Don’t Change that Channel, Exploring the Channel Islands

Time for another girl trip!! G and I have been doing backpacking and camping trips since 2007. She is my friend from vet school and we started by hiking the grand canyon in ’07 and tend to have adventures together once a year or so. She is one of the coolest people I have ever met. She lives in Oregon, I live in Arizona.

We were talking on the phone and discussed doing another camping and hiking trip and she suggested hiking in the Channel Islands, off the coast of California. I jumped at the chance to see another national park. She arranged a ferry ride to Santa Cruz island from Ventura and arranged two nights of camping. As I was preparing for the trip my friend and neighbor stopped by, he was interested in the trip. He asked who I was going with because he was curious what other “rugged bitches” I knew. I took that as a compliment.

On Saturday I drove out to Los Angeles to pick G up at the airport. The airport area in L.A. is somewhere I spent a lot of time this summer during my work for G Adventures. I felt happy in the L.A. traffic in a Civic and not in a large commercial van with a trailer attached. I picked her up and from there we stopped at a Ralph’s grocery store directly across the street from the hotel that I had stayed in it so many nights over the summer.

We headed out around L.A. to do some sightseeing for ourselves. We went to the La Brea tar pits near Hollywood and to the Page museum which has displays of bones found in the pits and information regarding them. It was very fascinating. We went to the Hollywood walk of fame and posed with some stars and saw the Hollywood sign in the hills, then we headed toward Ventura to try to find a campsite for the night. We couldn’t find a site and ended up staying at a hotel for the night.

Our souvenir photo from the La Brea Tar Pits (Sabertooth tiger ate my middle)

Our souvenir photo from the La Brea Tar Pits (Sabertooth tiger ate my middle)

Display at the La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles

Display at the La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles

Hollywood walk of fame

Hollywood walk of fame

Hollywood stars!

Hollywood stars!

In the morning we got on the Island Packer’s ferry bound for Santa Cruz, the largest of the Channel Islands. We had all of our camping gear and got onto the ferry. The ride was about an hour and a half from the California shore. We saw some California sea lions and a few dolphins along the way to the island.

 

Ferry to the Channel Islands

Ferry to the Channel Islands

California Sea Lions

California Sea Lions

When we arrived at the island all of the campers, a group of maybe 15 or so, were gathered together and greeted by a park ranger, Ranger Cole, who laid down some island rules. Ranger Cole seemed like a no-nonsense sort of guy, he was the only ranger I had seen who carried a gun and a set of handcuffs. He didn’t seem to be in a joking mood, and actually seemed quite sick of people’s shit. He was about 30 years old, tall, dark, muscular and handsome. G and I both noticed he didn’t wear a wedding ring. He laid down rules regarding obtaining fresh water, cleaning at the campsites, checkout times, fire restrictions, and talked about the importance of not littering, and about packing all trash back off the island. The island has no trash services and all trash must be taken back to the mainland by campers. He also discussed the importance of staying safe on the island and discussed how little emergencies can escalate into big problems due to our remote location. He told us to come to him immediately with any medical emergencies, even minor ones “like a sprain or a fracture.” G and I glanced at each other sideways trying not to snicker because we wondered how Ranger Cole could classify a fracture as a minor injury. He also talked about some of the unique wildlife on the island. The Channel Islands are sometimes called “the Galapagos of North America” because there are varied species on each island and many distinct species of animals are found on the Channel Islands that are found nowhere else on earth. Santa Cruz is home to the island fox, which is the largest predator on the island, there are about 1300 on the island. He also told us about the native people who once lived on the island and that there are sacred burial sites present. He told us to never disturb a site and told us that some sites are still being discovered, and if we think we discover one we should tell him. Ranger Cole didn’t smile once during his speech and dismissed us at the end of it. G and I shouldered our packs and started heading to our campsite, which was about a half mile away from the harbor.

On the way to camp we discussed some hiking options and we talked about packing out trash and we resolved to also pack out any other trash we found on the island as well. We decided we would leave the island cleaner than we found it. We also talked about how we wished we could see some more sea life, hopefully some whales and more dolphins and sea lions. We also wanted to see some island foxes. We joked that we had already seen one fox, Ranger Cole, and we debated about how often park rangers likely get laid. We had different theories on this subject. We joked about how Ranger Cole told us to find him for medical emergencies or if we discover a sacred burial site on the island, but he didn’t actually tell us where to find him. We wondered where he stayed. We wondered how often he used his handcuffs.

We set up camp and then went to the visitor center on the island. We learned about how the island used to be used as a ranch in the late 1800s, but then sheep and pigs got loose and became feral and took over the island and fucked up all the environment and threatened native island species. Eventually the sheep and pigs were trapped and relocated back to the mainland and all ranching activities were stopped. The island and its wildlife are still working on recovering from the insults of ranching.  After our learning experience at the visitors center, we hiked up to a viewpoint called Cavern’s Point, and out to another scenic point called Potato Harbor. The island scenery is stunning and the coastline of the island is very beautiful. We looked for whales but didn’t see any. After hiking we went back to camp and cooked a dinner of dehydrated food using water we boiled with a Jetboil and then made a dehydrated dessert. It was good. A scruffy looking fox with a limp and previously injured ears walked into our campsite. This fox obviously had been living off of food scraps and wasn’t scared of people. Ranger Cole had made it clear never to feed island wildlife. We sat and watched this fox as he wandered through our site, he even walked right up to G and waited by her feet for a moment before continuing on through the site. We called him Scar.

Huge eucalyptus trees near our campsite were fun to climb

Huge eucalyptus trees near our campsite were fun to climb

Near Cavern's Point on Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park

Near Cavern’s Point on Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park

View of Potato Harbor, Santa Cruz Islands, Channel Islands, California

View of Potato Harbor, Santa Cruz Islands, Channel Islands, California

View near Cavern's Point.  Channel Islands National Park.

View near Cavern’s Point. Channel Islands National Park.

This beat up limping old fox came into our campsite.  We called him "Scar"

This beat up, limping, old fox came into our campsite. We called him “Scar”

Island fox we nicknamed "Scar"  He is looking for a handout.  He came right up to G

Island fox we nicknamed “Scar” He is looking for a handout. He came right up to G

The next morning we got up and Jetboiled some water and made oatmeal and granola and coffee. We packed some more dehydrated food and a bunch of water and headed out for an all day hike to another shore of the island called Smuggler’s Cove. (I never found out how these different places on the island got their names.) We walked up and down hills in the sun and along the coast through stunning scenery to the other side of the island. We saw another island fox along the way. The fox wasn’t scared at all and I got very close to it taking photos and I made G pose with it. As we hiked we picked up garbage along the way and had a competition as to who could get the most trash or the most usual trash. We reached Smuggler’s Cove around lunchtime. There was a beach and a nice view of Anacapa Island, another of the islands of the park. We combed the beach for more trash and found some unusual items including a walkie talkie, some plastic letters, part of a camera and part of some glasses. We also found an almost full pack of Camel cigarettes in smokeable condition. We had also been finding numerous bones all over the island. The bones we suspected to be pig and sheep bones.

Island fox with mats on his back refused to look at me for his photo op

Island fox with mats on his back refused to look at me for his photo op

G with Island Fox

G with Island Fox

I was actually surprised by how little trash there was on the island overall, but we still managed to find enough to stress our small daypacks. (We didn’t take any bones but left those where they were.) Before we packed the trash all up we played with it and I decided it would be a waste if I didn’t smoke a cigarette. I lit one with the Jetboil flame and was immediately shocked by how disgusting it was. I think I forgot how gross cigarettes are. I took a drag but couldn’t bear to inhale any; it tasted like my chainsmoking grandma’s morning breath. I stubbed it out and packed it back with the other trash. G had no desire to try to smoke a cigarette, but we took some self timer photos posing with the cigarettes and other trash for fun.

Some of the trash we picked up off the beach on the Channel Islands.  We strove to leave the island and ocean cleaner than we found it.  Saving the world.

Some of the trash we picked up off the beach on the Channel Islands. We strove to leave the island and ocean cleaner than we found it. Saving the world.

Playing with trash we picked up on the beach

Playing with trash we picked up on the beach

We made backpacking dehydrated meals again with the Jetboil. G forgot her spoon and although I offered to share mine, she preferred to use a piece of a broken shell to eat soup and mashed potatoes with instead.

Gretchen eats soup for lunch with a seashell.

Gretchen eats soup for lunch with a seashell.

From the beach we headed past another building that used to be a part of the ranching operation on the island in the late 1800’s. We hiked up a trail called the yellow banks trail and enjoyed the views from there. We decided it would be nice to live there.

We hiked back to the campsite in the late afternoon and along the way discussed very important life topics, like having crushes on Bill Nye, the science guy. We also discussed having crushes on members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I have had a crush on Anthony Kiedis since I was in high school, and G made me feel inferior for this, telling me that I had blindly went along with the masses. She made it clear that Flea was clearly the better choice. He is a good humanitarian, a musical soul, free spirit and caring person. Anthony Kiedis was just plain hot. G recognized this from the beginning, when I took over 15 years to see it. We also discussed other important topics like viewpoints on sailing a sailboat, how we clean the bathtub, and how to protect pigs from getting sunburned. Oh and I found out that G actually proposed to Bill Nye via email when she was in high school…. more proof that she is cooler than me.

I made G take my photo at Smuggler's Cove Beach attempting to live out my dream as a "Globetrekker"

I made G take my photo at Smuggler’s Cove Beach attempting to live out my dream as a “Globetrekker”

Hiking in the Channel Islands

Hiking in the Channel Islands

Back at camp we Jetboiled more dehydrated food. Another island worker, Brett, came over to talk to us. I don’t think Brett was a ranger, but he drove a golf cart. He came to ask us if we were kayaking and told us that someone left their kayaks on the beach in a poor location where they would have been taken out to sea in high tide. He didn’t seem pleased about it, but he was very friendly and chatted and joked with us and was very personable and pleasant. Ah, forget Ranger Cole, we were now fans of Brett. Brett was cool.

Scar came to visit us again at the campsite, eating tidbits of unknown items in the grass as he strolled around the area. We greeted him warmly, but didn’t attempt to feed him or approach him.

The next day we swam and hung out at the beach. The water was cold. Our ferry came to pick us up at 3:30pm to take us back to the mainland. We rode back with a class of elementary school kids on a field trip for the day. We sat on the upper level of the ferry while the kids were on the lower level. Neither G or myself are big fans of noisy children. On the way back was were greeted by a very large school of dolphins who decided to ride in the waves from our ferry. It was hands down the coolest group of dolphins I have ever seen and I was so happy as I watched them. There must have been more than 50 of them. The kids on the lower level of the ferry were so happy and I thought to myself that it must be an incredible experience for these kids to go to the island. It was an incredible experience for me!

 

Scorpion Beach, Santa Cruz Island

Scorpion Beach, Santa Cruz Island

 

Dolphins swim next to our ferry

Dolphins swim next to our ferry

 

We camped on the beach at Point Mugu State park south of Ventura for the night. The campsite was on the sand of the beach and we made a fire on the beach and cooked grilled cheese sandwiches in a mountain pie iron.

Our campsite on the beach south of Ventura

Our campsite on the beach south of Ventura

The next day we met up with another friend, Joyce, from vet school. I haven’t seen Joyce since 2009 and G hasn’t seen her since 2005. It was amazing to see her. We met her at a beach where she was surfing and we spotted her riding a wave in. It felt like a celebrity sighting!!

Our first celebrity sighting!  Joyce!!  Our super smart board certified specialist friend from L.A.  :)

Our first celebrity sighting! Joyce!! Our super smart and beautiful board-certified specialist friend from L.A. 🙂

The three of us went to the Getty Villa near Malibu and had fun looking at all of the antique and historical things there but had the most fun “petting” herbs in the herb garden. We went to lunch at a Mexican restaurant afterwards. It was so nice. G and I went to Santa Monica beach, muscle beach and the pier, it was really fun.

Mini Vet school reunion in L.A.

Mini Vet school reunion in L.A.

Then it was over. I had to take G back to the airport. I had such a fun time. I can’t wait for our next adventure. Looking forward to continuing adventures of the rugged bitches.

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Off to New Adventure!

On Wednesday I am leaving for my next life adventure.  Well, first I’m headed to a wedding on the east coast, but then flying clear across the country and re-locating to San Francisco for the summer.  I will start my training to work as a tour guide for G Adventures on May 5th.  I have long wanted to do this and tried hard to get this job.  I’m very VERY excited.

I’ll be taking a break from veterinary medicine for the summer.  Good-bye veterinary medicine, for a while….  I’m definitely in need of a break from you.  Don’t go away mad, just go away.

I’ve been crazily studying the California Commercial Driver Handbook as I will be required to possess a Class B Commercial Driver’s License with a Passenger Endorsement for this position.  I will be leading tours throughout the U.S. and possibly Canada for the summer.  G Adventures caters to adventurous outgoing travelers and offers reasonably prices tours in a sustainable fashion.  I’ve been on three G Adventures tours before and I’d dare to say they changed my life.  I’m excited to have the opportunity to work with the company.

Provided I pass all of the training program, I’ll start leading tours around the beginning of June.  I don’t know my tour schedule yet, or which sections of the country I’ll be going through.  Most of the tours involve camping, hiking and other adventure, and they seem to focus on national parks and fun cities: right up my alley!!

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I’m planning on blogging periodic updates.

I’m so excited!

The Africa Diaries Entry #2: May 20, 2010

First day in Cape Town, South Africa!! I’m so happy to be here. It’s really cool. Today I went on a day tour of a township called Langa. It is a really poor area in the Cape Flats. It was an eye opening experience. A lot of people live in squalor and garbage and there are animals everywhere. The government does provide fresh water, so that is good. I saw a pre-school there and got to meet some children. They were so happy and they loved having visitors. Even though I’m generally not fond of children, the kids were so happy that they made me smile and they made me happy too. They liked to pose and to get their picture taken and then look at it on the camera screen afterward. I gave a tiny girl my sunglasses.

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After visiting the township I went to an apartheid museum and it was quite sobering and interesting. Then I went to visit Robben Island, which was also very interesting. People were isolated on the island for having diseases like leprosy and prisoners were also kept there. Nelson Mandela was a prisoner on Robben Island for 18 years. I got to see Mandela’s prison cell. The tour of the island was led by ex-prisoners and it was a really interesting tour.

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Mandella's prison cell

Mandela’s prison cell

Inside Mandella's Prison Cell

Inside Mandela’s Prison Cell

 

I met a girl named Alex who did the same overland tour as I am about to do, only starting in Nairobi and ending in Cape Town, she loved it, and told me it was amazing. I’m excited.

I’ve been trying to determine if water truly does circle the drain clockwise instead of counter-clockwise in the southern hemisphere. I can’t tell so far. The toilet water doesn’t really circle the drain so much as go straight down in my hotel room. Yesterday I took a bath and tried to watch the water go down, I still couldn’t tell. Again, it just seemed to go straight down. The water that comes out of the tap here is yellowish. It felt a little strange laying in a tub of yellow water, but the temperature was nice and I just ignored it. Before I let the water out I peed just to see if I could even tell there was urine in the water. I couldn’t tell. It was fun.

Tomorrow I will go on a hike and bike tour and I signed up for cage diving with sharks the day after that – yikes!!

The weather is really good and I like it here.

The Africa Diaries Entry #1: May 19, 2010

During 2010 I toured through Africa.  I kept a detailed journal.  I plan to share it, this was my first entry.

May 19, 2010

I’m in a hotel room in Cape Town, South Africa.  It’s taken over a day and approximately 23 hours of actual flight time to get here.  The flight from Phoenix to Minneapolis was fine.  From Minneapolis to Amsterdam was torture- crying baby, old guy telling war stories, young guy next to me invading my personal space and no leg room.  Flight from Amsterdam to Cape Town was surprisingly enjoyable.  I sat next to a young man named Will who is staying in Cape Town for 6 weeks to help arrange micro-loans for women.  Also next to a young woman named Desiree who is volunteering with horses, children and rhino tracking in Namibia.

As the plane landed my heart began to beat faster.  I have long wanted to travel to Africa, and now I’m finally here.  I was so happy as I got off the plane and my feet touched African soil for the first time.

I was picked up by a guy from the gap adventures tour company and brought to the Saasveld Lodge on Kloof Street in Cape Town.  It’s night so I haven’t seen much yet.  The city seems cool.  People drive on the left.  The city is extremely excited about the world cup this summer.  I won’t be here for it.  I’m taking a tour of Robben Island tomorrow.  I’m so excited.  I need to sleep now.

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(at the hotel after incredibly long travel time)

Crossing Borders and Language Barriers

This was an entry from my journal that I kept on my 3.5 month backpacking trip through Europe. This entry is from August 27, 2011:

I’m currently on a train to Belgrade, Serbia and I’m riding in the first car of the train.  Rob and I woke up this morning and ate some breakfast quickly.  We bought a few things at the Spar grocery store to eat throughout the day and then we made our way down to the station in Budapest.  We got on our train to Belgrade and sat down for our seven and a half hour ride, which of course includes stopping at any number of small towns along the way.  We were riding in an old run-down car, the kind with little separate compartments that have 6 seats each.

I had my ticket ready and was waiting and waiting for the inspector to come and check it.  After about 45 minutes of waiting I was starting to fall asleep. Since it was just me and Rob in the compartment and since it was going to be a long ride I decided to try to get my collapsible pillow out of my bag.  My bag was on a rack above the seat and so I stood on the seat and was trying to get it out.  Of course standing on the seats is not allowed and of course that moment is when the inspector came to check our tickets.

I felt like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar and I imagined myself in some fantasy scenario getting caught by some big strict German “Frau” in a uniform with huge biceps and hairy arms who would pick me up by the scruff of my neck and the seat of my pants and then throw me off the moving train for potentially having damaged the seat.  I figured I would at least get told that I was not allowed to stand on the seat.

This inspector was a skinny older man, who didn’t seem angry and instead he checked our tickets and then began to talk to us at length, I assume in Hungarian, none of which Rob or I understood.  It didn’t seem that the inspector was reprimanding me for standing on the seat, but I wasn’t sure.  He tried again to explain something – Nope, I still didn’t understand anything.  He didn’t appear to be chastising me at all, but instead he seemed to be trying to explain something.  I contemplated just pretending I understood so that he would go away, but thought better of it because maybe what he had to say was important.  He seemed as though he really wanted us to understand whatever it was he was saying.  After a little while he seemed to give up trying and he said “Come” and motioned for me to follow him.  I hesitated for a moment and then he said, more emphatically, “Komm, bitte” (German for “Come, please”).  I put my sandals on and followed him.

He took me nearer to the front of the train a few compartments away and he opened the door on a compartment with three guys and one girl in it.  He pointed his finger at one of the guys and commanded: “Speak,” and then walked away. I remained at the door staring into the compartment at the guy who the inspector had just pointed to.

The guy in the car laughed at this situation for a second and then spoke to me in English with an American accent.  He told me that the entire train is not going to Belgrade, and that only the first 2 cars are going there. The rest of the cars of the train will be left behind somewhere in Hungary. Since we are presently riding in cars that will not go all the way to Serbia, we will have to move up to one of the first two cars within the next two hours.  He motioned to the girl next to him and said that she was helping to translate what the inspector was trying to relay. The girl timidly waved at me.  The guy said that the girl didn’t speak the best English, and she explained the best she could. He said that he wasn’t 100% sure that this explanation is exactly what the inspector was saying, but that was what he understood from it all.

I went back to my compartment with Rob and started to explain to him what I had learned.  As I was explaining the inspector returned. The inspector suddenly opened the door to our compartment. Standing next to him was a confused looking guy, presumably another passenger to Belgrade.  The inspector pointed his finger at me and said: “Speak.”Image

Hitching a ride in Wales

Hitchhiking in Pont-y-Pant, Wales

Dual perspectives during a backpacking tour.  In 2011 my boyfriend, Rob, and I went backpacking through Europe for three and a half months.  We both kept journals.  It was about 1-2 months into the trip that we discovered we liked reading our journal entries side by side.

Here is an example of our journal entries:  This is one day along our journey when we were in Wales.

Rob’s Journal Entry:

Sunday, June 26

Wow, it’s hard to believe we’ve been traveling for over a month now!

We slept and didn’t start moving until 1045 this morning, it was worth it, we were really tired.  After a couple quick showers, some breakfast, and some tunes in the background, we head for the town of Pont-Y-Pant.  We stop at a small pub for a purple Moose Ale, some soup, and a sandwich, while we watch a little formula one racing on TV. The food was decent and the beer was OK. We then wander over to the little grocery store: SPAR.  With a meager selection of groceries and no dental floss, we scrounge up enough for dinner and lunches, along with a few breakfast items as well. It’s only ¾ mile or so back to our hostel: The Llader House.  The views alongside of the road are pleasant as its mostly sheep grazing along nice rolling hills that are lush and deep green in color. There are a ton of motorcycles whizzing by, as they should be, it is an unusually beautiful day, sunny and warm. We drop the groceries off  and decide to take a walk to Betws-Y-Coed ( pronounced Bettis E Coed), which is about 6-8 miles away. So after walking for a bit I suggest we try to hitch a ride into town. It’s the first time ever for the two of us to try this and after a mile or so of walking with our thumbs out, (and Melissa walking so she’s seen first) someone pulls over! It’s a man, maybe early 40’s with his young son in a car seat in the back. We jump in and he gladly takes us into town which is only a few miles up the road by now. He informs us about some of the local places to see and drops us off at a store where we can buy stamps. Wow, we both thought, that was really cool and nice of him to give us a ride! So off we go to do a little bit of sightseeing, then stop by the market to pick up some salami and mushrooms and then start walking back. So we walk back along a wooded side road and all along not one car passes so we stop for a quick pee break. Then when we hear a car coming we think to ourselves, fuck it, and we both put our thumbs out to hitch a ride. I take one good look at the car and I can’t believe it, it’s the same guy! Whoa! He gives us a lift back as he was on his way home from dropping his son off. So were driving along talking and he asks us if we’d be interested in coming back to his place for a cup of coffee. I’m thinking ahhh not really the soundest plan, and suggest we need to get back and cook dinner. Right about then, Melissa belts out, mmm ok! Hahaha! I think to myself, fuck it, its just a walk down the hill to our hostel, at the same time I’m also thinking this could be a bit sketchy.  So we drive up this narrow two track dirt road high up on the hill side above the railroad tracks and pass a few houses along the way and then pull into Adrian’s driveway. He said it was a pig sty but we hadn’t the slightest idea what we were in for. The place was all cluttered with shit everywhere! Just a bunch of random old useless junk, mostly old furnishings and decomposed wood…etc. He tells us he inherited the place from his father and that its over 300 years old!! While inside among the clutter we sit down and Adrian offers us some coffee. It’s a dark very old lonely place with random things scattered about, some drawings from his 7 year old little boy hanging from the wall catch my eye. The conversation is scattered talking about the schooling in Wales, Politics, and various legal battles he’s had with the state and his ex-wife.    After a while we’re thinking, ok, time to get going. Sensing this he offered to show us the garden (yard).  Much to our amazement, albeit a bit overgrown, it’s fucking amazing! The potential this place has to be as nice as it once was is incredible. His father had connections through the local quarry years ago and there were beautiful black stone spiraling staircases that led down to a pool which was also made out of the same smooth black stone. There was a little seating area, or cabana that was falling apart and it was in a state of disrepair, but I could really appreciate the beauty and all the amazing craftsmanship it once took to transform that place.  There were multiple tiers of the garden which led deep down into the lower wooded area by the train tracks. We say our goodbye’s out on the road by a youth camp of some sort and part ways. Melissa and I are thankful things went down peacefully and he wasn’t a crazy serial killer guy, hahaha! On the walk back to our hostel we talk about our thoughts when we were inside Adrian’s house and our tactical escape plans. We’re surprised that we shared similar thoughts!

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Melissa’s Journal Entry: 

Sunday 26.6.11  (Europe writes dates with the day first, then the month, then the year)

We are in Pont-y-Pant, Wales in Snowdonia National Park.  It’s sorta the middle of nowhere.  It took a long time to get here by train.  We had three connections and of course one train was late and we missed connections.  Pont-y-Pant is not even a normal train stop, it’s a “request stop” which meant that we had to ask the conductor to stop at it.  We were the only ones who got off at that stop.  We arrived and had a little bit of an issue finding the hostel.  The issue mostly involved that we got off the train and there is NOTHING nearby.  Only a small stream and sheep.  We had to walk several minutes to even find a building.  We ended up calling the place on the cell phone that our friend Laura gave us when we visited her in Bradford.   The hostel is called Lledr Bunk House and Rob and I are the only people staying here.  It’s run by a young couple with at least one small child living in an attached house.  The hostel part is upstairs and on the side of the couple’s house.  It’s huge and old and since Rob and I are the only people here, it makes it creepy.

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Last night we made some food in the kitchen that we had packed with us, we played on the internet (a computer and WiFi is available) and we watched T.V. (one of the few hostels with a T.V.)  We slept in this morning and it was really nice.  We walked to a small town father down the train track that starts with a “D”, I can’t remember.  Words here are funny.  Welsh appears to be a strange language.  It resembles English not at all.  Signs here are posted in Welsh and English and the Welsh looks as though a one-year-old child banged his hand on a keyboard.  Welsh seems to put together letters I wouldn’t even know how to pronounce.  Anyway I just looked up the town and it’s called Dolwyddelan.  There wasn’t a whole lot there.  We ate at a pub where the lady working seemed very flustered that she had more than two people to serve at the same time.  Lunch was ok, we had sandwiches and soup.  We had some local Welsh ales, which I didn’t like (too bitter).  We bought some groceries and carried them back to our hostel.

We later decided to walk up to the city in the other direction – which is 4 miles.  We walked a short distance and then decided to try hitchhiking.  Neither one of us have ever done it before.  It seems to be somewhat popular in Europe.  Our friend Simon from Bern who we couchsurfed with last month said he hosts people who hitchhike and that he also picks up hitchhikers himself.  So anyway we gave it a whirl.  We thumbed as we were walking and many cars went by.  Eventually a middle aged man with a small child in the backseat stopped and gave us a ride to the town (called Betws-y-Coed).  The man seemed really nice.  He said he lived in Wales for the past 25 years but didn’t speak Welsh well, but his son, Alex (sitting in the backseat) was learning Welsh and actually being taught largely in Welsh.  We told him we were from Arizona and he thought that was interesting.  The ride and conversation was pleasant.  We walked around Betws-y-Coed and got a few more groceries.  The store in this town was better stocked than in Dolwyddelan.  We looked here for dental floss, which we were quickly running out of, and they didn’t have at the last store.  Well, there was no dental floss there either.  They had toothpaste, toothbrushes, mouthwash and dental cleaner – but no dental floss.  I began to wonder if Welsh people even floss their teeth.  In town we also hiked, I mean walked, (they call hiking “walking” around here,) around a park near the river and it was nice.

After spending some time in town we started walking back to Pont-y-Pant.  The first car we stuck our thumb up for looked very familiar.  Rob said “is that the same guy?” and I said “no way,” but sure as shit it was.  He stopped for us and he was laughing.  The kid wasn’t in the car and he said he was dropping his son off at his mother’s.  We laughed about the timing and talked a bit about where we came from, about his son and the Welsh education system.   He asked us if we’d like to come over for a cup of coffee.  He seemed genuinely amused about the timing of our trips and seemed nice and he did pick us up with his kid in the car earlier and that made me think he was a trusting and trustworthy person.  Rob said something about going to the hostel to make dinner, but I asked him where he lived and he said he lives near the train station in Pont-y-Pant and I replied that I thought we could come and have a cup of coffee.  The guy said his place was a pig sty.  We agreed to join him for some coffee.  He drove up near Pont-y-Pant’s train station and up a winding, pot-holed narrow lane and to a very very old giant house that appeared dark and spooky and looked entirely like it was haunted.

He parked his car in the driveway and introduced himself as Adrian.  He led us into his house.  Immediately I became uncomfortable as he opened the door into what looked like essentially an abandoned, old, dark, dusty barn with tons of old crap in it.  We walked in near darkness and followed Adrian around and through old washers and dryers, other appliances, old kid’s toys and other rubbish – through a door on the left into a living room absolutely bursting with old crappy furniture and junk.  There was a small dining room area with ancient cushioned chairs around a table that was cluttered with papers and orange juice boxes.  A small kitchen was nearby and was partitioned from the dining area by a ratty towel hanging in a small doorway.  Children’s board games and books were laying on every flat surface in the area.  A birthday card with a giraffe on it and a big number “7” and the word “Alex” across it was hanging from the wall.  Adrain was talking while making coffee, small talk, asking us what we did, talking about Arizona, etc.  Then he asked us if we have seen the movie “U-turn.”  We told him we hadn’t.  He said it was set in Arizona and starred Jennifer Lopez and Sean Penn and that it was one of his favorite movies and that he was thinking about it after he had given us a ride into Betws-y-Coed.  I asked him what it was about and his reply was “it’s about psycho killers,” then he grabbed a copy of the DVD and handed it to me.  Rob and I shared a nervous look as if we both were thinking the same thing….  “oh shit, this guy intends to kill us.”  Adrian set a pot of coffee on the table and handed me two cups.  I filled them both only half full and handed one to Rob.  I tried to appear relaxed and comfortable and sat on one of the ancient chairs and felt a spring in the cushion pop under my ass.

I looked over to my backpack which I had set on a different chair when we entered the room.  I thought about how quickly I may be able to reach Laura’s cell phone and reminded myself that in Britain people dial “999,” and not “911.”  Adrain, Rob and I discussed music, the public education system in Wales and the U.S. and reducing carbon footprints.  As we were talking a fly started buzzing and we all looked over at the window and saw a fly desperately trying to escape a spider’s web.   I tried to appear to be enjoying conversation, but was really wondering at what point Adrian was going to try to trap us in his old and creepy house and lock us up.  After our coffee was finished Adrian invited us to tour his garden (british version of the yard) and he reported that he could walk us down to the road from his back garden.  I was just happy to be led back out of the house.

The yard was green and large and lush.  He told us that the house was his fathers and that it was built 300 years ago with some add-ons and improvements done in the 1900’s.  There was a “pool” in the backyard which was overgrown with weeds and had plants growing in it – it looked more like a pond.  He walked us down a hill along super ancient and overgrown stone steps, down a trail that was long and steep moving away from his house into thick woods, the trail started as unkempt and unmaintained to almost non-existent.  The trail was quite slippery in regions and very steep and thick underbrush that I had to move aside while walking.  I tried to remember exactly the directions we came from and keep track of the way we were headed, in case I needed to try to run away quickly.  Visions from the movie “Hostel” filled my head.  Adrian seemed nice, still, but I was eyeing him up and convincing myself that Rob and I could take him down if we needed to.  Finally I was able to at least see train tracks and I felt a little better.  The “trail” led to a tunnel under the train tracks and I was very edgy and alert as Adrian led us into the tunnel.  We managed to make it through the tunnel uneventfully.  The tunnel came out and near a hotel and up a small path and finally I recognized that we were near the main road right near our hostel.  I said “oh” in a very surprised and relieved voice.  I turned to Adrain and shook his hand and said “thanks for the rides and for the coffee, it was nice meeting you – have a nice night”  Rob also did similar.  I wanted to say “thanks for not killing us.”  Rob and I walked over the bridge on the river to the main road and when out earshot Rob said “well, we are alive.”  We began to discuss how creepy it was.  Rob said that while we were in the house he was coming up with plans to defend himself and he had spotted a tire iron and was making exit strategies.  I felt really creeped out, but also guilty, because in my mind I believe that Adrian was probably just fine and a lonely guy and not a threat, he just happened to have one of the creepiest houses in the country.  However it also dawned on me that things can have potential to become dangerous quickly and I felt dumb for being naive and potentially getting us into a dangerous situation.  Rob and I talked about it and we decided that we should never go to a strangers house again (except couchsurfing).

We made a nice dinner of cooked vegetables and are getting ready for bed now.  So, we are alone again tonight in this creepy hostel and will probably sleep all cuddled up.

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