Month: May 2017

Falun Gong

Falun Gong

There’s a large Chinese community in San Francisco. This group are doing Falun Gong (or Falun Dafa). It’s a Chinese spiritual practice that combines meditation and qigong exercises with a moral philosophy centred on truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance.

But you won’t see this sight in China. Since 1999, it’s been a proscribed activity. Perhaps the authorities didn’t like its popularity, its moral and spiritual content, and its independence from the Communist Party.

It’s reported that Falun Gong practitioners in China are subject to a wide range of human rights abuses, including imprisonment and even death as a result of torture in custody. Some observers report that tens of thousands may have been killed to supply China’s organ transplant industry.

And yes, until we were handed a leaflet, we were unaware of any of this.

A moment on The Bridge

A moment on The Bridge

This post covers a tragic and very sad event that took place on the Golden Gate Bridge which some readers may find distressing.

There are uplifting reasons to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. To marvel close up at the engineering. To gaze across at the San Francisco skyline. To take that widely-shared selfie.

Another reason is to take your own life.

At regular intervals there are notices encouraging potential jumpers to press a button and talk to a counsellor. Yet, despite campaigns going back decades, there is still no protective fence preventing anyone pulling themselves up over the four-foot high barrier.

At the mid-point, Hilary marches on ahead whilst Roger and Stephanie (Hilary’s sister who has flown out to join us) turn back. Passing her, Roger notices the lone young woman standing by the barrier looking out into the distance, but there is nothing to directly suggest what will happen seconds later.

A cry.

Her body is directly below us floating away into the bay. Only an English couple on bikes and a young girl from the Philippines had actually seen her go over. It has all happened so quickly. All of us shaken, waving hopelessly to a tourist boat some way off.

So sad.

Bridge Protection Officers on the scene in minutes say it happens “Too often”. A flare is launched to track the current.

Roger picks up the woman’s black backpack left on the walkway; it’s completely empty except for some face cream. An Officer implies she wore it to blend in, “They often make many visits to work out how to avoid detection”.

The black backpack – where the young woman left it before she jumped

Asked by Roger and Stephanie why there was no protection fence, the Officer says matter of factly “There are agreed plans to put a steel netting out on either side, but the money is still not fully available yet. It will cost millions.”

On Wikipedia a graph indicates around 30-40 people jump from the bridge each year. Surviving is very, very rare.

As she floats away, we see no attempt to retrieve the young woman. The girl from the Philippines cries on Roger’s shoulder “I was the last person she looked at”.


San Francisco tourism

San Francisco tourism

Memorial Weekend in America’s most European city, 60 years on from the Summer of Love. The squares were full of youngsters picnicking. Golden Gate Park full of families and couples out for a stroll or a cycle.

We stayed airbnb in the desirable Noe Valley area, taking the J line tram into downtown. Joined by Hilary’s sister Stephanie we simply enjoyed being tourists.

Built on 43 hills, this is a city with views. Also a place with charm and elegance. We were surprised how many of the historic buildings survive.

We are joined for the next 10 days by Hilary’s sister Stephanie. Here they are pictured on Fisherman’s Wharf with Alcatraz in the background.
Hilary at the Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park. Here there are 55 acres of gardens displaying over 8500 different plants.
The view across Richmond and Seacliff districts from the observation deck at the de Young Museum.
Cars driving down the eight switchbacks on Lombard Road.
And off the main tourist trail – a great idea is showers for the homeless
Hitchcock and Ansel Adams

Hitchcock and Ansel Adams

In March 1962, Hitchcock filmed scenes for his horror film The Birds fifty miles north of San Francisco in the little hamlet of Bodega.

The killing by the birds of schoolteacher Annie Haywood takes place in front of the church Saint Teresa of Avila. And it’s this beautiful place of worship that’s also featured in a stand-out image by American photographer Ansel Adams taken in 1953.

Below we show Adams iconic image alongside a picture taken by Roger. It reveals that photography is not just about great framing. It’s down to selecting the right light and also being there before the approach was hideously disfigured. What a shame about the tarmac – fit for an RV site, not a historical church.

Meanwhile next door to the church, the owners have done a great job renovating the 1873-built Potter Schoolhouse also featured in the film
“Standing Tall” – Thoughts from the World

“Standing Tall” – Thoughts from the World

Reflections from a few of the most emotional, beautiful and obscure places in the world. Thoughts from the World is an occasional series of posts from Roger about travelling for inspiration.

Feeling like a Victorian plant hunter, I follow the instructions: Park there, walk for 200 yards, take the first trail on the left, look for the fallen giant, head through the gap cut in the trunk, go forward and you’ll see it. 

Now I sit at this top-secret location looking at the fourth tallest tree in the world. Until three even taller Coast Redwood trees were discovered a few miles north, it used to be the highest.

A massive trunk ascends into the tree canopy. The top at 371.1 feet so high it’s impossible to see.

Amongst such an incredible natural sight, often the best word to ask is How? How does a tree grow this tall? How does it create all this wood and bark out of thin air and water? How, despite all the storms and earthquakes, does it survive for 2000 years?

At school we are taught about chemical reactions and in particularly photosynthesis; sunlight, water and carbon dioxide creating organic compounds and oxygen. But here in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park it seems incredible that such scale and might results from millions and millions of tiny molecular interactions.

No wonder forestry experts such as Peter Wohlleben in his best selling book The Hidden Life of Trees speculate that trees have a sixth-sense. They sense danger, they feel pain, they look out for each other.

In this Californian forest, whilst our world has been transformed, the so-called Stratosphere Giant has reached for the sky; silently, unobserved, unfazed. One sunbeam at a time. One sea mist at a time. One intake of carbon dioxide at a time.

95% of these magnificent Coast Redwoods are gone; destroyed in a logger’s orgy of destruction. This tree survived axes and chain saws and never became a robber-baron’s home in San Francisco.

A Thought from the World

“Whatever the world throws at you, stand tall. Reach for the sun and lift yourself off the ground.”

Three things we might want to do

Plant a Redwood. You can buy self-planting kits online.

Go for a forest walk and hug at least three trees

Stretch up to the ceiling ten times every morning

Travel Tips 10 – Camping USA

Travel Tips 10 – Camping USA

We’ve just finished 13 nights camping in Oregon and California; our longest period of continuous camping ever! And it didn’t rain once. 12 nights in State Park campsites – with the 13th in a commercial RV site. We had no option with the last evening as it was Memorial Weekend and all the State Parks were booked.

We chose to camp for two reasons: ability to sleep in beautiful places and when you are spending several weeks in the USA you save a lot of money (approx $30 – $40 a night) over motels.

Here are some tips if this appeals to you:

  •  The State Parks are much better than private, commercial campsites. They are well managed, people are quiet so you get a good sleep and they are in scenic locations. Whereas private parks pack campers into tiny plots in not very scenic places and charge more.
  • At a State Park you get your own plot, picnic table, parking place and BBQ Pit. Also if you are in bear territory you get a metal box for all your food, toothpaste and anything else that smells.
  • Because they get so busy, it’s best to book ahead for the State Parks. If you do, you can turn up later in the evening knowing you have a secured site.
  • It’s easy to use the State Parks’ online booking sites. But when you pick your site try and stay clear of being too close to the washroom area and any roads.
  • Costs are $20-$30 per night (toilets, water and showers are provided), but in California you’ll need quarter dollar coins for hot showers.
  • There is always a Park Host (warden) who lives there and sorts things
  • You can buy logs at $5 a bundle and have great camp fires; Roger relived his Boy Scout days.
  • We bought all our equipment in Walmart for about $260.
  • In May it is still very cold at night, often frosty, so use a thick sleeping bag.

This is one of our occasional tips for middle aged gap year travellers. To see the others, click below on the link – Travel Tips

America in a cafe

America in a cafe

We got a warm welcome and more at Mario’s little cafe and bakery in Ferndale.

Mario (pictured above with his son) moved here eight years ago. It was a big decision – friends told Mario he was mad to leave his San Francisco lifestyle for an isolated, rural area so different in social values.

On the one hand, he’s gained so many new friends who have rallied around in his hours of need. On the other, he hates the lack of diversity here and is more fearful for the future of America and the world than ever.

Keen to do his bit, he signed up to the A Place at the Table for Everyone initiative and has been pleasantly surprised that the sign (so far) hasn’t been defaced or removed.


Ferndale – ‘Cream City’

Ferndale – ‘Cream City’

The ‘Redwoods curtain’ cuts off Humboldt County from the rest of NW California. It’s a place of hillbillies, Frisco-leavers and increasingly ‘growers’ (marijuana farmers).

The most appealing town by far is Ferndale. Known as ‘Cream City’, it’s where the dairy farmers lived in their Redwood-built houses. The entire town is registered as a California Historical Landmark.

Interestingly Americans call this Victorian-style. Not sure why, didn’t independence come earlier?

We’ve seen another bear

We’ve seen another bear

Driving through the Redwoods we saw our second Brown Bear of the gap year.

Such a thrill. Only five metres from our car.

Seemingly very shy, she stared inquisitively at us for a full five minutes before scampering back into the forest when a loggers’ truck roared up the road.

Redwoods 2 – Trek to Fern Canyon

Redwoods 2 – Trek to Fern Canyon

From our Prairie Creek campsite, the hike through primary Redwoods to Fern Canyon was recommended.

We were surrounded by a timeless scene, alone amongst trees that started their quest for light when the Chinese invented gunpowder. Also colossal fallen Redwoods providing a thriving habitat for new trees, bushes and insects.

Fern Canyon itself slightly disappointed. With fern-covered sides it was certainly pretty unique, but in an intimate rather than grand way.

Some of you may recognise it from Jurassic Park 2.