The Rock

Trip Start Sep 09, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of United States  , California
Saturday, January 20, 2007

'You are entitled to food, clothing, shelter and medical attention. Anything else you get is a privilege.'

I wasn't going to bother with Alcatraz but the constant comments of high regard over the last day or two finally wore me down. I took the boat over with Andy, a fellow pommie from the hostel.

As you look out across the water from the city, Alcatraz looks tiny - from all angles - and while there's a sinister look about it I never really felt the need to check it out further than the eye could see. I'm so glad I did.

The thing that makes the visit to Alcatraz highly worthwhile is the audio tour (included in the $20 price tag) which also covers the boat ride to and from the wharf.

The audio programme is clear, concise, superbly timed and structured so that for the most part you are yanked back in time to those lively days inside. Some of the stories are fascinating and much of it is narrated by previous officers and inmates, adding a sobering edge of reality to the whole experience.

I ventured out alone into the 'playground', which sits cornered in by its high somber walls and fences. I stood and listened. The place howled with action seen over many years. To me it was 'Lock Up', but for real. Amazing.

The audio tour eventually leads you outside next to the administration block and warden's quarters. We'd made it just in time to hear a compelling story of some of the famed escape attempts told in person by one of the previous officers: a frail but energetic old lady who happened to tell a fantastic story. In less than ten minutes she was surrounded by a whole courtyard of tourists who'd sat round all innocent-eyed to hear the next part of her intriguing rundown. This ice cube-spectacled little firecracker of a pensioner had us eating out of her hand like a bunch of snotty school kids. She was amazing. An hour and a half later and we walked away, deep in thought of what it must have been like 'back in the day'.

The audio tour concluded with a few spoken words from the last inmate to leave Alcatraz. Throughout the many years that this guy was inside he received no letters, no communication, no gifts and no personal visits from anyone. He had no-one, and got used to this too, becoming strictly accustomed to a solitary life inside 'the rock'. When he finally made it back into society and everyday city-life (a life he'd only dreamed of for years) he couldn't hack it. To suddenly find himself stood amongst the bustling hordes of strangers going about their day to day business was enough to send the guy crazy.

I can't recommend it highly enough. Go and see it..
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