A blasting holiday in California

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October 21st 2008
Published: October 27th 2008
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San FranciscoSan FranciscoSan Francisco

Gillo and the trans-america tower (he said the picture was not nice when I shot it)
I could have titled this post as "Ciccio in California" or... "Finally Ciccio made it to California".

The story starts pretty back in time, more exactly in 2003. That hot July I decided to move to America and I was on my way to San Jose on the 15th. Just a few weeks later I drove my run-down Lexus (bought for a few dollars) at the San Jose airport waiting for Claudio (aka Gillo) who - dramatically - never arrived.

I called him home the following day (after an interminable wait at the luggage claim) and discovered he was not admitted in the US because of a border patrol at New York airport. This sad story had a long follow-up, but it's not certainly my goal to disclose how badly Gillo took the whole situation, especially considering the amount of money he spent for that trip.

At any rate, Gillo decided to try it 5 years later... In order to do that he had to get a visa (after a first denial the waiver is no longer an option) and prepare a bunch of papers. Quite incredibly, he still had hard time at the customs, but this time
Sea lionsSea lionsSea lions

The "famous" picture of the sea lions at Pier 39. That was one of the few touristic things Gillo experienced in California at all...
I saw him crossing the sliding doors at the San Francisco airport on Saturday, September 13th 2008.

Funny coincidence: my dear friend Yamile, who now lives in Japan, was also traveling to SFO the very same day and she landed only 20 minutes before Gillo! I pick them both up and drove towards my house after dropping her in Palo Alto (she was staying at a friend's place).

This vacation has probably been the greatest of all times (despite Gillo, who tried to pollute the good mood with his usual fastidious meticulosity (the car HAS to be loaded in a certain way... cigarette break... annoying remarks for spilling my drink while I was driving... and many other situations...)).

At this point of time Gillo must admit I did a great job in planning the two memorable weeks we spent together.
The task of day-by-day planning was particularly difficult for some of the constraints I had.
Some of them included: watching a Sharks game (this has been particularly tough because the season was not started yet), going to Las Vegas, having a motorcycle trip (I have only one motorcycle...), do a couple of hikes in the mountains (Sierra
Clam chowderClam chowderClam chowder

I knew Gillo would like the clam chowder, which we had near Pier 39
Nevada was already too cold), visit at least a couple of cities AND do that on a budget.

I bet nobody else could have articulated the vacation as well as I did... (modesty not contemplated).

Well, you guys judge. I am going to report a brief description of what we did day-by-day. If you feel I could have done something better... go to hell!

Saturday, September 13th

After picking Gillo up at the airport, we headed to Mountain View, where I live. I found him even uglier than usual, with a ridiculous goatee... (sorry, I have to take revenge for Christmas 2006, when I traveled to Italy with brand-new mustache and everybody laughed at me, darn friends).
He already started annoying me the first day when he (almost) forced me to go shopping! Gillo's feet exceed 14 in size (American size) and he couldn't fit too many pair of shoes in the bag... he (and I) thought it would be easier to find big sizes in the US. Well, it's true for t-shirts and jeans, but not for shoes. The first day was literally wasted going around Sportmart, REI, Big 5...

We also shopped for food
Golden gateGolden gateGolden gate

We were driving the motorcycle north. This is the must-do viewpoint north of the Golden Gate.
(which lasted till the very last day... and more). That evening I showed him my favorite coffee Shop: "Red Rock Coffee" in downtown Mountain View. It's a very relaxing place where people play chess, read books, surf the web with their laptop. He was surprised how quiet it was (not for the lack of people, but for the politeness).

That evening he met Jonathan and Lubab (my neighbors) and he soon discovered how nice they are. We had dinner at their place and Lubab, as usual, cooked some delicious fish (I still don't understand if she really cooks that much on a regular basis...).

Jonathan had previously agreed to lend me his motorcycle when fat-ass would visit. We were talking one day at his house and he mentioned I could ride his yellow BMW R1150 GS and give Gillo mine. When he proposed me that I couldn't even sleep and wrote an email to Gillo right away; the very moment my Irish-naturalized buddy realized what was going on, he was as excited as I was. After dinner, while talking about the possible stuff Gillo may need, he even gave my guest (who, I emphasize, he did not know!)

Nice shot of us on Hwy 1
some motorcycle stuff he didn't bring from Europe (Jonathan is over 6 feet, pretty much same size as Gillo).

More than happily, we headed to Alibi: that's my typical hang-out place (not anymore, since two weeks ago the ceiling collapsed and it has been close since then. I just got to know it's opening in 1 month or so).
He met most of the regulars and he even played "lives" (a pool-gambling game I often described him).

The jet-lag didn't really bite, maybe for the excitement of the first day, and we hit the bed later than 2 am.

Sunday, September 14th

This day was designated for San Francisco. I wanted Gillo to do whatever touristic there was to do in the city.
Sunday's traffic was bad, but we were able to street-park (I told him to forget about it on a Saturday, I hope he believes me...).

I've done that with every person who visited me (not necessarily from Italy): Union Square, China Town, Embarcadero, Pier 39, back to the car, twin peaks... everything that is a "must-see". I even brought him to Height-Ashbury and Lombard Street (which we walked instead of being in line
Hwy 1Hwy 1Hwy 1

Maybe you'll get from these pictures why it is so famous...
in the car like a bunch of idiots).

I knew Ciccio would like the "Clam chowder", a soup typically served in a bread-bowl. We had it in front of Pier 39, followed by a few beers at Hooters (last time I was at Hooters with Gillo was in Buenos Aires... no comment!).

The day went really fast and, once we exhausted patience and sunlight, we turned back to Mountain View. That night we prepared the bags for the following two days. The project was to go north on a motorcycle trip.

Monday, September 15th

We woke up fairly early that Monday. I was finally on vacation and I could really feel it.
After a (very) abundant breakfast we hit the road at about 9.00am.

I wanted Ciccio to experience the winding little roads that I have just behind my house: we rode through Page Mill and La Honda before we reached the ultra-famous California Hwy 1, the coastal Highway.
Spoiled by the good weather (Ciccio, in Ireland, has nothing but rain) I was complaining for the cold and the clouds, but Gillo was more than happy of the conditions. I rode hwy 1 dozens of times
Windy point reyesWindy point reyesWindy point reyes

Point reyes is so windy that the trees are bent like you see here...
on my bike, but going with such and old friend tasted differently. While I was leading at 50/60 mph I was recollecting all the unforgettable road adventures we had together when we were teen-agers. I remembered going to Switzerland, to "Passo dello Stelvio", to the dolomites with our Aprilia Rx 125cc. I was really happy and nothing could have gone better.

We soon reached the Golden Gate and we continued on hwy 101 up to Healdsburg. From there, the nice and winding Stewart Point road brought us again to the coast. While in Healdsburg we also went to a nice viewpoint from which we could sight Lake Sonoma (I ignored it was that big).

The drive, suggested by Jonathan, was one of the most relaxing I've ever done. We were free of any problem, riding a motorcycle in the beautiful California coast. What to ask for more than that?

We ended the day in Point Reyes, in a nice hostel I booked a few days before. That night we had a Mexican dinner in Point Reyes station, followed by a few drinks in a saloon where we filmed a pool game (my idea...).

Tuesday, September 16th

Motorcycle roadMotorcycle roadMotorcycle road

Just one of the many winding roads we rode

It was still early in the morning when my wrist watch alarm went off and woke everybody up in the small 8-bed dorm. Funny thing that some people were already sleeping at 9pm the day before...
We packed out and went back to Point Reyes station for breakfast. That's the last time I saw Jonathan's rear bag...

The story is still very unclear, both to me and Gillo. I was leading 90% of the time and Gillo never noticed anything dropping, especially a bulky bag like the one I lost! We realized that after being to the lighthouse (spectacular drive) and to a mini-hike in the very north part of the peninsula.
After we realized what happened, we traced back all we had ridden that day with no results. We eventually went back to the hostel and spoke to the rangers as well as the local cops, but - as of today - nobody ever turned in the bag. Inside there was my (new) backpack with my heart rate monitor and a bunch of other things but, most importantly, Jonathan's bike registration with the proof of insurance.

That was one of the little glitches of the 2-day trip;

Another coast shot
a rock cracked the front headlight of my bike and a severe leak covered with fluid the entire rear wheel of Jonathan's bike. I was not feeling relaxed any longer... and we both agreed to shorten the trip and go back as soon as possible.

The following morning we had to leave for Las Vegas and we didn't really have the possibility to talk to Jonathan for quite a long time. That did bug us quite a bit because we felt very sorry and we knew the email we wrote that night would not convey the same message deliverable by words.

That night we went to Palo Alto and had dinner with Yamile, who was returning to Japan the following day. Once back at my place, we were too tired to go to Alibi and went straight to bed after packing whatever necessary for the 8-day absence from Mountain View.

Wednesday, September 17th

We reached San Jose airport with the bus: that was part of the fact we were on a budget, especially after losing Jonathan's bag... (I won't mention that any longer in this story, but that was a recurrent thought for the remainder of the
Golden gate 2Golden gate 2Golden gate 2

This is my favorite vista point of the golden gate... I bring everybody there...

We got there well in advance and checked in Gillo's enormous bag (partly containing my stuff).
When I booked the flight, I wanted to be in Las Vegas by noon, so we could spend half day over there.
Everything went right: once reached Mc Carran International Airport we went to the rental car company and got a Jeep Liberty. A 4wd was essential for what we were going to do in a couple of days...

The price of the rental car was remarkably higher than I expected and I got to know in that occasion that the State of Nevada mandates an extra charge for any additional driver. What the hell, we had to do it and we did it. I don't regret a second having rent such a nice car and I certainly will consider renting a Jeep Liberty again in case I need a 4wd.

Thanks to my numerous trips to Vegas and my "Loyalty" card, I managed to book 4 not-contiguous nights at the Rio for... 40 bucks! To be divided by two people! That was the first time I stayed at Rio and I must say the room was totally worth it

Just arrived in Las Vegas. We are drinking one of the very few beers we paid; after we started gambling beers were on the house
(well, tell me what room may not be worth an average of 10$/day!).

Gillo immediately grasped what to do in Vegas: drink, gamble, have fun! We started off with a beer in a nice bar at the Rio, but then he discovered that every drink is on the house if you are gambling. Pretty soon we had a goal: gamble in every casino of the strip. And gamble in a casino means to risk at least $100.

I remember when we used to go to Venice Casino back in the days: we were completely broke and gambling 100,000 liras (about 50 euros) at Black Jack was pretty penny! None of us could even think that, few years later (and a few more gray hair later, especially for me), we would have been in Las Vegas! When I was a kid I didn't even know how Las Vegas may look like and the little I knew was from the "mainstream" pictures you can often see on television.

I am sure Gillo thought exactly the same. Yet again, I had been in Vegas before but this was the moment I was awaiting for a long time: I was with
Las VegasLas VegasLas Vegas

Feel like home?
one of my old friends in sin city!
To tell the truth Seba, another good friend, visited in 2004 and we did go there together, but there is a huge difference: Seba does not gamble! And also the knowledge I have of Las Vegas and vicinity right now does not compare to 4 years ago.

That very first night we went to the Imperial Palace buffet; well, it was good enough to be the first day!
We spent the night hopping from casino to casino and continuing our crazy project to gamble in each of them. That was really a lot of fun.

We could afford to go to bed late, since the following day was to be spent entirely in Las Vegas.

Thursday, September 18th

The view of the Brazilian-style swimming area from our room was a good way to start that hot Thursday. Gillo was still impressed how hot a late September in Las Vegas could be... and the worst was still to come!

I was very worried since the beginning that Gillo could not bear the extreme heat typical of California/Nevada desert. We are talking about temperatures well above 100F, almost 40 Celsius;

That's how nice the Venitian is inside...
we are totally unprepared to these conditions having spent most of our life in cool European countries. I reckon the major difference is given by the fact the outside temperature exceeds your body's one, which does not happen in normal conditions (well, I guess it is "normal" if you were born in one of those places...).

In any case, I always wanted to visit Red Rock Canyon. That was mainly because it's a climbing paradise and I am big time into rock climbing nowadays. We vaguely checked the map and hit the road little after midday for Red Rock Canyon.

We drove through new areas of Las Vegas and I must say Vegas looks just like a big desert city from that end; it reminded me of Phoenix somehow. Once we got at Red Rock we paid the entry fee to a funny fella and drove the super-touristic scenic drive where we joined a plethora of improvised photographers. A nice Chinese guy with was visiting with his wife took us a picture in two different locations and they are Gillo-approved. Yeah, I forgot to mention that Gillo is really picky when judging a shot; I guess I never

We were winning at that point (maybe we were even up some bucks)
heard him saying "good job, nice picture". When we were in San Francisco the second day he took a shot of me in front of the Trans-America tower and I did the same for him. The pictures were totally equivalent and he said - with the usual challenging attitude he assumes in these situations - "do you notice any difference between our two pictures?". The answer was no, except that he slightly moved near a truck and I had no way to do a better job. After I explained to him 1) why he's retarded and 2) why I couldn't do any better he nodded with a smirk (I bet still thinking his picture was better...). After all he's a good lad... but I don't think I would let anybody else bug me this much with trifles.

That day we had the first off-road experience; this rocky road was pretty nice and easy except a few tough spots, but it was dead according to the map we had.
We decided to stop and walk a little bit; after that we simply went back.

I know I am going back soon to Red Rock Canyon: there seem to be
Red Rock CanyonRed Rock CanyonRed Rock Canyon

Paradise for climbers
a number of challenging climbing routes and I am not letting that go for sure... I just need to find some time and somebody who wants to join for the fun.

Shortly later we were back to the strip. That night we kept gambling and drinking, but with due diligence we crashed rather early and got up at dawn with destination Death Valley.

Friday, September 19th

The main objective: reach Beatty, our gateway to the Death Valley, as soon as possible. We found very few cars on Hwy 95 and little more than 1 hour was all it took to reach the small town.
Once there, we got a big breakfast in a western-style diner; I always liked those places and Gillo found it entertaining... The breakfast was so big that not even the big guy he is was able to finish the extra breakfast-burrito he ordered... (that served as "light snack" in the afternoon heat... no comment).

I had been in Beatty before with Davide, but this was the first time I was approaching Death Valley from east. My plan didn't omit any detail and I had a really clear idea about where to go; I
Red Rock CanyonRed Rock CanyonRed Rock Canyon

End of a nice 4wd adventure...
was only worried we wouldn't have enough time for everything...

The first attraction was the so-called "Titus Canyon". I could spent quite some time describing how stunning that drive was, but that wouldn't really communicate the emotions we had that morning.

Death Valley is my favorite national park and I bet I am the only person I know who has been to Death Valley more times than Yosemite; every time I go I explore a different area and that magic place never lets me down. Its diversity makes it the most unique park I ever visited and people who only drove the major roads and claim to have visited Death Valley don't realize they are talking nonsense.

I knew Gillo would like Death Valley as much as I do and I did know 3 days in that desert wouldn't be too many; I turned out to be right and that's the reason why I claim I know my friends...

After Titus Canyon we went to Scotty's castle; that is one of the places I've seen many times but never visited (a guided tour is the only option to go inside). We simply took a few pictures

An old mining town
and went to the souvenir store; that was the only time I felt like a "regular" tourist in Death Valley.

We hit the burning-hot road to reach Ubehebe crater, which was particularly windy that afternoon.
After (literally) running to the bottom of the crater we spent a few minutes looking around, staring at the gigantic volcanic formation that was surrounding us. We improvised few feet of rock climbing, but there was no (easy) way to get to the southern rim; we took the challenge of reaching the car in the least amount of time.

You should know that the terrain is pure sand and every step, under the hot sun, was a small torture.
I was lagging all along and Gillo was the first one setting foot to the parking lot with a remarkable time of 9 minutes 45 seconds; it took me 12 minutes, 30 seconds. Not bad for more than 1500 feet elevation gain!

Next destination: the racetrack, a big plateau where rocks move without apparent reason (Gillo - of course - gave immediately his explanation saying "it's the wind, it's obvious"... I let you comment on this).
A German couple we met there (the
Scotty's castleScotty's castleScotty's castle

A millionaire (or better, somebody who knew a millionaire) managed to build a castle in Death Valley...
only two people we saw in hours) asked us directions... and we sent them to a pretty tough road... we have no idea if they made it or not!

After the racetrack we headed south for a mining site and the little that was remaining was probably not worth the drive, nor the short hike.

From there the plan was easy: hit hwy 190 after driving "Hunter Mountain Road" (which later connected to Saline Road, one of my past itineraries in Death Valley when I went with Alessio).
That was easy on the paper... but a bunch of turns were not on my little GPS and I'm sure we missed an outstanding view point because the fork we were supposed to hit never showed up...

It was almost dusk when we were eating an ice cream in Panamint Springs (we dumped Darwing falls for lack of time); from there "Panamint Valley Road" followed by CA 178 brought us to Mahogany Flat, where a small parking lot was our sleeping place for the night.

I must confess that Gillo was pretty cool that night and he was actually able to arrange stuff in the jeep such that
Ubehebe craterUbehebe craterUbehebe crater

Bottom of Ubehebe crater
two people could sleep in it... I probably would have done that much more quickly but paying the price of little comfort...
Unfortunately (for him) he didn't have a sleeping bag and the night was pretty rigid, getting as low as 50 degrees. The poor guy was freezing...

I believe he was a little too worried about everything; I was telling him about bears, weirdos you may find in the desert, wild animals... and that didn't help him falling asleep at all. For a moment I really thought about bears... and we had any sort of goodies in the car.

Saturday, September 20th

I should mention that it's been only recently I got so much into mountaineering. I spent the whole summer driving to Sierra Nevada and hiking/climbing the highest peaks and I didn't want this vacation to pass without a summit conquer. Unfortunately the Eastern Sierras, where the tallest mountains are, is already too cold in late September, but Death Valley is perfect for these late-summer hikes.

My idea, since the beginning, was to conquer Telescope Peak, the highest point in Death Valley National Park. The summit stands over 11,000 feet (3,300 meters) and is considerably

Junction near racetrack. The desert is just bizarre...
high, especially compared to the "little" mountains of the Dolomites we are used to back in Italy.

After the very cold night (sorry again Gillo, I couldn't think of freezing to death in Death Valley...) we work up at about 6.00 am. We had a quick breakfast and hit the trail (we were already at the trailhead).

I was aware the hike would be 7 miles (1 way) with a pretty big elevation gain, but I was fit from the summer in the Sierras and Gillo plays more sport than a football pro, therefore I never consider him to be the bottleneck.

We kept a pretty brisk pace all the way to the summit, reaching the very top before 11.00 am. The summit view was a great reward; I speculated a lot on the mountains we were seeing, claiming one of them to be mount Whitney (revealed wrong after accurate checks...). I was glad Gillo saw one of the famous registers placed in all the important summits in US, which we were also able to sign. It's always fun to read other people's experiences; somebody said they were naked on the top of the mountains and somebody

Fat ass in an hazardous area (hehe)
even wrote they had sex there! Others said they were so unfit they thanked God for getting to the end...

The descend was not as quick as we were expecting and took almost the same amount of time as going up, but we frequently stopped for pictures. The view of Panamint Valley looking west and Death Valley looking west were just stunning; the mountains, to tell the truth, looked pretty much the same all around, but I was well aware some of them were much taller than others...

Once got at the car we drove to Skidoo, a ghost town that let us down quite a bit since... we were not able to find it! Or, better, we did find its original location, but very little (means nothing) is left now. The road was becoming small and winding and was not on my GPS, so we decided that was not worth our time.

Before we got to Stovepipe wells we hiked for half hour the touristic Mosaic Canyon, just to have a break. I had been there before, but the place is particularly nice.

After Telescope peak the day was just a "regular" tourist day; thinking
Telescope peakTelescope peakTelescope peak

Picture of the register at the top of Telescope Peak
that Gillo deserved to see the most "famous" Death Valley attractions we followed the (dumb) masses to Furnace Creek (where we later slept), Badwater (the lowest point in the continental US) and the "Artist Drive", a pretty 2wd-paved drive which a guy from Tennessee was approaching at 15 mph (maybe even slower).

I remember getting pretty annoyed with Gillo at one point, but I don't recall why. Probably it was another one of his stupid remarks, while I was trying to plan ahead how to use our time the best. It's easy to criticize your guide... he didn't know how much planning there was for that trip, but I hope he's realizing right now. Nothing was left to the case... damn Gillo, you really deserve to have a "regular" vacation once, then you'll come back here with a different attitude!

We spent the night at Furnace Creek Inn, a place where I always wanted to stay but I never had the chance. Last time with Davide they simply wanted too much, but this time - booking well in advance - we got away with less than $150 (with a "cold" shower, hehe).

It didn't take long for

There are many of them in the desert. They are not as annoying as the old birds, damn them!
us (especially for me) to fall deeply asleep; last images I recollect are from a Death Valley documentary on television which revealed the real identity of Scotty (the one of Scotty's castle): I don't want to ruin a legend, so if you want to know more google it...

Sunday, September 21th

I told Gillo one of the must-do things in Death Valley was to run; I always wanted to do it, but had never the occasion to do it. This time Gillo was as motivated as me and it finally happened.
The key was to avoid the extreme heat of the day, so we left at 5.30 in the morning from our motel room (another morning where I *really* would have slept longer...).

The plan was done the day before at the saloon, thanks to the wireless connectivity (free of charge) that Furnace Creek facility provides. We drove a few miles to the trailhead of "Golden Canyon"; from there, we run to Zabriskie point in about 1 hour. The pace was more than acceptable, considering that I've not been much into running later (bunch of hiking, but that's a different story).

When we got to Zabriskie (which
Marble canyonMarble canyonMarble canyon

One of the "regular" attractions in Death Valley.
seemed never-coming) it was not even sunrise; since that spot is "mandatory" at sunrise, we found jillion tourists with big cameras taking pictures of the beautiful surrounding hills still partly dark with the first rays of the day dazzling the early birds.

We, too, shot a couple of pictures but for the only reason of cooling down. From there, we had to face a beautiful hike through the golden canyon back to the car (technically, we closed the loop with that hike).

Thanks to Gillo, who insisted for walking to the Zabriskie hills, I got to spots I always photographed but never touched. Temperature was starting to be scary and my preoccupation increased drastically when I squirted the last drop of water on my mouth from the little water bottle Gillo gave me (nice stuff, a belt with 5 little water bottles, very practical for running). Fortunately, Gillo had a camel-back with some more water (but Gillo also does drink like a camel).

We had read somebody died on that trail for a heat stroke and we most certainly didn't want to finish the same way... Despite the GPS, we got lost more than once. At one
Running in Death ValleyRunning in Death ValleyRunning in Death Valley

That's how exhausted we were after running...
point Gillo tried a ridiculous climb on a steep ridge (I say ridiculous because it was just matter of backing up few hundred feet to hit the right trail...).

Obstinate as usual he still went for it although I discouraged the silly detour. With different weather and more water I would have gone for sure, but the conditions were just not right to try that... and sun was rising, heating up the golden hills we were still admiring.

Found the right trail, it was still not that simple to keep track of it, but we eventually managed to reach the car.
That hike is one of the most beautiful I've ever done in my life; it's not technically challenging, but it makes you feel like you are... in death valley.

A quick semi-cold shower and breakfast were the greatest reward we could ask for and gave us back the energies we needed for the remainder of the day.

Once left Furnace creek we drove the scenic "West Side Road", which literally splits the valley. The goal was to drive "Johnson Canyon Road", which was going directly towards the tall Panamint range. The drive was hard and
Car in San DiegoCar in San DiegoCar in San Diego

That was nice for the basic rate!
the terrain rocky and badly uneven, but we would have managed to do that if it was not for the temperature. The jeep, which never had a problem until then, overheated, giving us enough reasons to abandon the idea and turning back.

We had a snack in Shoshone and drove some more those beautiful roads, but it was soon time to go back to the civilization: destination Las Vegas.

On the way to Vegas, Gillo managed to irritate me (again) for spilling a drink when I was driving. Sometimes I'd like to have a video of himself bitching about little things and maybe he would understand...

We finished the night eating a big meal (finally) and... gambling!

Monday, September 22nd

That Monday was meant to be a slow day for us, because we had to recharge from the lack of sleep and the pretty intense life we had lived the previous days...

We experienced Rio's swimming pool (very nice) and we kept walking around the city. Eventually we ended up eating at a steakhouse and gambling for hours and hours.

Everything went really well, I was delighted. Las Vegas makes you feel like there

Fat ass had to try the churro.
are no problems in this world; that place is perfect for releasing all the stress people living in the first world run up during their mundane routine and - sad to say - I am one of them.

Before crashing for the last time at Rio's, the majestic Bellagio fountains entertained us with the last two shows of the day (really superfluous to post that video on YouTube, there are already tons of them).

Tuesday, September 23rd

The funny thing about the last day in Las Vegas is that you always lose big. I think the reason is fairly simple: one thinks "I'm leaving in 2 hours, let's see if fortune is going to kiss me right before I leave". And it never happens.

In the past, I've made that mistake many times and I agreed with Gillo to have few more hands of black jack.
Well, it turns out I was wrong (big time wrong). Gillo had the greatest black jack run of all times; he was consistently getting black jacks and 21s, winning the dealer at least 80%!o(MISSING)f the times.

That hour or so fattened our pockets up quite a bit, concluding the
The mechanicThe mechanicThe mechanic

That was the most competent person among all the psychos ad dezertadventures...
overall gambling experience with a net loss of $150!! We drunk for at least $300 (not kidding...), so what can you ask more than that??

Returning the rental car in Las Vegas is a real nightmare (it takes above-the-average intelligence to figure out the route) but we miraculously got there with "only" one mistake.
The Southwest airplane we took to San Diego was fast and the clear sky gave us an overwhelming vista of the desert landscape.

Once gotten in San Diego we got another rental car, a nice Chrysler PT cruiser convertible (that car's design is just horrendous, but being convertible was very well accepted).

The hotel I booked, "Bristol hotel", was one of the nicest I've ever been (not counting Las Vegas). I know Gillo has been spoiled lodging in different Sheraton's across Europe, because he has connections (such a tightfisted person, hehe, sorry Gillo but I need to offend you a little bit. When we were in Italy we always told him he's mean (money-wise) but most of the times we were just pulling his leg).

Hoping to minimize the amount of time in the car, we rented a GPS with it. That

How ridiculous!
was particularly useful, I must say, and helped us getting around the city that afternoon.

After driving to Sea World, the famous San Diego aquatic park, we both agreed the admittance was totally unreasonable (about 60$ for few hours, way too big bucks) and drove back to the hotel.

We hanged out at Gaslamp the whole night, which surprised me for the amount of people hanging out there in the middle of the week.

Wednesday, September 24th

One of the most memorable days: the "dune buggy" day. I had been on quads and dirt bikes before, but never dune buggy. I know that neither did Gillo, so I thought it would have been a fun experience for both of us.

We had to drive to Ocotillo, about 1 hour and a half. Ocotillo is... a pretty dead desert town and we couldn't really believe "dezert adventures", pictured in their website as the most beautiful establishment in the world, was that old, beat-up building in the middle of nowhere...

At any rate, we fould pretty cool people over there. There was the business owner, a polite mid-age man, working with a crowed of psychos (literally). The
Dune buggyDune buggyDune buggy

Gillo felt very confident riding the buggy... I knew I would be scared having him driving
mechanic, who was the only "sane" person among them, was soon nick-named "two-toothed dude" for obvious reasons...

Initially they gave us a "bus"; it was a yellow huge dune buggy with 4 seats. Since we had no idea how to move around that desert, we agreed to have Brian, one of the helpers, as guide for a couple of hours. He would lead with a quad and all we had to do was just follow him.

Sounded good... but there are some details. Brian had more drugs in his body than Mick Jagger in a bad day and could barely understand what he was doing. He was talking slowly, moving extra slowly and driving the freaking quad very slowly! He stopped after a while for a cigarette break and that's when we discovered we had a flat (pretty severe). Gillo said right off the bat the front tire was cracked, but we didn't complain about it.

I was forced to drive the damn thing back driving very cautiously, which defeated a little bit the fun...

Good news when we got back: the dune buggy Gillo was going to ride next was a two-seater, much newer and
San DiegoSan DiegoSan Diego

Nice picture of San Diego in the back
faster than the old wreck I had the honor to drive first...
(There is a funny thing I want to say: that morning, when we spoke to the owner, he asked us "are you here for the yellow dune buggy?". Gillo looked at me smiling and told me "what kind of question is that??" They were apparently trying to get rid of it, as the "For Sale" sign was suggesting...).

We hired Brian for 1 more hour, just to show us a different part of the desert. Gillo, who immediatly became very comfortable with the buggy, was handling it like it did it on a regular basis...
Unfortunately the goddamn thing stalled when we were on the way back and never turned on again (note that the website says "all the dune buggies are in good conditions...).

Brian tried (pathetically) to fix it removing the air filter (!!); it was burning hot and the cooler (without ice) we had on-board had only some hot water (hot like a hot spring!!). When Brian realized he's just a dumbo, he drove back to the shop in order to come back with the two-toothed dude. The shop was about 10 minutes
HP PavillionHP PavillionHP Pavillion

Home of the Sharks, in San Jose
away, so how long do you think we had to wait? 2 hours!!! (well, almost two hours). In that darn spot there was not a squared foot of shade and the water was gone. Gillo found a bottle with some liquid inside and instinctively poured its content on his head, just to have some relief from the 106F and virtually no humidity. Bad move, it was gasoline!!!

That was a tragic moment; I never saw Gillo so furious (except when one year in Munich I dropped a 1-liter beer on his back with pretty severe temperature...). What could we do at that point? We waited and waited...

After the longest wait of my adult life, Brian and the two-toothed dude showed up. We asked Brian whether he brought water to us. Here's the answer: "I was going back to the shop and I run out of gas. (!) I was so pissed I couldn't think and I didn't remember the water". That was our guide!!

The other dude fixed the buggy in no time; the issue was the gas line being overheated. Very strange removing the air filter didn't fix it...

Back to the shop we
Mount TamalpaisMount TamalpaisMount Tamalpais

The highest mountain around San Francisco. Nice view of the San Rafael bridge
gave $40 to Brian and sent him to hell. We got some more water (hot) to put on the cooler (also hot) and hit the trails again. Thanks to a spark of brilliance of the two-toothed dude, we got a mobile phone in order to contact them in case their luxury vehicle broke down again. Unfortunately, we had to use it twice...

The first time they got us in 10 minutes, because we were near a major highway. The second time, right before we were heading back, was a little tricky. I couldn't explain where we were (I challenge anybody to do better than I did) and they just could not find us.

Gillo decided to walk to a house we could sight; at that time we had absolutely no water and it was freaking hot. Gillo came back with a man driving a huge Wrangler after maybe 45 minutes; he was holding a can of ice tea and told me "Sorry, I forgot to leave you some". I thought it was clearly a joke and that was a new can he got, but when he handed it to me I realized there was one finger of tea
Mount TamalpaisMount TamalpaisMount Tamalpais

Me and fat ass on top of Mount Tamalpais
in it. Gillo, I hate you!

Anyways, the big guy that rescued us was able to explain on the phone where we exactly were and the crazy mechanic picked us up.

The buggy never started again and we went back with the old pickup he was driving. That was the end of the buggy adventure.

On the way back to San Diego we stopped to a local bar in Ocotillo and had to pass a police checkpoint (border patrols); we were really close to the Mexican border (I am going to visit that area of Baja California this coming Thanksgiving).

We had dinner in San Diego and hanged out in Gaslamp district till late that night.

Thursday, September 25th

One full day to be spent in San Diego. I'm not much of a city tourist, at least I'm not anymore, and I didn't really know what to do/where to go.
We decided to take one of the tourist buses that bring you around the city; they are pretty well done and they hire funny drivers that narrate what you are seeing around you.

After having lunch in Coronado, a nice island I never visited before, we went to the beach and Gillo even got into the ocean. I didn't do it because the water was too cold for me... (maybe not, but I didn't want to get wet and be salty the rest of the day).

The flight back to San Jose was at 8.30 and we got at the airport almost two hours before. Once at Mineta airport I started to feel the pressure of being back and I couldn't help thinking that was going to be over soon.

Friday, September 26th

As I stated at the beginning, one of the constraints I had was to bring Ciccio to see the Sharks, the local hockey team. That Friday there was a game, so there was the following day, Saturday. The only drawback: it was pre-season. I don't know what it means, but it seemed a regular game to me...

That day we woke up late and went to the BMW store to check for Jonathan's lost bag (it's shameful I still have to buy it...).
We also sorted out a few things before heading to San Jose.

I had been before to see the Sharks, but I was never really motivated. It was great to see one of Gillo's wishes come truth; that's what I call "being happy with very little things...".
No, really, hockey is a really fun game to watch and I like the audience; people are polite and make it particularly enjoyable. I had really good time.

We later went to Ugly's...

Saturday, September 27th

Program for the Saturday: Santa Cruz, followed by another Sharks game...

Santa Cruz is still pretty warm in late September/October and it's really refreshing spending one day at the beach... (I just don't like beaches too much, neither does Gillo, but Santa Cruz has something different).

We did some shopping and walked downtown and to the "broadwalk", near the beach.
Gillo got a candy-apple: tradition required that every time he's on vacation he buys one and we take a picture of him to depict what a fat-ass he is...

I'm pretty sure he liked Santa Cruz after all. We got in San Jose early enough to spare some time to walk downtown. It was quite a long time I didn't go to San Jose, just because everybody I know seems to live northern than the "Silicon Valley capital".

The hockey game was against the Vancouver and it was better than the first day, but Sharks lost.

After that we headed to Lucky Shot, my usual hang-out pool place. I just wanted to show it to Gillo so he now knows how a boring engineer can spend his monotonous days living in the bay...

Sunday, September 28th

Last vacation day... bear with me for few more lines.

I wanted to hike Mount Tamalpais and so we did. The highest mountain in the San Francisco area has plenty of nice trails and we did enjoy the little hike, which was not challenging at all.
That's when Gillo told me I'm too obsessed about being at high elevation, rather than appreciating even a small mountain for what it is. And he's probably right, but the Eastern Sierras spoiled me...

We later went to the very top of mount Tamalpais, the east peak, from which there was a really nice overview of the north bay.

We were already late to show up in time at Jonathan's place for dinner. Lubab delighted us with her famous steaks (I honestly hardly had steaks of such quality) and we had some quality conversations.

Alibi was officially the last place where we went; Gillo showed to the astonished bar regulars how quickly he picked "lier dice"...

Monday, September 29th

Last day is always the toughest. The end of the vacation hit me like a bat in my head that morning; I recall waking up late and reading the work emails, still from my apartment.
Later I brought Gillo to SFO, where he was flying from just a couple of hours later.

I drove back to San Jose, where Cisco headquarters is; it felt strange to use my badge again. When I opened the front door and I walked the stairs to my desk, several images of the previous two fantastic weeks popped up in my mind like a slide-show: I won't forget it, that's for sure.

This post has been finished almost a month later.


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