Welcome back to the final blog post about my adventure across the U.S., at the end of my time as an exchange student. It’s been a long time coming but we’re finally here, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these blog posts up until now. For those of you who’ve been reading from the very first post, you’re the best, and I can’t thank you enough! So let’s get right into it!
On the 3rd of June, we had a bit of time before we needed to get our rental car, so we decided to go down to the ferry terminal to see what was there, to which we discovered a farmers market going on. Hugo and Caitlin appear to be in their element, trying all sorts of free samples and conversing with a lot of the stall owners. I’m a very fussy eater, and whilst I do love free things, there’s a lot of things that I won’t eat, even if they are free!
We spent quite a lot of time at the market and when we eventually left, it was almost time to pick up the car and head off to our next destination: Yosemite Park! We spent quite a while at the car rental place waiting for our car to be ready, myself and Hugo even had enough time to go back to the hostel to go and get our bags before we left in the car. We were quite naughty when it came to the car, as we wanted everything to be as cheap as possible. As a result of this we didn’t get any insurance from the rental company, it was all on our own responsibility.
Getting out of San Francisco was a bit of a challenge, but we managed to do it in the end, and it felt pretty sweet driving out of the city on the lower level the eastern bridge (not the Golden Gate bridge). Once again Hugo and Caitlin did all the driving which I’m grateful for, as it gave me the chance to just take in the amazing California landscape. Sea and desert is a new combo for me! Our first stop on this journey was for lunch at Panera Bread, which didn’t have a machine where you did your order yourself which was disappointing. But on the bright side, the girl that ended up serving me said she liked my accent so that was nice!
We then headed off again and drove for a good portion of time until we came to Napa Valley, a place known for it’s wine! Hugo and Caitlin had wanted to go wine tasting for the longest time, so this was the perfect opportunity. We stopped at the town visitor centre and asked where the best places to go would be. A very kind and helpful older woman helped us and gave us 3 vineyards to try, and so we set off in the search of wine! The first vineyard we tried was very grand looking and seemed very posh. The people were very nice, even though we were too late and missed their last wine tasting of the day. That sucked! We stayed there for a bit before deciding to move on and visit the next vineyard. When we got there we were met with the same situation, we were just too late! It wasn’t looking good, by the time we got to the third and final vineyard I wasn’t very hopeful. It turns out we missed it again! But at the very least, this time we were allowed to try some wine, so I guess that’s kind of a fractional success.
Our little detour had finished and it was back on the road to Yosemite Park. During more of the drive we realised how poor the rental car we had was compared to the other 2 we’d previously had. It was very jittery and was rather slow at moving up into a higher gear on it own, automatic car problems! It was starting to be evening by now we were still on the road with nothing nearby at all, so we were at a loss on what we were going to do for food. We were currently in the middle of nowhere, so I was quite concerned about what we were going to do about dinner. Somehow in the middle of nowhere we eventually came across a sign indicating that there was a place nearby where we could get food. We had no idea what it would be like or even what it was at all!
It turned out to be a tiny town called ‘Copperpolis Town’ and it was one of the most eerie and creepiest places I’ve ever been to! It was just a random, almost deserted town, in the middle of what was practically a desert like landscape with nothing around for miles! It was like something out of a horror movie, where all the local residents appear super nice and friendly to outsiders, but in reality they are all cannibals or something who never let anyone escape, not even each other! (okay maybe I got a little carried away there…). I couldn’t get over how creepy and unsettling the place was, even when having food at a BBQ grill place, I just didn’t trust anyone or anything there. I was glad when we finally did leave, that place is just too weird for my liking.
Turning our attention back to Yosemite Park, we were planning on heading to the camping and hiking section of Yosemite Park, as the park itself is actually gargantuan. We entered the park quite late and it still took us a very long uphill and mountainous drive to get to our destination. There was some stunning views on the way there, even at night in the dark. Although I’m not going to lie, driving on those curvy mountain-side roads had me very on edge (accidental pun, such fun!). By the time we finally made it we were all pretty tuckered out from the whole day of driving. But just being able to make out those massive cliffs ever so slightly glowing in the moonlight was incredible. I was desperate to see what it would look like during the day time!
We wasted no time in going to sleep after parking, I was lucky being in the backseat, I could actually almost lie down, it was almost the same as those paper thin mattresses at the hostel in San Francisco. We awoke the next day on the 4th of June to see just how amazing it was at this section of the park. Huge cliffs and woodland surrounded us, it was spectacular, a nature lovers paradise. Our plan was to climb a part of one of the trails, and I say we were fairly prepared so we just went for it. The trail we were embarking on was Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls, and as I’m sure you can imagine this involved climbing near waterfalls.
For the majority of the trail we’d had no problem at all and it had been very enjoyable just taking in all the incredible views. But we were soon in for a shock with regards to getting to the top of Vernal Falls. You essentially had to climb right next to the waterfall, and I don’t know if you’ve ever climbed next to a waterfall before, but when you do, you get absolutely drenched! We were bombarded by the sheer downpour of the cascading waterfall. The path and steps were covered in water, which made climbing way more difficult. This resulted in us needing to carefully take our time walking up this section, which ultimately meant that we got even more drenched when climbing!
By the time we made it to the top, it’s safe to say we were completely soaked, I was absolutely freezing too and my clothes were practically glued to me that’s how wet I was. I have to admit though, it felt pretty exhilarating braving the downpour of the waterfall and victoriously making it to the top, and let me tell you it was certainly worth the climb. Due to the spray of the waterfall and the bright summer sun all combined together, we got to witness a double rainbow, yes a DOUBLE RAINBOW! The views from the top of the waterfall were simply amazing. Many people were gathered here mainly to rest and to dry off a bit from the waterfall, so we followed by example and did the same.
Whilst resting and drying, Hugo and Caitlin became squirrel whisperers and started feeding from out of the palm of their hands. I envy their talents. We had a quick look a bit further up the trail and decided it would take up way too much time for us to complete and figured that it was in our best interests to go back the way we came and back to the car. But this meant getting pummeled by the waterfall again. Going down slippery and uneven rocks was pretty worrying, and I certainly wasn’t as energetic going down as I was going up. Thankfully we made it down the waterfall section of the trail and back on to the regular section alright.
One thing me and Hugo noticed on the trail was that there were a lot of Indian families on this trail along with their elderly grandmothers, we wondered why they were climbing this trail and how on earth they were going to tackle the falls! Anyway once we were back we took a very packed shuttle bus back to the car (we actually took 2 buses, as we got off at the first stop on the wrong one). We sorted ourselves out (mainly trying to dry our clothes) then set off back to San Francisco!
Hugo and Caitlin were still wanting to get a proper session at a vineyard after our failed attempts yesterday, so the hunt for wine was back on! We found one online that was in Yosemite Park and was called Butterfly Creek, Caitlin made a phone call to book a spot, but we could only leave a message on the answering machine. All we could do now was hope that we’d finally taste success. To get to the vineyard, we had to go down some very narrow country roads which reminded me a lot of the ones near where I live. We ended up on what seemed to be someones home, but it turned out that this was the vineyard! We were greeted by a very friendly sausage dog, which was a very nice surprise and indicated that someone had to be living here. We then met the owner of the vineyard and the sausage dog, we were quickly invited inside and he confirmed that he had received our message and proceeded to give us a full wine tasting session! We’d done it at last! The owner was super friendly and made the whole thing very enjoyable and amusing. I had no idea what I was drinking (other than it was wine), but it was very good, I can tell you that much at least. The sausage dog from before came in at one point during the session and we found out that his name was Jake and was described to us as “one happy camper”, he was the best and I miss him very much!
I did learn at lot about the process of making wine and how difficult it can be. The fact that it’s a family run business just made it that much more impressive. Hugo bought a bottle as a souvenir, and for the wine of course. But the vineyard owner also gave us a bottle for free which was incredibly nice of him and just goes to show how much of a great person he was. All in all it had been a very successful and enjoyable day in Yosemite Park, now the rest of the day was pretty much exclusively driving back to San Francisco. Although we weren’t actually going back into San Francisco, as we had nowhere to sleep again, so it was going to be another night in the car.
The first place we were going to try to park and sleep at was a bit of a failure as we even before getting there concluded that it was going to be pretty far from San Francisco and would be a bad idea. This was due to the fact that Hugo was catching a bus very early in the morning the next day. It was quite late by now and we were all getting a bit loopy, we kept stopping and starting on going somewhere before deciding to change our minds. We finally settled on a little car park somewhere across the bridge to San Francisco near the sea.
This was the last night the 3 of us would spend together in America, so of course we busted out the free wine (I couldn’t think of anything better to signify our friendship!). But we quickly ran into an issue, we had no corkscrew to open it! We tried using the car keys and the shoe tapping trick but neither yielded any success. Then we had a genius idea! We didn’t realise it before, but this moment had been building up ever since we were in Toronto. It was of course the umbrella! We’d been dragging it around with us for practically the entire journey across the U.S., and now it was finally it’s time to shine! With one swift jab from the end of the umbrella, Hugo was able to open the bottle. That umbrella had gone from being an annoying extra thing we had to lug around with us, to being our saviour and MVP of the trip. It’s like a character arc from a film or TV show; the unlikely hero!
It was a bizarre end to an incredible journey and it was painfully sad that I had to say goodbye to both Hugo and Caitlin both within the next 48 hours. I don’t know what I would have done without the two of them throughout my entire time in America, it would have been far more difficult and way less enjoyable without them. I’m just thankful that I went up to go and talk to them on my first day in Albany when I felt so sad and alone. It’s incredible how one simple interaction can have such an impact on one whole year of my life!
We got up as early as we could the next morning of the 5th and made our way back to San Francisco. Getting back into the city was a nightmare, as the traffic going across the bridge was only made worse by the fact that a car crash had made the queues even worse. It was going painfully slow, which was terrible as Hugo needed to catch a bus to L.A. It was all very frustrating being so close yet so far away, and unfortunately in the end Hugo missed his bus! He’d now have to wait around 4 hours until the next possible bus. Caitlin and I were taking a plane back to New York, and that wasn’t departing until late in the evening, so we stuck with Hugo until he could catch the next bus.
In the meantime, we were able to drop the car off at the rental place. We’d made sure to check everything in the morning and weren’t worried about dropping it off. A guy came over to check it, as he was doing that I noticed that the front of the car (which is white) had splashes of wine stains over it! We must have missed it due to the lack of daylight. But we managed to get away with it as he didn’t seem to say anything about it. We now had a lot of time to kill, so we just went to a nearby Starbucks and didn’t leave it for 3 hours, just talking and reminiscing. It had really all come to an end.
We returned to the bus station once again and waited for Hugo’s bus together. Once it arrived, we all went outside and said our goodbyes. Hugo and Caitlin would of course see each other again back in France, but for now, this was it for me and Hugo. Hugo is a person I admire very much, he’s an absolutely fearless person and it’s been a pleasure to be around him. He’s definitely taught me to be more adventurous and to be more brave. I can’t thank him enough for being such a central part of my time in the U.S.
Hugo would now be continuing on his own little adventure. But for myself and Caitlin, it was time for us to return to Albany one last time before heading home. We decided that it was a better idea to head to the airport sooner rather than later, so we made our way to one of the subway stations after a person at the bus station had told us that it would be quicker to take a train rather than a bus. We made it with no problems to the station, but I was pretty annoyed about the price of a ticket to the airport. It was $8.50 just for one journey! Anyway it had to be done I suppose and we did get to the airport very quickly. We checked in, got our tickets and all that we could do then was wait for our plane to arrive.
Once we did arrive in New York City, myself and Caitlin would be taking separate transportation to get to Albany. I would be leaving fairly early as I was going to be meeting my parents who’d flown over and were currently in Albany. I’d see Caitlin again at her house in Albany as the rest of my stuff was there, but it was still weird leaving her at the airport knowing I’d see her one last time later on in the day. Just like Hugo, Caitlin is a pleasure to be around, she’s always been someone that I have no problem talking to. She’s always a reassuring and friendly face when you need it, and her originally being from the UK has made her someone I can talk about home with which has been a tremendous help for me during my time in the U.S., she’s just an all around lovely person.
So that’s it. Adventure finished. It had been an absolute pleasure travelling with the new friends I’d made in the U.S. I still had more travelling waiting for me around the corner with my parents. But at this point, I consider my adventure as an exchange student in the U.S. as finished, and what an adventure it has been!
Thank you ever so much for reading this final installment of my time as a student in the U.S. From this point on I’m just a regular tourist in the U.S. There may be a few more posts in the future detailing about where I went with my parents, but that might be a long time from now. But for now I will say goodbye, and that I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these blog posts. It’s been a challenge at times, but I’m proud of what I’ve done. Until next time!