Green Tortoise tour
Trip Start Aug 07, 2008
99Trip End Dec 10, 2009
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Now, it is a bit of a budget overland travel company - coaches with assorted seating (mostly large communal floor pads) that convert at night to house two rows of hanging bunks and two large ´beds of love´. They carry food/equipment and everyone mucks in with the cooking.
The food was predominantly vegetarian and very very good (and plentiful). This aspect of the trip utterly surpassed my expectations as i think i ate better for those 2 weeks than any other time for years! As for the actual destinations, we were given tips and advice but were free to do whatever we wanted, subject to being back at the agreed time
Our drivers were Sully and Dave...and our bus was ´Sol´. Dave had done these tours for years and this was his last trip. Sully was a ex-marine/hippie and it was it first time on this route - at some points en-route he was more of a ´kid in a sweetshop´ than we were! Both were absolute legends and a great laugh.
Generally, we had late departures from cites (10pm+) and drove onwards overnight, whereas we would often camp overnight in the national parks and stay longer.
A standard day on the bus:
1) Wake up early, assemble tables and cook brekkie. Have a bag party (big bags, normally stored under the bus, are retrieved for personal gear admin), make packed lunches, wash up and put stuff away again. And undo the ´miracle´.
2) Head off to explore the place we´d arrived at (having usually driven overnight to get here, or slept at).
3) Return in the evening. Assemble tables and cook dinner
As a way to see the USA coast to coast with minimal hassle and expense, it can´t be beat. Sure, there were trade-offs (freedom vs convenience) but i´d do it again in a heartbeat. Great company, great company, great trip.
Nope...i wouldn`t do it again. Travel is a skill and it has a learning curve like anything else. At that stage of my travels, it was absolutely perfect and i would still fully recommend it. But now, 10 months on, the lack of flexibility (both places/times and lack of choice of co-passengers) means it really doesn`t appeal as much any more.
After our late evening departure from New York, we spent much of the night playing drinking games (thanks Emam & Co, our ´bad influence´ until Memphis ;-)
Back to DC was our first stop
Some camp site in Virginia
This wasn´t he plan(!) but on the way out of DC the bus developed a fault with one of the wheels...its nuts kept falling off. The long drive to The Smokey's was therefore not sensible and a random woodland campsite was our host for the day. I´ve still got no idea where we actually were. But there was a pretty lake, lotsa trees, volleyball courts and great weather. Good food, beer, ghost stories and StooopidNinjaTime! Our bus fortunately(!) returned in the evening ready to roll on.
Our first national park of the trip
New Orleans had hurricane issues - so we detoured to Memphis... The day kicked off on a poor note with a terrible breakfast in Denny's. They took FOREVER to serve us (3 hours?) and i´m sure they were as pissed with us as we were with them by the time we left
Austin...the Texas away from Texas. We wandered aimlessly around the city and the capitol building (bigger than DC´s and easier to get into!). In the evening we found a steak place that was the ´real deal´ - no menu - just sizes :-) After this we found ourselves on Austin´s main drag hitting the bars and trying to get in somewhere where they were lax on the under 21s issue!
Explored the extensive underground caves during the day and observed the bats nightly departure. There were hundreds of thousands of them leaving in thick droves...and that was just the first wave. The subsequent waves departed at the same time but still had to fly literally miles underground before reaching the surface. Only in the USA could they have build a full service cafe and visitor center 1200ft down.
Roswell was an impromptu stop in the middle of the night
Canyon de Chelly
A day´s hiking with the native American Indians.
Probably the most desolate and stunning campsite anywhere. The road seemed to go from nowhere to nowhere past this canyon and one solitary drop-toilet designated this spot a ´campsite´. The sheer drop was 20 yards from where we slept and the Mexican (food!) we cooked was awesome - nothing better than sitting on the edge of a canyon at sunset with mates and beers!
Awesome. More fun with the Indians, and my first decent experience of horse riding. I'm not normally a horsey person, but galloping through Monument Valley, holding on for dear life/praying (with maybe 15 seconds of instruction beforehand - left-right-forwards-stop...and GO!) was a real highlight
Bryce and Zion Canyons
We did ´em. Nothing exceptional happened, but the parks were amazing. Bryce was utterly other-worldly and beautiful, Zion´s Angel´s Landing was breathtaking (scary? No...). It would have been nice to have stayed longer - next time i guess! NB: Utah is a douchbag state - religious issues aside, they have laws limiting the strength of the already week beers the Americans produce! WTF?
As expected. Bright, loud and proud. Over-ate in the Rainforest Cafe and suffered for the rest of the evening. Lost $12 in the Casinos and was pretty happy to be gone! See it, ´done´ it, will return when i have money to burn. For a state where call girls are illegal, i´ve never been handed so many seedy flyers in one evening, despite being in a mixed group!
Aside from the above, we hit a load of small random places. We swam in Balmorhea Springs, Brantley Lake and a Colorado River reservoir (amongst other places), did our laundry/bowled in Page, AZ (the arse end of nowhere) and camped at Kodachrome. We went big bug hunting around our campsites (praying mantis, snakes, giant centipedes and that ugly wind scorpion/sun spider) with Sully and i could identify a whole load of stuff up in the stars after a night or two in the desert. All in all, the tour was awesome.