fam visit

When I met up with my family for the first time in almost eight months, I’d kind of prepared myself for a dramatic airport reunion. You know, the kind that you see at the beginning of Love Actually, when everyone is crying and happy and hugging each other. Unfortunately, my dad didn’t know what terminal I was going to arrive at when I met him and the rest of my family in San Francisco and I had to wait around at the arrivals gate whilst he was downstairs in the baggage collection area, trying to find me. (There was still a lot of hugging and happiness, so it’s not all bad.)

I was mostly just amazed at how normal it was to be with them all again after so long – there was the original “I can’t believe it’s been eight months!” of course, but within a day or so it just felt like a normal family holiday, which for us means a certain amount of bickering and things not turning out quite as we’d planned them.

Our plan was to drive from San Francisco back down to Albuquerque in just over a week, which we managed to achieve. It wasn’t all so straightforward though: we initially drove down the coast to Monterey and the Big Sur, only finding out when we got there that a collapsed bridge meant that the majority of the Big Sur coastline was closed. That’s ok, we thought, we weren’t going to go much further anyway. Why don’t we head inland and see the Sequoia trees and Kings Canyon on our way to Death Valley? A great plan, only when we got there Kings Canyon was also closed to the public. Yay.

Luckily none of us had got our hearts set on either of these places, and the rest of the trip went pretty much according to plan! Death Valley, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon (cloudy, unfortunately) and Monument Valley (also no sun), all in the space of a few days. My sister and my dad, both of whom had never been to America before, somehow managed to visit five states in under a week – pretty impressive!

One of my favourite memories of the trip was visiting Monument Valley, in Utah. Massive red rock sandstone buttes in the middle of what was basically a desert – an amazing view, although when we went it was so cloudy and dark that the red colour we knew was there had been muted to a dull brown. We were unlucky. Dad and I, however, decided that we weren’t going to take that as our only viewing of Monument Valley, and woke up at 6 a.m. the next morning to drive 45 minutes in the wrong direction to be able to see the red rocks in the sunlight. As you can see from the photo at the end of this post, it was well worth going back.

As much as it was sad to say goodbye to my family again, it wasn’t too difficult this time knowing that we only have a couple of months until I’m home again. We had a great send-off at Cheesecake Factory (the one thing my sister was most excited about), and now it’s less than two months until I get to see them again!


R.I.P. Cockroach

The other week, we got the sad news that we’d lost the Cockroach – to an engine leak.

When Study Abroad was still only a dream, my biggest goal to get out of the year was to hire a car and travel everywhere with the people I was with. I thought I might have to seriously convince people to share a car with me, and I was ready to do so – had thought up arguments for and against and was ready to go. However, I wasn’t prepared for how necessary it is to own a car in Albuquerque.

Luckily, I was talking to one of my friends on one of the first days in ABQ and she mentioned that she was planning on buying a car from a friend who was living nearby – and less than a week later, we and two others were the proud owners of the car we decided to name Cockroach. I’m still slightly unsure as to how the name came about, but it definitely stuck.

As well as ferrying us to and from Walmart, the Cock was indispensable in our road trips. Cheap petrol compared to the UK was a bonus. Our most ambitious trip was a Thanksgiving long weekend in Austin – over twelve hours in the car each way. Getting there was as good as it could be, considering the distance and that we managed to split it in half, staying somewhere overnight. Things started to go wrong on the way back from Austin… less than an hour in, my friend noticed that the engine heat was increasing pretty dramatically – to the point that we were driving around 30 mph with the windows down trying to keep the car as cool as possible. (The photo above was taken around this point.) Amazingly, we made it to a mechanic, who told us that our radiator had a leak, and that we needed to buy “at least 5-6 gallons of coolant” to get us through the rest of the journey home. A little worrying.

We decided to start off by buying two to get us through the first bit, and buy more when we needed to. We only ended up getting through one. Our journey home was a little more stressful than the way there, but in what is now quite a funny memory – we’d stop every couple of hours and everyone would have a job to do: G would fill up the petrol, Charlie would pour the coolant, and I would tell him when to stop.

The Cockroach survived for another day. (after we bought him a new radiator)

Unfortunately, it was not to last. Four months later, when our friend was driving to the airport in Denver, the Cockroach decided that enough was enough and refused to bring her home again. It’s very sad – and mostly, to be honest, because I never got to say a final farewell to it – but as the saying goes: life goes on. I guess this cockroach didn’t live forever.

New Mexico to Mexico (Spring Break!)

For Spring Break, we went to Mexico.

It surprised me, a bit, how few people we spoke to were actually going away for Spring Break unless they were international students. My flatmate had a home tennis game and then her wisdom teeth removed, and I almost felt bad that I wasn’t going to be at home to keep her company – not bad enough to not go, though!

Unfortunately Albuquerque Sunport (yes, the airport is called a Sunport) isn’t big enough to take you anywhere directly, but that meant we had six hours to wander around Phoenix in our layover and eat the best sandwich I’ve ever had, so I can’t really complain.

Puerto Vallarta itself – BEAUTIFUL. I loved the colourful buildings and how it looks a little run down but isn’t really, and the money side of me liked how a lovely meal and a glass of wine was just over $10. On the first night we went to a restaurant where they provided ‘chips and dip’ and brought a table over to create the guacamole right in front of our eyes. Needless to say we finished that off very quickly (and the fishbowl-sized margaritas)!

On our first night out, we met a woman at our hostel who quickly invited us to a party she and her girlfriend were having the following day, on a rooftop overlooking the sea. Who would say no to that! It was only when I looked at the facebook event later that I realised we’d actually been invited to her engagement party. It was the most surreal afternoon – our group made up about half of the people there, and we’d only met her the night before. We drank beer and went for a dip in the pool and wore glow in the dark wristbands and watched the most beautiful sunset over the sea. The best part of the night, though, was an impromptu speech from one of the other guests – a self-proclaimed traveller who had been divorced twice before her current marriage and was telling us to never give up and to do whatever we wanted, fuck what anyone else thought of it. I’m upset that I didn’t record her, because it was so inspirational it gave me shivers and I don’t remember it well enough to recreate it.

One of the bars – my favourite; we called it the Cow bar because we could never remember its name and it had a huge cow out the front – also had a swing that was positioned over the bar. Naturally, this made it my favourite place. Being able to go on a swing that high up with a view of the broadwalk, palm trees and the ocean…what could be better? This bar was also my favourite for another reason: the uniform of the barmen and women (also sold as merchandise) was a t-shirt and cap saying “FUCK DONALD TRUMP and his wall”. We went there a few times, to say the least.

I don’t think I can leave this post without mentioning Eric, our hostel owner. He was the most amazing person who took us out every night and knew all our names within the first two days. He made the holiday as amazing as it was. Eric, we love you.

Although we were upset to leave, I was looking forward to being in my comfortable bed again rather than a solid hostel bunk bed. And, luckily for us, the weather back in Albuquerque was exactly the same as in Mexico and allowed us to have two lovely days (and a BBQ) by the pool before we had to jump back into work again. 😎



Three things…

I’ve been here for six months now, over half way through my year abroad, so I feel like I’m fairly qualified to give my own version of three things I wish I’d known before starting my year in America.

1. How much fruit costs over here. When I first picked up a bag of satsumas and saw the $6 price tag, I genuinely thought it had been placed on the wrong item. Unfortunately not. I am now living off bananas and apples, the two cheapest fruits. This has also made me come to hate Brexit more than I thought I would because of  the deterioration of the pound – how much money I would have if we’d remained in the EU!

2. TAXES!!! I had vague knowledge about American taxes, and knew that they would be added on at the end, but nothing prepared me for the confusion of coming out of the Dollar Store in the first week and looking at my receipt to find that my total was 11.57. Likewise, whenever I buy a Wendy’s 4-for-4 (chips, burger, chicken nuggets and a drink for $4 – amazing, I know), and get four dollar notes ready and waiting only to be reminded that it’s actually four-dollars-thirty-something. Also, endless irritation when booking hotel rooms – only $45 for two nights? Sounds great! Although that’s actually over $50 with tax and everything ….

3. Everyone said it before I came, but everyone’s so helpful and interested as soon as they hear our accents and that we were new in town. When he found out it was our very first day, our uber driver cancelled our payment half way through the trip to Walmart and gave us a tour of Albuquerque on the way there. Teachers have also been very accommodating in terms of letting me on to full classes when they learn that I’m an exchange student!

On a side note – a word of warning if you will – the switch next to the kitchen sink makes a horribly loud noise and destroys everything that is in the sink. Whilst this is incredibly useful and a life saver for someone who hates pulling damp food out of the drain, it’s utterly terrifying to come across when you’re just trying to find out how to turn off the oven light in the middle of the night. Just to let you know, from experience.

An unusual weekend

I have to say, I don’t think I’m ever going to have a weekend again where I’m sunbathing in my bikini on the Friday at a pool party, and going skiing the next day. Albuquerque’s got some intense weather differences going on at the moment, and I definitely made the most of them last weekend!

It’s cold now, snowed last night kind of cold, but this time last week the weather was in the teens (celsius, no matter how long I’m here I will never understand farenheight) and heading up. Friday was scheduled to be a whopping 24 degrees – in February! I know! – and we made the most of it by spending the whole day at the pool. We got burnt, we played with a frisbee, we stuffed our faces with an amazing BBQ, and we had a great time in the pool – in February! I know I’m banging on about it but who wouldn’t! – and the hot tub. And then put photos of the day all over social media to make everyone back home jealous. (Sorry.)

Saturday morning, however, was a different story. No lazy lie-in now; we were up at 5.30am for a three hour bus journey up to a small ski resort called Sipapu, which must be about the only place in New Mexico that still has snow. I’d never been skiing before, never thought I would like it much, but I couldn’t pass up on a day trip to do something I’d never done before. Luckily, I wasn’t the only one in our group who’d never been skiing before. Unfortunately, the ski slopes in Sipapu weren’t particularly accommodating for such beginners, with the difficulty level going from a slope that was almost flat to one that was incredibly steep: at one point, wanting to go on the chair lift at least once, my friend and I thought we would have to ride the lift up and then take it back down again, because we’d never get the hang of it! I spent the majority of the first couple of hours on my arse and laughing at my friend also on her arse, but after lunch we decided to bite the bullet and do one of the green slopes. And  from then, no one could stop us! (Apart from sudden corners. Or coming across a snowboarder. Or laughing so hard we fell over. Or- I think you get the gist.)

As much as my knees are hurting now – who would’ve thought I had muscles there? – I’ve had the most insane weekend, and actually tanned more when skiing than sunbathing! Typical. Let’s just hope the sun comes back to Albuquerque soon, and in the meantime I’ll finally get round to watching Breaking Bad.

(If anyone wants to know what I did on Sunday? I spent the whole day doing my homework for the week. It may not look like I’m doing any work, but I just prefer to make people jealous by talking about the cool stuff I’m doing rather than my homework!)