Road trip to the Golden State! Day 6 (The Grand day)

We woke up and showered away all the white sand from our bodies (except Mansi’s hair). Refreshed, we ate whole heartedly (yet again) and hit the road towards Arizona, making our way towards our grand destination – The Grand Canyon! Thanks to our great luck and our awesome Dr. Eggroll’s persistence, we had managed to get lodging within the canyons. As the canyons got closer, our excitement got bigger.

Before we left, Dana had told us that this was the best place she had ever been to (and we all know she has gone places.) with very picturesque views! And yet, we were stunned by the first glimpse! We stopped at Yavapai point before checking in at our lodge, Vikas made Prash and Mansi close their eyes as he guided them to the edge of the south rim. He didn’t want to leave “being blown away” to any chances. After the initial shock of being so close to the edge, all three of us just allowed ourselves to absorb and immerse into the enormity of the place. It was breathtaking, spectacular, beautiful and honestly, quite indescribable!

    

The panoramic view of the canyons kind of plays with your heart at first as you look down, then with your eyes as you try to perceive their depth, and finally, your mind, as you start wondering how all of this could have been created!

We reached our hotel and checked in at about 3.45 PM. Our room was in a quaint little lodge called “Bright Angel’s Lodge” and to our luck, our room was all the way at the back end, a 30 second walk from the south rim!

          

Following the ranger’s suggestion, we boarded the free shuttle that took us all the way to the west end of the south rim: The Hermit’s Rest (about 7 miles from our lodge).

   

From there, we walked along the south rim trail for a mile before we decided to take a shuttle back to a point (Mohave point) that was a little closer to our lodge (still about 3 miles out), and one that provided us with a good view of the sunset. About a hundred other people had similar ideas, and to avoid the crowd, we started making quick strides towards the next vista point on the trail from Mohave point in order to find a quieter place. The trail to the next point was rougher than we thought, and hence we started looking for a west-facing spot along the trail to not miss the sunset.  We were fortunate to find a perfect one – a quiet spot to the three of us, with just 10 minutes to go for sunset.

  

After being completely mesmerized, we finally started making our way back towards our lodge. We had pre-planned dinner (take-out pizza) to be enjoyed under the stars with some hot chocolate! The temperatures were in the low 40’s by now! brrrrr! All in all, a grand day at the Grand Canyons.

But wait, there was more to come. As we were finishing up our dinner, a park ranger informed us about a few elks that had come out to graze behind a neighboring lodge. To our amazement, we witnessed 3 elks just lazily grazing in the grass. Despite our several attempts, we couldn’t gather the courage to go close enough to capture their picture in the darkness . So you will have to just trust us that this silhouette is actually one of them 🙂

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Road trip to the Golden State! Day 5 (From under the Earth to Heaven)

We woke up bright and early today as our plan promised a day of adventure and fun. This was the first day that we were going to see natural wonders (although Vikas and Prashanth strongly argued that what they saw in New Orleans were NATURAL wonders too ;).  Quick showers and a HEARTY breakfast later, we were off towards Carlsbad Caverns National Park: the world’s largest caves, 7500 feet deep!! We were awed even before we got to the caves, such noobs! We were in for a surprise as we made our way down the caves: there was a giant cave entrance with steep walkways together with the smell of damp bat poop a.k.a Guano.

As we passed into complete darkness (that’s a lie, the area was lit pretty well), we wondered what it would feel to be early explorers of the caves without any artificial lights which were keeping us on our paths.

One of the signs read that without any artificial lights, we wouldn’t have been able to see our hands even if we held them right in front of our eyes.

We spend quite some time admiring the “Big room”, which was a ginormous cavity created by fallen rocks inside the caves.

  

Vikas wanted to maintain his tradition of inspecting the bathrooms at all the places. It is almost unbelievable to imagine how arrangements were made for restrooms and lights so far inside the caves where anything could fall and just shake the entire construction apart. To save time, we took the elevators for our way back up. Well amazed by the caverns, we then hit the road to make our way towards White Sands National Monument.

After 3 hours of scenic driving, going up and down the mountains several times, and often wondering if there really was a white desert amidst those mountains, we arrived at White Sands. Once again, we were in for a surprise! At the information center we bought a Sand Sled from the gift shop, really just a big ass Frisbee as Vikas later demonstrated. We were quite excited by then, and started driving into the Dunes. Instantly, the scenery changed all around us. The place was inconspicuously hidden away, almost completely invisible from the road. Surrounded by white sand dunes in all directions on ground and ominous rain filled clouds in the vicinity, the place looked rather surreal.

   

The three of us ran up and sled down the sand dunes like free souls.  Next, we had to try our luck sand sledding. Vikas went first,  *plop* went his butt. (Also checkout the video for Prash and Vikas’ real-time performance: http://youtu.be/JNRZIggGAAc)

  

“It is everything I had imagined heaven would be like minus the seven virgins” – Vikas exclaimed.

We left the sands, and started on our way to Albuquerque. We wanted to have some Mexican food before we left New Mexico, so we found a quaint little place that server “New Mexican” food called Casa De Suenos and had some Enchiladas and Sopapillos. And then a short drive. Sweet dreams y’all!

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Road trip to the Golden State! Day 4 (a long long drive)

Another slow start to the day, lazed around till 10:30. Finally, we woke up, ate a nice lunch at Swami’s place and went out to have some fun and play games at adventure city in Plano. We played a lot of arcade games — Air Hockey, Basketball, DDR, and tried our hands at some fast baseball pitches from a ball slinger. After a day of fun, we returned to Swami’s place, picked up our bags and left for Carlsbad.

The drive to Carlsbad was as unadventurous as it could be, nothing special, just some blinding rain for most part in Texas :).

Not like that made Vikas’ driving any different. You know, how they say everything is BIG in Texas.  So are the stretches between gas stations. About 75 miles from Carlsbad, we almost ran outta gas, but we found a seven eleven (thank you gujju uncle!) that helped us refuel and reenergize. Vikas got Mansi and Prash cups of coffee with lots of flavor (Since Vikas doesn’t drink coffee he just made a concoction of whatever he could find at the coffee bar). That helped us cover the last stretch and reach Carlsbad just a tad before 1 AM. We fell asleep in an instant.

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Road trip to the Golden State! – Day 3 (The sweet memories of cricket!)

Waking up to the smell of Indian food. Everyone else was awake, had their morning coffee, showered, done morning prayers, cooked food, and swami had left for work. The fragrances and everyone’s morning chatter made Vikas finally get outta bed, realizing that he didn’t want to miss out on delicious food and any conspiracies against him.

Mansi on the other hand woke up to the barks of two little cute dogs (Prashanth’s sister is a dog-lover :D) who she was terrified off. After a few laughs from Prashanth and Vikas about her fears of dogs, she finally pretended to smile for the camera as they made her hold one of the dogs in her arms.

After a morning of lazing around (and picking Mansi and Prashanth up), it was brunch time! With so many of the things on the table, we didn’t know where to start. Vikas went for sweets first – homemade modak and badam burfi! Aunty and Vaishnavi have a magical hand in the kitchen. They first built our appetite up by different aromas and then taste of the food – yum, darn I started salivating just thinking about it.

Post lunch, Vikas gathered Swami and his mom around the computer to show them the pictures that Dana had put together. To give them a flavor of what he had been doing since they last met – thank you again Dana (Picture). Next, Swami had an evening of cricket planned for us. Swami and Vikas used to be great cricket buddies, so it was reliving those days from 2005 for them – playing cricket matches under the lights at Lake Alice.

An hour in the Sun, and some taunts flying back and forth on the pitch. Tired, we returned to his apartment. Next stop was going to be Swami’s new house that he is building, due to be ready in late May. If we thought that Huge Ass Beer (at Bourbon Street) was big, we had are jaws drop again when we saw his new living room and a walk-in closet in the master bathroom. To celebrate his soon-to-be ready new house we made our way to Bamboo Gardens (indo-chinese cuisine) for dinner, where once again Vikas proved his belly was no less than Buddha’s!!

After two giant meals for the day, we decided to part ways: Mansi and Prashanth drove off to his sister’s place in Arlington while Vikas and Swami’s family made their way back to their home. Another great day with family and friends and fun (and for Vikas – FOOD and FOOD and FOOD). We look forward to tomorrow being just as great and with those dreams in mind – Good night folks!

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Road trip to the Golden State! Day 2

Day2:

It was 8 O’ Clock! And thankfully, no hangovers.  A quick breakfast at the hotel – some good ol’ toast, cereal, grits, coffee and orange juice (yes the three of us were quite hungry, so we ate it all – which really means VIKAS ATE IT ALL), and we were on the road. We crossed four different states yesterday.  But today, it was just going to be a long long ride into Texas. Vikas was excited about meeting his friend (Swami) after four years! And Prashanth, his sister. Mansi, we think, was just happy to be alive amongst the coolest people. (you can guess who wrote that part).

The drive was long with frequent stops (ahem, at the end of the day we decided Vikas needs diapers). The mile markers kept flying by, as the trip tracker racked up miles. Now, a thousand miles away from home.

The thought brought a little sadness to me. Then again, I convinced myself that it is just a two-year vacation and I will be back in Gainesville.

Reached Swami’s place and three of us were reminded of our homes – a warm welcome by Swami, his wife, and Uncle and Aunty (his parents). Vikas was seeing his friend, Uncle and Aunty after 4 years, and his wife Vaishnavi, for the first time. We couldn’t have been hungrier, and couldn’t have eaten more. We were treated to some of the best homemade food – pongal, dosa, sambhar, tomato chutney, mysore pa, and pal gum. Yum!

Prashanth and Mansi got picked up by Prashanth’s sister where they were going to crash for the night. Funny how awesome food leads to awesome sleep.  Good night everyone!

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Road trip to the Golden State!

Day 1:

After having spent a good part of the last decade in Gainesville, It was hard to say goodbye. It was harder to leave some special friends, some of whom I have known for almost a decade, others for a shorter time, but it felt like a lifelong friendship nonetheless.  Hugs, wishes, and notes from Philips, Gautam (thank you for the Mochas!) , Abhijeet, Namrata (thanks for packing us lunch Namzy!!), Rick and Dana were perfect, but a little too much for me to hide my emotions behind my glassy eyes.  Thank you all for your love, care, friendship, and for sharing millions of magical moments that I will cherish forever. So long dear friends. I am going to miss you tons!

While I wait to get my FB profile up, we (Mansi, Prashanth and I) decided to collectively share updates about our trip everyday through this blog. We hope to keep it updated.

Stopping at every state border for a picture (at times doing a Gautam) ,

we finally reached Nawlins at 5pm. Thanks to the difference in time zone, we reached our destination almost in time (only 2 hrs late :). We had stopped for lunch a Derailed Diner (in Alabama) for lunch (thanks Dana, for telling us about it). We had our lunch at two different tables to enjoy various exhibits that the place had to share.

Then the boys got ready for their night out at the infamous bourbon street! Decked in colorful beads and glasses we (really just the boys ;)) headed out towards the French Quarters. We made our way along the river towards Café Du Monde for their famous Beignets!

Mansi, sensing a crazy evening ahead, wanted her moment of peace, and made us sit on the rocks by river bank.  (We have never seen Prashanth this scared for our well-being – his worry: sitting on a pile of loose rocks = us hurting ourselves by falling on the rocks).  Onto the beignets: sugar-laden, fried, delicious sin! Sugar high is not a fictitious phenomenon, so lets blame it on the sugar! Inspired by Sasha Baron Cohen antics at the Oscars, in her infinite wisdom, Mansi thought it was funny to pour half a saucer full of powdered sugar onto Vikas’ black shirt which was not salvageable for the evening!  A quick walk back to the car and a shirt-change later, we made our way into the heart of French Quarter streets.  The atmosphere was still quiet as we made our way past Patty O’Brien’s towards the Bourbon Street. [BTW Mansi, watchout for Vikas’ comeback during the trip!]

Words cannot describe the expression on the boys’ faces as the evening grew into night. Cute girls, check. Hot girls, check. Skimpily clad-girls, check. Drunk girls, check.  All of the above, CHECK! Prashanth  kept his eyes open wide, while Vikas kept his mouth held wide (extra oxygen of course). A Hand Grenade and Big Ass Beer later  ,

the girls looked prettier than ever! The most fascinating part – all the ladies, young and old, dressed up or down, had this indescribable, magical attraction towards these shiny, spherical objects strung together – a.k.a. Beads,  and were willing to go strange distances just to get some (more)! Some of us were just happy to enjoy the show J. Before the night was over, we also saw a drunken man spank a patrolling horse, and then get taken down by the cop riding the horse! Prashanth captured the scene for his potential iReport on CNN.

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