Monthly Archives: May 2015

Unsolicited Credit Cards

America is a very interesting place. When I got here I was looking for a credit card to start building my credit score. No bank wanted to touch me. I was a high risk. No borrowing history and they all wanted a co-guarantor. One bank took a risk with me and I’m still with them today. Recently banks have been sending me open credit cards with very high limits. All they want is for me to sign some papers and voila I can start getting into debt. Luckily I never used credit cards all my life so no thank you. I’m fine with my debit card and a small limit credit card to build my credit history. I just open the mail, see the cards and promptly trash them..

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Sacramento – South Lake Tahoe – Bend

After indulging in all that San Francisco had to offer, it was time to head up North East towards Sacramento. I was going to see a Kenyan pal who lives just outside of Sacramento. But before getting there I detoured into Davis where one of the University of California Campuses is (UCDavis) and also home to one of my good friends I worked with in Nairobi. It’s a small community with a great cycling lanes all over town. It’s one of the bike friendly towns in America.

The drive from San Francisco was short. There wasn’t much to see on the road. Sacramento is big but nothing too special about it that we saw. We headed to Elk Grove on the outskirts of town and I got to see my elementary school sweethearts. It’s been 20 plus years since we hang out. We had roast beef (Nyama choma as we call it back home) and Ugali (Corn bread comes close to explaining what it is) and Sukuma wiki (Kale). Best home food ever. Thanks Wangare and Nzengu.

Our destination for the day was South or North Lake Tahoe. We were advised that South Lake Tahoe was more scenic. It was a short drive to the resort town. What we hadn’t expected were the snow like conditions we found. It was low 30s when we got there. It was chilly and luckily the hotel rooms have heat.

We arrived at night and it was a surprise the next morning to see Lake Tahoe right on the edge of town. They even had man made snow for skiing. It’s a small town with cabins and just a great feeling to it. The wind chill was painful to bear. We tried hanging by the shores of the lake in vain. We toured the town briefly but it was too chilly to enjoy anything. At least they had a great breakfast place. Americans serve portions for 3 I tell you. It’s too much food and too rich. We over indulged seeing as we couldn’t venture out too much.

The California/ Nevada border is right in the middle of town. All the casinos and flashy lights are on the Nevada side and the mountain town feel is on the California side.

We headed out to nearby Carson City and on to Reno not too far away. We re-entered California again and headed north into Modoc National Forest. The temperatures dropped quite a bit and soon we were below zero Celsius. The roads became slick and snow was falling heavily as we went through the forest and crossed the state line into Oregon. As were on back roads it felt very rural all through the parts of Oregon we passed through. Old one street towns with a single gas station type places. At least they had fried chicken..yea I know. I got some of that for the road as we would be getting into Bend late into the night.

The drive into Bend was treacherous to say the least. We couldn’t barely see as snow was by then falling heavily. The roads were 2 way so crossing onto oncoming traffic was easy. We drove slowly and made it safely into Bend, Oregon the northern most point of our journey. Bend is a small town with lots of outdoor activities but with the freezing weather and no time. We were going to start heading home East bound. If I had more time I’d have loved to go into Seattle, Washington…There is always a next time.

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Highway 1 to San Francisco

The drive out of Santa Monica where Interstate 10 ends and Pacific Coast Highway starts was so scenic and beautiful. The famous Malibu beach was right there. It was unbelievable although there wasn’t much to see around Malibu. It’s real uptown, only for the wealthy peeps. California driving never disappoints and they are at it all through flying through the curves at 80 and 90 mph..Crazy people I tell you.

We followed the Pacific Ocean until Santa Barbara then went inland through the Los Padres National Forest. We stopped briefly at Cachuma Lake. Wish we could have camped there but we were short on time. Our target for the day was San Jose or the Silicon Valley as they call it. Once we left the forest there wasn’t much to see on the backroads other than miles and miles of vineyards.

We hit San Jose just in time to see an old friend from Nairobi in Fremont before attempting to find a hotel. It was the single most difficult place to find a hotel or should I say an affordable hotel. All hotels in the area were full and after a couple of attempts we were forced to check into the Crowne Plaza Silicon Valley. We had a relaxed morning as we were only an hour from San Francisco. The flash drive makers Kingston were right next to the hotel. It really is the tech valley.

In an hour we were crossing the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco. It’s pure madness out there. Hundreds and hundreds of tourists and to make it worse they have bicycles for hire. Imagine trying to share the road with happy and excited tourists..total chaos. It’s very scenic and quite a piece of engineering. We drove around for a bit, took pictures and then we headed into the ‘dreaded’ Oakland.

You always hear about Oakland and you think of gangs and it being a dangerous place but we were shocked to discover that there are different areas of Oakland and our Kenyan host was not amused that we were hating on her neighborhood.

We took a train across the bay into San Francisco. It was so cool being under water. Apparently the tube is 41m under water and it’s 9km long. It was quite an experience.

We had been warned about San Francisco. The moment we stepped off the tube we could sniff some weed in the air. Unbelievable and random. I don’t know how they do it but it’s not a big deal out there.

Our host took us on the cable car ride around and city and it’s a tourist’s dream. It’s so hilly and I think the cable cars are electric but they looked so old school. You could get off at any point and catch another at any point. Then there was the ‘most crooked street in America’, it’s so steep and curvy. It’s not very long. Just a couple hundred metres but you feel your thighs burning up walking it. Very good way of sight seeing. We were there for hours. You can see the de-commissioned Alcatraz Prison from some hill in the city. I also got to meet my good Kenyan friend who was visiting from Calgary, Canada. We hang out and just enjoyed the evening ‘cold’ breeze. It was quite chilly around San Fran to be honest. I’ll go back to San Fran some day, there is so much to do in that place.  A day wasn’t enough. Thank you Mercy for the great time we had in San Francisco.

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LA: Santa Monica, Holywood

LA has mad traffic and even crazier drivers. It’s not for the faint hearted I tell you. It was great fun though. We went to the Santa Monica Pier. The pacific coast is very scenic. It’s all that. The Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) starts around there. Our host in LA was great, she took us round the main places within the short time we were there. Thanks INK. We headed to Rodeo Drive next. It’s a shopping district not too far the the Hollywood Boulevard. There is this one store there called Bijan owned by an Iranian designer. It’s said to be the most expensive store in the world. We didn’t test that out as you need an appointment to shop there. Apparently Iranians are the majority landlords around Hollywood. They settled in this area many years ago.That’s how the Kardashians came into the limelight.There is always a top of the range luxury car parked out in front..Just for guys to pose with them. Ferrari, Bentley, Rolls Royce, Bugatti Veyron..one a day. When we were there there was a bright yellow convertible Rolls Royce.

We headed to the Hollywood walk of fame, Kodak theater, Chinese Theater, Madame Tussauds, Jimmi Kimmel Live across the street. It’s tourist dream come true. My girlfriend loved it. It was my second time in Hollywood but you still get excited to be in Hollywood with the famous sign in the background. Apparently they’ve had restrictions on people going up to the sign as wealthy neighbors complained that ‘the people’ were disturbing their peace :).

It was a great tour and our host was working later in the afternoon. We started our journey up north following the famous Highway 1 Pacific Coast Highway through Malibu headed to Santa Barbara. I live for such memories, driving along the beach on one side and the mountains on the other with waves splashing and people doing their thing..the only thing missing was an open top ‘convertible’.

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Random..Frisbee throwing

This is a random post. I’ve been running in the park the last couple of weeks getting ready for boot camp. There are all types of stuff going on..walking, running, cycling, baseball, dog chilling zone, football or what they call soccer here and wait for it..flying disc or frisbee throwing (It’s a disc shaped gliding toy 🙂 ). I’d seen it back in Nairobi or the trips I took with my expatriate colleagues but I didn’t know it’s that BIG here. They have these chain baskets all over the park and guys move around in groups like they do in golf. Throwing the flying disc around in turns and then moving on to the next ‘hole’ or basket. So random..I’ve seen more than once guys pushing baby trams as they play. Who knew Texans or Americans love this game so much.

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Frisbee throwing is BIG here.. Photo courtesy https://suchgooddogs.blogspot.com

Palm Springs – San Diego – Los Angeles

We left Palm Springs and used the back routes up the mountains and over the other end. It was very scenic and I envy those who live in the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains. We hit I-15 in no time headed to San Diego. We didn’t use the highway for long as we used back roads and found our way to I-5. All we had to do was ignore google maps and it’s forced to get a newer longer route. No problem as it was a road trip and we were only in a hurry to hit Los Angeles later. I-5 is very scenic running along the Pacific Ocean.

San Diego is beautiful but we didn’t have time to explore what it offers and we just drove around, checked out the beach, which wasn’t that great and soon we were headed out headed to LA. The military owns a huge stretch of the beach along that highway and we were able to stop at a viewing point and saw the US Navy hauling stuff from the shore to a ship docked off shore. Very cool stuff.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) welcomed us again in California, we had to go through another check between San Diego and LA. I guess it’s the gateway to America from Mexico and South America.

We managed to get on a toll road unknowingly and I guess that’s how the toll way is set up. Get money from unsuspecting drivers. Luckily we sorted it out over the phone but had to pay the minimum for using the toll road.

I thought driving in Kenya and Houston is crazy but it’s nothing compared to LA. It’s crazy out there and all that madness at high speeds. We thought we’d make it to Disneyland but time was not on our side on this trip. We skipped it and headed to see friends in Pasadena. Beautiful city it is but the traffic is a killer. You spend hours on end getting from one part of LA to another. LA is super huge I tell you.

We finally managed to get to Santa Monica in all that madness. Another LA suburb but not before missing a few turns and ending up on the wrong freeways. What would we do without google maps?

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