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Day 227-230, 23-26Feb09: US parking part1: Death Valley, Las Vegas & Zion

February 28, 2009 by ,  
Filed under Trip reports, North America, USA, California

We did not want to leave without seeing the marvellous natural wonders of the South-western US. It would take more than 6 weeks to visit all the places on a bicycle, which would probably ruin my knees and we would be in trouble as our visa was running out.

So we opted to rent a car instead. It was a tough trade-off: polluting the nature because we wanted to see the beauty of it… Let’s hope that my images can inspire some people to realize that these and other grand places still exist and that they need to be respected, preserved and protected for future generations.

23 February 2009: Death Valley

Often overlooked, yet so close to LA. I had been here before while working on the Dutch TV show the PlanetRace and I like it. It takes a while to get used to the place, but then the barren beauty will grip you. It is best to visit in winter as in summer it can get over 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees F) easily…

Cyclist in Death valleyZabriskie Point, Death Valley

Us in Death ValleyPainter's palette, Death Valley

Lone hiker, Death ValleyBadwater, Death Valley, lowest point in US

28 February – 1March 2009: Las Vegas

Dante's View, Death Valley We had stayed with Steven, a CouchSurfing host that works as a biologist in the park. After breakfast we went to see 2 more viewing points, Zabriskie Point (see pix above) and Dante’s View (left).

It is only a short ride through the desert from Death Valley to Las Vegas. Suddenly this huge city pops up, in the middle of dry mountains.

After meeting our new host, CouchSurfing Michael, we decided to drive to the famous Hoover Dam first. It was not so impressive, the new bridge they were building high in the sky (to take the loads of the dam road) was actually much more interesting.

Lake Mead, NevadaWe stopped for a moment to eat our lunch at Lake Mead, the artificial lake that was the result of the Hoover Dam, now a popular boating place. It was clear that the water level had been slowly falling, not sure if it will fill up again…

We headed back into Vegas and did a small tour of the casinos as Ivana had never seen anything like it. All places are kept dark (no windows) and the exit is the hardest thing to find. Everything is designed to keep you glued to your seat so you gamble and lose more.

We never gamble, but Ivana had saved up some quarters in change so we thought we’d give it a try. But though 5 years ago, you could hear the familiar (and stimulating!) sound of quarters in all slot machines, they had now all been changed. All machines only accepted paper money, credit card or paper vouchers. The latter was also the only thing you could win!

Ivana plays the horses, Las VegasWe checked several casinos, but no machine would accept our handful of quarters! Finally, in the MGM Grand we discovered that the small ‘Horseracing’ table would accept it and we spent an hour chasing plastic horses to the finish.

Every time we won, even for just 3 or 4 quarters, we paid out, so we could hear the ‘dink-cling-ting’ of the quarters. You could see from the faces of all the visitors that everybody thought this was much more fun than feeding credit cards underneath computer screens, but apparently Vegas is not about having fun.

Sad lion, MGM GrandIt turned out that the MGM Grand had a real live lion inside, though it looked so sad and drugged that ‘live’ maybe was an exaggeration, it was a pain to watch.

In the evening we went to visit Michael, as he works in a bar Downtown. He told us about the lightshow in the pedestrian zone, and it was great to see and hear.

A huge projection screen covering the entire street showed images of Queen and musical symbols, while ‘We are the Champions’ played from speakers everywhere.

We ended with viewing the famous light and fountain show at the Bellagio and headed back into the suburbs where Michael lives.

Here is a little overview of ‘Sin City’:

New York, New York, Las VegasIvana and New York, New York, Las Vegas

The Strip, Las VegasIvana and Excalibur, Las Vegas

Queen Light Show, Las Vegas (2)Fountains, Bellagio, Las Vegas (2)

25-26 February 2009: Las Vegas – Zion national Park

The next morning we visited the Venetian Hotel, which was beautiful in some ways, but –especially if you have been in the real Venice, and I do not mean LA- it was just grotesque and terrible..

Hikers in Zion NPWe managed to find our way out and entered the dry dusty desert again. It was already late and we were too late to buy our park permit for Zion National Park, so we decided to camp out and headed for the campsite. It was quite pricey, so we drove around to see if we could find some small tent, which we could share a place with. Just when I pointed out a small blue tent, Ivana said: Hey that are Fanny & Didier!

Weeping Rock, Zion NPShe was right, it was the cycling couple we had met a few weeks ago in Ano Nuevo.though they were supposed to be in Phoenix Arizona by now, they had been on such bad roads (the traffic was bad and there were no shoulders or other places to cycle), that they turned back and decided to rent a car instead…

However sad the reason, it was fun to see each other again and we made some nice pasta together before heading into our tent.

The next morning we bought our Annual National Park Permit pass. It costs about $80 but allows entrance into all parks and though it easy to dodge the entrance fees by arriving after dark, the money is well spent so we were happy to contribute a bit back.

Zion is a small park, but with a very nice quiet dead-end road, offering many routes for hiking or just to sit and watch the mountains. Due to my knee we could not do a longer hike, so we went out through a long tunnel and enjoyed a few stops on the East side of the park, admiring the orange and red rock formations.

Zion National Park (3)Zion National Park (8)

Zion National Park (14) Zion National Park (15)

Zion National Park (5) Zion National Park (7)

Next: Part 2: Bryce Canyon, Horseshoe Bend and Wire Pass Slot Canyon!

The next park was only a few hours away, Bryce Canyon was waiting for us, see the pix in the next report, coming up very soon…

1000 Americans: random American In Las Vegas

February 27, 2009 by ,  
Filed under 1000 Americans

Random American, Las Vegas

“So you travel a lot. Do you know any places where an American can safely travel? Everywhere? How about Argentina?

‘What camera do you have there? Can it take photos in low-light conditions like these? Take a photo of me, you can call it ‘ a Random American in Las Vegas’…

1000 Americans: Steven del Favero, Death Valley

February 27, 2009 by ,  
Filed under 1000 Americans

Steven del Favero

Steven works as a biologist for the National Parks service, investigating invasive plant species in Death Valley. He works long days and on his days off he usually stays inside that park and goes hiking or camping in the far, lesser known corners of the huge spark.

“Once you get off the main road, the camping possibilities are endless and you never see any other persons”. I have worked here for 4 months know and still feel that I only know a tiny bit of what the Death Valley Park has to offer…

1000 Americans: Michael Fuselier, Las Vegas

February 27, 2009 by ,  
Filed under 1000 Americans

Michael Fuselier, Las Vegas

Michael works in a bar in the Downtown area of Las Vegas, so his ‘daily’ schedule is more nightly… Once his kids graduate, he is planning to travel and hit the road again…

He is also is the CouchSurfing city ambassador for Las Vegas and he knows a lot about the city. Even though he ad his father visiting, he still hosted and we had a great time with both of them, even convincing his father Tony that Couchsurfers can be fun and interesting people 😉

Day 216-226, 12-22Feb2008: Luxury, amigos & awards in SB & LA

February 23, 2009 by ,  
Filed under Trip reports, North America, USA, California

We are busy in the Inn at the Spanish Garden Hotel. We fill the tub, relax on the huge bed, ask room service for a movie and some popcorn, skip the swimming pool today and enjoy the good life. BikeTravelling is not so bad after all…

Oh, I am sorry, I did not notice you reading this! Of course I meant to say: we battled against the wind, pitched our tent on a muddy slope and cooked up some salty pasta! But that would have been a lie:

Hard times in Santa Barbara (2) Hard times in Santa Barbara


So what happened with our budget? Well actually we did not pay a dime for these rooms. Last year I was approached my Matt from the Broughton Hospitality Magazine, a glossy magazine used in a small hotel company.

He had seen my photos on and wanted to use one in the magazine for the ‘1000 Words’ section, highlighting photojournalism (you can see the issue here, check page 10-11). My images can be used freely for educational and non-commercial purposes (Creative Commons license) but as this is a commercial magazine, a license/payment is required.

So I proposed to trade it for 2 nights in one of their hotels 🙂

And as matt was impressed with my other images, we agreed that after the USA part of the trip, I would write another article with images in exchange for a few more nights. I had kept it a bit secret for Ivana, and thought it would be a nice valentine surprise!

Santa BarbaraIvana enjoying Santa Barbara

12 Feb 2009: Buellton – Santa Barbara, 73km

Santa Barbara is a great place to spend a few days and the arrangements with the hotel worked out perfectly. Our first night would be in the most luxurious hotel, The Inn at the Spanish Garden, which turned out to be a beautiful small boutique hotel with very friendly staff and a great included breakfast 🙂

To maximize the time in the hotel, we had left early and made it into Santa Barbara just after 13.00, 73km, not bad! We were helped by one hill with a giant descent, good wind in the back, busy roads and the thought of our big bed…

Just his luckHard times in Santa Barbara (3)

13 Feb 2009: Santa Barbara: from the Inn at the Spanish Garden – The Inn at East Beach, 3km

It was a tough day, riding 2 miles from one hotel to the other. Actually we got stuck in a giant downpour and arrived soaking wet! The next hotel was a lot more basic, but the friendly general Manager Frank made up for it (upon arrival he already brought us the remaining muffins from the breakfast) and the room was nice.

In the afternoon it cleared up and we went to explore the town on our bikes. SB is very touristy, but has a really nice old historic centre and the beach is lined with nice palm. It definitely is a nice place to visit for a few days.

The Inn at East beach Downtown Santa Barbara

14/15 Feb 2009: Santa Barbara – Santa Monica via a field past Oxnard.. 73+68km

California skylineWe enjoyed another nice breakfast and then headed out through the nice outskirts of Santa Barbara. The route 101 was very busy, and there were huge traffic jams, but of course, on a bike you just cruise along. We passed Ventura, where we talked with a nice cyclist and continued along the coast. The wind was still friendly, which helped my knees a lot and they did not hurt much.

There are many military zones here and it would be difficult to find a place to pitch our tent. We found a place in a field close to the highway and so after 2 nights in a hotel, we were back on our comfortable mats!

The next morning the wind had turned on us and we had to pound the pedals hard; it only took us about 5 hours to get to the next hotel, in Santa Monica!

On our way we passed some of the rich areas like Malibu. It is actually quite ugly and the oversized houses are all built on places where they will slide of sooner or later, we could not quite see the point. It seemed more like a place to show off than actually enjoy, which was enforced by the 5 Ferraris that were parked near the beach.

Some guy saw me taking these photos and asked if I would want to trade Kowalski for one of these race monsters. I said no.

One of these is cool. In Malibu. Guess which can carry the most luggage?

15-18 Feb 2009: Chillin’ in Santa Monica

We stayed 3 nights in the restored Georgian Hotel. We rode our bikes up to our room as it was the easies way to carry 6 panniers/bags per person, but then just left them there as we could see the place on foot.

We had a view of the beach and could see the sunset from our room on the 7th floor. It was a perfect place to check out the famous pier, the Boulevard and the pedestrian zone with musicians and street artists and doing some work on Lenny in the room.

We found an all you can eat Sushi buffet which -unlike the online reviews would make you believe- was actually pretty good 🙂

Hard times againThe Georgian Hotel, Santa Monica (2)

Santa Monica Beach from the room Santa Monica Beach and Pier

Ivana at Santa Monica Beach (2) The Georgian Hotel, Santa Monica (3)

18-22 February: Into the heart of Los Angeles.

We had been invited by another Argentinean to stay with his family for a few days. Diego picked us up in the front of the hotel and took us over a concrete maze to his ‘hood. We were definitely in a poorer part of LA, but as Ivana remarked, it looked better and richer than many ‘good’ parts in Argentina.

We spent several days in LA and I even went to see Dr Man Tran, a Chinese Chiropractor/Acupuncturist; but like every other doctor so far, the treament he gave me felt good, but the inflammation in my knee never goes away.

Diego and his wife Claudia took great care of us. They refused to let us sleep on the ground and made us sleep in their bedroom. We had some great meals together and enjoyed the work he was doing for the local soccer teams. Small kids like these were putting their hearts and soul into becoming great at their sports, something what might give them enough self-esteem to keep them out of the gang-scene..

Young soccerplayers in LAYoung soccerplayer in LA

22 Feb 2009: Oscar night in Hollywood!

We did not care much for the expensive theme parks, but as an avid movie lover I was excited to find out we would be in town for the Academy Awards, better knows as Oscars. We went to take a look with the Sarraseca family and though we could not see any ‘star’ up close, we enjoyed the atmosphere and just the feeling of ‘being there’ as well as the giant pizza that Diego treated us to…

Cool cops ride bikes Pizza in Hollywood

Oscar night, Hollywood Trying to catch a glimp, Hollywood

Next steps: back in a car to do some ‘parking’

We decided that it would be a shame to miss out on the South Western USA treasures and as time was limited, we decided to rent a car for a week to see the national parks… More photo’s and stories about horse racing and Horseshoe- and other canyons, snow and old friends, stay tuned, as we slowly catch up with reality 🙂

ps: let us know if you enjoy these reports by leaving some comments below. if you are reading this on the website, do not forget to click the images above as it will automagically show you a 1000px wide larger version!

1000 Americans: Diego Sarraseca, Los Angeles

February 22, 2009 by ,  
Filed under 1000 Americans, Friendly people

Diego Sarraseca


Argentinean-born Diego lives in an old gang house in South-East LA with his wonderful wife Claudia and two kids. when they moved in, they had to remove tons of trash and plaster some bullet holes.

Diego is trying to make a difference in the community by being actively involved in the local youth’s soccer competition. He is fighting against local government, so they can keep on using the fields for the soccer games and the kids keep shooting at the goal instead of shooting at each other…

If you want to know what else goes on in his head, read his blog:

1000 Americans: Kevin Flores, the local LA soccer champion

February 22, 2009 by ,  
Filed under 1000 Americans

The local soccer champ

This little boy, Kevin Flores, is an awesome player on the Ross Snyder PeeWees team In LA. He took posing very serious. He was probably already used to it as according to the coaches he is a huge talent on the local soccer-fields in South-East Los Angeles…

1000 Americans: Frank Santana, Santa Barbara

February 22, 2009 by ,  
Filed under 1000 Americans

Frank Santana, The Inn at East beach

Frank is the General manager of the Inn at East Beach in Santa Barbara. With his Hawaiian style shirts and relaxed Californian style hospitality, he wins everybody over.

Oh, and he has a great collection of muffins in the morning, thanks Frank 😉

Day 212-215, 8-11 Feb 2009: From a mission to a pick-up, elephants & cyclists

February 15, 2009 by ,  
Filed under Trip reports, North America, USA, California

8 February 2009: Pacific Grove (Monterey) – Gorda. 45 + 60km…

After saying goodbye to Diego, we headed back down the ‘17 Mile Drive’ and ended up in Carmel by the Sea, a nice small town, with much better looking houses than the ‘Drive’. We spent some time exploring the old Mission, one of many that were placed here along the coast.

Carmel Mission Carmel Mission (2)

We had some lunch in the windy Point Lobos reserve. We had been told that this was one of most beautiful points along the coast, but for us it was ‘average’. I guess we have been spoilt rotten the past months 😉

Further South it was more interesting as we entered the Big Sur area. Unfortunately with the rougher coastline, came also more hills.. At least the coves and canyons were bridged here (as opposed to Northern California, where you just go all the way down and then back up again, my knee says thanks..).

California Coast California Coast (2)

Just after crossing a large bridge the road steepened up and did not stop for as far as we could see, so we started to push at least 100m up. Just when I reached the top of the hill, I approached a parked car, where a young man had been enjoying the views from the top.

Ivana on bridge‘Hi there. I am Eric. Do you need a ride?’

Hmm. We just pushed up this hill, so there should be a nice downhill ahead. Still, Ivana was on her way up, it would be dark in 20 minutes and Big Sur village was still 9km away, so we would probably be cycling in the dark. Also my knee had enough of the climbing.

As the road had barely any shoulder, but plenty of steep drop-offs, we accepted Eric’s proposal and put ourselves and our bikes in the back of his truck.

We told him to stop in Big Sur, but while we were expecting a larger village where we could ask for a place to camp, we passed some motels and before we realized it, we had passed Big Sur. Eric said he would continue South and asked if we wanted to join further. I checked the altitude profiles of the next section and saw 4 hills of 300m (1000ft) each with more in between. Ouch.

I was afraid that my knee would not survive. So far we had taken only one ride and that had been for going back on a stretch we had already cycled. We had skipped the major ferries, but now it felt unavoidable. I could be stubborn and cycle but maybe that would mean the end of the trip, just 50km ahead…

We stayed on the truck…

We ended up in a small village –just a roadhouse- called Gorda (‘fat’ in Spanish!) Eric was taking a room in the motel and after asking around we found a place to camp opposite the road on a nice grassy patch in a small forest. Eric, who is a musician on his way from the East coast to LA,  came over for dinner and played and sang some songs for us while we were making pasta in the dark. It was great & ‘gezellig’, but suddenly the rain washed our party away and we went back into our tent while the skies opened up all valves.

9 February 2009: South of Gorda – San Luis Obispo, 100km

Still we managed to stay dry and the next morning we joined Eric for another small ride over the last hill and then said goodbye. Fortunately the rain decided to stop, while we were organising our bikes.

California Coast South of Big Sur Kowalski at California Coast South of Big Sur

We stopped at a roadhouse for our peanut butter sandwiches and talked with Victor Antonio, who was walking around the US to promote peace through marijuana.

Elephant Seal weanerIvana going South againNot only the sun came out, but it brought its good friend the wind as well which pushed nicely in our back on our way South.

We passed more and more beaches filled with hundreds of elephant seals, some relaxing on the grass and sand, far from the ocean.

We also passed Hearst Castle, made famous in the movie ‘Citizen Kane’.

Though some of the rocks where interestingly white, we actually saw some fresh snow in the hills as well, a rarity in this area.

Elephant SealElephant Seals (2)

Thanks to the wind, we were making good speed and we decided to go all the way to San Luis Obispo. We arrived just before sunset after 100km of cycling and were welcomed by WarmShowers Hosts and fellow biketravellers Matt & Rita, who cooked up a great vegetarian Chilli.

10/11 February 2009: SL Obispo – Buellton via Santa Maria, 67km + 69km

Matt & Ivana on a tandemAfter Ivana has tested the recumbent tandem bike, we headed off. Matt & Rita joined us all the way to took us through some nice back roads to Pismo Beach, where we had lunch together before they headed back.

We continued through nice country roads before we entered the large busy city of Santa Maria. It took us a long time to pas the dozens of traffic lights, while dodging thousands of huge trucks…

It was dark before we made it to Bill Korn’s house, another welcoming host that was a rider himself. he cooked up an Argentinean asado and Ivana felt right at home.

The next morning Bill joined us and showed us some more back roads. It is so nice to stay with local cyclists as they always know the best routes to take and this was no exception. Following some steep hills we ended up the ‘Foxen Canyon Road’.

Ivana on the Foxen Canyon roadBill and Ivana

California fields (2) California fields (3)

Halfway up Bill said goodbye and turned back using another nice route, while continued our ascent. It was actually longer and higher than the route in our guidebook, but we still felt guilty about our ride with Eric the other day, so it was no problem doing the 30 extra km.

Besides, the slope was much more gentle, we hardly noticed that we went up to 400m altitude until the last steep climb. Then after a nice downhill and another steep climb, it was all the way down to the quaint town of Solvang, passing friendly Los Olivos on our way.

Solvang was the base of a Danish community and their Danish and Dutch ancestry is clearly visible in the buildings and local shops. We even found good cheese, dropjes & pepermunt!

Ivana in Solvang World Peace in Solvang

Solvang, Denmark, ehh California Solvang, Denmark, ehh California (2)

The latter we took as a gift to our hosts for the night: Joe and Carol had invited their best friends and cycling partners and together with their housemate we had a really nice dinner. Carol, who is a painter, had cooked for al 7 people and we had a great time.

It is such a pleasure to meet all the nice US citizens on this trip. Most people are very different in background, but they are all very friendly and hospitable.

The next morning we had a great incentive to leave early and arrive in Santa Barbara. Our hotel was waiting. ‘Hotel? How about that budget?’ I hear you say… the next report will clear all mysteries 🙂

Kowalski! Status report!

The knee works quite well. On the bike it feels good, off the bike it is painful. Guess I just have to keep on cycling!

Our bikes are indestructible as ever. Still we are stuck at a few flat tires for Ivana (I think 3) and only one for me, after a total of 7656km so far!



1000 Americans: Matt & Rita, San Luis Obispo

February 13, 2009 by ,  
Filed under 1000 Americans, Go green

Matt and Rita, biketravellers

Matt & Rita are avid cycle tourists, having toured by bicycle in Italy, The Netherlands, Germany, Canada, Australia and the US. They actively promote cycling and are members of the San Luis Obispo Bicycle Club and the San Luis Obispo County Bicycle Coalition.

Matt & Rita were perfect hosts. Even though we arrived last minute, they put us up and cooked a great meal to top it. Ivana tested out their tandem-recumbent and it was fun to talk about all our trips together.

The next day they cycled out with us, which was great as they were showing us much better routes and a great fish-tacos bar 🙂

Thanks Matt & Rita!

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