View of the mission from the top of our hostel
So, we are now in San Francisco!
We awoke after far too little sleep in a not so nice hotel and had to pack up our stuff and leave at midday. We had only booked in for one night as we were arriving so late and most hostels dont check in after midnight. We had to trek across downtown from Chinatown to the Mission District. The Mission is a rather run down area, with a lot of thrift stores and bargain shops.
California Sea lions invade the pier
It houses a large Hispanic communty, to the point where a lot of billboard ads are in Spanish, without an English translation. Our hostel, was located on top of (and below) a restaurant and was more like a hotel as it didnt have a kitchen or any common rooms! All it had was a few computer terminals and a couple of sofas plonked in the hallways outside the lift. The restaurant had a rooftop bar, which meant our room, which was directly below was very noisy until very late at night. The room itself was nice and spacious with an ensuite bathroom (we booked a private room) but the hostel could have been better.
We decided to explore Fishermans Wharf on our first day. We caught the bus down to the ferry plaza then walked up past all the piers to pier 39. This pier holds just about every kind of gift/souviner shop you could ever want.
From magnet shops to clothes shops and everything inbetween this pier has it! We looked around for a while then bought an ice cream and went to see the real stars of the pier. A huge group of Californian Sea lions have decided to make on of the docks on pier 39 their unofficial sunbathing deck. The group is mostly male Sea lions so squabbles over territory are frequent, with one male in particular fending off two rivals at once, causing the audience to cheer when he managed to shove them both back into the water.
The next day we visited the Aquarium of the bay. The aquarium wasnt very big compared to some we've been to but it has an underwater tunnel system where we could walk under the bay through a huge plexiglass tunnel and see sharks, rays and a host of fish & starfish all around as well as above us.
Guide dog puppies!
Inbetween the tunnels there was a section containing little windows which when you looked into you could see eggs of the rays. One section of the egg had been removed and replaced with a transparent film so you could actually see the baby ray inside. It was amazing to see this tiny animal developing in front of you, still safely coccooned inside its eggsac. The aquarium also had a film on the plight of sharks, showing how vunerable they are to mans obsession with them being such a dangerous predator and Chinas growing consumption of shark fin soup. A barbaric tradition of catching sharks, cutting off their fins them throwing the shark back into the water, most often still alive only to endure a slow and painful death.
That evening we explored the Castro, which is the heart of San Frans gay life.
Taking a break on the beach
We first had dinner at a little Mexican place (god bless Mexican food!) which made our burritos in front of us then we headed to The Bar, somewhere our guide book told us was a good mix of people and good music. We manged to get a seat along the wall and spent the evening chilling out. It was a very funny evening as we watched several drunk men dance rather badly right in front of us!
On Thursday we caught the Golden Gate Transit bus out to San Rafael, where there is a Guide Dog training centre which supplies guide dogs to people all over the States and Canada. We were taken on a tour of the facilites, which are very impressive! The centre has 200 paid staff and 700 volunteers, which include families who keep the breeders, puppy socialisers, host families who keep the dogs for a year and give them basic training and socialise them to a wide variety of sights, sounds and environments.
Taking a rest halfway to the bridge
A guide dog must be calm in any situation and know how to handle it safely. After this time the dogs come back to the centre to begin a 3 month training course in how to be a guide dog. The centre also has a training school for the visually impared people wanting a dog, teaching them how to walk with a guide dog, the commands they need to say to the dog and how to look after their dog. The humans training takes one month, and the trainers who work with the dogs also work with the blind people and are the ones who match dog and human together, ensuring the correct pairing of personalites. They also have a graduation at the end of the month where the people who fostered the dog for the first year of its life officially hand over their dog to the blind person. Its a very tearful and emotional day by all accounts. We got to see some puppies playing so we were happy.
The Golden Gate Bridge
Yesterday we hired a couple of bikes and rode along the water, across the Golden Gate Bridge and down to Sausalito. Now this may sound easy but it was actually 8 miles in total with a lot of very steep hills thrown in for good measure! We had to admit defeat on the hills and walk our bikes up them, while lots of people sailed past us with apparent ease *pokes out tongue at them*. Going down the hills was a lot more fun, as the breeze created brought a welcome relief from the 70F sun (I still managed to get sunburned shoulders). When we finally got to Sausalito we bought ourselves an ice cream as a reward and sat by the water watching a middle aged man balancing rocks on top of each other.
Most people can place one rock on top of another but he was balancing these rocks on their points, on the corner of the rock below, the only thing keeping them upright was the knack of this guy to find the counterbalance point. It was pretty cool as he was balancing some heavy rocks.
We caught the ferry back, along with several hundred other bike riders. We sailed past Alcatraz (which we are going to on Sunday) then when we reached the other side chaos errupted. We were informed by the ferry staff we had to carry our bikes up a flight of stairs to exit the boat. This was not a welcome surprise and everyone was eager to get off so were pulling ther bikes out of the racks and trying to heave them over the other bikes and peoples heads to be first out, We hung back and let everyone else get themselves into tizzy, waiting until most people had disembarked before carrying our bikes off and cycled back to the rental place to hand them back. By the end we were very tired, very achy (I now understand why they are called Blazing Saddles! *rubs bottom*) but very happy wth ourselves.