What I Learnt in Yosemite

I didn’t learn about how the valley was formed (I did go looking for the information but got side tracked by ice cream), nor did I learn about any of the wildlife that are native to the area (I did see a squirrel though) and I definitely didn’t learn anything about the geology of the famous rock formations.

Things I learnt while hiking Yosemite Upper Falls Trail

Instead I made much more practical and in-depth discoveries that will last me a life time – though, I am not saying that geology and wildlife aren’t important things to assist you in life – especially if you are prone to participating in pub trivia nights.

 What’s the story: I travelled to Yosemite from San Francisco with a tour group called Green Tortoise. A tour was the right option for me as I was backpacking through Nor Cal and didn’t have a car, plus I was on my own and wanted to meet some friends.  A short trip through Google and Trip Advisor narrowed the choice down to Green Tortoise, and as an added bonus the date of the next trip was perfect for me – stars had aligned. The tour bus would drive through the night while we all slept so that would arrive in Yosemite as the sun was rising, in time for breakfast and then a day of hiking.  We would spend one night camping just outside the valley so we could spend the next day exploring as well before another night ride back to San Francisco – easy! It turned out to be a three days of little discoveries.

Things I learnt while hiking Yosemite Upper Falls Trail

What I Learnt in Yosemite

How to turn a bus into a moving dorm room (complete with stinky feet and snorers): Green Tortoise have these spectacular buses that work the same way as caravans. During the day you have chairs and tables to lounge on, but when you want to go to bed they turn into three-tiered bunk beds – the bottom bunk was the best as you had less chance of rolling out when the bus went round a corner a little sharply. Definitely wouldn’t pass Australian road rules…

How to cut a watermelon: You would think after a life time of devouring this amazing fruit that I would have mastered the art of cutting it up.  You see, all these years I have cut my watermelon up into triangle pieces so that I could eat it off the crust.  However, over breakfast on the first morning I was put on fruit salad duty and it was here that the Green Tortoise chef, Adam, taught me the best way.

  1. Cut the ends off so it stands on its head easily
  2. Slice the crust off the sides off – curving the knife around fruit
  3. Chop up the flesh into bite sized piece – no crust to worry about
  4. Simples

People are all talk: As we drove through the valley we all discussed which hike we would spend the day doing.  Our bus driver gave loads of advice about difficulty and time required.  By the time we reached the car park 50% of the group said they would be doing the Upper Yosemite Falls hike.  Once out of the bus our driver pointed to a giant rock with a waterfall careening down the side “that’s where you end up when you get to the top”. Only five of us ended up taking up the challenge – we could tackle 12ks with an elevation of 2,600ft in 6 hours, no problem…(famous last words)

Things I learnt while hiking Yosemite Upper Falls Trail

What half way REALLY is: About a quarter of the way up the side of the mountain my fellow waterfall enthusiasts and I decided that we must be about half way.  2 more hours and 2000ft taught us otherwise.

The power of positive thinking: It was pure enthusiasm and excitement that got me two-thirds up. The final third was a war between “you can do it” and “quit winging your annoying yourself” or “quitting this close will be the lamest thing you have ever done” and then there was the old standby lie that your parents taught you “just one more corner I promise” – what didn’t help was the people who were bounding down and saying things “it’s still a long way to go”

Getting to the top is the best feeling: Flopping down in the shade and draining the last of your water while stuffing a sandwich in your mouth is pretty awesome. What makes it the absolutely best moment ever, is the view you have of Yosemite Valley stretched out below you.

Drink the water: We saw some people using filters on the water up the top of Yosemite Falls, but we were so thirsty we didn’t bother.  It was by far the best tasting water I have ever drunk, no chemicals, no metallic after taste – just pure deliciousness. For the record none of us got sick.

Things I learnt while hiking Yosemite Upper Falls Trail

Hiking boots were invented for a reason: As this was a side trip I was just wearing my normal running shoes instead of hiking boots.  On the way up this didn’t seem like much Things I learnt while hiking Yosemite Upper Falls Trailof a disadvantage (except for when I tripped over rocks – no protection). On the way down the advantage became clear, my runners just didn’t have the grip or the sole to deal with the slippery dust coated granite.  Impending death flirted with me the whole way down as I took tiny steps to avoid sliding of the edge of the mountain.

Going down hurts more than up: Up takes mental power, real mental power – but it doesn’t hurt your body that badly, just drains your energy.  Going down… well that’s another story! Soon your calves ache, then your thighs, then your abs and back, soon your whole body is shaking making the whole thing so much worse.

Standing still is not the best reaction when someone yells bear: All trip I had been pleading with mother nature to grant me a bear sighting.  Almost back down the bottom of the trail I hear someone scream “bear” – it took me a full minute to process what to do, my immediate reaction was to run up the trail to see it, which then collided with the sensible reaction of running away from the bear, leaving me standing there gaping like a fool. By the time I ran back up the path the bear had been scared off.

Things I learnt while hiking Yosemite Upper Falls Trail

Ice cream and a Yosemite Beer is a great mix: ONLY once you have returned from the Upper Yosemite Falls climb and are in need of sugar and beer.

You can eat what you want: A little chart at the information centre advised me that i had burnt 3400 calories in climbing the Upper Yosemite Falls track.  I took this to mean that i could have seconds at dinner and not be stingy on the sour cream.

It hurts more the day after: As painful as it was coming down the mountain, that was nothing compared to trying to walk the next day. What I needed was a hot bath and a massage. Instead I went for a walk to the beautiful mirror lakes where I waded through freezing cold glacier water and had a nap under a tree.

Things I learnt while hiking Yosemite Upper Falls Trail

The oldest Saloon in California can make a $2.50 beer taste like an $8 beer: Maybe it was because the classic barman who was constantly cleaning glasses, or the juke box that played 90s hits, or the great wall memorabilia, or the fact that we were in the middle of no where, or complete exhaustion – either way that beer tasted fabulous.

Watching the sun rise over San Francisco is pretty spectacular: Wake up early one morning and see it – its worth it!

Things I learnt while hiking Yosemite Upper Falls Trail

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What to do in San Francisco

Things to do in San Francisco - thelitebackpacker.com

Need some help narrowing down your itinerary for San Francisco as there is SO MUCH to do there! Here are my top things to do and note:

Where to stay:

  • USA Hostels – this is where I stayed, it is a little but more expensive for most hostels but there are so many little extras that it is totally worth it! Little things such as – small dorms, power point shelves inside your bunk bed, really friendly cleaning staff, clean and equipped kitchen, free breakfast pancakes and fruit, great security, comfy beds and loads of activities running daily.
  • The Green Tortoise – I really wanted to stay here but sadly it was booked out.  However, everyone I know who did stay there strongly recommended it.  They also do a free dinner two nights a week!

Things to note:

  • Weather – all year round San Francisco has fog, it may be summer everywhere else but pack layers for San Fran.Things to do in San Francisco - thelitebackpacker.com
  • Maps – get the uber great transit map from your hostel or the information centre as it not only marks all the great attractions but also all the bus routes on it.
  • Airport – you can catch the Bart train in from the airport for about $8 or speak to your hostel about an airport drop off or pick up, it’s usually about $12… you pay the extra $4 to not have to carry your pack up a hill!
  • People – generally everyone you meet is super friendly, super helpful and so outgoing its daunting. San Francisco also has a large population of homeless people, this was a huge culture shock for me – it was heartbreaking to see so many people living rough in one of the worlds wealthiest countries.

Where to eat:

  • Fisherman’s Wharf – Try the world-famous clam chowder in a sour-dough bread roll while sitting on the seafront fighting off seagulls. Only $6.50!Things to do in San Francisco - thelitebackpacker.com
  • The Capital Restaurant (China Town) – Well recommended by Yelp and Tripadvisor.  Affordable and absolutely delicious, the place is always packed and you must order the chicken wing starters.  Every table had a plate one and one bite will tell you why.
  • Taqueria – Ask at your hostel or hotel where they think the best locals taco’s can be found.  It won’t be in any guide-book but it will be the best Mexican you will have.
  • Mission Cheese – Bask in the sunshine while sipping wine and nibbling on cheese
  • In N Out Burger – A Californian institution and the Ferrari of fast food. But one that Things to do in San Francisco - thelitebackpacker.comshould be only be used as hangover food or in extreme circumstances once you are over the age of 22 – otherwise you will feel the grease sliding down through your intestines.

Things to do and see:

  • Golden Gate Bridge – of course! You can hire bikes at Fisherman’s Wharf and cycle across, stopping on the other side for some lunch.  Though if you prefer to take in the scene at a more relaxed pace, you can walk across.  There and back only takes 40 minutes and there are buses that run from Downtown to the Bridge every 20 minutes.
  • Mission – Spend an afternoon walking around the colourful streets and popping into Things to do in San Francisco - thelitebackpacker.com local bars – Lonely Planet has some great suggestions on how to lose yourself for an afternoon – check out my last blog on it!
  • Coit Tower – Walk up to the tower that over looks the whole city for great views of The Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, Alcatraz and Lombard Street.  You can go up to the top of the tower for $7 but if there is fog in the bay obscuring the view it may not be worth it.
  • Alcatraz – see the cell where they kept Al Capone and receive chills down your spine as you wander the dark deserted corridors of America’s most notorious prisons.  Book early though as only one company runs tours out there and it books out quickly especially in the summer months.
  • Lombard Street – If you feel like some exercise walk up the stairs on the side of theThings to do in San Francisco - thelitebackpacker.com zig-zag street.  Stop to admire the beautiful flowers and graceful architecture of the houses on either side.  Just be careful not to get swamped by the hundreds of tourists with cameras.
  • Union Square – Be mesmerised by shoes and designer glasses as you stumble around the plethora of giant American shopping chains such as Macey’s, Nordstrom’s, Forever 21 and the Gap.
  • Golden Gate Park – take a relaxing day out from the hustle and bustle of the city while perusing the greenery in this giant park to the south of the city.  The Japanese Tea Gardens in the centre are highly recommended… however I was unimpressed for the price.  The Botanical Gardens over the road were much more impressive and were FREE on the day I was there.
  • Cow Hollow (Union Street Shopping, not to be confused with Union Square) – for some cute boutiques and fun kitchy cafes head to the other side of town.  It was a little out of my price range but I loved walking through looking at the creative store names. Things to do in San Francisco - thelitebackpacker.com
  • China Town – fight through the tourists to pick up some great souvenir bargains. Don’t forget to check out the streets either side as they have some great little surprises such as full wall murals and a some great places to get a manicure.
  • Ferry Building to Pier 39 – Start at the old Ferry Building markets to indulge in some delicious local produce.  Then walk it off by walking round through the piers admiring the views and the giant ships as they head out to sea.  Stop at pier 39 to watch the Sea Lions who have taken up residence.
  • Harbour Tours – See the city from the sea and get up and close with the Golden Gate Bridge, take a stroll across Treasure Island.  It’s not hard finding a tour company or boat as the wharfs are crowded with choice.

Things to do in San Francisco - thelitebackpacker.com

Something Extra:

  • Wine Tours (Sanoma and Napa Valley’s)- San Francisco is just a couple of hours away from California’s premium wine country. Take a day trip or even a couple of days to explore the region with your tastes buds.
  • Yosemite – although a 6 hour drive from San Francisco there are plenty of tour groups that do all the driving for you.  Spend a couple of days traipsing across the peaks and absorbing the spectacular views.

Hopefully this will give you a place to start – good luck on your exploration.

Things to do in San Francisco - thelitebackpacker.com

A Cubano Inspired Night Out!

Cuban Food - thelitebackpacker.com

The dream of doing the great American Road trip has been instilled in me ever since I saw Thelma and Louise. I was romanced by the red deserts, long highways, truck stops, shady saloons and of course Brad Pitt.  Since that first piece of wanderlust was embedded many other films have fanned the flame, including the film I saw this week while in America – Chef. (I always go and see a film while I am travelling – it’s a great way to have a “quiet” night while still doing something that locals would do – plus I love seeing what different places offer at their cinema “snacks”)

Chef which was written, produced and starred Jon Favreau and is a feel good family film that explores what happens when the main character looses his passion and integrity. He  discovers that the best way to reignite those paths is to get back in touch with his family and love of food.  Along the way there are cameos from Scarlet Johansson and Robert Downey Jn and many others who caused me to grip my friends arm and say “oooo that’s the guy out of…” while she shushed me.

As Chef Carl Casper travels from Miami to LA in a food truck, using twitter to promote his food we are given a taste of America’s south through vivid colours and mouth-watering food images.

By the time I walked out of the theatre I was hungry (which was surprising considering the amount of maltesers I had consumed through the film) – but I was hungry for something specific, a Cubano Sandwich. I confessed to my friend that I had never tried one – or any Cuban food for that matter.  She looked at me in horror and decided that my stay in America would not be complete without some margaritas and a Cubano Sandwich.

The next night we headed to La Bodeguita del Medio in Palo Alto (Silicon Valley) – it was chosen due to its rave reviews ion Yelp (if you are travelling to San Francisco download Yelp as its a great app for finding the best restaurants and things to do!).

Due to the level of anticipation and hunger we turned up at the restaurant rather early, and as it was mid-week thought that the place would have been empty.  Oh how wrong we were, the place was packed and there was already a wait for tables.  Luckily the sun was still shining so we opted to eat outside.

We poured over the menu while sipping on Margaritas – none of the names looked familiar so my friend graciously explained each delicious item to me. Finally we narrowed down our selection and placed our order – when we had finished our waitress commented “Are you sure, that’s a lot of food, you may not be able to finish it” – while this made us nervous that we were about to eat till we exploded we decided to keep our order and push through.

Cuban Food - thelitebackpacker.com

The first items to come out was the Shrimp Ceviche and Plantain Crusted Goats Cheese Salad. I have had Ceviche before but not like this – it was a fresh and complex, leaving me wondering with each bite what exactly was in the sauce.  The salad was one of my favourite items (it could be because it has cheese in it and we all know how I feel about that) – I am not sure what Plantain is, though my friend described it as a banana thing… whatever it was it was crispy and full of flavour that perfectly offset the goats cheese.

Cuban Food - thelitebackpacker.com

Next we dug into the Masitas which was shredded pork with rice and beans – however that description is way to simple for what we ate.  The pork was slow cooked in all manner of juices and spices that my inexperienced tongue couldn’t decipher, I almost wanted to suck the flavour out of the pork just to savour it for longer.

Cuban Food - thelitebackpacker.com

Finally we finished with the Cubano Sandwich.  It not only lived up to expectations but it blew them out of the park.  After watching how a Cubano should be made in the movie I was gratified to see that all of the elements that Chef Carl Casper had stressed had been adhered to. The moist pork coupled with the smokey bacon, a generous helping of mustard all coated in a gooey layer of melted cheese.  All of this sat on a perfectly butter glazed bun.

It was very lucky that we were sharing as otherwise I would definitely have exploded.  As it was I was pleasantly full – top button of my jeans did have to be undone and I did waddle to the car at a very slow pace, but it was worth every bite! Thanks for the recommendation Jon Favreau

My Mission – A Lonely Planet Stroll

Most seasoned travellers know not to take Lonely Planet as gospel.  We know that the quiet off-the-beaten-track bar/restaurant/attraction/place/country will no longer be so after you have read about it in Lonely Planet.  We also know that the great cheap deals that you read about in your trusted guide can always be beaten by going somewhere two streets away from the place mentioned in the guide. This isn’t a fault of the great publishers at Lonely Planet – but a sign of the guide books effect and popularity.

The first thing I do before every trip is buy the Lonely Planet guide, I then spend weeks reading, highlighting, googling and making notes in the margins till my book looks as tatty as my Harry Potter books. I will inevitably go to many more places, do things and eat foods that are never mentioned in the guide – but it gives me a place to start.

San Francisco - thelitebackpacker.com

So when I decided to check out some of the suburbs surrounding San Francisco I once more reached for my Lonely Planet San Francisco Pocket Guide.  I flipped through several chapters before choosing the suburb of Mission.  What grabbed my attention though was that there was a great walking tour I could do over a couple of hours and the last stop according to the guide was a Cheese Bar – need I say more!

Although I was excited about my outing I was skeptical that the walk would satisfy, I expected crowds of backpackers, locals capitalising on the route and over priced refreshments along the way.

Lonely Planets Sunny Mission Stroll

San Francisco, Mission Lonely Planet Walking tour - thelitebackpacker.com

Getting There: I jumped on the number 14 bus on Mission street at Union Square, it costs $2 and your ticket is valid for 2 hours so you could also use it to get back.

Arriving: I jumped off the bus at Mission and 16th street which appears to be a hub for the area.  My friend had warned me about the amount of homeless people you can find in San Francisco but had yet to see more than you would in any other large city.  This changed in Mission.  It was heartbreaking to see so many people of different ages and genders living so rough – especially in a country that has so much wealth.

San Francisco, Mission Lonely Planet Walking tour - thelitebackpacker.com

Dot Point Number 1: The first place that LP recommended was Clarion Alley… Lonely Planet win.  They alley is about 100 metres long with the buildings on each side covered inSan Francisco, Mission Lonely Planet Walking tour - thelitebackpacker.com graffiti – but not the boring incomprehensible tagging type, but the type that has created stunning murals and statements out of spray paint.  As I wandered slowly up the alley I noticed two girls wandering down who also had a copy of the LP pocket-book in one hand and a camera in the other.  We smiled and nodded at each other as we walked in opposite directions.  I didn’t particularly want to have a backpacker conversation amongst all of the angst and political satire that was brightly splashed across the walls alongside me -“Where are you from? Where are you travelling to?” would have ruined it. Halfway along the alley was a 40 something (maybe) ginger bearded homeless man who said hello as I walked past and being polite, I said hello back.  A little further along I stopped at a mural of an elephant that sat under a flowering vine. Suddenly the homeless man was beside me “That was only painted a couple of days ago, when the flowers came out” he said. He then pointed to one further along “That one has been here for a while now, no one wants to paint over it”. As I walked up the alley taking photos he walked with me telling me about the pieces.  I reached the end of the alleyway and turned to say thank you to the man, but he was already half way back to his shopping cart.

San Francisco, Mission Lonely Planet Walking tour - thelitebackpacker.com

Dot Point Number 2: Dearborn Community Gardens – this one is a little hard to find. I followed the map, which is correct, however because the gardens are hidden from view until you arrive its hard to discern if you are going in the right direction.  But suddenly they are there, appearing in the middle of a completely urban landscape is a picturesque cottage garden that is brimming with life.  I stood in awe at the gates, unsure if I could go in to look at the flowers and bask in the sunlight.  At that moment an ex-pat German walked past “c’mon, you can go in, just don’t pick anything or eat anything and say hello to the gardeners”- so in I went.  The ex-pat went to join the other gardeners who seemed to be doing more gossiping than gardening while I went and sat on a bench surrounded by flowers and bees.  Finally when I thought I might fall asleep if I stayed any longer I headed to the exit to say goodbye to the gardeners.

Dot Point Number 3: Goddess Woman’s Building Mural’s – You can’t miss! It’s a giant mural of two women painted on the side of the countries first woman run community centre.  I stood on the side of the street gazing up at these two goddess’ in wonder – the detail and the size of them astounded me.

San Francisco, Mission Lonely Planet Walking tour - thelitebackpacker.com

Dot Point Number 4: An ice cream from Bi-Rite Creamery, however nearly every store along that stretch of road seemed to serve “San Francisco’s best ice cream”. As I was saving myself for cheese I couldn’t test Lonely Planet’s theory that Bi-Rite was the best. If anyone can advise???

Dot Point Number 5: Dolores park, was under construction – It appears as though the council is improving the iconic park.  This wasn’t stopping locals and their dogs from basking in the sunshine around the edges of the park though – and many were eating ice cream, though I neglected to ask them where they had bought it from.

Dot Point Number 6: Mission Cheese, the deciding factor! From the beginning I had a good impression as the place was filled… and not with LP clutches like me, but with locals.  I walked up to the bar and stared at the giant black board filled with cheese… it was overwhelming! A staff member approached me and began to explain how it worked – I could choose from one of the different themed cheese “flights” as each one included three different cheese.  Then they could recommend a nice wine or beer to go with your choice.  The staff clearly knew what they were talking about which made the whole experience more enjoyable as their passion and enthusiasm rubbed off on me. I chose the California Flight – keeping it local. Each plate came with crusty bread, dried fruit and pickles – the cheese it included were:

  1. Skyhill Chèvre (Sweet, Tangy, Fresh Goats Cheese) – I enjoyed it a lot, especially when eaten with a pickle.  It was very “goaty” but not in an overpowering way.
  2. Golden Valley Pecorino (Tropical and Crunchy Aged Sheep Milk) – this was by far my favourite! Crumbly and creamy – the best texture, was packed with strong flavour – I couldn’t get enough.
  3. Washed Teleme (Funky, Tangy Washed Rind Blue) – wasn’t the biggest fan of this one (normally I love a nice blue) – it was too tangy and had an overly long aftertaste, it reminded me of the White Castella cheese that we get back home.

San Francisco, Mission Lonely Planet Walking tour - thelitebackpacker.com

It may have been the buzz from the cheese and wine, but when I got back on the bus to head home I definitely felt like Lonely Planet had hit this walking tour on the head.  The perfect window into a local community, full of colour and cheese!

 

The Trick to Not Being Murdered by a Serial Killer.

I have a genuine fear of being murdered by a serial killer. I don’t fear much else, I’m not scared of sharks, spiders crawling is creepy but not scary, I find snakes fascinating and crocodiles are magnificent. It’s a proven fact (by this info-graphic) that I have a higher chance of being killed by a fellow human than I do by any of the previously mentioned “monster” animals.

Deadly animals info graphic

When my friend, who is graciously letting me crash in her apartment for a week, suggested I spend the day hiking in the hills near her house my first reaction was “awesome idea – I can work off all the pizza I have consumed” my second reaction was “hang on – I’ve seen Law and Order, CSI, Criminal Minds and NCIS – walking trails are where all the bodies are found OR young people are abducted then grossly dismembered and hung up in trees for other hikers to find… I’m going to be murdered!”.

I don’t think it is a completely irrational thought considering recent events in California – ok maybe it was slightly irrational, but it was stuck in my head.

Morning came around and my friend went off to work while I slept in.  Eventually though the beautiful sunshine streaming through the blinds decided that I should stop being a sloth and get up.  Finally I couldn’t resist the outdoors any more especially as I had eaten cookies for breakfast and so thought I may be putting on a few kilos. I took screen shots of the map I would need to get to Wildcat Canyon Loop at Rancho San Antonio (as I only have WiFi), grabbed a water bottle and headed to the shed to grab my friends bright pink bike.

Wildcat Canyon Loop - hiking in San Antonio California - thelitebackpacker.com

The tyres are flat… guess I couldn’t go then!

OR – I could stop being the worlds biggest sissy and see if I can find somewhere to pump them up.  Sure enough just round the corner was a garage with three very nice guys who found my accent hilarious and so were able to pump up my tyres for a few “G’Days” and two “Shrimp on the barbies” – yes I prostituted my accent, but it worked!

It took me an hour to ride to the park due to constantly stopping and checking my screen shots. It also took me a while to work out the rules for bikes. My friend had said I could ride anywhere, there weren’t designated places where a bike could go and as a pedestrian I had right of way.  EASY!

Nope – this was the hardest thing to get my head around, at every intersection I stopped to let the cars go first and they stopped to let me go first.  It took a lot of hand waving to get things organised.  Things were even more confusing when I came to a four-way stop sign – everyone stared at each other for about 5 seconds before someone took a chance and went first, it was the ultimate game of chicken – I now take back every negative thing I ever said about round-a-bouts, they work!

I arrived at the park with nerves completely frayed from the fear of being murdered or run over.  The park how ever was calm and beautiful – but not very well sign posted.  I stood for ages staring at the park map before a local took pity on me.  He pointed out where I was (the complete opposite side of the map to what I had been thinking) and where I should go. So off I went… or so I thought.  Ten minutes later as I was tying my bike up under some trees the man came running up to me – this was it, this was the moment I was going to get murdered!Wildcat Canyon Loop - San Antonio, California - thelitebackpacker.com

Nope, I had gone the wrong way and he had run to catch me up to show me the right way. I walked with him for the next half an hour as he was doing some of the same trail as me.  As we walked up giant hills he asked me about the “right-wing buffoon that we have elected as prime minister” and my thoughts of his changes to education.  We spoke about the decline in media standards and how the tabloids are making the new generations dumber (mine included in assumed).  And we discussed the changes to their healthcare system with ObamaCare. By the time we reached the top of the hill my legs AND my brain were exhausted.  He, however, seemed invigorated as he firmly shook my hand goodbye and headed off down a track to the right.

I paused momentarily to catch my breath and that is when I looked around.  I was in the middle of no-where, surrounded by hills, there was the sound of a million birds arguing (or singing) and a butterfly even had the audacity to flit around my head for a few moments.  It was breath-taking, it was stunning, it was about three more clichés rolled into one! How could I be scared of being murdered in such a beautiful place – and that is when I realised I wasn’t scared anymore.

Wildcat Canyon Loop - San Antonio, California - thelitebackpacker.com

I headed off down the path that the friendly local had shown me.  He had stressed a number of times (I think he thought I was a bit dopey) to always take the left fork and I would eventually end up back at my bike.  So left I went.

I slowly descended from the golden ridge line down to the forested covered valley floor where I saw squirrels searching the under growth (not having squirrels back home I chased the first couple with my camera before I realised that they are everywhere).

Wildcat Canyon Loop - San Antonio, California - thelitebackpacker.com

I walked with a giant smile on my face which got broader with every corner.  I was by no means alone though – I came across walkers and runners every few minutes all of whom said hello.  At one particularly hilly section when I was heading downhill a man in his late 70s was running up – he took a deep breath to give me “Hello there”, then a few minutes later I saw another man in his 50s, he gave me “HooooooowwwddddyHO” as he sped past, then I saw a man in his 20s, he gave me a grunt – which could have been a “hello” or a “kill me now please”.

I continued to take left hand turns when suddenly a cute little farm-house appeared out of Wildcat Canyon Loop - San Antonio, California - thelitebackpacker.comno where, complete with goats and a crowing rooster.  People were relaxing in the barn and children were playing on some swings – it was clearly a little hobby farm for families.  I stopped for a while to sit in the Peter Rabbit style garden and drink some water before the final stretch of my hike.

Two left hand turns later I had arrived back at my bike – alive!

Distance Rode: 10 Miles OR 16 Kilometres
Miles Walked: 3.7 Miles OR 6 Kilometres

It’s Official – I am in Love with Pizza!

San Francisco - thelitebackpacker.com

It tastes just like I remember!! I’m talking about American Pizza of course!

All I have been thinking about in the lead up to my trip to the states has been food. This may seem rather strange to those of you who know that I am a food lover. As America isn’t generally known for its organic quality or naturally enhanced flavour.  The exact opposite is often said in fact.American Pizza - thelitebackpacker.com

It is this that I have been looking forward to the most though.  If you are going to do a fatty fast food – why not do the best!? America certainly does the best!

I am currently staying in Mountain View which is in Silicon Valley just outside of San Francisco.  The amazing thing about Mountain View is that it is sunny and at least 10 degrees warmer than it is in San Fran – which is only a 30 minute train ride away. As I sit here in the sun munching on a double choc-chip, hazelnut and ginger cookie I feel completely content that my memory of amazing fast food has been matched.

Golden Gate Bridge - thelitebackpacker.com

Yesterday I spent the day of exploring San Francisco in the cold, wind and fog.  This though, made the place more spectacular – the Golden Gate Bridge loomed up out of the fog giving you the impression that it wasn’t entirely there.  As we walked across it (bucket list TICK) Alcatraz would slip in and out of the clouds making it look more likeAzkaban while the city which dots the hillside behind resembled Olympus. The shops were numerous and the staff endlessly helpful.  When we stopped for a glass of Californian Pinot and some lunch the waiter reminded me why the service industry can survive on tips in the States.

A sneaky Californian Pinot with lunch

A sneaky Californian Pinot with lunch

Yet the best part of the day was arriving back at my friend’s place – who has graciously allowed me to clog up her amazing apartment for a few days – and heading out to her favourite pizza restaurant.

I was a little concerned that over the years of absence I may have built up American Pizza to being more than it actually was.  That maybe the consistency of the crust wouldn’t have that perfect balance between soft and crunch, that the sauce wouldn’t be tangy yet sweet and that there wouldn’t be enough cheese – or worse, too much! Australian’s have never been able to master the art of the Pizza – well not on the scale the Americans have – there is always too many toppings, too much cheese, the sauce is kinda bland, don’t event get me started on the base!

Luckily my fears were un-founded.  From the first bite I was gratified in my wait.  The pizza was just as amazing as I remembered. Right now after gorging on cookies my mouth is watering at the memory. I am definitely going to have to increase my exercise while on this trip so that I can continue to indulge in the wonder of American Pizza.

American Pizza - thelitebackpacker.com

Mouthwatering Expectations

One month to go until I fly to Sunny California and my mouth is literally watering with anticipation.  There are so many things that I can’t wait to become re-acquainted with and more than a few new things that I can’t wait to try!

Food (it should be noted that none of the food I am looking forward to in the States resembles anything healthy, but as America is the fast food nation I will gladly embrace the when in Rome ideal):

  • Taco’s – do I need to say more! As I have mentioned before Australia hasn’t quite worked out how to do the whole Mexican thing (though it is getting better)

    An amazingly tasty sloppy burrito

    An amazingly tasty sloppy burrito

  • Pizza – I am convinced that the Americans lace their pizza with a secret addictive drug as no matter how much pizza I eat in other parts of the world it doesn’t quite match up to that giant cheesy slice I could get while walking to class.
  • In & Out Burger – arguably the best fast food burger in the world, there is also a secret menu… if you don’t know what it is, I can’t help you, it’s a secret after all!

Shopping (it’s cheaper and better quality)

  • Anthropology – for a wider range of fun clothes for a twenty something all in one place.

    Shopping Downtown San Diego

    Shopping Downtown San Diego

  • Nike – so I can buy a decent pair of shoes and still afford my rent
  • Jeans – Australia has two styles 1. Long and straight legged or 2. Short and straight legged – they don’t cater to the curvy.
  • Makeup – sick of paying an arm and a leg for bad quality

Beverages (not coffee – Americans fail abysmally when it comes to coffee, I won’t even bother as I will just be disappointed)

  • Free refills – none of this $4 for a small glass of coke business
  • Cocktails – Cheap cocktails because spirits are so much cheaper there
  • Wine – Now I strongly believe that Australia has some of the best wines in the world, but I can only test this belief by trying the Californian wines to compare!

The People (they may not understand my sarcasm or sense of humour but they have plenty of other traits that make up for it)

  • Laughing – Americans laugh out loud… a lot… and it’s contagious! First time I went to a cinema there and everyone laughed and gasped and clapped together was an eye opener
  • Passion – no matter what it is, they are passionate about it so passionate that they would live or die for it
  • Generous – Now my experience with Americans is limited to the West coast so I can’t say they are all generous, but everyone I have met even the stranger on the street who I stopped for directions has gone above and beyond what I would expect from someone back home.

Whether all of these things live up to the giant expectations that I have built for them in my head is yet to be seen. I will have fun trying them all out though!