Green Tortoise tour

Trip Start Aug 07, 2008
Trip End Dec 10, 2009

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Flag of United States  , California
Saturday, September 13, 2008

"Green Tortoise Adventure Travel began over 30 years ago, with one sturdy bus and the realization that beautiful places, great food, and sociable people were the only essentials for gratifying travel experiences."

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. Have another bag party, wash up and put stuff away again. And then either take all the pads off the bus to create a monster mattress to sleep on outside...or perform the miracle (convert the bus from sitting to sleeping configuration). If we´re staying put, we might light a fire...although whether we were on the move or not, the beer cooler would always be to hand!

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.

The Trip

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 ;-)

Washington D.C.
Back to DC was our first stop. I ended up doing pretty much exactly the same things i did last time, although i was more of a ´guide´ (in the loosest sense of the word). Rather than being repetitive, it was actually pretty satisfying...a nice day in DC. We did attempt to enter the Capitol building, and got there at stupid´o´clock AM to do so, but entry with a bag bigger than a wallet that contained anything at all was impossible for security reasons. Killjoys. Outside the White House were the anti-war protesters. And the anti-anti-war protesters yelling at them. To complete the circus were fat cops and a Seaway tour being chased by that crazy black dancing/running dude dressed in Lycra (Mr. Motivator?).

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.

The Smokies
Our first national park of the trip. The Smokies are a load of hills/´mountains´ - not particularly high but densely forested. Our 2 days here were cut to one because of the bus issue...but one day was enough. Sure, it was nature and ´scenic´, but the thick tree coverage meant that you could hike for 8 sweaty hours and never actually get a view! Following the advice of some local hikers, we found our way to a fire-tower on an exposed ridge and were treated to perhaps the only decent view available for miles around...and we somehow lost Anastasia on the way back down. 5 hours later it was dark and still no Anastasia. We´d searched the lower reaches of the trails and the campsites, sent teams out to call her name, asked anyone nearby and were on the phone to rangers when a car pulled up - and the story of her afternoon frankly deserves a page of it´s own!!! (very briefly...went left not right, got lost, found an exhausted/skint hiker with no water, gave him water and eventually got to his car and helped pay for some gas, crashed into a sign and had issues with police and eventually made it to the bus)

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. Anyway, we hit Elvis´s Graceland and Sun Studios by day, and Beale Street at night. And what an awesome night out. Cheap drinks, neon lights, wrong can you go? Memphis was cool, even Elvis´s pad.

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!

Carlsbad Caverns
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. Sully flicked on the X-Flies theme tune, we donned our tin-foil hats and invaded the MacDonalds branch that proves corporate America does have a sense of humor. And then en-bussed 2 minutes later, having all abused their bathroom facilities and spent $0.00 between us.

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!

Monument Valley
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. It felt like something out of an old western, burning a line across the desert with dust billowing behind us.

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?

Las Vegas!
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.
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