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Wanderlust cured’s Travel Diary

Thursday, 22 Oct 2009

Location: California, USA

MapAlcatraz, San Francisco, Monterey Bay

Anybody who goes to San Francisco wants to see the Golden Gate Bridge, its an icon, probably one of the most photographed bridges in the world – and I was no exception. Not only did I get to take great photographs on another foggy morning, the road into the city lead right across it. The $6 toll was worth it and it was all it was cracked up to be. First stop: San Francisco Bay. Alcatraz was booked for the afternoon so there was some time to explore San Fran itself. Fishermans wharf area was lined with colourful streets, some famous attractions like the Wax Museum and Ripleys, lots of cheap I love SF shirts and of course – seafood, boats and lots and lots of sea lions. We strolled along, got a famous fishwich sandwich, looked into the shops. The barking could be heard from many wharfs away so it was obvious that I was going to follow it. Sea lions in the hundreds packed onto floating rafts that have been made just for them. They fought for a position on there to rest and sun themselves. They lay, honked, barked, sun tanned, canoodled, swam, played and smelt. A few opportunists saw the bare docks nearby and tried to get on top to rest there but there was permanent security guards there to keep them to designated spots. They were fun to watch and had attracted a large crowd. Through more shops on the famous Pier 39 and onto Pier 33 which was where the boat to Alcatraz was docked. Tickets in hand, we sat and lapped up the San Francisco sun while we waited. The trip over gave us amazing views of the city, the bridge and the resident gull which caught wind drifts off the boat and just hovered above the boat while we cruised along. Alcatraz was quite a large island and obviously steeped in history as not only being a maximum security prison but was how they guarded the bay in yesteryear before it held some of the most famous criminals of that time. It closed in 1963 and since then it has had an Indian occupation which got quite a bit of publicity and allowed more landrights for native Indians rather than just being relocated and trying to assimilate. It then became a National Park which has allowed more than a million visitors each year to look into its history. I guess the reason most people go there is teh famous prison and that is where my interest lay.

The audio tour allowed you to walk around Cell Blocks B, C & D, D being the isolation block. The people talking you through the prison were 4 of the old officers and guards and 4 prisoners that were held there. They talked about the different wings, how you were paraded down “broadway” as they called it when you first got there. There were 3 levels of cells, they were tiny, barely bigger than most bathrooms and they spent huge quantities of time in there. Throughout the audio tour the criminals and officers discussed the battle of Alcatraz and past escape attempts. It was only shut down due to lack of funding, the demise of the building and advocates for rehabilitation rather than punishment. In its time it held Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly and the Birdman, although it was interesting to note that some prisoners had gone in there for tax evasion and bank robbery – hardly worth a maximum security prison. We spent a huge amount of time there and unfortunately got caught in peak hour San Francisco traffic. After a few quick switches in direction we made it out ok and onto another night of expensive camping heading down to Monterey Bay aquarium.

The sea fog continued this morning and we made it to the aquarium in time for a little shopping before it opened. Amazing exhibits and my favourite was the open bird exhibit which allowed you to be right in front of sea birds, they would almost touch your nose as you lent over for a photograph. I saw some great marine life and a large seahorse exhibit which was really wonderful. There was quite a long list of people who had contributed over $1million to keep the aquarium going. The sea otters were a treat and afterwards when we went for lunch there were 4-5 wild sea otters out in the kelp in the bay eating, playing and baking while we had lunch. Sea lions also splashed around in the bay and thats when I knew we were about to leave somewhere special.

Did I mention that yesterday and the day before the windy, crazy, twisty roads continued? Heading towards Yosemite and then over through Nevada and into Utah we are both looking forward to some straight roads which don’t guzzle a tank of gas in a day. After a few days of driving we will have a break in Moab for some biking and just general relaxation over a campfire at night for a few days – maybe even a week. The scenery has and will change dramatically, from rainforest, to ocean and its unrelenting fog into desert and vast dry canyons. At the moment we have been driving through California’s famous farm region with artichokes, strawberries and brussel sprouts lining the roads as we drive along. I call it famous because when I was living in Canmore most of your produce came from California. Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly for some, the main employees of these farms were all Mexican, there would have been at least 500 people working on the farms we went through this morning. You see in the movies the big old yellow school buses filled with Mexican immigrants and although it was a big white school bus that’s what they were transporting all the workers in. I guess after California the next stop is Mexico and its still considered a developing country and it lies right beside one of the biggest superpowers on the world stage. As I write we are driving through the fruit area with apricots and cherries advertised everywhere. It’s not the season for them but when it is there would be so much produce coming out of this part of the U.S.

Time to go East, its all been West and South on this trip so far and the changes will be welcomed.