Escape from Alcatraz

Trip Start Sep 07, 2009
Trip End Nov 17, 2009

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Flag of United States  , California
Monday, November 2, 2009

After a good nights sleep at our new abode, we headed down to Pier 33 to catch a boat to Alcatraz. We were really looking forward to the trip as it made a change from all the usual touristy things to do.

We had reserved tickets the night before, as it is such a popular attraction and can be booked up weeks in advance. The tickets cost $26.00, each which included the boat trip to the island and an self-guided audio tour.

The sun was shining for us again and as we left the pier behind, the view back towards SF and around the surrounding bay was great. The boat trip only lasted about 10 minutes, and before we knew it we were docking at Alcatraz Island. After listening to a 'mandatory' talk from one of the rangers, we were free to roam the island and headed straight for the theatre that shows a film detailing the history of Alcatraz.

The island originally served as a military fortress before becoming a federal prison. After the prison was closed down in 1963, a group of Native American protesters took up occupation on the island to reclaim the land. This occupation of Alcatraz played a huge role for Native Americans fighting for what some felt was rightfully theirs. The protest by the Indians on the island lasted 18 months and eventually resulted in the Trail of Broken Treaties and influenced the Longest Walk in 1985. The U.S. government returned land to the Taos, Yakima, Navajo and Washoe tribes following a succession of demands at Alcatraz (gotta love Wikipeadia, I would never have remembered all that!). 

After the film, we headed straight for the cellhouse. At the entrance, you are handed an audio tour headset that guides you around the prison. The narrators you hear are either ex-wardens of the prison or ex-convicts who served time there. Once you have the headphones on, you become totally absorbed in the tales of the prison. Sound effects, such as the clanging of cell doors, are played in behind the voices of the narrators and it feels really spooky. We visited D-block where many of Alcatraz's most notorious inmates were held, most notably Al Capone.  We were also able to go outside into the exercise yard, that had a torturous view of the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge and the freedom beyond.

One of the best parts of the trip was seeing the cells where the famous escape attempt, that was the inspiration for 'Escape from Alcatraz', had taken place. We saw the dug-out cell vents (it took them a year to dig out to the service corridor with a spoon) and the 'dummy heads' made out of soap and plaster. Three of the escapees that night were never captured, but are presumed to have died in the freezing San Francisco waters, although their bodies have never been recovered. The audio tour plays out a number of other escape attempts, riots and shootings, that happened there and you really get a feel for the desperation of the inmates. Overall, we loved the tour and the audio guide was brilliant. Definitely another highlight of the trip.

After catching the boat back to SF, we headed to Pier 39, to check out the amusements there and grab a hot-dog for lunch. We were just about to leave, when we heard the barking of sea lions. We followed the noise and found literally hundreds of sea lions basking in the warm sunshine. They were so funny to watch as they fought for space on the floating jetties.

We returned back to the hotel and then decided to go out for a curry for dinner. We headed to a restaurant only a short walk from our hotel that had good recommendations, but we never quite made it there.....As we walked down the street, we slowly became aware that we were in a very dodgy area. We had begun to get used to all the homeless beggars on the street (San Francisco has A LOT), but these people weren't just beggars, they were crack (or crystal meth) whores and pimps! Honestly, we had not even seen anything like it in New York. We were beginning to get noticed, so we quickly aborted and turned back the way we came. Fortunately, we found an all you can eat Indian buffet down the road and we tucked straight in, grateful to be still alive!

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