It was back in August 2015 that I was invited along to accompany a friend to a VIP Jane Goodall event in London. At this time, my knowledge of Dr Jane was very minimal but after a bit more research and videos watched, I was taken by her passion, dedication and growth in the natural world. After the purchase of a couple of her books, I was ready to meet her. When the time came that I was in her presence, I trembled and words did not come out as planned other than expressing my love for Africa and leaving her with my book signed by her. In my stumble for words, Mary Lewis, Dr Jane’s personal assistant heard that I was to attend University and asked if I was interested in becoming an ambassador for Jane’s organisation – Roots & Shoots. Without hesitation and naivety, I agreed.
Returning to higher education after a nine-year break was something that required time to settle into. It was only at the start of my second year that I got in touch with Jasmina, Assistant to Executive Director, Education for Roots & Shoots. Jasmina instantly blew me away with her passion and welcomed me with open arms and I was then part of the team, ready to lead and inspire. Salford University now had a mark on the Roots & Shoots map and my job was to collect information and stories from students and their dedication to helping animals, the environment and/or people. As I am currently studying Wildlife and Practical Conservation, I instantly started blogging about wildlife students and their contributions, mainly focussing on the Wildlife Society (WS) and the Environment and Conservation Volunteering Society (ECVS). After posting my passion and commitment to animals, the activities of the societies, Jasmina was taken back by our various contributions and asked us to attend the Roots & Shoots Awards held in London on the 3rd March 2017. We were one of ten schools out of 2000 who were nominated for our achievements. I cannot believe this honour and we were certainly proud to represent Salford University.
Accompanying me was, Lori Moore (Chairperson of the WS), Rachael Fraser (Director of the ECVS), Ella Trickett (Student and co-owner of a zoo), Sevim Yildiz (Wildlife Student and volunteer). At the start of the day we had a stall displaying photos of all our activities from clearance of invasive species, seal rescue, saving a rescue in Zimbabwe by building their online presence, education in zoos, wild releases, bird surveys to name a few. People from all areas in conservation were present from The Disney Foundation, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Two Million Tusks, RSPCA, various zoos just dwarf the list. Networking, showcasing our work and learning about efforts by other schools were the priority at this time and then Dr Jane circulated the schools to meet the students and their teachers. A whole diversity of butterflies were present in our stomachs and a mixture of emotions from happiness and nerves.
Figure 1. Our stall, displaying our efforts.
What a gentle and soft soul.
When Dr Jane approached our stand with Tara, Director of Education for Roots & Shoots, we were proud to represent the university, share our passion and take turns in sharing our accomplishments.
Figure 2. The Salford University Stand
First was Lori with her teams long list of achievements from being part of a great and active society – litter picks, habitat management, tree planting, working on the universities green footprint, animal surveys. Rachael was up next with her new societies activities mainly focussed on marine rescue, beach clans and bird surveys. Next up was myself being a part of both societies and working on the website creation and management for an animal rescue facing closure in Zimbabwe and helping with international grants to save it. Ella came forward and discussed their achievements at the zoo in rescuing animals, working on breeding programmes of endangered species such as the Middle white pigs, and their future plans to help the pine martin and red squirrel.
Dr Jane was humble, gentle and displayed a great interest in our work. There was a sense of pride from her and we were just so happy to share her lifelong dream by making it happen: To inspire the younger generation and get them actively involved in helping people, the environment and animals.
The categories for the awards were, all nominated schools, Best Video, Best Photograph, Best School and Individual Endeavour. Rachael, Lori, Ella and I were all nominated for the latter category but this went to Joshua Lee Holden for his fundraising and volunteering who won a trip worth £2000 with Quest to either South America or Africa. Best School went to Dulwich Primary and our one and only Rachael won the Best Photograph category where she will accompany a celebrity chef, Raymond Blanc in Oxfordshire for the day. Receiving the school nomination award in front of a large audience of like-minded individuals from small to large organisations was an honour. To be shortlisted out of 2000 schools to just ten and to advertise the great education offered by The University of Salford and its lecturers was second to none.
Figure 3. Us with Dr Jane Goodall and Mr H. the chimp toy
Figure 4. Receiving our Nomination Award for The University of Salford
This was an experience never to be forgotten and one where we have returned energised and inspired to work harder and better in the year ahead to hopefully win. We would like to thank the organisers for a great day, congratulate all the winners and all who were nominated. We may be the little seeds but collectively we can grow roots and achieve greatness. Keep up the positivity and dedication and hope to see you all again next year.
Lastly, a big thank you to Dr Jane Goodall for the inspiration and giving us the chance to share our work. You are a true hero and a role model we all aspire to be.
Figure 5. Our certificates and trophy, not to forget…Mr H.
This is a snippet of a dream. One day there will be more blue dots as there are many more adventures that await. I have the travel bug, the lust to learn new cultures, see new things and appreciate diversity. Travel broadens knowledge and feeds the soul.
“Of all the books in the world, the best stories are found between the pages of a passport.” – Anon –
The first week of the new year very sad news was released that many animal rescues in Zimbabwe are closing due to lack of funds due to lack of money in the country. Firstly, to clarify, The SPCA is the name of the branches or rescies in Zimbabwe where in the 60’s they adopted the strict and well established policies of the UK organisation, the RSPCA. In no way are they affiliated with each other. Each branch runs their own fundraising events to stay open.
This is the press released by the Mutare branch close to my heart.
Hoping that the New Year has started well for everyone and here’s to it being a positive one!
Having said that, I write to let you know that Mutare SPCA have hit a financial brick wall – despite YOUR AWESOME SUPPORT time and time again! – and face closure if we cannot secure more permanent funding.
As you are all painfully aware, we rely 100% on donations. Most of these come from YOU – either directly or through our fundraising efforts, and this year we were lucky enough to receive a wonderful bequest, without which we would have been writing this letter some months ago.
In these current times we find ourselves fundraising non-stop in our small and amazing community, but still being unable to meet the costs.
In a nutshell: it costs us about US$ 2400 /month to run the SPCA a large part of this is our 3 permanent members of staff, then obviously food for our residents, vehicle fuel and R ‘n M, vet costs, dipping service, euthanasia ‘meds’, phone bill etc etc. Our treasurer has a full breakdown for anyone who would like access to it. We are of course reviewing all costs to see how we can trim them further. $2400 is no easy task to fund raise every month in Zimbabwe in 2017! And we are not the only charity in need and trying to do this. It is proving unsustainable. So, if you find it hard to imagine Mutare without an SPCA, you will understand how our team feels about it. It is an absolutely unacceptable proposition to close an animal welfare organisation at this time when the needs just grow daily.
What are we doing about investigating other funding options? Everything that we know how and then some!
We are a handful of volunteers, many of whom work full time and none of us are overly expert at funding proposals – but we are getting that way! We are applying for anything and everything that we might possibly be eligible for. Needless to say we have been putting out appeals for some time – and will continue to do so. Bear in mind though, that even if we are successful, most projects will not cover staff salaries – it is just the way that they work. They will cover a neutering program or an educational outreach …but not salaries. Any funding at all would be awesome – but we can only accept it if we are able to use it as intended – which would mean that our already stretched staff and volunteers need to step up again and run these programs….. which I am sure we will manage one way or another.
We are also in the process – with some help – of establishing a web site, and trying to set up a PayPal link so foreign donors can donate easily should they wish to do so.
If anyone out there has ideas and/or time and energy to join our team during this precarious time please just make contact with any one of us. Every extra hand helps – and we need hands now! We desperately need folk who can take a task and run with it so that the load is shared and Mutare SPCA keeps ticking.
So, whilst the battle is not yet over and we assure you that we will fight tooth and claw to keep our SPCA open, this letter serves as a heads-up to our wonderful community that we have already sought legal advice on our position, and should we not prove successful with our efforts to secure funds we will give 3 months notice ahead of closing.
I personally cannot imagine living in a town where there is no safe haven for stray, abused, or abandoned animals.
Mutare SPCA Team.
Well, I immediately contacted the committee to discuss the matters and how can the first world help. Due to an extensive knowledge from having managed an animal rescue for 5 years before deciding to attend university, she had hoped her knowledge could be beneficial.
First of all, they do not have a website or a international donation facility, no volunteers apart from the stretched committee and only 3 staff who solely focus on rescuing, welfare, neutering and care for the animals from domestic to farm animals.
In a day, I had built a free website and arranged a contact in the country to help set up a donation gateway. Volunteer job descriptions were drafted, International grant givers were documented to approach, a vet was contacted to help with a neutering program and a design of an International Volunteer Project was roughly designed with a chance to go on a free camping safari as a thank you. It is not like the UK where you can do this in the comfort in your office. Life in Zimbabwe is not easy and you have to fight for anything to get done, pay for any help, wait days to buy a loaf of bread, queue for hours to withdraw a limited amount of cash, not get change in a shop as there is none.
The aim is to win the hearts of all the Zimbabweans living in diaspora. The ones who were forced to leave the country when politics became violent. The remaining Zimbabweans are struggling to make any money to part from it and help one of many organisations needing funds.
The new website will launch on the 9th January 2017 and I am arranging a fundraiser at my University together with the Wildlife Society and fellow classmates. Everyone seems keen to get stuck into this in the new semester.
We hope to post a big success story on the next blog but we will not allow this rescue to close as the animals will have no other help they deserve.
Aesthete is someone with deep sensitivity to the beauty of art and nature. This word describes me to the T. I am a Zimbabwean by birth but have lived in the UK for 14 years now. A huge wildlife fanatic who was blessed with an amazing childhood, with the beauty surrounding me each waking day. A beauty I cannot explain, one that you need to visit, breathe and feel. Feel the African sun beat down on your skin, see the rain showers, thunderstorms and smell the pure air around you. Wildlife is in my heart and soul and I strive to protect it, get lost in it and learn all I can to make it a better place for all to live in harmony. This is a story of my vivid memories of how my love for nature blossomed and some of the people who have inspired me along the way.
Living in Zimbabwe is a dream, a dream if you love freedom, nature, friends and family. We were lucky enough to have wildlife at our fingertips. The town I grew up in was called Mutare which bordered Mozambique on the East. Mutare is based in a valley surrounded by beautiful rolling hills of which half of them was game park and the others were wild spaces. You could often look up and see the elephants roaming through the openings in the trees or if you had a pair of binoculars, you could see the various other animals, quite often a loan Kudu. Monkeys! Well, they were everywhere. They are our equivalent to the grey squirrel in Britain. Very entertaining to watch and you are bound to have a troop move through your garden at some point raiding your fruit trees. The white rhino in the game park were prone to escaping and on the odd occasion were found wandering down the main street in town.
When I was a baby, I wasn’t very well for a lot of the time and the only way I would fall asleep was when my mum drove me around the local game park. This is back when the park was thriving with giraffe, elephants, impala, zebra and all the other African game but excluding predators. The reserve was far too small to sustain the needs of predators and in the latter years, man became the main predator. As the park was based along the border of Mozambique, it was hit hard by border jumpers. People who illegally cross the border in search of basic commodities, clothes, blankets etc. to then bring back to the struggling Zimbabwe to then sell on as there were shortages in the shops. Whist the border jumpers passed through, they would camp in the park and in under 10 years there were no iconic wildlife left except for a few elephants, baboons and monkeys. The rhino had been relocated for their safety, including Daisy, the famous white rhino in the park.
Just an hour’s drive in one direction you have Nyanga, a regular weekend break away where we would camp in the summer. Trout fishing is popular here but most of all, the walks in the pine tree plantations, the stunning sceneries, the classy hotels, the amazing food and golf courses, horseback riding and the gorgeous log fires in the winter. It’s like an alpine village without the snow. Well, that is a little lie as when I was very young, there used to be snow on the peak of Mount Inyangani, the highest mountain in Zimbabwe. Nyanga is also home to the second highest waterfall in Africa and the 6th highest in the world, Mutarazi falls with a height of 762m. Beauty an hour’s drive from home.
Less than an hour’s drive in the other direction, up in the hills and winding roads from Mutare, is the Bvumba. This is my favourite place to visit as you are surrounded by rain forest everywhere. There are the botanical gardens with flowers and trees from all over, ponds with loads of fish you can hand feed, various birds taking advantage of the nectar from the hundreds of different flowers. Within the forest, there is a walk you can go on to see the rare Samango monkey. The Eastern Highlands are the only place in the whole of Zimbabwe where you can find them. Only once did I see one swinging through the trees briefly.
Until I was 7years old
Now having set the scene of my home town, you can now see where my passion for animals began. Having a blue budgie, cats and dogs as pets when I was very young, I grew to appreciate animals and I am thankful to my parents for instilling such compassion in me. My dad had grown up on a farm and is very in-tune with nature from bird calls to behaviours to specie identification and much more. He was my idol. In our garden we had a huge aviary where my dad kept doves: – Cape Turtle doves, Bush doves and Ring Necked doves. I would often find myself sitting in the aviary watching the birds interact, incubate eggs, feed, fly and perch. I would know who is ‘dating’ who bear in mind, I was only 6yrs old. I would know when eggs were laid, how old each individual was and their behaviours. I would never want to touch them as I knew they were not pets per se and I would only disturb them.
Millipedes, well we called them chongololos. If they wiggled when you touched them, they were male and if they would curl up, they would be females. Once knowing this, I had to know the sex of each chongololo in the garden. Seeing the giant African snails in the rainy season, watching their eyes and how they move independently, how they slither along the way, how they excrete and mate was all fascinating to me. I would sit and watch any life form for hours and their ecology.
7 – 13 years’ old
We then moved onto a farm on the border line with Mozambique and this is where the bush baby in me came out. We had a small dam on the farm and surrounded by wild hills. The bush was my home. I was weary of wandering the bush alone as I was a young girl and I knew there may be border jumpers passing through and you never know what may have happened to me. We had a permanent police officer living on the farm, Thando. Thando taught me karate and respect. We used to run and train together and he used to accompany me in the bush when I wanted to explore and remove animal snares. I would often accompany him on his patrols to deter the border jumpers. At our dam, I would sit and watch the dragon flies mate, lay eggs, interact with each other and feed. I would watch the same with the frogs and toads. My favourite was in the rainy season, watching the plattys (a frog) lay eggs and seeing the tadpoles grow, develop and hatch. Their little front legs grew first and over the days, the little back legs grew and then they would lose their tail. It amazed me watching life at the dam change with the seasons. Different ecosystems in the dry months and the busy ecology in the rains. When out exploring, I would know each tree, shrub, bird, snake and insect. You knew that when the swallows and dragon flies fly low, the rains are coming so hurry home. I had a tree I would sit in called ‘echo tree’ as when you would shout like Tarzan, it would echo in the hills. Here is where I would watch the birds with my binoculars I had found in the bush, such a vintage pair but with some TLC, they worked fine. I would follow ants on their little missions collecting food or just breathe in the fresh air and be at peace.
On the farm I had an aviary again with the same doves from home but I had gained a few tortoises. I would do the same here and learn about my birds. I had many white doves and I knew that if a certain two birds mated, what colour babies they would have. I was always so happy when the white doves were on eggs as almost always they would have white babies. We did of course have the odd incident where a hungry mongoose would break in and attack my doves and no matter how secure the fencing and boards were, they would get in somehow. This always broke my heart but thankfully it was not often. Outside the aviary there were 3 or so big bottle brush trees where the Masked Weaver bird lived in August – September. I’d watch the pretty males construct the nests from stripping the leaves to clear a space to the careful intertwined strips of palm tree leaves for the initial shape and then use stripped grasses and banana tree leaves to complete it. The female would come and inspect the nests and the best built one was the lucky male. As weavers mate for life, if the female was not happy with her partner’s skills, she would pull the nest down and he had to restart. They would make so much noise as there were flocks of hundreds of birds. Every time I saw a nest on the ground, I’d worry thinking there may be an egg in it or a baby but that never was the case. Only later to discover that if the males nest was not up to the female’s satisfaction, he would rip it off the branch and start again. I would know when the eggs had hatched as you would find tiny egg shells on the ground. Sometimes I’d find a dead chick so I would bury them in a section in the garden dedicated to those who have physically left the earth.
In the African sand live the antlions. They make little funnel shapes in the sand and when an insect like an ant falls to the base, they are then food for the antlion. I love these little creatures. Many times I would find a blade of grass and mimic a trapped ant and the antlion would appear and latch onto the grass with his pincers. Through my little experiments I made an observation: – the smaller the funnel, the bigger the antlion. My dad rescued a monkey as his mother was killed but sadly he had maggots and passed away very young but we tried our best to save him. One-night whist at the dinner table, the front door was slightly ajar and in walked a fat, healthy grey cat. How did she get passed our dog who hated cats was a question we will never know. I named her Smokey. Not long afterwards, I was waiting in the car for my mum outside my dad’s work in town and in the rear-view mirror I saw a kitten rummaging in the bins. I snuck up slowly and quietly and caught her. She was feral and scratched me so badly but I never let go. I was so allergic to cats but that never stopped me from loving them. I took her back to the car and hid her in my jumper. How was I to tell my parents was the question running through my head. Well, mum came out and I showed her the kitten and she was in love. Bonus, I could keep her. So off she came to the farm to live with Smokey. I called her Kisher as she became so tame and loved licking your neck. Toppie was a specie of bird I rescued from being kicked out a nest from my mum’s friend. The poor thing was featherless and starving. After months of hand rearing, the bird was christened Spike as they have a crest of feathers they raise when happy or threatened. Spike never lived in a cage, only at night. He played hide and seek with me, stole my earrings and hid them and lived a long happy life with me. He was a best friend. Along with cats, monkeys, dogs, doves and tortoises, I also had a little pet mouse. My little zoo.
Whilst at school between 8 – 12yrs old, I was in the Wildlife Club and every other weekend we would go to LaRochelle botanical gardens in Penhalonga about a 40min drive from home. There are amazing aloe gardens here along with trees and flowers from all over the world. We would sit and watch the sunbirds feed, identify them and watch the bees hard at work pollinating. This was a great place for bird watching and specie identification. Mr Harrison, my teacher and role model was an encyclopaedia of wildlife and I couldn’t get enough of learning from him. He was my deputy headmaster so I had the utmost respect for him. His office was full of preserved specimens, books, pressed leaves and rocks. I used to love making an excuse to visit his office so I could see his collections and hear him talk. We used to go on many trips into the bush on farms and collect snares and I remember one afternoon, after 5hrs in the bush, we retrieved 32 snares. Success! From little bird snares in the trees to larger mammal snares on the ground. Sadly, in one snare there was a hare that was not successful and had not been collected. I thought, “What is the point snaring when you are not going to collect it! What a waste!” These were all building blocks to my passion today.
When I was 10yrs old, I joined the Junior Museum Club held for an hour on Friday afternoons at the Mutare Museum. Here we would identify species and learn about conservation. There were only about 5 of us in the group and in the end, I started to run the group for the very busy head of the Zoology Department, Mr Musango. He must have seen my passion and knowledge to allow me at such a young age to do so. I was determined to learn more though so I would stay longer than the hour and help prepare the food for the aviary that was home to a southern yellow billed hornbill, doves, rollers, tits, robins, bee eaters and much more. I had to grate 2 big packets of carrots of which I had raw knuckles from, break up 4 loaves of bread, chop up tomatoes, bananas, apples and mix it all together and feed them. There were also the terrapins in the pond that needed feeding and the many leopard backed tortoises who needed their cabbage. My other Friday afternoon job was to clean the terrapin pond out and put fresh water in. I loved it all. In the aviary we had created different sections for the different birds; fruit tree section for the fruit eaters, nut tree section for the nut eaters, desert section with rocks and aloes where the birds liked to sand bath, a compost section to attract insects for the insect eaters, an open section for the hornbill to fly and a section for the owl boxes. I used to love sitting on the bench watching all the birds interact, build nests, feed and fly. For some reason, every time I entered the aviary, the hornbill would circle my head and show off his beautiful plumage so I nick named him ‘Show off.’ He was my favourite. My other jobs were to clean the 2 large fish tanks out that housed bream and assist Mr Musango clean and feed the Gaboon viper and the Black Mumba tanks. Adrenalin used to rush when we did this. Once in a while a member of the public would bring in an animal and we would nurse it back to health and release it or keep it in an enclosure to keep it safe. The Black Mumba was caught by my dad at a friend’s house and would have been killed but he took it to the museum to be studied and kept safe. One day a vulture was brought in malnourished so he was nursed back to health and released. I remember the strong stench of rotten meat that he smelt of and him reaching up to my armpit because either he was huge or I was just short.
At the museum I would upkeep the specimen records when I had a free minute. We had drawers, cupboards and jars of preserved and stuffed animals and I would have to ensure the book entries matched the species tags. If not, I would have to log them. No computers then so it was all by pen and paper. If a deceased specimen was brought in, I would assist in the taxidermy and one day Mr Musango stuffed a parrot whilst I did one too and he taught me step by step. I did it! I performed taxidermy on a delicate creature and took details of its wing span, body length, beak size, weight, colours etc. We did not have it in our records so here was a chance to update the record books. There were different ways to stuff an animal if they were going on display in the main exhibits of for storage in the specimen room. The worst bit of the job was updating the smelly moth balls to keep the moths and silverfish away.
On Saturdays I would volunteer as a cat socialiser at the SPCA in town. I sponsored a cat called Spook as she was pure white cat with a cute pink nose. She was so sensitive to the sun so she was under a lot of care and had to stay in the shade. I helped feeding new born kittens and puppies but mostly gave lots of love to the animals for many years. Here is where I adopted Scruffy, a Yorkshire Terrier who had been locked in a garage with another dog and the owners fled the country. They were in the garage for a week and the larger dog had jumped into wire and lost his eye. He was rehomed so I adopted Scruffy.
I used to be allowed in the surgeries and watch dogs get their injections and the neutering of animals then my job was to give them love post-surgery. Loved watching adoptions and seeing animals develop with care and love. They really did the best with what they had. The dog food was and still is cooked in a large pot on an open fire with a few scraps in from donation from a butcher and a grain based dog food to plump it up. There isn’t food in tins as you get in first world countries. They were certainly fed well and looked good. Dogs usually had a large area where they could all socialise but the naughty ones with dog on dog aggression had a separate paddock time. Once a year the SPCA held a fundraising dog walk of which I attended for six consecutive years and fundraised a lot of money from friends and family. It was the highlight of my year.
Camping, going on safaris, tracking black rhino in the bush, being in a club in senior school called Overlanders were we learnt survival skills, orienteering, camping and more. We used to go on yearly camps to Gonerazhou, south of Mutare and camp right in the heart of the wilderness too scared to go for a wee at night in case a lion is waiting outside your tent. We used to collect elephant dung and burn it to keep mosquitoes away, learnt about erosion and geographic processes, track leopards and learn about African wildlife. The one night there was a lion kill right by our camp. We had just returned from a game drive and missed it but the group behind saw it all. We just heard it all and there sure was a lot of roaring and commotion. Just amazing times.
In Mutare I was known as the animal rescuer. The one time my dad brought a baby vervet monkey home who he had rescued from local children in the rural lands who had caught him in a snare that had cut deeply into his abdomen. You could see his internal organs. My mum used to be a nurse so with a needle and fine fishing line all sterilised, she stitched him us and he healed well. His name was Choko. In the local language they are called Tsoko which is where the name came from. He lived happily in the lychee tree, free range in the garden and used to terrorise the dogs but they were all best friends. I used to return from school and he used to dash to the gate and climb up me to give me a great big hug and I struggled to get him off me. After many years of an amazing friendship, the council found out about him through a tip off from the postman so I was told to put him in the wild or they will euthanise him. I knew he wouldn’t survive in the wild so I released him on a friend’s home that bordered the game park. He grew into a handsome young man but sadly passed away from a heart attack. This happened whilst writing my GCSE’s and all I did was cry throughout my science exam. Probably why I didn’t get a good result. I had also rescued a Wahlberg’s eagle squashed in a shoe box that was bound for the pot. We plucked his wing feathers so new ones could grow back. Meat preparation daily and my parents never complained about the cost. Once his wings grew back, he was released on a friend’s farm.
When I was 17yrs old, I applied for a Dutch passport through my mother as she used to hold one. After receiving my Dutch passport, I was then given two months to leave the country as you are not allowed dual nationality.
I decided to move to the UK where I was then made stateless as the Dutch embassy issued me the passport by mistake. 7 years passed where I was stuck in a job and due to not having ID, I was not able to go to university or change jobs. In this time I completed an Open University course in Life Sciences and gained a Pass.
With a residency card, I was able to apply for university but not access a maintenance loan. As I had not completed any A’Levels, I had to complete a foundation year in order to get on the degree course. Environmental Sciences if the course I enrolled on with the University of Salford where I proudly gained a First Class Honours as well as working full time to fund my studies and pay my bills. Due to completing the course before being in the UK for 3 years, I was not able to further into the degree course unless I changed my career path and only then would I get full funding so sadly I made the sad decision not to continue and returned to just working at the fast food restaurant.
After being in the UK for 7 years, I then paid to complete my Life in The UK test of which I passed first time and as soon as I got my results, I applied for my UK passport. Eventually I had an identity!
First on my agenda was to get a new job and I did. Whilst I was working at the fast food restaurant, I volunteered at an animal rescue and it was the charity who offered me a position. There was no second thought to accept the offer. I was a volunteer coordinator recruiting volunteers, managing the animal husbandry, fundraising events, admissions and adoptions. Within a year, I was made a manager and I was with the domestic animal charity for 5 years. I achieved a substantial amount of knowledge and met many like-minded individuals. My job involved animal care, home checks, all areas of fundraising from community to corporate, microchipping, hand rearing kittens, life, death, accounting, maintenance, school talks as I believed teaching the grass roots of the world. The list is endless. I was involved in the grant funding and applications where we raised funds to build a dog lounge. This was a grooming room and a home environment where dogs could receive love in a stress free home environment and where we could temperament test them. It was also a healing room for volunteers who needed animal love and where a dog needed the love too. I believe in natural remedies and alternative therapies where I had many ladies who did reiki on the animals. People with learning and physical disabilities would visit to receive healing from the animals. It was something the charity never offered but I knew that the individual benefits as does the animal.
My biggest challenge was a dream I had from day one at the charity – build a new and larger cat rehoming building and convert the old one into a cat boarding unit to create a business and take some pressure off fundraising. The target was £80 000 and I had full confidence in achieving it and I did! From the design pack, solar and renewable energies, builder and electrician liaising to the planner and planning permission to grant writing, I did pretty much everything. A Trustee helped with the brief but it was my goal to achieve. Through grant funding and public donations, we did it! There was going to be a therapy room in it to serve the same purpose as the previously mentioned animal lounge.
I loved the experience, the challenges, the highs and lows. I used to cry when an animal was adopted but then realised they were going to a good home and they will have a better life than where they were or a pen. My favourite part was going out and rescuing animals, bringing them back and showering them with love. The hands on care was second to none. I always did my best to help other rescues, even a dog rescue in Romania where I sent around 1 tonne of dog food, collars, leads, medicines, building materials, insulation, gardening tools and much more as we had far too much. There were many local rescues I helped with food and accessories and when a local dog shelter burnt down, we were the drop off for blankets, food and much more. I had offered kennel space but they were all sorted on that one.
After completing my NVQ Level 3 in Animal Management with the rescue, a big decision was made to then break away and give university a go again and this time on the direction I want to go in – Wildlife Conservation. My application went in and I was ecstatic to receive an unconditional offer. University has opened my eyes to all other aspects of wildlife and environmental factors around me and now I even appreciate soil and insects. After all, without understanding soil where vegetation grows, you wouldn’t understand the ecosystems that rely on it and how to protect it. Same goes for the insects. I mean, who knew they would be so fascinating and a vital contribution to all ecosystems!
Meeting Jane Goodall, the United Nations Ambassador of Peace and a World Renowned Primatologist in September 2015 gave me so much inspiration. Having read a few of her books, I could see a likeness in us as children where there was a need to care for any animal that we thought needed care, even though it didn’t. Jane, my idol, the person who inspires me to achieve my dream and to keep working hard. My dream is to work in wildlife law or conservation to help those who need us. To educate those who live side by side wildlife and eliminate wildlife crime.
To save the life of one animal may not seem much but to that animal it means the world.
Meet us: Natasha (me), Gail, Jade, Cheryl and another Tash.
After a meet up with us friends we decided to road trip Route 66 but due to time off work being so short, exploring California sounded like a better option. The purchase of a Lonely Planet guide, connecting the dots of the best places to visit and noting the little towns that would be rest stops along the way was the start of an epic adventure. Not to forget, the reading of many travel blogs and chatting to friends who had been.
Airline tickets were booked and the dates were set in stone so all we had to do is fill in the blanks and have fun. As we wanted to be free and not tied to a defined plan in case we veered off the path in sight of an amazing natural wonder, we planned to only book hotels in the main cities being, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. In order to apply for your ESTA (American Visa) you need an American address for when you land so book a hotel for your arrival. It also gives you piece of mind that you have a bed to go to after a long journey.
We flew with WoW airlines from London Gatwick and I would not recommend them. Do not book an airline just because they are cheap! £670 for the flight with one stop off in Iceland but…that is just the price for the flight and does not include your seats, luggage and food. Seat prices varied depending on where you sit and luggage is £42 per checked in 20kg’s. You can take on-board a hand luggage and a handbag which is good. Just an idea of food prices, a ham and cheese baguette was 1000Kroners, a tot of vodka was 1100Kroners and a coffee was 500Kroners. It was cheaper to purchase food in the airport and take it on board. Main tip is, do not fly with WoW as they are not wow! They are the budget airlines of Iceland and they are as budget as can be. Oh, NO on board entertainment either, 3 toilets with a constant queue, cold on board and the seats are hard and uncomfortable. No complementary drinks or snacks at all. On the plus side, the hostesses are friendly and helpful though.
California is not flat so if you are driving around it, prepare for the winding roads and the steep elevation. If you plan on drinking, don’t forget your ID wherever you go too. Fuel is cheap and remember, it’s not petrol, it’s GAS. Yes, we got looked at funny when we went to fill up. For starters, you have to pay in the shop beforehand. You have to guess how much you may need to fill up but if you need change, pop back in and they will give you your change. Also, the price displayed is per gallon and not litre so you are getting more than you think.
First stop – San Francisco which is very cold and windy so pack warm!
Thursday, August 11th Landed in San Francisco (SF) and picked up our hire car with Almo from the airport. We got a great discount as a friend in our group works at the airport and gets a discount…bonus! As there were 5 of us, not to mention 5 girls, we had a lot of luggage so we chose to take backpacks over suitcases as they are easier to mould into a small space. We hired a black Dodge SUV and it was a perfect size, automatic, air con, 7 seater and we paid extra for a satnav. Get a satnav and an automatic at all times. That way you don’t have to concentrate on changing gears and you are able to just enjoy the beautiful scenery an concentrate on driving on the other side of the road (that is if you normally drive on the left). Gail had driven in Belgium before so she was nominated first driver to the motel; our first stop.
Arrived at Mission Inn for 2 nights. Not the best of places but it was a bed. Slow Internet, cockroach in room and 1950’s decor. Big rooms though with a TV, bathroom, towels, coffee machine, toiletries and a hair dryer which were all provided so it’s not all bad. The dining room was the size of a shoebox with self-serve tea, coffee, toast, porridge and pastries. Not a place I’d recommend and the location is not convenient to access San Francisco. We were later told that Mission is not the safest area to stay in so avoid; there is nothing to see there anyway.
Friday, August 12th Top Sights: Pier 39, Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, AT&T Stadium, Lombard Street, Golden Gate Park, Bay Bridge, Street Cars (Trams)
Squashed in to have breakfast and coffee. Caught a taxi to Pier 39 and had a look at the souvenir shops, saw the seals at the pier all lounging in the foggy sun. Alcatraz could be seen from the pier but we didn’t go over as it is over a month’s wait and as we didn’t have a lot of time in SF, we didn’t want to waste hours on the tour. Met our friends who were also travelling, Mandy and Ben and had a drink or two at Fog Harbour on the pier and the
cocktail to try is their Alcatraz Escape. It is fruity, yummy and moreish. Had lunch at the restaurant below Fog Harbour called Wipeout Bar and Grill which was delicious and we had our first American burger, chips with a side of a cocktail called Shark Bite. As it was getting late, there was no time to do any tours of SF so we decided to do it ourselves via public transport. You can purchase a day pass for all forms of transport for $20 from Walgreens pharmacy at the Northpoint Shopping Centre. Then a short walk away we stopped off at the famous Lombard Street, which is one very crooked street. With just a short walk up Lombard Street, and believe me when I say it is steep and a workout, we found the bus stop number 28 to start our tour. We missed our bus and as they are meant to be every 20minutes, ours took one hour to arrive. When it arrived, it was far too full and we had to wait for another 30minutues before the next bus. By the time it arrived we were frozen, tired and hungry. Golden Gate view point was the first stop but it was so windy and cod that we just dashed to the souvenir shop to defrost and wait for the next bus. The fog was so low that it hid the bridge from us.
Next stop was Golden Gate Park which was pretty…walked the rose gardens, around parks and the trees, the statues, fountains and passed the museums as we didn’t have time to wander them. The Japanese Gardens had just closed when we arrived but I do believe they are amazing so don’t miss them. There are Segway tours of the park available for US$74 for 3-4hrs. We found it a bit pricey so gave them a miss. We caught the bus 28 back to Fisherman’s Warf and wondered the streets in search of a coffee shop to warm up.
If you like chocolate, don’t forget to pass Ghirardelli’s Chocolate shop where you get free chocolate samples and it tastes great too. There are cheaper souvenir shops around here too so buy your bits and bobs here and not in the main touristy parts. We then headed to Pier 39’s Boudin Bakery Café for a defrost, a coffee and the famous chowder bun but we had the chilli mince chowder as we were scared to try the popular crab chowder. It was yum. Basically, it’s a big sourdough bun with its top cut off and the insides removed then filled with chilli mince. It’s perfect to warm you up after a cold, windy day in San Francisco. To finish the night off we nipped to the entrance of Wipeout Bar and Grill for their free Wi-Fi to book an Uber taxi back to our accommodation. Uber is great and works out cheaper than the general taxi’s do download the app.
San Francisco ⇒ Napa Valley ⇒ Sacramento – 5hrs with stops
Saturday 13th August Top Sights: Driving Golden Gate Bridge, Wine Tasting, American River
Checked out of the motel and headed on our way to Sacramento with stops planned at one of Golden Gate Bridges view point, Napa Valley wine tasting and then to friends in Sacramento.
As we had a failed viewing of the bridge the day before from Fort Point, we planned to head to Conzelman Road viewpoint which was amazing! Parking was easy to find, free and many stop off points along the way to get a different angle photo. There are portaloos at the top too and some great walks if you are feeling adventurous. Another stop off to get a great view is at the Lonely Sailor at the right off the bridge heading out of SF.
Driving through Napa on route 12, the choices of vineyards to stop off are endless but you can either plan and research before heading off so you don’t pay the earth for a tasting session like we did. We stopped off at Domaine Carneros wine farm (very posh) and paid US$40 for the Grande Tasting which was a selection of red wines and sparkling wines along with a cheese board for US$19. We did share this between the 4 of us as the fifth person was our driver. Be careful driving Sonoma and Napa as I was told by a local resident that the cops wait around every corner, randomly stopping cars and breathalysing you. I would suggest making more time here as it’s pretty and there are various wine tours you can go on, cycle tours, etc. 5 hours should be a great amount of time to explore loads but I would plan to stay the night so you can all wine taste and enjoy it.
Arrived at our friend’s house and after a quick unpack and catch up, we headed for food and drinks at Crawdads on the American river where jovial boaters were passing and made it a great, happy atmosphere. Cocktails are great here and the food isn’t too bad either. Great setting and we were lucky to see a lovely sunset. That night we went to Parlare Euro Lounge nightclub as our friend manages it and what a top class club it is. Go there! It’s over 2 floors with DJ’s on different ones. Upstairs are the VIP booths and the décor and service is amazing. They play all kinds of music from remixes, dance, hip hop, top of the charts etc. We had the greatest VIP treatment with a vast array of drinks.
Sunday 14th August Top Sights: Folsom – American River
We all woke up early, fresh faced and surprisingly no heavy heads from the night before. The plan was to head to Folsom and raft the American River. This is not a well-known location by tourists but if you get the chance to find it then please go. Rent a raft, take a cooler box with drinks, food, music with you along with sun cream, bikini (for the girls), hat, cheap sunglasses as you may lose them like I did and towels. We rented an 8 – 10-person raft for US$170. The 5-person raft was US$99 from memory. You carry your raft to the entry point on the river, then grab a drink and float away. Don’t paddle unless you get into a tricky spot. Just sit back, relax, enjoy the sunshine and company. Half way down we stopped off at the sandy bank and socialised with everyone, listened to music from boats passing or stopping and enjoyed the company. When you reach the end where the houses are along the river on the right, paddle hard, hand your raft in and head on up to the park where a bus awaits to take you to the carpark. The whole rafting experience took around 4hrs. After all the sun and drinks, we were shattered and ordered pizza and watched The Boss movie of which I fell asleep to at the start. Do the rafting…its worth it!
Sacramento to South Lake Tahoe – 2hr drive
Monday 15th August Top Sights: South Lake Tahoe, Gondolas to the top of the mountain
On the day we booked the hotel in South Lake Tahoe, Harveys. Driving there we stopped off at this bar/restaurant and it was very weird. We were the only visitors and on the walls were cult-like pictures, animal heads, satanic symbols, chairs in a circle and other ornaments that were strange. We were desperate for the loo so had no choice to order a drink and use the facilities then move on. Stunning location though, along a river in the trees.
Harveys is a massive hotel very close to the lake so it was a great location. When we arrived we dropped off the bags and headed out to explore. Three of us headed up the gondolas (cable carts) to the top of the mountain for US$46ea. It stops off at a platform half way up where you get the best view and photos of the lake. There is a café and loos here. The carts continue up to the top where there is a whole outdoor experience centre, bar and restaurant. If you have the time, book the full package of ziplines, rope course and gondolas as it looks amazing!
Returned to flat land and went for a short walk to the lake to dip our toes in. Any road adjacent to the mountain leads to the lake. There is paddle boarding, kite surfing, canoeing, swimming, jet skiing and much more to do. Take money with you as you need to pay US$5 to enter the beach but it’s worth it. The water is cold as it is ice melt from the winter but its lovely and blue. Later that night we went for a meal in the restaurant at the top of Harrah’s where we watched the sun set and had a great meal. The Justin Cabernet Sauvignon is delicious here. We then headed to Cabos bar in Harveys and be careful, the drinks are strong but nice and the live band wasn’t too bad. There is a casino here if you wish to gamble.
South Lake Tahoe to Mammoth Lakes – 3hrs drive
Tuesday, 16thAugust Top Sights: Emerald Bay viewpoint, Mono Lakes viewpoint, Mammoth Lakes, Twin Lakes
Started off with a wander down to the lake front and had breakfast at, The Landings restaurant. After filling our bellies, we checked out and went to Emerald Bay viewpoint. It’s one curvy road so be careful but once you get to the viewpoint the views are stunning. It’s a great view of the bay but I am sure that if we headed on further along the road the view would have been spectacular but time was not on our side.
Next stop in Mammoth Lakes. The reason why we chose to stay here is because it was the closest and cheapest place to stay near Yosemite National Park. There is accommodation and camping close and in the park or in Lee Vining but book in advance to get a great location. Mammoth Lakes is gorgeous, so we didn’t mind the backtrack to the park the next day.
On the route to Mammoth Lakes, the roads are very curvy and steep at times but the scenery is stunning. There is a great stop off at Mono Lake view point. Take a sticker of some sort to stick on the road railing like the 100’s of others. The view is stunning and the stop is on the right so do stop here and take in the natural beauty.
As the road winds down, there are gorgeous views at every bend.
We arrived at our quaint condo in a beautiful location amongst the trees, remote from any Wi-Fi at Bigwood Condomoniums on Majestic Pines Drive. After a little evening walk and pausing to admire a deer in the woods we and meet a few residents and were told that bears frequent this area with their local visitor being called Archie. They hadn’t seen him for a few weeks due to being scared off from the current building work but he would be back. They told us about Twin Lakes to go and visit and we may be lucky enough to see bears but by the time we arrived, it was too dark but pretty at the same time. On the way back we stopped off at the Mammoth Eatery and I highly recommend stopping here. The food and atmosphere is brilliant. They brew their own beer here and the setting is a massive cosy log cabin. Do get there early as they don’t open late. Returned to the condo and we all got together to discuss the next day’s adventures.
Devils Postpile National Monument is found here. To get to them you have to park up at the ski resort on your way to them where the cable cars/gondolas are then hop on the shuttle into the park. They are open May to October and admission is Adult – US$7 and Child US$4. We didn’t go in as we were heading to Death Valley and thought we could drive to them, stop off, take a photo and then head off but the process was not that simple and we wasted the trip there. Make time and go to them and stop off at the Earthquake Fault on the way there or back. I hear it’s a sight not to miss….we did L
Wednesday, 17th August Top Sights: Tioga Peak, Ellery Lake, Tuolumne, Olmstead Point, Mount Watkins, Valley View, Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite Valley Visitor Centre, Lower Yosemite Falls, Inspiration Point
Up bright and early, day packs packed and off on our 2hr trip to Yosemite National Park up on route 395. Filled the tank and off we went. Turn left on route 120 (Closed November to May) and be prepared for the winding roads, not to mention the fluctuation in elevation. At one point you reach 4000ft then 11 000ft then drop to 2000ft but no one is in a hurry here and they are all taking in the beauty. If people do tail you then there are plenty of stop off bays to pull into for people to pass. Do it as the tailing will put pressure on you and you may miss a sight. There is plenty to do in the park from camping, hiking, climbing to horse riding. To get the most out of the park, get away from the hustle and bustle, allow for time here. Lose yourself in the beauty. This is a stop start drive so what would be an hour took us 4hrs.
First stop was the highest peak: Tioga Peak at 11 526ft. Stop here!
I don’t know what it is about water but we had to stop off at every lake, water body, rivers, streams and what would be waterfalls…will explain about these later. Ellery Lake is pretty so no doubt you’d stop here for a photo but I personally loved Tioga Lake. There were benches to picnic, toilets and gorgeous views. You could see the streams from the mountain meeting the lake and then running off and the colours, depths and stillness was amazing.
After this striking sight, one more bend and climb until you reach the Tioga Pass Entrance which is the admission gate into the park. For a car we paid US$30 and you have unlimited entrance for 7 days and a free map of the park and what to do. Just a bit further you will reach Tuolumne where you can camp, horse ride, fuel up, picnic or have a meal. There is also a visitor centre here with loos and loads of “what to do” with such helpful volunteers. Aside from my favourite lake stop, the next stop did not feel real, Olmstead Point. When something is so beautiful it actually looks like a painting, well this is the place. Here, you get to see views of the lakes and conifers to the left and to the right you see valley…lots of valley. Frank, the volunteer was there with a telescope and for a donation, you can see the hikers scrambling up Mount Watkins. They look like ants and to attempt the 12hr hike, I have much respect for them. Do head down the steps and for a short walk to the bare rock and the views open up. Panoramic views, find a rock to sit there and take life in, admire the beauty and let nature swallow you in its beauty.
After more bends and breath-taking sights, stop offs here and there, petrol looking a little low, we reached the ‘T’ junction of Big Oak Flat Road and Tioga Road. To our delight there was a petrol station with a shop full of everything you would need. Time to fill up and stock up.
Next up there is the Valley View stop off point so stop off here and then Bridal Veil Falls. Sadly, there was a measly spray of water teetering over the edge due to the 5yr drought California has faced. This was definitely not the time to see the full beauty of the falls but still stunning none the less. We parked up and did the lovely walk to the base of the falls which you should do as there is something special walking through the trees on the trodden paths and cobbled bridges over the bone dry streams. We clambered the rocks in search of the plunge pool but gave up due to the lack of water. The rocks are very slippery and shiny so watch your step. Seems like the rocks have taken many causalities as there are many warning signs.
Then there is the Yosemite Valley Visitor Centre. There’s a huge souvenir shop, supermarket, toilets, shuttle bus stops and an information office. Parking is scarce but you are sure to find a space. Try and leave here before 4pm as it was hard for us to leave after 5pm with the traffic queues. Here you can hike to Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls. We didn’t as no doubt they would be dry at this time of year. Stop off at the Yosemite Falls Hotel parking and cross over the main road towards Lower Yosemite Falls to the right. If you go to the Higher Yosemite Falls, you will spend hours hiking to the top of them but do so if you have the time and are feeling adventurous. The walk amongst the redwoods dwarfs you. Such huge trees ruling the landscape and yes, I had this urge to hug one. It took four of us holding hands to wrap around the tree. Again, when we reached the falls, it was just dry rock. Not a drop of water flowing over nor in the carved out ground where a river would run. The squirrels were entertaining as they come to great you but all they really want is food and boy are they a little on the tubby side.
This was our last stop in the park before we headed home as we had a long journey ahead of us. Don’t forget to make time for the hikes and there are other falls and viewpoints to see too. There is a free shuttle bus that takes you around the park which is great so use it to see the main points.
Don’t miss Dewey Point Lookout, Inspiration Point and Tunnel View. All amazing sights that you wouldn’t think are real. You can also head to Mariposa and the Sequoia National Park from here.
When we hit Mammoth Lakes, we stopped off at a tiny restaurant for a meal called Burgers Restaurant. If you are going to order a salad, you will get one big enough to feed 4. They are huge and are served in a serving bowl. They have the most awards I have ever seen for their chilli and beans and I highly recommend it if you are not vegetarian. It was the best tasting chilli that I have ever had and worth stopping there even if you are just passing through.
Mammoth Lakes to Pharump via Death Valley – 9hr drive with stops.
Thursday, 18th August Top Sights: Lone Pine Town, Padre Crowley Point, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Zabriskie Point, Badlands
Death Valley, here we come. Fuel – check, food – check, drinks – check.
There are a few towns that you pass through along route 395 so plenty of opportunities to top up so don’t worry. We stopped at Lone Pine and had a drink stop at Jakes Saloon and loved it here as the town looked like you were walking into a western movie. Jake’s had the wooden look exterior and the swing doors, the shops all looked like the cowboy movies and what would have finished it off was if a handsome cowboy were to ride his stallion down the street. The whole street had free Wi-Fi which was a first as no other towns had this. We bought alcohol and snack for Vegas at the shop here as it was very cheap and we were told to stock up before Vegas as you will be paying a lot for drinks there.
After Lone Pine, we took route 136 towards Panamint Springs and then followed route 190 towards Death Valley Junction. Along the route 190 there are various amazing sights to stop off at but don’t once think that DV is a flat sandy desert with long straight roads as it is not. It’s like everywhere else with curving roads and steep elevation so watch your breaks. At one point we had to stop off half way down miles worth of downhill to cool the breaks only for a kind British guy come and show us how to put our automatic car into manual mode and stay in a lower gear on descent. It worked and we were so happy as it was scary at one point. Stop off at Padre Crowley Point as it’s a mini Grand Canyon but very windy then the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. These are the only sand dunes you will really see along the way and the temperature here was 46.5 and the sand is very hot so closed shoes may be advisable. There are great dry trees to take photos of.
Be sure to read all the signs as they are very helpful. They tell you to turn off your air-conditioning for 10miles as the car will over heat, when you cross into Arizona, where the next petrol station is and the next sight to see. Furnace creek was a dry desert town but just on top of a hill was this green oasis. It was a hotel surrounded by palm trees and greenery and I’m sure it was called, Inn at Furnace Creek. Here the road splits and if you go right, there are two sights to see, 1. Artists Pallet along Artists Drive and 2. Dante’s View. Both looked good but we went left towards Zabriskie Point and oh my it was stunning. Go and see it! Park up and walk up the small slope and the rolling formations from river erosion open up for you with different tones of browns, oranges and blacks – The Badlands. The heat hits you but I adapted to it quite quick.
Aircon on and we head for our last stop before Las Vegas – Pharump. Well, we didn’t know what to expect here but after a quick re-fuel and a chat to a few local residents we decided to stop off at Saddle West Resort and see if they had any room and they did. Two good sized rooms booked next to each other, changed into our bikinis and into the pool for a cooling off and we certainly needed that. Had food in the hotel’s restaurant which wasn’t that great but, it was food. Was strange that we had to walk through the casino to get to the hotels reception and it was interesting to see all the people gambling were there for many hours and again early hours the following morning. I mean, did they even go home!?
Pharump to Las Vegas – 2hr drive.
Friday, 19th August Top Sights: Las Vegas – The Strip….need I say more! Ballys, Bellagio, Treasure Island, The Wynn etc…
Drove to Vegas and checked into Ballys Hotel right on the strip. It wasn’t too bad driving the strip in the day and we only had to go about a quarter of a mile and then turn off to the parking. Checked in, unloaded our bags, bought a crazy cocktail from Evening Call with a refill cup (of which we never went back due to being all over exploring). We were meeting friends in Vegas who were staying at the same hotel so off to say hi to them. We were too excited to stay in the hotel so went to walk the streets and find our bearings. It’s not impressive in the day so maybe lounge by the pool in the day and save the energy to walk The Strip at night. We went to the Parisian Street under our hotel, the Bellagio, in and out various hotels and shops then back to the hotel for a wash, change and head out again when the sun sank. Treasure Island Hotel had an amazing volcano light and fire display on at 9pm which is a must see and after that we went for a drink in the hotel then just walked the streets stopping at the Wynn (stunning inside), Flamingos, the Venetian, and then the Bellagio to watch the final famous fountain display of the day at midnight. They are every half an hour but the best time to watch them is at night. Last stop was Ballys for a spot of gambling. I was a high flyer on the 1c machines with a massive winning of 20c. I played US$4 and won US$4.20. The slot machines take notes so no need to queue for tickets or chips. Whichever casino you gamble in, you get free drinks and all you have to do is tip the waitress/waiter which is far cheaper than hanging out at the bar but far less social and not so lucky if you are on a losing streak.
Saturday, 20th August Top Sights: Parisian Street, Ballys pool party, Nepoleons
Spent the whole day at the Hotels pool which had a bar nearby and a DJ until 7pm. It’s one of the few pools that have a DJ but there are of course others. I heard that the Bellagios pool is very quiet and civilised. The atmosphere here was amazing and as soon as a ball was introduced to the pool, we all joined in playing a fun version of piggy in the middle with a Coors Lite in hand. We were here from 11am till around 6pm and time just flew. Oh what fun. Another friend arrived at lunch from Minnesota so our gang grew. We then had a snooze, freshened up and headed for a French buffet meal on the Parisian street. The selection of food from starters to desert was phenomenal. So many options and so well presented and cooked. Hungry? Go here! You can’t miss it as it’s the only buffet. With our full bellies we headed across the way to Napoleons to watch the pianists but then headed to bed as we had an early start the next day – Our Grand Canyon West Rim adventure.
Sunday, 21st August Top Sights: Lake Mead, Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon – Hualapai Ranch, Eagle Point, Sky Walk, Guano Point, Joshua Tree, Hemenway Park
Up at 6am and ready for our coach trip for 7am start with Grand Canyon Tour and Travel. Picked up at the hotel and taken to the check in depo where we signed in and collected a free coffee and breakfast snacks. The coach was comfortable with free Wi-Fi, lunch which was a roll, chocolate and crisps.
First stop was at Hoover Dam. This was only a quick 20min stop but it was enough to walk up the 200 or odd steps, brave the wind and heights and take a photo of the huge dam wall. Hoover Dam wall is on Lake Mead and due to all the droughts, you can clearly see the water level drop by the distinct white line above the low water level. What an amazing sight to see.
Drove through Joshua trees which were all over until we arrived at the Grand Canyon. The coach drops you off, hands you your tickets and off you go. There is a shuttle service that transports you around the park with the first stop at Hualapai Ranch. It’s a little tourist made western town where you can shoot a pistol, rope a fake cow, watch a real magic show, have a bite to eat and walk around to see what the little towns used to be like.
Next stop was Eagle Point where the Sky Walk is – the glass bridge above the canyon with a 4000m high. We had booked to go on here. No cameras allowed just so they can make money from us as they have professional photographers on there. You have to queue for ages to get a photo but it is worth it. US$16/photo…eek!
Last stop was Guano Point which is just AMAZING. Here is where you feel the true enormity
of the canyon. This used to be the point where bad faeces was mined in one of the cliffs caves which was used as a fertiliser so the original mining structures still stand and the point that was influenced by humans to make a platform for the mining equipment. Guano means bat faeces in the Native American language. There is a restaurant here where you can refuel and gaze upon the enormity of the canyon accompanied by the many crows and tourists taking selfies so close to the edge making your stomach flip a few times.
On the way back on the coach, the driver was kind enough to stop off at Hemenway Park by Lake Mead were we were lucky enough to get close to the national animal of Nevada – the Big Horn Sheep.
Last night in Las Vegas so we went for a meal at BLT Steak restaurant managed by Gordon Ramsey in Ballys. It was pricey but a great treat. Hopped in a taxi and went to the Welcome to Las Vegas sign then last stop, Fremont street. The Original Vegas were we watched live bands and did the Slotzilla Zoomline zipline above the street and under the light display. You have to go to Fremont Street when visiting Vegas as this is where it all began. Watch the light show and have a drink on the street as the atmosphere is so different to the strip. There is a restaurant here called Heart Attack Grill and they have a huge scale outside. If you weigh over 350lbs then you eat for free. The waiters and waitresses are dressed as nurses and if you don’t finish your food they whip you. Crazy.
Las Vegas to Los Angeles – 4 hours
Monday, 22nd August Top Sights: Walk of Fame, Chinese Theatre
Check out day. We had Breakfast at Serendipitea 3. Portions were huge so if you ever go here then share. The French toast was the actual size of a brick.
Said our byes to friends and we headed to Los Angeles. Checked into the Hollywood Roosevelt early evening which was right in Hollywood on Hollywood Boulevard. Apparently Marilyn Monroe lived in this hotel briefly. It was opposite the Chinese Theatre so we couldn’t have asked for any closer. We went straight out to walk the walk of fame taking photos of every star of the star we love. The Chinese Theatre was blocked off as they do at night so we went to have dinner at Hard Rock Café and people watch on the streets as there are so many lookalikes trying to make a living. A lot of Spidermen and Johnny Depps in all characters but mainly Jack Sparrow.
Tuesday, 23rd August Top Sights: Warner Brothers, Universal Studios, Beverley Hills, Rodeo Drive, Santa Monica Pier, Venice Beach/Muscle Beach
We booked tickets for the hop on hop off bus for $44 each for 24hrs. Headed out on the blue route which takes you to Universal Studios, Beverley Hills, Rodeo Drive, Warner Brothers but we didn’t explore any due to time but we can say that we have been there. The red route took us to Santa Monica pier where the Route 66 starts or ends. Walked the pier but then headed to Venice beach where we saw Muscle Beach, walked the shops and then dug our feet into the beach sand, found a spot and watched the sunset on the beach. One of the best sunsets I had seen the whole trip. Sadly, we ended the day having a very bad meal at The Beach Café. Definitely a no go from me.
Los Angeles to Morro Bay – 4 hours
Wednesday, 24th August Top Sights: LA Ink, Malibu Pier,
Before check out we had a lovely healthy breakfast at The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf then went for a walk to see LA Ink but it was closed. They only open from 12 – 5pm so I guess they make enough money to have such short opening hours. To be honest, we thought it had closed and moved as the street and shop looked so deserted. Checked out and drove up hills to the Observatory to get close to the Hollywood sign but not a parking in sight after circulating for ages so we gave up and started our journey north for Morro Bay. Stopped at Malibu on Malibu Drive near all the Celebrity beach homes unbeknown to us. We just saw a beach road, saw a stop, pulled up and walked the beach and just to the left, in front of the homes there was a sign saying “Private Land, do not cross.” We didn’t but when we returned to the car, there was a cop car lurking behind us. They must always be present to protect the residents. Popped the address for a café in the satnav and off we went. It took us the long way and when I say long, rather than just turning right, it took us left, up this hill where there were these mansions of which I’m convinced are inhabited by celebrities and millionaires…Jaw dropping views and homes. We eventually arrived at Malibu Pier where we ate lunch at Malibu Farm at the end of the pier. This is where we met Michelle Tuthill, a small time singer and actor with a lovely spirit who was happy to chat to us, have a photo with us, sing for us and share tips of where to go on the rest of our trip. She gave us her contact details and wanted to keep in touch…I lost them…I’m very sad. What a lovely lady!
Drove passed Santa Barbara as time was ticking and stayed at Morro Bay Inn for the night which was lovely.
Morro Bay to San Francisco
Thursday, 25th August Top Sights: Elephant Seals, Bixby Bridge, Big Sur (But it was closed)
Dress warmer as from now on the weather starts to get cooler. Breakfast in San Simeon at Cavalier Restaurant and not far passed here there was a stop off to see the elephant seals at Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery. Stop here, view for free and do give a donation. The squirrels come out and beg for food and are so cheeky. The seals are here year round but the best time to see them in large number is January to June as this is when the mother are on the beach with their pups in large numbers. There are many seal stops on the coast but this is the best on.
Saw Bixby Bridge that was built by prisoners in the 1930’s and is the most photographed
bridge in California. The stop just before the bridge has some stunning coast and cliff views but with an added bonus, there were two very confident fox cubs of some sort come and visit us. Like all the wild animals at tourist stops, all they want is food. They were great little posers for the camera.
Big Sur national parks were all closed due to fires so we didn’t get to see the natural beauty everyone spoke about so do go when it is not fire season so you don’t miss out like us. Apparently the forest meets the beach and there is a gorgeous waterfall that runs into the sea. Stopped in Monterey for a coffee and saw more seals as well as red crabs swimming in the harbour. They are not normally up this far north as they are indigenous to San Diago. Apparently, near one of the piers you can see harbour seals with the large round eyes. We couldn’t find them. You can go whale watching, shark diving and dolphin watching in Monterey so if that’s what you want to do, make a day of it and do it here as it’s the best place to do so. There is also scuba diving here in the kelp forests and apparently there are no sharks where they dive.
Arrived at our hotel, La Quinta Inn, near San Francisco airport in the evening, checked in and then nipped over to Denny’s Diner across the way for a meal. Our last American dining experience. Managed to do a load of laundry too which was a relief to not do it all upon our return. When doing your laundry, make sure you have lots of quarters and washing liquid.
Friday, 26th August – Last full day in USA so what better to do than go shopping for the first time. We headed to an outlet mall and was surprised how quiet the mall was and no crowd fighting. What a peaceful shopping experience. We were heading to watch a baseball match on our last night so bought the gear to fit in as a massive San Francisco Giants fan. After some retail therapy, got the car valeted then did our final drive to the airport to drop it off. We drove a total of 1747miles for the whole trip…wow. We conquered driving on the right side of the road and found it pretty easy to adapt to. Know the rules of the road and you will be fine.
At the hotel we dressed into our Giants gear and headed to the AT&T stadium to watch them play the Atlanta Braves. As we were first timers, we were told to go to the guest services and were each given certificates for attending our first match and you can also go and see all the trophies. A beer and a traditional hot dog was our meal with candy floss for desert whilst enjoying the atmosphere. If you ever go to a game, dress warm as the stadium is a wind trap. The Giants are at the top of the league and won 7 – 0.
Left slightly early to avoid the crowd and caught an uber taxi back to the hotel and packed our bags.
Saturday, 27thAugust – Caught the free airport shuttle at 9am to the airport, checked in, had breakfast at the cafe and bought loads of food for the flight on WoW Air. It was the same as the flight there with queues for the loo, no entertainment and 32hours of travelling to get back to Manchester with a a total of 2hrs sleep. We were zombies and had major jetlag.
TIP 1: Stock up on Imodium as we struggled adapting to the food for the first week of the holiday.
TIP 2: Drive North to South on Route 1/101 as there are easier stop offs along the coast.
TIP 3: Remember, you have to adapt to the time change so allow to get over jet lag and plan in chill days.
TIP 4: When turning right, even though the light may be red, you are allowed to still turn right as long as there is no oncoming traffic and signs stipulating otherwise. Tip 5: Motels generally have FREE Wi-Fi and breakfasts unlike the main hotels so check before you book. They may say Wi-Fi but they need to state FREE otherwise you have to pay.