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26.04.2013, 23:00   ---   Aloha Kauai

After nearly a week I am still missing Fiji heaps, but with every day I am enjoying Hawaii more and more. I am staying at Nathan's place at the north shore of Kauai, the so-called „Garden Island“ of Hawaii, and my first impressions are totally matching the world-wide known cliche: The daily life is set around surfing, beautiful beaches, dark blue water, relaxed islanders, colourful flowers, Hula and the „Chaka“ is a completely natural gesture! Since Nathan is obviously working during the week (even here surfing doesn't pay the bills) he arranged a little truck for me (a pick-up, which is not considered a car in the USA, but a truck...) through a friend and this way I could explore the island by myself. Kauai is stunning, surrounded by golden beaches, a single road surrounds about 80% of the island right along the coast and the interior consists of hardly or non-accessible mountains, cliffs and valleys with lots of waterfalls visible from the distance. The vegetation is lush green and all over the place the most beautiful flowers are in bloom with an amazing scent – it doesn't disappointed any expectations regarding its nickname! Oh and there are countless chickens everywhere! A long time ago a cyclone had apparently destroyed lots of cages and ever since these birds keep breeding happily in the wild without any natural enemies (apart from the tourist loads in their Jeeps and Mustangs). Quite confusing still are all those American measurements. Miles, feet and yards instead of metres and kilometres, Fahrenheit instead of Celsius, pounds instead of kilos, fuel prices in gallons instead of litres... and for a change they also drive on the right hand side. And not to be missed are all those Hawaiian names, which I often can hardly pronounce, let alone remember! ;-) But in a way that also makes it more exciting too and I already had a great time so far. It worked out that my friend Rowena was just in Kauai too (I met her in Sydney and whenever she's not working she often lives here at a friend's place) and with a couple of beer on the beach we celebrated my birthday once again, Nathan's mum took me along to her weekly Hula class (the traditional Hawaiian dance), I explored the beautiful north shore all the way to the end of the road, went for a hike in Koke'e State Park... Today Nathan took the day off work and took me to those places that the average tourist wouldn't find, he's full of knowledge about Kauai's history, culture, flora and fauna (it really made me wonder how much I would know to tell him about my home in return... not all too much I guess) and we went snorkeling at Tunnels Beach (unsurprisingly I have already forgotten its Hawaiian name again). There are lots of caves and tunnels throughout the reef (hence the name) to dive through and just like it had been set up („just around the corner there is where the turtles often hang out“) we also swam with 5 juvenile turtles at arms length, they were totally chilled out! :-)

30.04.2013, 13:30   ---   Na Pali and Jurassic Park

Kauai was already amazing during the week, but the last couple of days were yet far more incredible! For Saturday Nathan and his business partner Conrad had planned a kayak trip along the Na Pali coast. The Na Pali (Hawaiian for „cliffs“) are a stretch of Kauai's coastline with high, steep cliffs, deep valleys and wonderful beaches and on the map it fills the gap between the two ends of the island's road. We left at 5am (not quite my favourite time of the day, but for special occasions I can deal with it), Conrad's friend Luis came along as well, Nate's dad was so kind to drive us to Ke'e Beach at the one end of the road and just after sunrise we were out on the water – we had about 17 miles (27km) of paddling ahead of us! Kauai is a surfer's paradise with according surf, which is rather critical in terms of kayaking. On Saturday though we had no wind at all and hence the ocean was pretty calm by Kauai standards. We still got some pretty big waves out there, but as long as they don't break it rather adds to the fun, only close to the shore it was quite rough as they break with enormous power. That makes landing and relaunching on beaches everything but easy (especially for kayaking newcomers like Luis and me), but we managed (more or less elegantly). ;-) My personal tourguide Nathan knows every inch of the coastline by heart and once again had tons of knowledge to share, we checked out several caves and came across dolphins a few times, which playfully spinned through the air and curiously swam right around us, just awesome! And then Nathan told me that unfortunately I had only just missed the whale season, such a bummer... and literally the next second he pointed towards the horizon saying „Look, there's a humpback whale breaching!“ Yeah right, just fool me... I thought, but took a look anyways and indeed: For quite a while we were watching a humpback whale jumping out of the water in the distance, incredible! And those beaches where we stopped were stunning too! The first one were actually two beaches, connected by a huge rocky archway (one of the film sets of the fourth „Pirates of the Caribbean“), we were surrounded by the steep cliffs of the Na Pali, a waterfall washed the salt water off our bodies and since this little paradise is only accessible by sea we had it all to ourselves! At the next beach we bumped into another group of kayakers and also a seal and a dozen turtles napping in the sun, that much luck in one day is hard to believe! And off we went for the last stretch to Polahale at the other end of the island's road. We were nearly there, but first we had to find a way though the massive surf break to the beach... That seemed everything but harmless and even surf-expert Nathan (which for the inexperienced looks like a chaotic mess of waves coming in randomly does surprisingly have some sort of structure, waves break at certain spots, there are visible channels which are calmer and also waves come in so-called sets with a calm interval in between) seemed everything but convinced that we would make it through smoothly... but we had no choice (we could obviously not go back) and after the next set we just went, paddling as hard as we could! An elegant landing is truly something different, but we made it in one piece and Conrad's son with his family, who brought Conrad's truck over for us, enjoyed the show from the beach. With a well earned ice-cold beer we cheersed to this unforgettable day and had a blast watching the other kayak group getting pounded in the surf during their attempt to reach the beach. ;-)

We spent Sunday relaxing on the beach in Hanalei, where one of Nathan's friend's celebrated his birthday. A lovely bunch of people, heaps of kids and just a laid-back atmosphere. Nate's mate Noah also brought along a huge stand-up paddle board for up to 6 people, which we surfed on – so much fun!

As a birthday present I treated myself to a helicopter flight around the entire island yesterday – doors off – and that really shows how wild and inaccessible the mountainous centre actually is. And so incredibly beautiful... A paradise in lush green, steep mountains, deep canyons and valleys, countless stunning waterfalls... Welcome to the film set of „Jurassic Park“! That was absolutely breathtaking and last but not least we also flew along the entire Na Pali coast, where I excitedly watched out for those beaches and caves of our kayak trip. With this a fantastic time in Kauai comes to an end and now the Big Island is awaiting me.

04.05.2013, 18:00   ---   Just a little scratch...

I was about to continue my Hawaiian adventure on the Big Island... All of the Hawaiian islands are of volcanic origin, but these days only the Big Island still holds active volcanoes. The Kilauea is also the world's most active volcano, day by day the glowing lava is flowing and the east coast is home to some world-class dive sites – I wasn't gonna get bored! But what spoiled the fun was a tiny scratch which I had gotten 2 weeks earlier in Fiji. When I climbed the boat after my shark dive a wave grabbed me and smashed me against the steel ladder, resulting in a significantly swollen bruise on my leg with a little scratch – nothing to worry about. I didn't think much of it, I always used to have a superb wound healing (and as I said, it was only a tiny scratch!) and so I soon forgot about it. It was only in Kauai that I eventually noticed my little scratch had slowly but steadily developed to a decent wound and also seemed a little infected... so I reduced my water-based activities a little bit and also treated it with iodine, that should do. When I arrived in Hilo though I finally had to admit that I didn't seem to get it under control. The wound had grown yet a bit bigger, was badly swollen and by now very painful too and it didn't leave me much of a choice but to pay a visit to the hospital the next morning. And us Germans are always meant to be extremely well organised and efficient... well, I dare to say we could still learn a lot from an American hospital!! I hadn't even filled in the registration yet when they called me in already, in no time the doctor was already all over my leg and in less than one hour I left with a freshly dressed wound and a antibiotic prescription – respect! I also had a whopping $450 less on my bank account though... I'm not surprised any more that my health insurance charges a hefty USA-surcharge. ;-) For now I gotta stay out of the water, shouldn't get sweaty, no alcohol and avoid the sun (these antibiotics increase the skin's sun-sensibility)... there's not too much left in a place like Hawaii. :-/ Well, I have seen lots of volcanoes in other places, so I wasn't too upset about that, I undoubtedly had to skip the diving... but I wasn't gonna miss out to see the flowing lava!!

Two Suisse girls from my hostel had arranged a private guide and I was lucky enough that I could tag along short-noticed. For many years the Kilauea has been active non-stop, its lava flows towards the ocean, cools down to rocks and day by day it creates new land (up to several acres a day!!!). Jeffrey, our guide, and his dog live in a little hut right on the seemingly endless lava fields (“We're living here pretty low-key, nobody invests much in their house out here, cause you never know if the lava might burn it all down shortly“). From there we hiked into the sunset for about an hour across the black rocky field with its weird forms and structures, in the distance we could already see the huge smoky clouds of the lava's ocean entry and all of a sudden it was super hot in one spot. We had a look around and spotted red glowing lava breaking out of the black rocks and slowly flowing along. The molten rock has got an impressive temperature of about 2400°F (1300°C) and as exciting as it is, one doesn't last long within it's proximity, it's just unimaginably hot! But for a moment the curiosity wins anyways and we poked a long stick into the thick, glowing flow, it doesn't get any closer. We came across heaps more surface flows, watched the ocean entry (you're literally watching the creation of new land, incredible) and at times it felt like our shoes were already melting on the warm ground, which wouldn't be a rare incident. With the growing darkness the lava was glowing even more and the whole scene became yet more impressive and with torches we slowly made our way back.

Next morning I flew to Honolulu on Oahu, the main island, where Nate's brother Michael was so nice to let me stay at his place. With my sun-, water- and exercise-taboo I was still highly limited in my activities, but I still managed to pass those 3 days. I couldn't miss Waikiki Beach of course and was even quite positively surprised. Yes, of course it is crowded and touristy, but in a somewhat good way with a nice atmosphere. It's indeed a beautiful stretch of coastline with the Diamond Head in the background and the first few stretches of beach were even fairly deserted and quiet. I also had a bit of a look around downtown Honolulu, spent ridiculously much time at traffic lights (from Australia I am used to a beeping sound when the pedestrian lights turn green and wasn't used to paying attention anymore while waiting... but in Honolulu they don't beep ;-) ) and I visited Pearl Harbor, of course. In a very interesting and shocking way the memorial park tells the story about the Japanese attack of the US fleet and I was even lucky enough to score a ticket to the USS Arizona Memorial. This battle ship was one of the most fatally bombed ones and sank with its crew in Pearl Harbor. Parts of the wreck still stick out of the water and right above it the elegant memorial had been built.

My time in Hawaii is over now, tomorrow I'm heading for the USA mainland and even though my heart is still in Fiji I had a wonderful time in this paradise!

19.05.2013, 21:00   ---   Something entirely different for a change

From Hawaii I flew to Bellingham in Washington State, just south of the Canadian border. During landing I just fascinated stared at the snow capped mountains and soon my friend Holly (my best friend while I lived in Darwin) and her mate Andi picked me up for a road trip to Yellowstone National Park – I always wanted to go there! We left straight away, it was great to have Holly around again and 2 days later we crossed the border into Wyoming – off to the incredible wonderland of Yellowstone!
Yellowstone is the world’s oldest National Park (established 1872) and incredibly diverse, only a 10 minutes drive takes you to completely different landscapes, often a whole different world seems to be waiting just around the next corner. Beautiful mountains, green valleys, blue sky… and just a moment later one stands in knee-deep snow. That was my first snow in over 3 years, I also hadn’t come across any pine tree forests during my time through the tropics and subtropics and it was a wonderful change to beaches, ocean, palm trees and rainforests – just something entirely different! And despite the summer-like temperatures (at least during the day, the nights were freezing cold and we instantly skipped our original camping plans) this snowy winter wonderland funnily made me feel like it was Christmas time. ;-)
The only drawback was still my infected wound, the pain came in waves and pulled through the entire leg and we already planned to stop by at the next hospital once we leave the National Park. But by the end of my antibiotic therapy it finally started to get a bit better.
Some parts of the park were still completely impassable due to the snow, unfortunately some interesting hikes as well, but to our luck the melting snow caused some powerful waterfalls and the snow capped mountains are quite appealing too. But despite the mountains there are also deep canyons, incredibly colourful cliffs and heaps of geothermal activity from hot springs and bubbling and steaming mud pools to boiling water spilling geysers. Over 50% of the world’s entire geothermal activity is situated in a small part of Yellowstone National Park, it indeed bubbles and steams wherever you look, accompanied by a foul smell of sulphur. The biggest attraction is undoubtedly the Old Faithful Geyser, which erupts quite precisely every 90 minutes and shoots huge fountains of water into the air, absolutely impressive!
And as if all that wasn’t stunning enough yet there are also quite a few animals around! The bison herds are roaming around pretty much everywhere, they are not the least shy and are actually pretty big with an impressive set of horns, one better stays away. Way more harmless are the several species of deers, we even spotted an elk resting by a tree and the big attraction are wolves, black bears and grizzly bears. They are not as abundant, hiding well and not very easy to spot, often they are so far away, that one would hardly be able to see them. But the countless photographers and professional wildlife viewers were always incredibly generous and let us watch the animals through their huge telescopes, so cool! And just before we were about to leave Yellowstone after 3 amazing days we came across another grizzly sitting just about 50m off the road, absolutely stunning!!

We headed south through the likewise picturesque and even snowier Grand Teton National Park, spent one night in the slightly cheesy but still quite cool western town of Jackson Hole before making our long way back. Along the way we unexpectedly passed Nevada City, an old ghost town that had been left after the gold rush and felt just like being catapulted back into the times of the Wild West, awesome!
In Seattle we had to part ways, Holly and Andi went back to Vancouver and I explored the city for a bit. It was freezing cold, but nice! I especially liked the lively Pike Street Market area, I have never ever seen as many Starbucks in one city (no kidding, they are at every single street corner!!), of course I had a coffee at the original first Starbucks Café and was very surprised how tiny Seattle’s landmark – the Space Needle – actually is!
Right now I am already on the road again, this time in the USA’s Southwest along with my brother and my cousins, but that story will have to wait for a bit.

29.05.2013, 10:30   ---   Nature, glamour and the Wild West

Quite some time has already passed again and we’ve had an exciting time! ”We” are my brother Sebastian, my cousins Mareike and Jenny and I. With our rental car we took off right from the Airport in San Francisco, a very diverse journey through the USA’s southwest with lots of Wows lay ahead of us!
Our first destination was Bodie, a Californian ghost town, which had been left after the gold rush and gets dustier little by little ever since. Strolling through the old streets, past shops, a school, a church, a fire station, the town’s pub and countless private houses it quite feels like being beamed back into the Wild West. Many old cars are still parked in front of the houses, rusting along, and also most buildings are still fully furnished as if people had just left in an instant.
On the pass at about 3000m of altitude Yosemite National Park welcomed us with freezing cold temperatures and even snow (not only melting on the ground, but also fresh from the sky!) – who would possibly expect that on a holiday in “sunny” California?? We were undeniably highly surprised and in spite of the overall miserable weather seriously disappointed. Next morning though we woke up to bright sunshine and the National Park showed off from its very best side – a dream of mountains, rugged cliffs, green valleys and countless stunning waterfalls. Especially Yosemite Valley is breathtakingly beautiful and when Jenny and I took a hike from Glacier Point back into the valley we even spotted a black bear with its two cups in the forest.

We drove on through the Death Valley, indeed a suitable name for the dusty, dry, rocky and boiling hot desert landscape, where we didn’t encounter any living soul except for one coyote and the occasional tourist and also the vegetation is rather limited. We still had a long, boring drive ahead of us, nothing but the desert around us, it got dark, pitch black… and suddenly behind a hill lay the most incredible sea of lights I have ever encountered: Las Vegas!!! Within a split second we were wide awake, drawn to the windows and completely speechless except for a bunch of Wows! The next day we extensively checked out the entire Strip. By day, at night, from below, from above, in and out of the casinos… it’s unbelievable what a fake world has been built there, one strolls from Venice to Rome, via Paris to New York… each casino copies its own little world. Of course we gambled for bit as well and after over 20km up and down the Strip we fell into our beds like dead.

And what would a road trip through the USA be without a cruise on the legendary Route 66? The “Mother Road” used to go all the way through the States from Chicago to San Francisco until she was abandoned for the larger and modernised Interstate Highways in the 50s. Those few stretches that survived until today are full of charm and nostalgia, countless of Harley’s cruise past, the radio stations play country music, old gas stations, motels and diners cluster the way with some having taken up service again and everywhere along the way are countless fantastic old cars, which would rather belong in museums than by the side of a road – a wonderful trip through the past!

Soon later we arrived at another place that just can’t be missed on any USA trip: The Grand Canyon, a truly gigantic hole!!! It’s just a perfectly flat country and all of a sudden there’s this massive canyon, the lowest levels are about 1km down from the street level, the responsible Colorado River is hidden in the deep gorges and only visible from very few places… It’s impossible to describe how big it really is and one actually only sees a tiny bit of the world’s largest canyon, incredible! And the whole scenery becomes yet far more stunning just before sunset, when the setting sun lets the rocks light up in their different colours and the shadows form some spectacular contrasts.
We moved on to the free standing rock pillars of the Monument Valley, film set for many of the old classic Western movies with John Wayne and the like. Another stunning landscape, also here especially with the setting sun and I only missed having a horse in full gallop under my bum… ;-)

And after all that nature we finally headed back to the coast to Los Angeles. The city itself… well, it’s just another city, not even a pretty one and not all that clean. For one day we just cruised around, posed at the Hollywood sign, looked out for the stars on the Walk of Fame and stared at lots of high hedges and walls in Beverly Hills – as you do – but we soon had enough of it. Absolutely worthwhile, interesting and exciting though were the Universal Studios!! Even though it was a public holiday the crowds were not too bad, the Studio Tour took us to the film sets that had among others been used in “Back to the future”, “Jaws”, “The Grinch” and “Desperate Housewives”, we experienced rain, flash floods and an earthquake, other shows explained in a great way how special effects work, animal actors were presented, there was an incredible stunt show with stunning effects based on the movie “Waterworld”, “Shrek” in 4D and our personal favourite: A totally crazy “Transformers” 4D-warsimulation, which seriously managed to make your body feel like being completely involved and falling out of a skyscraper – adrenalin included! Absolutely unbelievable!!
This morning we left for Venice Beach and Santa Monica, at the “Baywatch”-beach in Malibu Mareike and I had tons of fun posing at an unattended lifeguard cabin (without a red swimsuit and the rescue buoy though) and running down the ramp á la Pam Anderson. What we didn’t notice was the lifeguard in the next cabin down the beach… since he must have had a blast watching us on this boring, no-visitors-day (it was windy as hell) anyways, we could have at least borrowed his rescue buoy. ;-)

Now we’re almost back in San Francisco, where our trip will come to an end and very soon I will have to make up my mind how and where it’s gonna go on for me. Still there hasn’t been a single day without me thinking of Fiji and I just wanna go back once more. Since that’s not exactly a cheap travel destination an instant return is unfortunately no option though. Hence I already decided a few weeks ago to skip Central America, save that money and instead go home shortly, where opportunities are a lot better to work on my savings for a return to Fiji than anywhere around here. Also there’s still the wound on my leg, which is still far from healed even after nearly 7 weeks and under no circumstances would I wanna go for an extended trip with it to any less-developed countries (especially of which I know that English is not gonna help me and I don’t speak any Spanish). In addition there are also several other little things that made the decision yet a bit easier. Now there’s simply the question whether I wanna do a little stop-over in New York or possibly at least a short Latin America teaser to Mexico…

02.06.2013, 10:00   ---   Decisions in San Francisco

A few days ago we arrived in San Francisco from a fairly exhausting trip, where I had another great time. First we explored the city together, visited the Golden Gate Bridge, watched the cute sea lions at Pier 39… Sebastian, Jenny and Mareike had already been here before my arrival, so now they knew exactly where to go. Thursday night they had to catch their flight back home and I moved to my ex-colleague Kadar and her boyfriend Mukesh for a couple of days. It was heaps of fun to cruise the city with Kadar, we went shopping in Chinatown (pretty sure the prettiest Chinatown I’ve ever seen among the cities of this world), on Sunday we all went for an awesome hike along the coast to the Golden Gate Bridge and occasionally we just chilled.

And meanwhile I made up my mind to go home via Mexico. I’m over it with the big cities for now, so New York wasn’t gonna happen, instead I rather check out some Maya ruins and enjoy a few last days on the beach. And here we go… I’m already on the plane to the last country of my long journey. :-)


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