In Your Hair

Trip Start Sep 09, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of United States  , California
Thursday, January 18, 2007

The flight was so sore. Losing so much valuable sleepage over the last couple of days meant thirteen hours of head-banging trauma. The only saving grace was the route taken by our thoughtful pilot and the view it afforded us.

From Germany we headed out north-west over Iceland, right over Greenland and across the hours and hours of ice riddled ocean that spans the arctic circle over towards the northern corner of Canada. There are no words to express the isolation and sheer scale of this view. Apart from chugging alongside the summit of Kilimanjaro one excitable July afternoon, it was the best view I've ever had the pleasure of seeing from an aircraft. I was transfixed for hours.

Thankfully, getting through customs on arrival was no real hardship, which I was immensely relieved about - especially after the horror stories I was subjected to beforehand (you know who you are.) Apart from enquiring as to the purpose of my visit, all the pin head at immigration wanted to see was an onward ticket, which as I couldn't be arsed to go rummaging through my pack to find, I told him I didn't have. As the taught rubber snapped tightly around a thick wrist it all came to me. Of course. My daypack. It was in the front pocket with all the other flight documents. Ten seconds later I was through immigration.

So here I am, arse intact, in the ewe-ess of aye. Back amongst the random interaction of hostel life, or at least for the time being.

The Green Tortoise on Broadway is situated in a small community within San Francisco called 'Little Italy', also home to the local red light district. I don't quite know how I end up in these places, but for $23 (a very cheap 'alternative') it's not a bad deal at all. Along with the usual dorm and shared bathroom setup you get an under-bed locker, free internet (plus Wi-Fi) and a breakfast of fresh fruit, bagels and spreads, tea, coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice on tap daily. Dinner is also thrown in for nothing three times a week, as well as constant discounts on local activities and regularly organised social events, everything you need in a backpackers.

With my excess offloaded I hit the city, on the perfunctory random tour of discovery. I'd barely stepped outside when I was caught off guard. 'You look like a guy who could use a lap dance,' teased the voice from a sleazy doorway only a few doors down from the hostel. Welcome to Frisco, I guess.

I pushed on through the Italian quarter, amongst the hordes of tiny restaurants and steep streets lined with tram tracks. The parks were pristine, the atmosphere glowing and the energy of the people going about their everyday business humming superbly. Within minutes I was shuffling along with a grin stretched from ear to ear. To think that yesterday I wasn't in the least bit excited. Same old story.

San Fran's much better than I thought it would be. There's an energy here that's positively uplifting, the air feels as if it's seen a lot of time and there's a great mix of culture and passion for life. Meals on plates are significantly bigger. The people are significantly wider, as are the streets. As is the toilet paper for that matter. The toilet paper is actually wider here. I'm not entirely sure what that means.

The grin stayed with me right over to Fisherman's Wharf where I decided to catch the last of today's warm rays with a cool beer. I enquired up front, seems my joy was shortlived: the damage was $8.40, plus taxes and tips. For one beer. That's half a night's accommodation for christ's sake. The grin left me to go find some other mug to play with, though I did allow myself a commiseration one. I supped it slowly and deliberately, savouring each expensive sip - almost a dollar each by my reckoning.

This took a while so I sat back and people watched, pondering American life at the wharfside. The whole tipping thing started to bother me so I chatted to the waitress, who I knew would be expecting something for this record-breaking glass of beer. Apparently, us budget travellers get to enjoy the same rules as the fat-wallet city types, 10% through 20% and beyond. I declined a second and settled the bill. A ridiculously overdue sleep was calling and a warm bed awaiting. I guess tomorrow will tell more. Maybe I'll need to shell out some small change for asking someone directions..
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