Fighting the heat and the meat
Trip Start Apr 18, 2011
65Trip End Dec 09, 2011
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This sounds really good, but for the moment, Arizona is my priority.
First impressions are surprisingly good, considering this is merely a stop off to prevent a 38 hour journey (unlucky Hannah)- there's a buzz in the air. I put it down to being a Saturday but more importantly, the end of the university exam period (again- I must be following it over the country).
I find myself walking toward 12th Ave as opposed to 12th St (the location of my hostel) and promptly turn around. I like to make a habit of turning up to foreign cities in the pitch black and heading in the wrong direction- it's no fun otherwise.
Due to poor calibre of sleep attained on the train, my first night is a write-off. I resort to watching half of Hitch and then go to pass out on the top bunk of my novelty sized bed (see pic).
In the morning, I take advantage of the free breakfast of make-your-own waffles, and get chatting to a Pennsylvanian guy called Jesse. We decide to go hire a couple of bicycles and try to get to the Saguaro National Park; It'll take a couple of bus journeys to get near, but it shouldn't be too difficult...
The journey starts out well enough, some how managed to wangle a couple of bikes for $5 each, even though the store was closed on Sundays - also picked up a free hat (I'm sure everyone is aware of how much hats suit me, but it was an absolute necessity considering the blistering desert heat). Using the bike racks on the front of the bus we manage to complete the first few kilometres by public transport
So we go to get on the second bus only to discover that one of its two bike spaces is filled. No bikes allowed on board and accordingly that means Jesse and I will not be taking the bus. We can just cycle- it's not that far, or hot... so 10km in at 90+ degrees Fahrenheit, it starts to become apparent that waiting for the bus may have been a better decision. My arms are burning and I might as well be sitting on a two-by-four.
After getting to the end of the main roads we realise we must travel another 6km down a country track called Old Spanish Trail. This is a fantastic feeling.
An athlete's breakfast of 1 ladles worth of waffle mixture and a generous dose of maple syrup, coupled with the internal injuries arising from my seat, mean that I arrive into the park in style- red, panting, bruised and starving. Ray Mears actually advises this to be the perfect condition to be in when arriving into any desert. I am also thankful for the park visitor centre not selling any food product whatsoever.
Jesse and I dismount off our bikes and go for a walk around
It's amazing to think how anything can survive out here with so little water- even the air is suffocatingly dry and hot. Apparently there are lots of animals, but none of them are stupid enough to be out in the midday sun. After an hour or so of walking, several coats of suntan lotion and another gallon of water, we waveringly return to the bikes. Powering through Old Spanish Trail on pure adrenaline, pinning all hopes on the bus we need having two free cycle racks.
And there it is, a parallel to Niagara, to New York at dusk, to the parties of New Orleans- a Number 7 bus with two unoccupied cycle racks. We make it back to the shop, return the bikes (not the hat) and go for some well-deserved food. Given the intense struggle of getting to the park and the subsequent relief and amazement by its vastly different ecosystem, Jesse and I both agree that we probably wouldn't have done anything different given another chance
Exploring the nightlife it soon becomes apparent that my completely legal UK driving license, which has been used as ID in every state visited, just isn't good enough for Arizona. I bitterly concede my questioning the bouncer and walk the few hundred metres back to the hostel to pick up el passporto.
The Sunday night is quiet, but the following evening we attend an 80s night. This seems to be the place where everyone left in Tucson (after finals) hangs out. This includes an extremely bubbly and excessively gesticulating man who decides to take it on himself to start buying me drinks. Once again the fact I have very little money means I let him, but ensure he is aware of my sexual orientation with "Thanks for the drinks [again], but I'm not gay". After performing some of my solid gold dance moves to the local ladies, he tries to produce a deal-breaker with the offer of a chauffeur driven ride back to his mansion and a free room to myself (read "taxi back to a dustbin"). In a quandary I decide to return to my hostel, where I'm at least 90% more confident of not being raped in the middle of the night.
Taking note of my personal criticisms in Austin, I make an effort to eat as much good food as possible
With Jesse gone early morning and myself not departing till the 10:30 night train. I venture off alone out to the university campus and the state museum of Arizona. Brush up on a little Native Indian history, see a massive collection of traditional pots and marvel at the local college football stadium - just pips Crewe Alex with a capacity of 60,000.
There have definitely been better cities than Tucson, but this doesn't mean I haven't enjoyed my time here. Like planned, I toned back the partying and managed to see a little more of the country which has been a refreshing change.
Having had my fill of ridiculous desert heat, I think it's time to head off to La la land.