This year I was invited to an annual conference organized by the Loma society, specialised in the insurance industry. This invitation rewards those who have obtained one of their certifications. So last September I went to San Diego. During my trip, I took the opportunity to discover or rediscover some places on the West Coast. In my agenda there are some national parks, Las Vegas and San Diego. Five years later, I am back in Uncle Sam’s country!
Day 1: Departure from Quebec
After a few hours of flying I arrive in Las Vegas. But before getting on the road, I have to get my luggage first and then stop at Hertz to pick up my rental car. Around me I can see smiles, joy and good mood. The atmosphere is chilled. There are people of all ages: families, couples or groups. All of them seem excited to go to Las Vegas.
Once I have my luggage, I am heading to another terminal to recover the car. A virtual agent greets me and helps me with my reservation. Pretty simple and fast. Then I take the time to choose my vehicle, and when it’s done, I can finally go on Wild West roads. My first stop is Monument Valley, at the border of Arizona and Utah. I’m about to discover Westworld and the mythical landscapes of the great American westerns.
Day 2: Monument Valley – Antelope Canyon
I am waking up is at 6am. The night is short, but there is no time to lose because the next days will be full. I just have time for a coffee and then I am taking the road to Monument Valley. From Mexican Hat, it takes about 20 minutes to get there. The park, nicknamed “Tsé Bii ‘Ndzisgaii” (or the valley of the rocks), belongs to the Navajo reserve. Over there your pass for the US national parks will not help you much: you will have to pay the entrance fees anyway.
I am starting with a short break at the visitor center. Located at heights, it gives you a magnificent view on the site.
A few minutes later – and some pictures taken too – I am starting to drive on the Valley Drive, the track that takes you to the main view points, more than a dozen in total. Let’s go for several hours! The crossing looks long but exciting. The landscapes follow one another but are equally magnificent – John Ford Point, Three Sisters, Camel Butte, Totem Pole, to name a few.
Three hours later, the visit of one park ends, another begins. Second stage: Antelope Canyon. This stop was not in my agenda. But the place is known to be one of the most photographed in the world – it convinced me to go there. When I arrive on the site, I find myself in the middle of a huge crowd, coming from all around the world. I buy my ticket for the tour and then I have to wait to be invited to a waiting room – visitors are called by arrival time. Ten minutes later, I manage to enter this famous room, and 15 minutes later, I am invited to join a group. We start walking and follow the guide who is walking towards the entrance to Lower Antelope Canyon. I can see a lot of people there. Not a good sign. The result is a long waiting period, which is made difficult because of the heat (40ºC). Fortunately our guide is friendly. In the group I sympathize with a few people – a couple that came from Phoenix with their mother. 1h30 later we finally enter the canyon. It was worth waiting.
Day 3 : Bryce Canyon
After a night spent in a motel in Panguitch, I’m back on the road again. On my way to Bryce Canyon, my third stop. Located in southern Utah, Bryce Canyon is known as one of the most beautiful national parks in the United States. At the entrance of the park there are some shuttles which take you to the different view points. I hesitate but finally I choose to drive because of my time constraints. But before enjoying the scenery, I have to go to the end of the park. Let’s start with the end! Several tens of kilometers later I arrive at Rainbow Point, the highest view point of the park, which is located at more than 2700m of altitude. The view is beautiful. The landscape is dotted with hoodoos, large columns of rocks. I can see trees too. I wonder how they can thrive in this climate and at these heights. After a photo session, I continue my visit and discovery of beautiful landscapes: from Rainbow Point to Bryce Point, through Natural Bridge. Spectacular. During my visit I meet some people from Los Angeles. It surprises me that they do not know about Quebec City. And when I tell them about Canada, they tell me that they love Montreal. It makes me smile.
Day 4 : Grand Canyon
The first time I went to California, I was not 17 years old. It was my first time in the United States. At the time, I was traveling with uncle Meck, my aunt, my cousins Bobo and Cedric. Also, it was the first time I met my family from California – my grandmother, uncles, aunts, cousins. I have kept a very good memory of this trip. On my way to the Grand Canyon, my fourth stop, I obviously had a thought for them. The Grand Canyon National Park in Northwestern Arizona, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is of course no longer to be introduced. A must-see!
Day 5 : Las Vegas
My visit of the nature wonders ends. All good things come to an end. For my fifth stop I am heading to Las Vegas. Back to the city. After these last intense days, a little rest would not hurt me. Las Vegas is the city where everything is possible: luxury hotels, casinos, shows, restaurants, shopping, clubbing etc. You can even get married in front of Elvis doppelganger. I have already been there before. Twice. The first time, I was not over the age of majority, so I spent most of the time on the Strip or in the arcades. The second time, I spent more time in the casinos. This time, I did not really have any ideas in mind, except to rest and to go see a show. I decided to rely on Rose, the bot of the Cosmopolitan, the hotel where I was staying. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
Day 6-7-8 : Coronado
The time of the conference has finally arrived. The conference takes place in the hotel Del Coronado, a place made famous by Marilyn Monroe – in one of the movies she played in. This will be my next step. When I arrive, I start with the hotel registration followed by the conference registration. Then I discover the program that awaits me: welcome cocktail, conferences, excursion, free time, and dinner cruise to finish. A mix between work and relaxation. Before the cocktail, I have two hours ahead of me so I take the opportunity to walk around the hotel. My first instinct is obviously to head for the beach. The setting is worthy of a postcard. I will stay a long time lying on the white sand. Then it will be time to go to the welcome cocktail party.
The days go by and are quite similar. Between conferences, I still have time to enjoy: walking or cycling, swimming pool, beach. The city of Coronado does not lack charm. For the excursion I had the choice between the zoo, the Seaworld water park or the USS Midway aircraft carrier. I already went to the zoo, so I choose to go to Seaworld. Attractions, shows, dolphins, orcas, sharks and other inhabitants of the seas. I am not disappointed. To end this trip, I board the cruise of the Hornblower company. On the bridge, an orchestra performs covers. A departure cocktail precedes the dinner. The setting is sublime. These few days are full of emotions. Nice meetings, quality conferences, all in a pleasant environment!
Day 9-10 : San Diego
My last stop is a reunion with my San Diego family, five years later. I have to meet in front of the hall of “Del” with my aunt Thala who is supposed to pick me up there. She arrives a few minutes later accompanied by my uncle and their daughter Kara. We will then eat a pho, a Vietnamese speciality (so good!). For my last days, I did not really have any plans, other than spending time with the family. I leave it to my cousin Alina to organize the activities. We start with a family dinner. I’m obviously happy to see everyone. We are all meeting at Crab Town, a restaurant specializing in crab and seafood, and where you eat with your fingers. So you should not be afraid to get your hands dirty! But I love it. It reminds me of the meals with my family in France, where everyone takes pleasure in peeling their crab leg, then dipping it in a spicy sauce. We get all dirty but we love that! Before ordering, my cousin Sunny asks me if I would prefer to have a spicy sauce. The answer is obvious.
The next day Alina suggests a hike in the morning, followed by a brewery tour in the afternoon. This program suits me perfectly. We start the day with a short walk to Torrey Pines, located by the sea. It’s not too hot so I enjoy our walk. We go to the top before going down to walk along the beach to complete our hike. On our way we first meet a snake, then a man breathless who can no longer walk. Tired? Hypoglycemia? We are getting closer to try to find out more. Very quickly this gentleman is surrounded by ten people, each trying to help: water, cereal bars, fruit etc. Suddenly a lady speaks: “This is America! This is how we do it!” The people around begin to applaud. I hear in my head “U-S-A !! U-S-A !! U-S-A !!”. It’s amazing how Americans are patriots. The hike ends, now is the time for the brewery tour.
San Diego is THE destination in the United States for craft beer lovers. Absolute cradle of micro-breweries, there are no less than 85 of them in the city: the perfect place for a beer tasting! We start our visit with Ballast Point, the second largest brewery in San Diego County. The place is huge. It’s impressive. After a little tasting we go to AleSmith. The place is smaller but the beers are good. Later on we will go to other places – at this point it is harder for me to remember the names…
A few hours later our tour ends. The end of my journey is also approaching. However, I still have some time left to test a last address. Mexico is not far, so why not try a burrito?
Day 11 : Back to Quebec
It’s already the end of the trip, unfortunately! I am on my way to the airport to catch my flight to Quebec City. But as soon as I register, I understand that my return to Quebec will not be easy. Because I do not have my permanent resident card, Air Canada personnel refuse to allow me to board the plane … I totally agree with the application of the procedures. On the other hand, I deplore the lack of assistance of the personnel in this type of situation. In short, I still manage, on my own, to return to Quebec. This event brings a bitter note to the end of the journey. However, this will not prevent me from keeping a very good memory of this trip.