Glen Canyon. It is difficult to describe because the beauty of the huge canyon was amazing and, like the Grand Canyon, photos just cannot do it justice. It is a curious ensemble of amazing features – the huge rock with its patterns formed by water and wind towers above the boat; there are alcoves in the rock; there are huge jagged pieces stretching out from the walls; there are large cracks indicating the passage of time and events (mainly floods) and there are colour and strata changes everywhere you look. When we got to a narrowing of the canyon the skipper had to turn the boat in a very small space – so small you could literally reach out and touch the sides of the canyon – if you were silly enough! Of course, the boss just loved being in this ‘ere boat too!  

Today we had an early start to travel in to Page, a bustling little city here in what is known as Canyon Country. Page was established in 1957 to house workers who built the mighty Glen Canyon Dam here on the Colorado River and the second biggest dam after the Hoover Dam. We set off for a visit to the Antelope Canyon – another remarkable marvel of nature. We were taken by the Navajo owned company in open jeeps out of the city and then over a dusty sandy road in the desert and we jiggled along hanging on for dear life to get to the slot canyon here in the American Southwest. This has been featured on National Geographic and if you Google it you will see some pretty awesome photos. We then came back for breakfast and time to do the chores which involved getting out the amazing Scrubba bag and the blow up coathanger and putting the washing on the verandah to dry in about 30 minutes!  

We then set off for a raft trip on the river by the dam and in the Glen Canyon. We were taken two miles down a tunnel to descend 700 feet to the river and into the boat which took us 12 km up down the river observing the amazing sandstone walls of the canyon. We had a stop at a little beach for some cooling off time and I can tell you that even though we were melting in 41 degrees in that boat, the water was freezing!! Even so, when you are as hot as we were it was necessary to get in the water and put up with the pain of the toes aching just to cool ourrrrselves a little.  

The boss was pretty happy that we descended down in a tunnel where he could not see just how far down those blimmin rocks we were travelling! Otherrrrwise I can tell y’all that he would have been stayin at the top of those cliffs and not havin a barrrrr of this excursion!

So it was back via a stop a Safeways to get cold beers and lemonade and sit in our cool room and drink shandies to replenish the fluid – as you do!

Now the Hillary and Donald soap opera continues this week with the Democrat Convention in Philadelphia – a place we visited a few weeks ago. Oh yes – this roadshow (and the GOP Republican one which has just finished) has completely dominated the papers and TV channels here. In fact you would honestly think there was nothing else going on in the world – you flick through the TV channels and about eight are simultaneously running the same stories – ie the next chapter in the Hillary and Donald drama! Thank goodness the boss managed to find the Tour de France channel which was a very welcome relief!

We have crossed into the state of Utah now as we make our way to Bryce Canyon and the “Bonanza” music has been playing ‘ere on the bus! We are still in the desert with its expanse of orange sand and sage plants and we have just lost an hour. We are now in the heart of Mormon country and staying at Kanab which is a small western town and the Cowboys are evident – in fact the boss is regretting not packing his holster and leather vest with the fringes!!! To get there we drove through the Red Canyon in Dixie National Park to add to the woven tapestry of scenic places we are enjoying.

Bryce Canyon is a very different landscape with distinctly red rock formations with the hoodoos balancing on high towers of rock. It truly looks like a movie setting. The hoodoos are formed by water trickling into the rock and freezing. During the day the ice melts and water trickles into the soft rock and then freezes again so making a bigger crack. Over time water and ice chip away at the rock forming walls, then openings develop to form windows. When the top of a window breaks a freestanding tower is left behind – hence a hoodoo. Now, as you can see we are getting a crash course in geology ‘ere in this amazing place! We finished the day at a foot tappin country and westerrrrrn show and dinnerrrr and then outside to see the stars which were meant to shine brightly in the darkest place in the west – trouble was at 9.15 pm the sun was only just goin down.

Then it was on to Zion National Park – a magnificent park here in Utah. We drive through a mile-long tunnel and then switchbacks to get to the floor of this canyon which is primarily Navajo sandstone towering 800-1000 feet above us as we do the 2 mile walk to where the canyon narrows so much you would need to wade the river to continue. Several rockfalls are evident here but the walk is magnificently picturesque and in the shade (which is a relief on a 43 degree day) and fairly flat.  

We crossed into the State of Nevada very briefly for a comfort stop in Mesquite – temperature 43 degrees. I can tell y’all that we are excited any day when we see that the temperature ‘ere is less than 38 degrees!

We are now truckin right on in to Sin City – so Las Vegas ‘ere we come!

Grand Canyon, Arizona

We left LA to make our way to Palm Springs and the landscape changed very quickly. Suddenly there were vast plains of rock and sand surrounded by large barren mountains and a vivid blue sky. Not much grows in these conditions except for cacti, Joshua trees and creosote bushes. The Colorado River is the source of life for this dry Arizona desert. The landscape didn’t change for hours, then suddenly the green paddocks of alfalfa and date palms suddenly woke us from a little slumber because the change of colour in the landscape was a surprise.
Palm Springs – an oasis in the desert and a population of 42,000 and 354 days of sunshine a year. As we hop off the air conditioned coach we step into a sauna of 112 degrees Fahrenheit or 41 degrees Celsius. The first sign that we are in a rather hot climate was that the shop fronts are spraying out water as you walk along the road and I can tell you that after 20 seconds we are ready for it! However, the temperature was so hot that the spray was almost evaporating before it hit us. After about 20 minutes of walking we escaped into a Museum to get some relief from the heat – another 20 minutes of walking and into Ben & Jerry’s for a BIG smoothie! We chose to forget about the calories today! Who cares? In these temperatures we will do anything to cool down! Those people brave enough to walk their dogs here actually put booties on the dogs to protect their paws from getting cooked. On the journey again and another stop in Ehrenberg by the Colorado River and we are entertained on the journey by the dust devils or little twisters that are noticeable in the huge expanse of sand as they dance along the landscape.

Arizona is HOT and there are a huge number of big truck rigs on the journey. When we make a stop at a truck stop along the way for the usual queue at the restrooms, looking under the doors for feet etc, we notice that the drinking cups here are HUGE. No such thing here as a small bottle or glass of drink – the body obviously needs fluid and not just a small amount. The cups resemble small buckets actually!

So onto Lake Havasu and we are amazed to see this lake in the middle of this enormous expanse of sand, dust and rocks and we arrive at London Bridge Hotel – yes a wealthy American purchased London Bridge many years ago and rebuilt it right here in the desert! Can you belieeeeeve it? Well, we could but the walk down to it to take the photo was like being in the sauna. The photo was a quick one and then off to find the closest restaurant we could because the heat was intense. We ordered the 12 oz beer and 7-Up – 2 of them in fact! We did the washing and hung it out on the verandah and 1 hour later brought it in dry as a bone!

We now travel to the Grand Canyon – oh deary me in the middle of the desert we come upon a Land Sales office – what on earth is this about? Well, I am thinking you could buy as much land as you want but what on earth would you do with it? The boss isn’t tempted so that’s a huge relief because unless you could build an igloo I would not have a bar of it!!

We are now on Route 66 and the music is playing on the coach. Route 66 stretched from Chicago to Los Angeles when it was built during the depression when people in Oklahoma needed to travel to California to get work – it officially became a highway in 1956 and is 2451 miles long. It was designed to enjoy the journey – it wasn’t the destination but rather the journey that was important. (If you went to see the Disney movie “Cars” it was really about Route 66). The highway went through little towns that grew into interesting stops for people travelling the route. As Nat King Cole said “you get your kicks on Route 66”. However, Dwight Eisenhower introduced autobahns or highways. He decided that cargo etc needed to be moved efficiently so the motorways now bypass a lot of the towns that were part of Route 66. Of course, the small towns eventually suffered because the traffic wouldn’t divert off the highway to visit them. So Route 66 is now not officially classified as a highway and parts of it have deteriorated.

Now the boss is almost dancing around today because Tutti Fruitti (she is the driver of this coach) called him a “young man” this morning. Well, she certainly needs to go to Specsavers, but he took the compliment and it has surely gone to his head! She didn’t call me “young lady” so he might be looking for a Trade In!! We’ll see about that! Now he has revved it up a notch and is singing along with the music playing in the bus here which is all the Route 66 stuff and he is almost dancing in the seat! Oh well – he’s sure getting his kicks on Route 66 but he’ll get over that when we get up to 7000 feet and he is struggling to breathe!

Next stop is Williams for lunch and as the altitude increases the landscape changes and we start to see a little green grass, juniper trees and as we get higher lots of Ponderosa pines. So the brown landscape gives way to green which isn’t lush but which makes it seem like at last there is life in the land. There are just a few cattle on the ranches and a bit more civilisation out here. Williams, Arizona, is an old logging town which bears the grim distinction of being the last place along the old route to be bypassed by the highway. It was here Route 66 officially ceased to be in 1984. The fur trade was alive and well here many years ago with beaver supplying the fur for those felt tip hats that were high fashion here. As we cross these plains we see curtains of rain falling in the distance and lightning strikes.

So here we are in the Grand Canyon staying right on the rim and we do a walk up and down the rim by the Bright Angel Trail near our hotel with the one in charge of the B’s staying right back from that rim. He managed to look out at the Canyon but certainly not look straight down, where in places it goes down one mile. To look out at this enormous Canyon is like looking at scenery on a grand scale with the rose coloured hues blending with the green and grey of the rock and 2 billion years of geographic history before your eyes. This ancient wilderness of rock is an ever changing palette of colour and light and as the afternoon progresses into evening the colours change. It is one amazing sight and no photos do it justice. People trek down right to the depths of the canyon and there are also mule treks available at different times of the year. Going down is one thing but coming back up would be entirely another and is certainly not for the faint hearted. 

I need to tell you something – the apprentice has had an epiphany……he has seen the Grand Canyon from top to bottom; left to right; he has seen the rocks up real close; he has ridden a mule to the depths of it; he has soared over it and dived deep down into it and he is so proud of himself. He did all this by purchasing a DVD at the souvenir shop. After presenting this to me when I arrived back from a walk to the rim and up to a lookout he told me that actually, if he had managed to get to the rim and he did have the misfortune to slip, because he has grown into a little round man he would have rolled down to the bottom of this ‘ere canyon and possibly up the other side without injury!!! On a sadder note, we saw a notice on a post in the park – a photo of a lady missing on the Blue Angel Trail since April this year.

I can tell ya’awl that we are having a right Westie experience ‘ere in the Arizona desert from the Davy Crockett and cowboy hats to the big buckle belts and neckties. Next stop Lake Powell, Glen Canyon and Bryce Canyon so more challenges for the apprentice!

Los Angeles

Now yesterday I told you that the Americans are stunned when you say you are from Noooooo Zeeeeeelund. They look at you as if you are a bit freaky (well perhaps we are of course). It is weird. Yesterday we were sitting in the bus on our tour to Ste Anne Canyon – we were the only non-Americans and the tour guide asked where everyone was from. So the lady sitting behind us taps us on the shoulder and tells us that she plays cards on the Internet with a lady who lives in our very own country. “Now tell me where in Nooooo Zeeeeelund do you live?” So we explain where we live and ask where her card-playing companion lives. “Well she lives in a town there that is very near Australia!” Heaven forbid. So we name the towns down the west coast that “are very near Australia” for her but no – it didn’t register at all.
I need to tell you something about ze bathroom. Actually specifically the public bathrooms. This is perplexing. They do not have something on the door indicating vacant/engaged – so you never know if the cubicle is vacant or not. This means almost every time you go into the “Ladies” you see little old ladies like me bending down trying to look under the door to see if any feet are in there. I feel like writing to the Minister in Charge of Public Conveniences to tell him/her that they need to contact the door handle company in Noooooo Zeeeeeelund and order several thousand of those simple little catches that will inform people if it is safe to go in and save little old ladies like me putting their back out just to see if it is safe to go to the loo. Unbelieeeeevable. These are the amazing experiences you get when you travel!

On Saturday we disembarked the ship in Montreal and flew over Milwaukee, Cedar Rapids, Colorado Springs and the mountains of Colorado where snow is still in the valleys. We flew over Bryce Canyon which was like looking down on a vast brown plateau of jagged pieces of a jigsaw puzzle not quite fitting together and then over the mountains of San Bernadino before landing in Los Angeles. Now we are back in the land of cars and 12-lane highways.

Sunday we had an absolute treat and the highlight of our adventure here. Larry and Cengiz are friends we made on the Tour de France trip in 2010 and they were with us again in France in 2013 and are two wonderful guys. We were picked up from our hotel at Redondo Beach at 7.45 and taken to a French Cafe for breakfast followed by a tour in Larry’s brand new Mercedes 4WD to Malibu, Santa Monica and Redondo beaches.  Larry showed the apprentice where he does his long rides on quiet roads but steady climbs.  He took us to Beverley Hills and we walked the beautiful shops of the famous Rodeo Drive – with the boss confiscating the VISA!!! Actually, I was afraid to even step into the shops because I had forgotten to polish the tiara and wear it and I can tell you I didn’t dare turn over a price tag in case I fainted on the spot! We went past Pepperdine University, Brentwood and admired the sparkling waters of the Pacific Ocean and I can report that when you see house numbers 25464 you know you are on a very very long boulevard! We were then taken to their house in the beautiful Rancho Palos Verdes – a gorgeous suburb with a Spanish influence on the hills above Redondo Beach and looking out to the Pacific Ocean. There we enjoyed a wine or two in the garden overlooking the sparkling sea and then to the Trump golf course for dinner also overlooking the ocean but with the added attraction of a whale which surfaced just for us! The boss had spent 7 days on the ship looking for whales!! To complete a great day we watched the beautiful sunset over Redondo beach ending the best day we have had since leaving home.  It was fabulous to spend a day with our very dear friends Larry and Cengiz.  Perhaps we might meet up with them in France sometime or we may even see them in NZ!

Now – ze bathroom. I have to tell you this because it is truly unbeleeeeeevable. At their magnificent home I had to use the bathroom (as you do) and the first indication that this might be a challenge was that when I opened the door the toilet seat lifted itself to “welcome” me! Heaven forbid – didn’t expect that and it freaked me out. Anyway, I sat – seat was warm and I was thinking that this was a pretty good bathroom. However, there was a rather flash and shiny panel beside the toilet which took my eye. It had options: Rear cleansing; rear cleansing soft; front cleansing; arrows to go up or down!!; pressure buttons to give more or less; then drying options – oscillating; pulsating. Well, this took a little while to work out you know because you have to try everything don’t you and I can report that all this really “tickled my fancy” – literally! I had to regain my composure some several minutes later and exit this room, collect my camera and go back and photograph all this technology. Then I sent the boss in to see if he could work it all out and tickle his fancy too! That bathroom should get an academy award in my humble opinion!
So now we have joined our next tour group and yay!! Eleven Kiwis join us and off we set this morning to do the tour of LA which we have seen before but I tell the boss that at our age we can do with a little repetition and reinforcement so we can remember it. We did the Hollywood strip where the Stars have stars in the pavement to commemorate their wonderfulness and there was hype in overdrive from the moment we set foot on the strip so we escaped up the stairs that the Academy Award nominees walk up to get to the theatre to receive those statues and make their speeches and we found a little oasis of nice shops and less people and had a little walk around. Tomorrow we leave early for Lake Havasu and the Grand Canyon National Park which means hot temperatures in the 40’s, keeping the hydration up and wearing very comfortable light clothes so we don’t melt into the pavement

New England Cruise

Bar Harbour – Maine

Well here we are aboard the ship and it is good to unpack the bags for a week. Of course the new challenge is – you guessed it folks! So this one has so many levers and taps that we heard at dinner that one couple had to phone for the cabin attendant to get a lesson in getting water to come out in the right place. Well…….. I asked them to repeat the instructions 25 times so I could at least remember half of it and save the drama of ze bathroom. Voila – it only took 5 minutes to get it all set up and, can you belieeeeeve it but warm water we have coming out of the right shower rose! Couldn’t believe it myself actually but it just goes to show that practice makes perfect – almost!

Anyway, first stop was Bar Harbour, Maine and what a beautiful harbour this is, made difficult for ze captain navigating this boat because of the hundreds and hundreds of lobster pots set down in the harbour. As I write this we are turning and navigating out in a zig zag course to avoid damaging these pots and ze US Coast Guard is right there keeping a very close watch. They have a man at the bow with what looks like an automated harpoon. Not sure what that’s for – perhaps to retrieve their lobster pots if we snag one somehow. We tendered in this morning to see the beautiful Acadia National Park – in drizzly rain and only 15 degrees but, thanks to the Kathmandu sales, we are cosy, warm and dry!! Now we are off to Halifax, Nova Scotia and we put the clocks ahead 1 hour to get onto Atlantic time.

Halifax – Nova Scotia and Peggy’s Cove

Back in Canada now and off to see Peggy. Halifax is famous for a few disasters, among them being the Titanic which went down off the coast. One hundred and fifty of those who lost their lives are buried in three cemeteries here in Halifax. We were also told that on 9/11 just after the planes hit the Pentagon and the Twin Towers and all surrounding airspace was closed, 40 flights had to land here in Halifax. 7000 passengers had to be processed and accommodated here in the local stadium until the airspace opened four days later. Also, Swissair flight 111 crashed off the coast near Peggy’s Cove in 1998. Oh deary me – this is all sounding quite depressing actually.

Halifax gets, on average, 60 inches of snow per year, although in the past five years, they have had in excess of 100 inches of snow. The average summer temperature is around 12 degrees and they are doing well if they get up to 15 degrees so not a temperate climate by any means but, of course, we are getting further north. Fishing, in particular the lobster catch, brings in $600 million annually with the season running from May-November. Forestry is declining because here they mainly produced newsprint and that’s in decline and they also have salt and rock salt mines in the area.

Now Peggy’s Cove is interesting. This is a beautiful but extremely rugged coastline with severe weather a little like the west coast of the South Island. There is a lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove standing tall on rocks which are glacial deposits – interesting rocks and, because of this solid ground all around the area all power/phone cabling is above ground and there are no cemeteries in the area because the ground is rock. Houses are built on this solid rock base. There are notices everywhere warning visitors to stay clear of the dangerous black rocks, ie ones with slippery growth on them, as in the last two years a visitor has drowned after being swept off the rocks by a rogue wave, never to be found. So the one in charge of the B’s gives me the orders – DON’T go off the track, DON’T go anywhere near those black rocks, DO stay close by, and, by the way, also watch out crossing ze road! Of course I obey everything he tells me!! Only 35 people live permanently in this little fishing settlement with its slightly run-down buildings propped up on rocks and stones. Most are in need of painting but the very rugged weather here deteriorates the exterior we are sure. Artists are sprinkled everywhere painting Peggy and little souvenir shops, stalls etc are run by locals for the hundreds of tourists who flock here like the Kiwis to see this very wild place. So the Kathmandu gear was worn again because the sou’wester blows here and on this nice day, I can tell you that if we hadn’t been eating so much over the past three weeks you might have seen us sail past. But of course we were anchored down well and truly. And I must tell you that the tour guide today took a very big risk. He wore a kilt – in the wind – and he bent over!!! 

Actually we have started exercising, brought about mainly because we get lost on this blimmin ship and we find ourselves at the wrong end at the wrong time. We made a commitment to use the stairs – all very well until you are lost and have to do them three times but we tell ourselves this will help us wear the clothes that the water over here has had the audacity to shrink in the wash. In fact something perplexing is happening because even the clothes we haven’t washed seem to be shrinking too so perhaps it is the air!

Sydney, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia

Today we are in Sydney and a beautiful day it is without a cloud in the sky. We have been told about 20 times by our tour director that there is nothing there except for an enormous steel fiddle on the wharf. He explained that a tour of Sydney would take about 3 minutes if you were dawdling. Well, he was almost right actually but we don’t dawdle so probably would have done it in 2 minutes but, as it happens, we set off on an excursion to Baddeck – home of Alexander Graham Bell and his wife Mabel and daughters. The drive took 1 1/4 hours along part of the famous Cabot Trail which is considered one of the most scenic drives in North America along the Atlantic shoreline and into Breton’s Highland National Park. Now we felt like we were back home on a larger scale – beautiful scenery, lakes draining into the Atlantic and stopping the Atlantic waters coming into the lakes. Interesting. Beautiful peninsulas, lots and lots of lighthouses too on our way to visit Alexander’s Museum in the picturesque Baddeck. He was a very clever man, inventing lots of things including the telephone – kites, hydrofoils, tetrahedron building structures, desalinisation, air conditioning and over 40 years he tried to breed sheep that would produce twins – experiment failed but he was initially convinced that if sheep had multiple nipples they would produce twins – failure!! He gave up! So it was an “educational” day as we looked into the life of Alexander and I am thankful he invented that phone – I can’t imagine Georgia and Hannah without that phone you know. They would be totally lost and would have to find something else to hold onto and look at like a book or something! So we are back on ze boat and the Dutch Captain has just announced the plan for the overnight sailing to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island and we are on ze way! Going to visit Anne tomorrow!

Charlottetown – Prince Edward Island

And we are visiting Anne of Green Gables fame. But first we explore Charlottetown which is a pretty little seaside town on PEI. This island has a population of 146,000 – Charlottetown has a population of 35,000 and is Canada’s birthplace. The island grows crops of canola and 25% of Canada’s potatoes. It is the tuna fishing capital of the world and, of course, lobster is plentiful. We were very fortunate in the township to come upon an amphitheatre adjacent to the Conservatory of Music and 12 very talented Canadian singers put on an absolutely wonderful energetic show of Canadian songs to tell the story of the history of Canada and its diversity. We set off on an island tour to travel the 50 km to Green Gables and this beautiful setting where the author, Lucy Maud Montgomery, lived at the homestead with her Macneill grandparents for half of her life. Descendants now own the land and historic sight. We did the walk down Lover’s Lane – can you belieeeeeve it? No – probably not! It was very pretty indeed but no hand holding or sneaking into the bushes! Just a quick photo stop for the one photo a day the boss allows of us both! Oh deary me! Back on board to get lost again and do the usual laps of the various decks and stairs (which is good actually because of the problem with the shrinking waistbands that I told you about!) Dinner – oh no – we have to just force ourselves to do the three courses but “when in Rome” you just have to do it because you don’t want to offend do you? As we were having dinner the ship sailed under the amazing Confederation Bridge – the longest bridge in the world over ice-covered waters and a marvel of engineering. It is 8 km long and two lanes wide and takes approximately 10 minutes to drive over. The ship had to lower all antennae in order to get under the bridge and we got a close up view of the bridge supports which we were very close to. It is truly an amazing structure to see.

Quebec tomorrow, where we have already been for a few days so we have chosen to go out into the countryside to a vineyard along the Beaupre coast on the St Lawrence Seaway to Ste-Anne-Canyon where we go past the spectacular Montmorency falls. Quebec we love as it makes us feel we are back in France. Truly a very French city so ve ‘ave to try owa best to make owa selves understood.

Now I must tell you that I have had a promotion here on ze ship. It seems that everyone who comes to the laundry assumes I am running it. They ask how many coins need to go in? – How does it work? – How long does it take? Where is the detergent? How much does it cost? Of course I av all ze answers. Then when they hear the accent they ask “where are you from? When I proudly tell them New Zealand without a doubt the answer is “Jeez – Nooooo Zeeeeelund”. And you get the distinct impression they think it is just over the bay from that big opera house!