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Salinas and San Luis Obispo

Thursday

Not long out of Monterey we passed a rather unobtrusive entrance and a sign post which stated that this was the Laguna Seca Raceway, as featured in Gran Tourismo 3 on Playstation 2. How cool it would have been to see a race or two there! It looked rather empty as we drove by though.

The bus ride from Monterey was a long one. There were several stops however, which helped break the journey. The stop in Salinas was quite interesting actually as it coincided with the Salt Lake City Olympic Torch Relay, which was passing through there at the time. We were changing buses so there was time to wonder around and take a look at the proceedings. I just missed the guy lighting the fire and running down the path behind the orange fence, but we caught up with him as we left town and were driving just behind the small convoy which accompanied him; below right is a biker cop who was directing traffic, a classic CHiPs moment!

Olympic Torch Relay CHiPs!

Further down the road we stopped for lunch in King City at an isolated general store. There were many recycling yards around with huge mounds of metal cans and scrap iron. I still wasn't sure about the strange looking food on offer, so I plumped for a bag of cheetos and one of my energy bars.

Upon arriving in San Luis Obispo I made my way straight to the hostel, I had a map this time so what could go wrong? I found that many of the houses looked the same and from block to block the sign posts still didn't make an awful lot of sense to me; however, it didn't take too long to find my way and I was given a warm welcome from the hostel staff when I arrived. There were some interesting guests to talk with too and many were already at the fabled farmers market - this I had to see! One of the guests was a retired business man, he'd owned his own company and had recently set himself free from all of that, he was now out enjoying his retirement; I teamed up with my new friend and we headed out. As we approached the market dusk was setting, so that by the time we found the food stalls it was dark; the food on offer was big and tastey looking. I decided I must eat something, it was a choice between a huge sausage in a long bun or a beef burrito, I had the burrito - the first I had ever tried. One of my American friends from Santa Cruz had previously eaten a giant burrito on the evening when I first landed but I was in such a state I couldn't eat anything myself. This time I tucked in!

There were many sights to see: a band of old rockers, local religious groups, many stalls selling fresh produce, sweet goods too like honey roast nuts and toffee apples. The most unexpected thing was down a side street - we noticed two long queues both heading towards a central point, which upon closer inspection was almost beyond belief - people queuing to play in snow?! After thinking about it for a few minutes it did make sense, this place was perhaps not known for its snow in the winter, it was January and still no cooler than about 8 degrees centigrade in the evening.

Snow Night Snow pens

Back at the hostel I noticed a lady who looked vaguely familiar, then she recognised me - I was the one she'd seen at Santa Cruz hostel, she was the one who was talking to the guy with the broken leg! We talked and talked, other guests went off to bed one by one and still we talked! It was good to have someone to talk to in the evening for a change.

Just before going to bed I heard of a guest who had called in and was expecting to arrive after midnight, the staff didn't sound happy.

Friday

In the morning we were treated to pancakes with syrup by the hostel staff - a welcome change from toast and honey! I met an interesting Australian girl at the frying pan (we had to fry the pancakes ourselves), presumably this was the guest who had arrived late last night. The lady from Santa Cruz was leaving that day for the South; I hoped, but didn't expect, to see her again.

I spent the day exploring the town of San Luis Obispo - some of it I had seen in the dark the previous night and now I had the chance to look in some of the shops. My knee bothered me considerably. I found a library and spent a few minutes on the internet - I looked up knee complaints and found a pretty close match to mine, it said it shouldn't be left... I decided I must see a doctor, but surely this would cost money? I wandered around town aimlessly for a while, eventually finding myself back at the hostel - I needed to do some planning for the next stage of my journey. Several phone calls later and it was decided: down to LA then up to Merced and Yosemite. My idea of seeing Death Valley turned out to be impractical, it would have been a 38 hour round-trip, and going further south than San Pedro sounded like a bad idea... I went off to find a doctors surgery and discovered that the drop-in surgery wasn't open until later in the evening. Later in the evening I went to the drop-in surgery and finally saw a doctor about my knee, which was causing me some considerable pain by this time. I got off lightly - 35 dollars which included the consultation and a knee brace, he also recommended pain killers as I was on holiday and should enjoy the rest of my stay. I was happy with that!

That evening I met up with the charming Australian girl I'd seen at breakfast and for something to do we decided to dine out; upon returning to the hostel we chatted until quite late - I told her stories of my adventures to date, and of the strange people I'd met on the way - the guy with the broken leg in Santa Cruz, my penfriend... A lady crept down the stairs but quickly sneaked back up again when she noticed us two sat on the sofa! Perhaps she was trying to escape a snorer, I felt kind of guilty by keeping her from the sofa. I had a new confidence now - my knee felt much stronger and didn't hurt (probably due to the drugs) plus I was enjoying the company of some very nice people.

Saturday

Another day in San Luis Obispo, another pancake for breakfast, and a chance meeting with the charming Australian girl I'd met the other day. I plucked up courage and asked if she cared to walk around town with me, and that was that - away we went! As it turned out Courtney (for that was her name) had exactly the same Lonely Planet guide book on California that I had, but I just hadn't been using it properly. I got the sense that she'd done this before, she explained how she loved travelling and had been various places doing work and on holiday. She intended to go to San Jose (a place I fancied visiting on account of the song - 'Do you know the way to San Jose?') and then on to Lake Tahoe to snowboard and find work as a ski lift attendant. We checked train times at the station, her train to San Jose was not until after 3pm, I checked times to LA and the only one was at 3.10pm - so we would spend the rest of the day looking around San Luis Obispo together.

I saw many more interesting sights than on the previous day, thanks to my new Australian friend. The Mission was quite something - there was even a museum. We took a stroll through the cloisters and considered our next move; Courtney had spent the previous day with some people she met in a cafe, they had recommended some places to go see in the town and now she was passing on the advice, lucky me! We visited Bubblegum Alley which lives up to its name as a disgusting but strangely fascinating sight, people had gone to great lengths (and heights) to write things with bubblegum on the walls of this tight little alley.

SLO Mission Bubblegum Alley

We bumped into a curious local lady in Longs Drugs store, I had to buy the pain killers for my knee; I was just in the process of choosing some ear plugs to protect against snorers in the night when Courtney started chatting, then arguing with this lady who had a black and green colour scheme - no joke! She had on black and green clothing, had black hair and green contact lenses. I should have taken a picture of her!

When we got back to the hostel we still had plenty of time to spare, the English guy who worked at the hostel was there too so we played catch with some oranges from a tree, he tried to juggle but was only marginally better than me. I cannot juggle to save my life.

SLO Train! Finally it was time to leave, I helped Courtney up the hill to the station with her excessively heavy luggage - just a few sweaters in there as she was used to much warmer weather. My train was late. Courtney's was announced as being even later. We had a few minutes to spare, she recommended I try staying at the Banana Bungalow on Hollywood Boulevard - well if it was anything like in the movies I was in for a treat! This was my first trip on an American train, when it pulled up to the platform I had visions of Gene Wilder hanging from a signal pole like in the film Silver Streak; when we finally pulled away I saw Courtney sitting on her bags reading a book, that was the last time I saw or heard from her. The service on the train was top notch, I even sat down to dinner in the dining car - it would be a long time before I reached LA.