Sunday, December 28, 2003

Southern California and Las Vegas trip report

The break has been great as Dad took us and my aunts Wei-Jen and Wei-Feng on a road trip down south. We left on the 23rd and got back tonight. Our itinerary included Anaheim, Las Vegas and several national parks. Though I had been to most of the places, the vacation couldn't have been better.

Day 1

Before the trip began, my parents rented an SUV as there was no way to fit all of our luggage into a sedan. It was then time to hit the road. Dad made a stop at Casa de Fruta in Hollister so my aunts could look around. The fruit stand was huge and full of snacks. I took the opportunity to buy a bag of potato chips. Wei-Feng said it was delicious.

The other stop along the way was a restaurant in Bakersfield for dinner. I was a little nervous because someone had recently died from the flu in Bakersfield, but luckily nothing happened to us. I'm probably worrying too much.

Our party arrived in Anaheim a few hours later. All of us were pretty tired and went to bed after checking into the hotel.

Day 2

They say no trip to Southern California is complete without a visit to Disneyland. However, I had been there before and wanted to go somewhere else. Dad eventually decided to go to Joshua Tree National Park after dropping Wei-Jen and Wei-Feng off at the Happiest Place on Earth.

Joshua Tree National Park was much further than we expected. The park is named for the strange-looking trees that are native to the area. The fields were full of them as far as the eye could see. Of note is that it was extremely windy outside. Because it was getting late - and there was a long drive to Anaheim - we turned back shortly afterwards.

It started raining as we began to leave. The rain was so heavy that the road was wet within minutes. Despite the severe weather, everyone was speeding - like going 80 mph or more. This was the scariest part of the trip. Imagine my relief when we arrived in Anaheim after a harrowing two hours. Had we known better, I'd have gone to Disneyland instead.

Speaking of which, my aunts were still there. The three of us made our way to the Happiest Parking Lot on Earth and took Wei-Jen and Wei-Feng back to our hotel. They were drenched in the rain but otherwise had a great time.

Day 3

I woke up to some good news: Dad checked my e-mail and found out I was accepted into SJSU for next fall. This was like an early Christmas present as the decisions generally don't come until March or April. At least I have somewhere to go!

The main stop of the day was Universal Studios Hollywood. Though we had been here too, Mom felt we shouldn't leave my aunts on their own again. After all, theme parks can also be fun in the company of others.

Our day began with the Mummy Returns: Chamber of Doom attraction. There was a little mishap: I had played a bit too much Quake lately and pretended to be an action hero by fighting the zombies in the halls. Unbeknownst to me, they were real actors. I'm surprised I didn't get kicked out after accidentally punching one of them in the face. *sheepish grin*

One popular attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood is the Studio Tour. It hadn't changed much and was just as fun as we remembered. Lunch consisted of chicken tenders from Doc Brown's Chicken and a large pizza. I should mention that everything was very expensive. There was plenty of time for other attractions in the afternoon. T2 3-D: Battle Across Time and Back to the Future: The Ride were among my favorites.

Although we prefer natural places over amusement parks, all of us had a great time at Universal Studios Hollywood. Long lines aside, this was the best part of the trip.

Day 4

The drive to Las Vegas was uneventful, although we arrived later than expected due to traffic. There was still enough time to explore the Strip after checking into Stratosphere Las Vegas. This was a relaxing way to end the day. Back in our room, I played Quake for a bit before going to bed.

Day 5

It was time to leave for Barstow after a good night's sleep. Along the way was a town called Pahrump. One thing that caught my eye was the large number of fireworks stores. I visited the Phantom Fireworks and was impressed by what they had. This was a memorable experience even though we didn't buy any fireworks.

I bought two more bags of potato chips and some sweets at a gas station while my parents got prune juice at Walgreens to treat Wei-Jen's constipation. For those unaware, prune juice is a great remedy when you can't poop. This was something we had been looking for since the trip began. It was a relief when we finally found some!

Our journey brought us to Death Valley National Park in the afternoon. Death Valley is easily one of the most unique places in the world. The downside is that we didn't still get to see Ubehebe Crater because of time constraints. Oh well. I guess that's something to consider for our next trip.

Wei-Jen soon started feeling ill. Dad feared she had altitude sickness but soon realized that she really needed to use the bathroom. The laxative properties of the prune juice were apparently starting to take effect. Let's just say we had to make several "emergency stops" in Death Valley in the middle of the night. *whistles innocently*

All craziness aside, our party arrived in Barstow without any problems. I spent the rest of the evening playing The Incredible Machine 3 on my laptop.

Day 6

We left Barstow and arrived in Sequoia National Park after a four-hour drive. There wasn't much to do here because it was freezing outside and snow was everywhere. That said, the scenery was beautiful. The not-so-fun part is that I slipped on the ice and hurt my butt outside a visitor center. Shit happens.

Dad wanted to visit the Kings Canyon National Park too, but the route was closed for the winter. However, that wasn't a problem because we had been there before. Our final stop of the day was our hotel in Oakhurst - the same place we stayed at on our trip to Yosemite earlier this year.

Day 7

The highlight of the day was Yosemite National Park - one of our favorite places. The weather was really cold here as well. On the other hand, Dad found a picnic area that turned out to be the perfect spot for lunch. I also enjoyed visiting Yosemite Village and the stores there.

Mom saw wolves trudging through the snow at one point and stopped the car so we could get pictures. I started freaking out as soon as my aunts opened their windows because I was afraid the wolves would jump in and attack us. However, they didn't even bat an eye as they passed our car. Perhaps I'm too paranoid. I definitely felt like an asshole for yelling at my aunts. :-(

One of our family traditions is to eat at the Kowloon Chinese Restaurant in San Mateo on the way home from a trip. But things weren't the same: the restaurant has been renamed, the menus have changed and everything was more expensive. After finding out the food wasn't as good as it used to be, none of us wanted to eat here anymore. It was sad to see this tradition end. :-(

Conclusions

Just because we had been to most of the places doesn't mean we didn't have fun. The company of my aunts made the trip even better. It's not often that we get to travel with other people.

On the whole, my favorite stop was Universal Studios. This was nice for a change as we rarely go to theme parks nowadays. I certainly wouldn't mind checking out the other theme parks in Southern California.

Our original itinerary included Grand Canyon National Park as well, but my aunts didn't want us to spend so much money on them. It was ultimately decided to skip Grand Canyon, especially considering that we had been there before. This shortened our trip by about two days but also reduced the cost by several hundred dollars. I truly appreciate the consideration.

All in all, everyone greatly enjoyed this vacation. I look forward to taking Wei-Jen and Wei-Feng on more trips in the future.

Currently playing: The Incredible Machine 3

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