Sunday, 3 February 2013

San Francisco: Vietnamese Delights, Street Hikes and Lonely Alcatraz Nights

Although there is no actual entry requirement to wear flowers in your hair when going to San Francisco, I felt obligated to make some sort of effort. This was the last stop on the road trip extravaganza, after all. With no fresh blooms in sight at the grimy Megabus stop at LA's Union Train station, I made do with flower print leggings from the H&M sale and stepped aboard, ready to part-sleep the eight hour journey.

I arrived in the early hours, tumbling out onto the corner where I'd waved Leah goodbye a fortnight and a half ago amid crowds of merry students and hipsters dressed in their yuletide finest for SantaCon. My hostel was in North Beach, tucked in among tired nightclubs, depressing strip clubs and a grimy looking pizza/kebab shop that was surprisingly spitting out the most delicious aromas, even at eight in the morning.

I clambered up the narrow staircase, ready to plop into whichever bed I'd been allocated, but as is always the case, it was never that easy. The fat, beardy receptionist sweating behind the counter, who I just knew had a neat collection of perfect-in-their-box action dolls alongside his sticky hentai comics on his bedroom shelf, arrogantly denied me admittance. No check-in's until 11am.
I was knackered. I was having my period. I just wanted to sleep. Show some mercy, El Beardo. He stood steadfastly by his 'dems the rules' ethos. Frickin' jobsworth.
I was forced to hang about, drowsily looking through San Fran city guides in the common area and checking at my watch every six minutes, willing the hands to turn faster.

Restless and frustrated, I gave up at the 10am mark and went for a wander around Chinatown. It was here, at the unassumingly named Latte Express, that I found sanctuary in my first ever Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwich. A new love affair with a filled baked good was born.

Glazed cuts of hot pork, chicken or beef came encased in a warm flaky baguette, the savory flavours colliding with slices of pickled carrot, daikon radish, fresh cucumber and sprigs of coriander. A crunch of jalapeno brought up the rear while some sort of pate (of which I usually am not a fan) spread across the bread reminded me of herby stuffing (of which I am a massive fan) and warded off any creeping dryness. How had I not encountered the simple Banh Mi earlier in life? I found plenty of cafes and restaurants in the city that were vying for the title of Best Banh Mi in San Francisco and made a vow to try at least one every day until my flight back to Heathrow.

There are hordes of homeless in San Fran, thanks to the generous benefit system and heavy duty soup kitchens. Most city guides I'd read had waxed lyrical about the delights of the Mission district, with its graffiti muraled walls, scores of thrift shops and multicultural vibe. To be fair, you can find this sort of community in any major city. London has Brixton and Harlesden, New York - Brooklyn and Harlem.

Read between the lines and it simply means a quarter where the poor, spirited and colourful were forced to live, but in recent years has caught the eye of developers, yuppies and hipsters. I'm pretty certain there was a Whole Foods or Trader Joe's lurking about (the Waitrose counterpart) and if that's not a sign of gentrification, you and your skinny Cheap Monday jeans can take a hike. 

I walked into a ghetto Dickensian tableau the moment I turned the corner into the Mission. One of the homeless was aggressively shoulder smashing a Chinese tourist, demanding he hand over the 'money, drugs and hoes.' The poor bloke looked petrified, despite being half a foot taller, and slightly stockier, than the (most likely disease-riddled) tramp. His flashy camera quivered as he looked about for possible saviours to rescue him from this street madness. I wound the shoulder strap of my bag, already strategically placed in an anti-theft position across my body, tighter in my wrist. 
Apart from the murals and odd kitschy shop, there wasn't much else to look at or do down in the Mission. Not that I stuck about to explore. Charity shops and down-and-outs make me nervy itchy. The depressing hopelessness of all the poverty was enough to propel me out of there and back towards the twinkling lights of the city after a mere few hours. 

The next day, after a pit stop at Saigon Sandwich in the Tenderloin for a $3.50 grilled pork de-frickin-light, I headed east towards Haight and Ashbury. This is where the Summer of Love happened, where hippy central was headquartered and where the theory that peace and love would heal international conflicts was conceived. Men in parked cars murmured 'Hey grrrrrl, oh hey', as I wheezed past them.  It reminded me a lot of Camden; clouds of weed dancing above the pavements and shifty dreadlocked stoners anchoring street corners, except it was very hilly. Some streets were so steep in fact, it was in that bit in Inception where the pavements turn vertical as you walk up to them.

No trip to San Fran would be complete in my eyes without a trip out to Alcatraz. Trips to the former US fort and prison are in such high demand, visitors are advised to book up to a fortnight in advance to guarantee tickets, advice which I duly followed. I left it until the morning of my final day, taking an early ferry out of Pier 33 across choppy waters and under a suitably grey sky to the Rock. Alcatraz sits on one of the most hostile, desolate lumps of land in the world, at the mercy of violent waves rolling into the Bay and San Francisco's temperamental weather. 

Ideal for caging America's dirty and dangerous. 

 Although its life as a prison is long dead, you can't help shuffling around the damp cells mournfully, as if you yourself had been banished here for a stretch. The worst bit was when I was having a look around the isolation block and someone briefly closed the door. I'm not afraid of the dark, and it was only for a second, but it was enough to give me heeby jeebies that took at least twenty minutes to shake off.
The free audio guide that comes with a standard ticket walked me through the main facility, giving me facts and figures and former inmate accounts that explained in detail just how grim it was to live in such a place. Didn't seem that bad. The cells looked a mere hygiene rung below some of the motel rooms we'd had to sleep in when Leah and I had the car.

A recording of the experience of one former inmate said one of the worst things about the prison was its proximity to downtown San Francisco. When the wind blew the right way, it carried laughter and music from clubs in the harbour across the bay, over the rocky cliffs, right through the concrete walls, mocking the miserable jailed with the sounds of the free. Torture in itself. I could have spent most of the day rattling my plastic water bottle against the cell bars, muttering lines from the Shawshank Redemption into the shadows, but my flight was departing in the early afternoon and I had to get a wiggle on for my ride to the airport. 
I stood waiting to dump my swelled backpack at Virgin Atlantic's departures lounge, idly flicking through my photo album and looking back at three months in the most fascinating nation on the planet. Clam chowder, Elvis fanatics, leis, hurricanes and voodoo superstition, cowboys, ghost towns and deserted desert highways. Home simultaneously to the brave and free, and Earth's most notorious penitentiary. 

What a hot mess of a country.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Hey Hollywood!

Los Angeles is a peculiar one.
When I told people that I planned to spend six days there and my last three in San Francisco, I was met with a wary shake of the head and told umpteen times that I should have done it the other way round. 
But the hostel was booked and New Year's Eve fast approaching so there was no other choice but to buckle up, settle down and have a good time. 
I booked into USA Hostels Hollywood, about fifty metres from Hollywood Boulevard, it's streets lined with stars, armies of tourists, crack heads and the world's most decorated hobos. 

My room mates included a ridiculously upbeat Japanese nursery teacher and a Dutch girl who felt comfortable enough to sit me down later and regale in minute detail a recent INTIMATE liaison with a jazz-loving tour guide by the name of Doug. Doug the sex god. Why do people feel the need to unzip such personal secrets to me? I must have a trustworthy face. Another woman once whinged about her incompatibility with certain sanitary products as a result of a complicated labour following pregnancy. SHUT UP.

I woke up in the evening, in time to cash in on a hostel-run barbecue and have a look at the other guests. Arriving in a new hostel is like looking at an identity parade for disposable friends. They form a line, you size them up and select a partner in crime, you friendship expires the day one of you leaves. Perhaps a bit ruthless but completely true.

And it was at this juncture the hemispheres collided, the moons aligned, a butterfly in Chile fluttered its wings and I met my New Zealand double, Hailey. We were so alike, it was freaky. 

From her flicked black eyeliner, can't-be-arsed indifference with begfrienders, to the affection for leopard print to the chipped, glitter polish on her nails, to the beds and lockers (unallocated) in our rooms, we were the same. 

The weirdest thing of all was that she had done the exact same job in New Zealand to the one I'd left behind in London. It's not like our jobs, or even the sector we work in, are well known. It's the Diagon Alley of media

We swore a blood oath over cups of moonshine-spiked cocktails to knock about together the next day - Hailey's last and my first. I had heard about a World of Leggings on Melrose Avenue (rubbish and overpriced, so if you were considering going, don't) so we ambled in that direction, weaving past the hoardes of snap happy tourists outside Mann's Chinese Theatre and ducking tour hawkers screaming up and down the street for business. 

Los Angeles is so huge, with no nucleus or core, it makes it difficult to know the city. It's like a set of towns really close to each other but no one place, like Trafalgar or Times Square, where all the major events happen. There are Scientology Churches on every corner, adding to general air of surreality. The skies are circled by LAPD and tour choppers, giving you the sense of being constantly under siege and surveillance. 
Having already spent a couple of days around Venice Beach and Santa Monica pre-Hawaii, I had no urge to return to the shore, and Universal Studios held no attraction as a solo traveller so I spent most of my time wandering in and out of steam punk and vintage shops, being made to stalk celebrities around the gold-plated streets of Beverley Hills, exploring the hipster quarter of Silver Lake and gulping down the best sushi in the world. 

I was introduced to Kino Sushi by my perpetually-cheery Japanese room mate. The chef and staff cheer greetings - 'HELLO! WELCOME!' - as soon as you wander in off Hollywood Boulevard. I got a bento box which included spicy chicken teriyaki, sticky rice, prawn and vegetable tempura, miso soup, weird but tasty salad gunk and California roll sushi pieces, all for $12. Delicious. 

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Why Can't Everywhere Just Be Hawaii?

I was in Hawaii for ten days, way too long to document in its glorious entirety through the give-it-to-me-quick medium of the blog. So here are the highlights, best bits and weirdest things that happened during my short but sweet time in paradise.

North Shore 
It made logistical sense to use the rental car for long distances while we had it, and North Beach - home to pro surfers across the seven seas - would be at least a day long trip. Off we sped, to the Waimea Bay the Beach Boys sing of in Surfin' USA and about five miles from shore, so tantalisingly close that we could smell the spray coming off the big-ass waves, we hit traffic. Proper chocker.

There's only one way in and out of Waimea and its popularity means that street is in deadlock traffic most of the time, each vehicle stacked with at least two surfboards and crammed with beach bummers winding themselves up into an increasing state of tension.
We brainstormed, cursed the cars in a variety of putrid English, Swedish and Australian, then rerouted to a closer seaside town where the water was just as mental. After a hearty lunch of fresh fish tacos (I was infatuated) we sat watching the water on the warm sand, marvelling at the fearlessness of surfer kids smashing themselves and their boogie boards into the churning blue ocean. All three of us spotted a sea turtle at the same time, its shadow tracing over the top of the plundering waves, and squealed in unison with unadulterated glee.

Pearl Harbour All I really know about Pearl Harbour and the devastation that took place there seventy-odd years ago I learned from the Hollywood blockbuster of the same name. After failing to see the DiCap and Wahlberg stalking the streets of Boston, I wasn't holding out any hopes of Ben Affleck waiting for me at the door in WW2 period dress.

However, there were a few other stunning models about - sleek submarines and out-of-service battleships lined the harbour while the occasional troupe of choppers or military aircraft painted the skies overhead with dainty white skids.
This was one of the best things I did in Hawaii - the trip to the USS Arizona memorial (under which the actual ship lay, many of its boys imprisoned in the underwater grave since that horrible morning in 1944) was free of charge, as were two of the exhibitions explaining Japan's ambush and the US response, as well as the interior of a small submarine. Decommissioned missiles dotted in the broad, mowed lawns gave us the perfect slivers of shade to escape the heat sizzling out of the white concrete under our flip flopped feet. You could probably spend the whole day there, and we might have done, were we not in such a hurry to get to the Aloha Stadium up the road to haggle with stall-holders at the weekend market for souvenirs and plucky ukeles.

Diamond Head There are no diamonds in this crater on the south east corner of Wakiki Beach, I discovered like many before me as I sweated and clambered up to the top (cheap day out, entry only costs $1 if you walk in, $5 for cars). The trek started out easily enough with gentle slopes leading to corners upon which you could gaze at windswept panoramas. Then came the stairs.
Some were cut directly out of the rock, crumbing, some covered with soft moss with only a rusty handrail for support and guidance. A lot of the elderly seemed to be attempting the mountain the Sunday I went, taking up entire swathes of the path with their zimmer frames, false teeth and IV drips while I was forced to dodge around them.
One lady seemed to think high heels were suitable for the hike. While pushing a pram loaded with a child that probably could have made it using its own two feet. Oh well, I guess it was their holiday too. After three sets of stairs and a stupidly dark tunnel, I made it to Diamond Head's summit and revelled in a rare sense of accomplishment. Fabulous view.

Surf School Every morning, I'd set my alarm for 7am in the hope that I'd be able to motivate myself to get up and pop down to the beach for a $30, hour long Early Bird surf lesson with the Star Boy instructors. But each morning, some sort of crisis would arise - dry mouth, headache, couldn't find my goggles. Until my last morning when it became a case of now or never.
The swell isn't particularly dangerous in Waikiki (compared to North Shore) but enough to make you worry when you're trying to balance on top of the water. I spent three quarters of the one hour lesson gulping sea water, gathering bruises and cuts on my elbows and accidentally slicing myself on a rogue piece of coral, incurring a cut on the sole of my left foot. It stung suggesting there was blood but in the adrenaline flow, I didn't even stop to think about sharks.
'When I say paddle, PADDLE', Kenny my instructor instructed superbly as we bounced in the sea. 'When I say stand up, YOU STAND UP'. Cheers, got that. The board caught the wave and I shot forwards towards the beach. 'STAND UP, ABHA!! STAND UP!' How was Kenny so loud over the waves?
I crept my knees forward, balancing on my palms, then brought my left leg up before finally swivelling on my right so I was upright. I was so surprised not to fall immediately over, I began cheering like an idiot and in my celebration, failed to spot a small child on a small surfboard, about thirty metres away, directly in my line of fire. 'Moooove!' I screamed at him. Too late. I jumped off just before we made impact, causing my own board to whack me in the head, coming up spluttering to see if I had maimed the tiny tot. He was still perched above his board, huge eyes dotted with bits of the sea or tears. Shit. I didn't stay to find out. 'You're alright, aren't you?', I threw back over my shoulder as I paddled away from him and my shame towards Kenny.

Booze Cruise, Christmas and Karaoke Queens Christmas time, lack of mistletoe made up for the copious amounts of wine. We began the Hawaiian Chrimbo celebobs in excellent style, heading to a catamaran that offered a two hour sail along Waikiki with an open bar for a mere $25. I collected my chums and we made our way to the Moana Surfrider Hotel, outside which the vessel was moored. It wasn't the best day weatherwise, but it was Christmas Eve and we pretty much had the run of the boat so we set about the challenge of drinking the bar dry and attempting to spot whales in the distance. There was a sighting, but I missed it because I was chatting with a pot-bellied Canadian about the merits of holidaying on the Mexican peninsula (never been, but he didn't know that).

Karin was the best Lad On Tour, downing mai tais like they were cookies and she the Cookie Monster, although each of us was trying to do her best, and keep the honour of her country intact. Representin'. Perhaps it was the sway of the boat, maybe they were being a bit tight with the drink, but none of us really felt the effects until we were back on the sand. Then they hit us like a sodding tidal wave. 

On Christmas Day, we carried ourselves and our vile hangovers to the cinema to watch Tarantino's latest, Django Unchained. Nothing says 'good tidings' like a bit of slavery, bloody executions and horrific torture.
We spent the late hours of the day wailing out Christmas songs in a hole-in-the-wall karaoke bar where the drinks were cheap and everyone was gay. I FINALLY got given a flower lei and celebrated by screeching to Chuck Berry's Johnny B. Goode.

Perfecto Chrimbo.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Hawaii: Day Trip to Brain Hemorrhage Beach

'Hey girls, welcome to Sandy Beach. Just wanted you guys to know, we're advising against swimming today. Current's pretty strong. Not sure we'd be able to pull you out if you got in trouble. And this beach is known to cause the most spinal injuries in the world'.

Bloody hell. We - Martina, Karin (my roomies) Filippa, Heini (additional Swedes) and I - had woken up extra early to get the rental car and head out to one of the many beaches that line Oahu's shores. After a scenic diversion twice round Diamond Head, Karin had managed to point the car east and we'd parked up at Sandy Beach, east of the mountain where some terrifying waves were round-housing into the sand.

I hadn't been in the ocean yet and was looking forward to splashing about and maybe digging a hole or making some kind of fort. I'm not one of those lie-on-a-beach-all-dayers. I don't need a tan, I need activities. Now the lifeguard was telling me that was out of the question.
What. A. Jobsworth.
Luckily, I had some TIP TOP companions to chat to and a boiled egg (bought from the petrol station for thirty cents. Excellent seaside snack) to eat. However, Sandy Beach also turned out to be Bloody Windy Beach and after a while, the decision was made to try another spot and look for lunch.

It just wasn't the day for beaching. We sat on another slice of sand further up the coast, with our hoodies up and knees to our chattering lips. 'I'M HAVING SUCH A RELAXING TIME!!' Martina screamed over the wind.

You wouldn't think Hawaii to be cold, but it gets pretty darn gusty from time to time. It rains a lot too, but only drizzle and there's always a rainbow to make up for it, so its allowed. This breeze just wasn't easing up though. We threw in the towels and trooped back to the car, heading to a Mexican shack on the roadside for tea.
the Hawaiian hello demonstrated by Baz
Perhaps driving in Sweden is easier than driving in the States, but Karin was having a tough time on the Hawaiian roads.
We overshot the diner and ended up in a driveway leading to a Marine army base. Waiting at the stop sign to rejoin the main road, another car (presumably driven by a real-life Marine) pulled in and signed the friendly Hawaiian wave to Karin, who lost all control of her hand and the limb it was attached to trying to figure out how to do it back, all the while yelping hysterically in Swedish. The other car had passed by now, wondering who this cabal of screeching women emerging from the base actually were, but Karin had pushed the pedal to the metal and propelled us approximately fifty metres to the tiny car park of the Mexican cafe up the road. 

I hoped it wasn't local local food, which consists of rice and mincemeat and is completely devoid of any greens or vegetables whatsoever. Loco Moco looks WELL rank. This place had 'organic' and 'fresh' plastered all over its exterior so it couldn't be that bad. Unless tofu was involved. I scanned the blackboard menu above the till, picking out the fish tacos and went to sit outside on the benches and let the girls try and teach me more Swedish. A lady behind the grill yelled out my name when my order was up. I came back with a plate of this:
Yes, it was necessary to make the picture that large. Because anything less would be an injustice. And because I'm showing off. Because this meal of fish tacos was BOMB.COM, snazzmatazzmic and Offish Delish off the hook.

The fish - pleasantly meaty - had been marinated for a long time and then grilled for optimum flavour. Each portion came squashed inside two soft corn tortillas and topped with chunky chilli and pineapple salsa. It's companion was homemade coleslaw, dressed in some lemony peppery goodness that is making me salivate just by looking at this picture. Garlic also featured, but I can't pinpoint where - it was definitely flitting about.
The others had ordered pretty tasty looking dishes too (there was a portobello mushroom burger in attendance) but I reckon mine was the best. Definitely worth searching out, definitely worth driving to the east shore for.
karin, martina, filippa, heini

Satisfied, we ambled back to the car and began the trek home, stopping briefly at cliff overlooking Sandy Beach and upon which a lighthouse perched for a quick photo-op and look at the view. There are some places that are never boring to look at, some vistas that you never tire of, and this was certainly one of them.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

OooOoOooo I Can See Your Honolulu

Other than Graceland, Hawaii was the place I was most looking forward to visiting when planning this trip. Aside from New Orleans. And Memphis, of course. But Honolulu was capitalised, italicised, underscored and highlighted in BOLD in both my homemade travel schedule and my whirrly little mind.

It's the sort of place you daydream about while writing completely useless summaries about Anthony Worrall Thompson shoplifting cheese from a Tesco in Henley-on-Thames at 3.18 a.m on a Thursday morning. WHO CARES? It was probably only a cry for attention. He's not so hot these days, is old Ant. Anyway, back to my holiday hard-on.

HAWAII and all her pleasures; palm trees and sunshine-happy ukele music, warm sand and skilled surfers, grass skirts and ham and pineapple pizza. Bloody paradise. I remember doing a 30-second jig after clicking on the confirm button to book my flight and gurning like I was at my first festival for about four hours afterwards. Excited doesn't even cover it. I was champing at the bit to get out there.

It takes six hours to fly to Honolulu on the island of Oahu from LAX and the islands, the most remote chain in the world, is two hours behind Pacific Standard Time - basically making it the end of the world. I would be ten whole hours behind almost everyone I know. After waving goodbye to Leah and whiling away two days in grungy Venice Beach eating 7-Eleven pizza and catching up on the latest series of Dexter, I travelled to LAX at about 11pm the day before my flight to sit out the eight hours before I could board the plane and dream all the way to paradise.

For entertainment, I pretended to be Tom Hanks in Terminal and shuffled around the departures lounge mumbling emotionally in a made up language from a fictional country, before finding the softest piece of marble I could to try and snooze for a few hours before the check-in kiosks opened.
For anyone thinking about ever sleeping at the airport: if you can avoid it, do. If not, purchase an inflatable mattress. It is NOT easy nesting.

I got on the plane and tucked myself into my seat, finally falling asleep before the engines got going. My neighbour very sweetly shoved his soft, fat elbow into my face just as the islands came into view underneath us hours later, allowing me to lean all the way over from the aisle to the window to catch my first glimpse.

It was a photoshopped world I was staring down into, everything popping out in bright technicolour and looking sparkly and fun and happy and Aloha. Absolutely beautiful. 

Hawaii may be a stunner but its also one of the most expensive places I've been to. The starting price for most items seemed to be $10, and that was considered a good deal. With my bank account dwindling, budget was the order of the day. Google pointed me in the direction of Waikiki Backpackers Hostel, which had good reviews, and more importantly, offered travellers two UNLIMITED beer nights a week, for free. I was staying for ten days over Christmas, so this had to be taken strongly into consideration. They also offered a complimentary shuttle service from Honolulu airport if you were staying for four days or more.
Yes please.
bezzie mates
Two blocks from Waikiki Beach, the hostel is a former motel and each room has been converted into dorms that sleep four. You get your own kitchenette and bathroom in the room, which is pretty handy for storing supermarket-bought beer. At its helm is the owner, Charles, a well-built Nigerian man who used to be in the British Army and who reminisced with me extensively about England and J.D Wetherspoons' curry nights. You can't get a decent curry in Hawaii, it seems. Charles seemed pleased to have another British accent knocking about the place and as he left, promised to bring me a can of cider the next night.

I had managed to turn up on Tuesday, one of the free beer nights, so got stuck in chatting with my fellow hostellers and worked on becoming increasingly shit faced before we all piled into the minivan at 10 p,m and were driven to Moose McGillycuddy's, a ridiculously-named rowdy bar in the city where drinks remarkably, only cost $1 that night. NO BLOODY TAX ADDED ON, EITHER.

I waved my $5 bill like I was in Her Maj's inner circle, graciously buying drinks for my new chums and throwing out unique dance moves to the pop music under the strobe lighting. It was just like a school disco, except with lei's, mai tais and lots and lots of military personnel. I chatted with a Marine (there are a ton based on the island) and egged on a German girl looking at a bit of beef that had caught her eye across the crowded bar. A superb night out.

I'd promised myself I'd go surfing the next morning. Obviously I would have been a complete natural. However I failed spectacularly to wake up in time for the Early Bird Special ($30 for an hour's lesson on Waikiki - but only before 8 a.m) so ended up heading to the Dole Pineapple Factory on the local bus system, which took an hour and a half and very nearly robbed me of my will to live.

It took FOREVER going all round the houses and back again to visit the driver's grandma. I sassed quietly in the back, but not too loudly because I'm a scaredy cat and didn't want to get chucked off the bloody thing in the middle of nowhere. Also, I was in Hawaii and had no right to be moody about the slow-pace of everything.

The Dole Factory was horrendous, hugely overpriced ($8 for a packet of dried pineapple. What in holy hell?) and inexplicably, sold pearls in oysters at every corner. What do unshucked oysters have to do with the seeding, harvesting and distribution of pineapples? I may die before I find out.
Seeing as it took so long to get there, the least I could do was treat myself to a ride on the Pineapple Express, a fire-red train that takes visitors around the pineapple fields and explains the history of the factory in a neat twenty minute ride. The pictures would have been nicer if the sun had gotten its act together that day, but it didn't, so here's what I got:

no idea pineapple grew like that
this cockrel was trying to shake off the advances of a LUSTY peacock

I wandered back to the bus stop and waited for my ride home, stopping in a shopping centre to hear Hawaiian Christmas carols before meandering along Waikiki beach to the hostel. The cheapest drinks the local ABC stores (sort of like a Sainsbury's Local) sold was the same brand of Californian champagne I had toasted my 26th birthday to with Leah in Monterey. Seven bucks and it didn't taste like a urinal in a strip club. THAT'LL DO. 

I took my loot back to the hostel's teeny common area and shared it with my new room-mate, Martina from Sweden. Martina was on holiday with her mate Karin, who was fast asleep in our room, exhausted from the trek halfway across the world. She mentioned they'd hired a car for the next three days and would I like to join her and two other Swedes on a road trip to the east coast the next day?

Four Swedes and Abha packed into one rental car?

There is only one appropriate way to end this post, and it is with this video >>>