Month: December 2006

Header Picture Change #2: Bay View From Golden Gate Recreation Area

This one is a picture I took of the SF bay and Golden Gate Bridge after my trip to In-N-Out. I was standing just inside the park area, off of Hyde St, near Ghirardelli Square. And no, those aren’t giant super-flowers — I stooped down to get a shot through some of the nearby flowerbeds.

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San Francisco, CA: L-1 Day Prior To Launch

So these are my last 24 hours in the U.S. and A., as Borat calls it. The last few days have been rather uneventful, filled only with wanderings in the park and viewings of the Giant TV. Ah, but the next few days are action-packed.

When I reach Fiji, I’ll be staying at the Horizon Beach Hostel for at least the first night (only $9!). I get into Fiji at 05:15 AM on Thurs., so after a quick nap I will explore Nadi. The following day I’ve reserved for the Mamanuca chain of islands. These are, evidently, the “postcard” islands — with white sand beaches, good-looking Europeans, and expensive resorts. I’m on a budget, so I’m really only interested in the first two. I was also thinking (maybe on Saturday) of either a trip to Vanua Levu (Fiji’s second largest island), or the closer (read: cheaper) Nausori Highlands. According to Lonely Planet,

The village of Navala is perhaps the most picturesque in all Fiji. the buildings are traditional bure arranged around avenues with a central promenade leading down to a river.

Here’s a nifty little map for those of you who know nothing of the geography of Fiji (myself included):

I will, of course, be staying away from that little red dot named “Suva”, since I doubt they’ll be dancing in the streets right now (and if they are, it’s because a soldier is shooting the ground around their feet).

(On a side note, although it took me a while, I found out after I started working in Houston that the L- designation is given to greater time lengths, whereas the more familiar T- moniker is applied to time limits on the order of hours and minutes. Though in reality they are used interchangeably.)

Fiji Fiasco: On Like Donkey Kong

Never ask a man without a job and anything to do to decisively make and adhere to any plans. With the conviction of a true nomad, I have gone back on my plans to scrub the Fiji trip and will be spending 3 1/2 days there. So here’s what happened:

On the advice of my crack legal team, I’m not going to let AllState ruin my life and plans any more than they already have. Although the settlement is still pending, I’m leaving for Fiji from LAX on Tuesday December 19, reaching Nadi on Thursday morning. Then on Sunday the 24th, I’ll head to Sydney. Anything that needs to be done regarding the insurance settlement, I’ll do from Sydney itself.

Rick D. forwarded me some articles about travel to Fiji last week that were pretty interesting (don’t have ’em anymore, but here‘s another one pro-travel, and here‘s one a’gin it). Although Suva was pretty much locked down by the military, most of the other cities and major islands haven’t been affected by the coup. In fact, travellers who stuck to their plans and went to Fiji for the holidays are living it up in the absence of crowds, lavished with cheap or free food, massages and accomodation by the struggling tourism industry (someone say freebies?).

Now that I have tickets that I might actually use and a near-future plan, I’m extremely excited. San Francisco has been a blast, but it’s time to move on. Shame, though — the weather just started getting better around here.

San Francisco, CA: Wait — If You’re Here, Who’s Lap Did I Just Sit On?

Yes, I’m still in San Francisco. AllState is being less than helpful in resolving this settlement, so I’m delaying my departure until I can confirm a check or attache case is on the way. And to make things worse, the weather has been equally uncooperative. Compounded even further by my brother being gone on business, the last two days have been spend shuffling around the apartment finding things to do. I’ve come up with a sort of activity list that I choose from, tell me what you think:

  1. Watch TV
  2. Re-Watch recorded TiVo-ed shows
  3. Pretend to read, then fall asleep on giant bean bag chair (affectionately called a LoveSac)
  4. Drink

I’ve managed to hold off on number 4 until the evening, but my will to put up with ‘Scrubs’ and the LoveSac for 16 hours is only so strong (OK fine, you caught me, I could watch Scrubs until the end of time).

Although, this weekend more than made up for any partying I’m missing. On Saturday, we went out for dinner with friends and then to a bar-party for Mary’s birthday. But here’s where things got interesting: when my brother and I walked into Lucky 13 on Market, we were surrounded by Santas. Yeah, Santas. And these guys were wasted and smelly. We caught one of them getting to know way too much about someone clearly not the missus. Actually, I got a video of him :)

Anyway, we didn’t really figure out what the deal with the Santas was, but we had a good time nonetheless. I was a self-portrait fiend, here’s a picture of some of my victims:

That’s me, Mary’s friend Jess and Mary herself.

After the bar, Mary, Jess, Jess’ boyfriend and I went to a house party around the corner. I arrived at the gate guarding the stairs up to each of the townhouses when who should I spy? None other than Ruth, a friend of Andrew’s I met during my stay there two weeks ago. At the time she mentioned that she lived in Oakland, but I never even thought we’d see each other again. Ruth recognized me too, though I felt she wasn’t quite as thrilled by it. We exchanged the usual “Huh — small world” remarks and moved on, but I thought about it again the next day: that was the second time something from my Blogabout past has returned. The first was the Polar Bear exhibit at the NYC Museum of Natural History, a picture of which was seen recently at the SF Museum of Modern Art. Queue the creepy music!

Mary and I hung out at the party for an hour or so, then decided to call it quits. We shared a cab back home (oddly enough, she lives only a few blocks from my brother’s apartment).

I leave you tonight with this, a picture of The Last Santa. After the others left, this one stayed back to shoot pool and make out with his hussy:

Stay tuned for tales of my Escape From CA, and the last few days of tempted alcoholism.

Fiji Fiasco: Scrubbed!

No, not the shuttle launch, that was only delayed once and was successfully completed on Saturday. To my peeps in Houston, good luck. By the way, anyone know why there’s still a cloud cover constraint even though it’s a night launch?

Anyway, I have officially scrubbed the trip to Fiji. Notwithstanding the current political climate there, I had to put off any travel for about a week while I wrap up the insurance settlement for my motorcycle accident. I should be OK to leave next weekend, but changing the flights might result in delay until after Christmas; the season for travelling to places like Nadi and Sydney has started.

But I’m not too upset about it. This is, after all, a journey to understand different lifestyles and cultures, and seeing one at it’s worst may not be the best introduction. Plus, I really need the extra time to set everything straight so I’m not bothered by it months down the road. I might plan a visit to Fiji sometime in the future, perhaps for a weekend away from the grueling life of a fruit picker.

San Francisco, CA: Mission Very-Possible: It’s An In-N-Out Job

I woke up Thursday morning with a desire — no, a yearning. A couple weeks ago, Eric H. reminded me that other than beautiful beaches and medicinal marijuana, the west coast gives us the In-N-Out burger chain. When I was leaving Vegas after seeing the World Series of Poker (GO TEAM CHI!!!) , I made the taxi driver who was taking me to the airport swing by the drive-thru. The In-N-Out in SF was at Fisherman’s Wharf, near Pier 39, on the northeast side of the city. I despise fast food and everything that the chains stand for, but have always admired In-N-Out for being able to do it right. Although I had heard of it, the write-up it was given in Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation made me take a second look.

So I decided to do a walking tour of the east side of the city on my way to the burger joint. I started on Market and walked north to Chinatown. Did you know that the SF Chinatown is home to the largest population of Chinese people outside of mainland China? 30,000 of them!

After about 7 blocks of strange-smelling shops, overpopulation and everything else Chinese, I started wondering how it would end. And then I realized it was as clear as the difference between China and Italy. I mean that literally, Chinatown seemed to share a border with some-kind-of Little Italy, centered around Corso Christoforo Colombo.

It was a gorgeous day, and the light hit this large church so beautifully, I had to stop and take a picture. But not for too long, since the rumble in my tummy said I needed to keep moving.

I kept walking by signs for something called Coit Tower, and finally my curiousity overcame my hunger. I detoured up what I later found out was Telegraph Hill and saw some pretty great views of the bay area.

Telegraph Hill was apprently donated to the city by a group of citizens early in the twentieth century. During The Depression, Lillie Hitchcock Coit donated money to beautify the city and the tower is what resulted. Judging by the real estate in the area, I can see where they found people rich enough to give away that kind of cash.

Local artists were invited to paint murals inside the tower, which is the main attraction. Unfortunately, it costs $4.50 to see it (no free Thursdays), and I wasn’t in the mood to fork over cash for anything but burgers and fries that afternoon.

I resumed my mission and beared north to what I later found out was the famous Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf. I figured that since I was in the area and wasn’t going back, I’d tour the area. Pier 39 is actually a pretty nice place, with lots of shops and restaurants. I even found a store made just for me:

I stood by the water for a sec and took yet another picture of the bridge and Alcatraz. I started making my way back to the street — wait, what the hell?

Seals? Really? By the way, I think they hadn’t showered yet because they smelled terrible. And this guy didn’t look so good:

I later saw him move so I’m pretty sure he wasn’t dead. The others were playing around, although they kinda looked like they were fighting, and I think I heard one call another one something insulting.

I strolled down the street along the water and after about 3 blocks, I saw a very comforting sight. My legs ached and my stomach grumbled, but I had finally made it.

I ordered a cheeseburger and fries, but evidently the cashier only caught the burger. When the guy pointed that out to me after giving me the burger, I wasn’t too concerned. But another worker then handed me some fries and apologized for the confusion. Free fries, bonus!

After lunch I made my way back into town (not counting a slight detour due to taking the bus in the wrong direction), stopped by REI and then headed home. Mission accomplished! Get all the pics here. Stay tuned for weekend hijinks.

San Francisco, CA: Zoo!

This is one day late, but yesterday I visited the San Francisco Zoo, which is free on the first Wednesday of every month.

The SF Zoo is fantastic! I started with the African Trail, touring the land of giraffes, zebras and ostrichs.

Then came a personal favorite: gorillas and chimps!! I don’t know why, but I love watching these guys. It might be how similar their behavior is to ours or how they seem to really enjoy walking around without any pants (who wouldn’t?), but they just crack me up. By the way, did you know the latin name for the Western Lowland Gorilla is gorilla gorilla gorilla? Here’s our boy:

Note that “plumber’s crack” can translate to the primate world, too. OK, for his sake, I’ll give you a better shot:

C’mon, just say it once … “Grape …”?, “Grape … “?? OK, I’ll do it, Grrrrape Ape. Next came the chimps — they were awesome. My favorite was the one in the picture below. I named him Norm, since the way he looked is how I imagine Norm looks after a night at the Cheers bar:

He was under that blanket the entire time, occasionally tossing and turning; must’ve been a rough night. The other guys were equally hungover, just lying around. I thought I’d come back later and check up on ’em.

Although it was a beautiful day and the zoo grounds provided a really enjoyable walk, it was tough getting by the obnoxious schoolkids, dirty hippies, creepy guys. But, at 2:00, all that went out the window as I was captivated by an attraction at the Lion House: feeding time! I was hoping they’d release some of the aforementioned riff-raff onto the grounds and let the animals get some “exercise”, but they just brought around pieces of meat and tossed them through the gates.

Watching the male step through the door and into the feeding cage was incredible. The guy is HUGE. He even let out a couple roars which quickly shut up the annoying crowd for a second or two. Along with the lions and lioness’ were the tigers. The male Siberian tiger was very impressive. The picture below does no justice to his size and strength.

I won’t take you through all the exhibits I saw, but the rest of the visit included bears, koalas (one of them was sleeping in a tree, the other stubbornly had his back turned … while also sleeping), kangaroos, an anteater, rhinos, hippos (one of which, by the way, decided to take an enormous two-sie with his back facing a crowd of children — really funny stuff), flamingoes, pelicans, leopards, and …

Peacocks. But the strange thing was that the peacocks weren’t in an enclosure with names, backstories, information cards, etc. — all the things you expect to come with zoo animals. They were just roaming around. In fact, I had just left the Lion House and was walking towards the koalas when one of them sidled right up to me. Later, I had to walk around one that was headed straight for me.

Before I left, I went back to the chimps to see how they were feeling. Norm had woken up and assumed post on the second level of the structure. He looked like he just got done smoking a cigarette. And wouldn’t you know it, he got a new blanket!

Check out the zoo pics here. I also took some movies of the lions feeding and when I find an appopriate place online to post them, I’ll let you know. Unfortunately, in all my infinite clumsiness, I changed the quality of my camera from Normal to Economy (instead of Fine, which is what I was going for), so the pics and videos aren’t all they could be. Stay tuned (for like an hour, I’m about to write the next post) for pictures from my mission to the In-N-Out at Fisherman’s Wharf.