Monday, April 28

Yesterday, Luda left Rostov with the first stop Moscow where she had an eight hour wait at 11 p.m. for the next plane to Frankfurt and another two hours there before flying on to Los Angeles.

I had a 6 o’clock departure from Christchurch, to fly to Auckland, it was about two hours late in leaving and it is on occasions like this I wonder why I was not booked on an earlier plane, it is not as if one has to do intensive high security work before one leaves, but nevertheless the plane did get on its way, we were told there were 26 of us on the plane for the LA flight and we are told to go there as quickly as we could.

We all followed the rush, rush instructions only to wait for another hour at the International Terminal whilst they Sellotaped the motor back in or something similar.

Eventually we got underway and it was a restful flight to LA where Luda had been waiting for me for four hours, my luggage was checked all the way through and I cleared through customs and dropped it off at the forwarding section where I found out later they had retagged the bags because the travel agent had booked us on a non-existent flight on an airline that did not fly the route. Luda on the other hand was only able to check her bag as far as LA so when she met me she had her bag on a trolley and off we went to American Airlines, eventually collected a boarding pass, checked her bag through to Tucson and then waited another four hours for the flight.

Eventually we ended up in Tucson, waited at the luggage carousel and two of my bags came through and Ludas bag came through, but I had one bag missing, so off to the lost luggage section and reported a bag missing, that is when the fun began because as my bags had been re-tagged they weren’t shown in the computer at all and the only bag that was showing was Ludas bag on both of our tickets.

Eventually after pulling all the tags off the bag we found that the luggage had been retagged at LA because of the non-existent flight we had been booked on, so we were given a piece of paper which showed a red bag missing (which of course had all my clothes and it) and then we caught a taxi to the hotel which was now about midnight so both of us were ready for bed.

I also discovered that the missing suitcase had my GPSs in the bag so I hoped it would turn up tomorrow.

I caught a taxi back to the airport and collected a rental car for the next three days,
As driving back to the hotel I discovered I was totally lost so when I saw a Radio Shack somewhere on the route I stopped in there and bought the cheapest Garmin I could find and that took me back to the hotel and collected Luda and the bags that it was off to collect the RV at the workshop which was next door to the campground.

I asked them to drive it over to the campground for me as there was a gate connecting the two together, when I left the motorhome there was owned by the one company and now a organisation called KOA had bought the campground and as the mindset in America is to be very cautious about everything you do in case somebody sues you for a couple of million, so they said sorry we cannot drive your RV through the gate to the campground (there were no roads to cross) but after a great deal of talking they agreed to drive it to the camping spot I had booked so then it was a matter of unpacking and storing things away.

The first thing I had to do with the RV was to get an emission test done on it so I programmed the new GPS I found the testing site easily, then with the GPS got back to the camp site easily, then off to the Arizona vehicle registering Department where I was able to register the RV with no problems at all using the PO Box address that I had obtained last July and so now we were ready to be on the road once the suitcase turned up.

So off we went out to Walmart in a couple of others shops to buy the necessary provisions to start our five month journey and we quickly came to the conclusion that food was cheaper in America than what we pay in New Zealand, certainly dining out in a restaurant cost less.

One of the shops we saw duiring our shopping was a Pawn Shop so in there we went and yes they had films on DVDs and they were selling at a dollar each so we bought a dozen to sort out our entertainment in the evenings.

Later in Walmart we bought three seasons of The Good Wife, The Game of Thrones, so it looks like we’ll keep up with those episodes and even get ahead.

About 7 o’clock we went back to the airport and received the good news that the luggage had arrived it had no baggage sticker on it to but just my address label showing the flights that I was taking with their destinations, a trick I learned after losing a bag on my last trip to China.

We carried on our shopping getting groceries and utensils etc necessary for living and set everything up to get started tomorrow on our travels.

We headed off on the first leg of our travel heading towards the Grand Canyon stopping for the night in a car park at Walmart in the city of Prescott. There are about four RVs of different sizes camped there for the night.

We carried on our drive towards the Grand Canyon driving through Sedona on a very winding road and it was interesting learning experience driving a American RV that did not have as good a brakes as the European RV we had and was also 0.2 of a metre wider, and I quickly found out that if I put a bit of black tape on the front windscreen and kept that lined up with the centre line I stayed in the correct position on the road with a good equal distance either side.

After passing through Flagstaff and driving on towards Red Mountain we found a parking spot by a walking Trail where we pulled in for the night, we were at about 7000 feet, which compared to some of the spots in Europe was not exactly high.

We carried on our drive to the Grand Canyon arriving there about 10 o’clock, paid our $25 entry fee to the Canyon and at the first parking spot Luda was out busy taking photos of the hole in the ground called the Grand Canyon.  I’m pretty positive that there are more photographs taken of the Grand Canyon and almost anything else in the world.

After doing our share of the photos we carried on South-east towards Albuquerque stopping for the night at the Hopi Indian cultural centre.

The USA claims it is the land of the free and the brave, with certainly seen a lot of these people riding motorbikes without crash helmets, often with a scarf around the head which I preserve is to keep their brains from spilling on the ground.

Monday, 5 May
We carried on our way North-east winding through some of the most barren landscape we’ve ever seen, this was obviously given to the Indians by the American government to make up for the good land they had taken for the new settlers. On one occasion and made a big mistake giving the Indians the barren land above a sea of oil but I bet guess they can’t win them all.

When one thinks of the words “American Motorhome “, one normally thinks of a 50 to 60 foot monster larger than most buses we see on the road with all sorts of accessories, was been very interesting seeing some American-made motorhomes which are as small if not smaller than what we see in New Zealand, so just as it is sometimes thought that most Americans are quite well off and when one travels through the countryside and sees how most live so truth is often faster different to thoughts.

The railway line runs beside the road in this part of the country and it was interesting to see five very long goods trains stopped on the single Lane railway line four were wanting to go North and one was wanted to go South ! I’m not sure how they sorted that out for the following day the trains were flowing smoothly.

Eventually we saw a signpost pointing towards the historic route 66 exit which happened to be the same exit that every vehicle was going off at because there was an accident on the other side of the bridge, but we only had that traffic with us for a couple of miles and then they were back on the motorway and we were left wandering down the historical route until we got to Grant where we started seeing some of the historical shops either side of the road. We missed the turn off when the road wandered off to the right to join a freeway and we decided we’d gone far enough for the day and as we are half a mile away from a Walmart were very quickly there and parked up.

Tuesday 6 May
We left Walmarts and carried on route 66 and very quickly came to the conclusion as we drove through the desert countryside with nothing on either side of the road that perhaps we had’s started on route 66 a little bit too far out in the country, but we carried on and eventually reached Albuquerque where we want to stop and look at the snake Museum, we fed that address into the GPS and found out was in the old part of the city, naturally with no parking, so we parked quarter of a mile away and Luda did not want to leave the motorhome empty in this part of the city so she trod off to see her favourite reptiles ….. The snakes.

The mobile Sim card we have in the iPad is an AT&T which is meant to work right through the USA, or that’s what they told us, they didn’t say you should be in the city to get good reception which looks like is what we have to do.

The GPS told us we could Park overnight at Sam’s Club but said we had to have it okayed by the manager, but of course the manager said no so we moved on to a Walmart which is part of the same organisation, the GPS said there was no camping but the manager said yes. So that is where we are for the night.

Wednesday 7 May
We left the Walmart car park after doing a little bit more shopping and headed off to Santa Clara Pueblo a small village in the middle of an Indian reservation and is known for its number of craft shop in small studios, what was more obvious to us was a large number of crosses on the side of the streets, not in dangerous areas by appearances but there were dozens of crosses and the only thing that we can put this down to is the fact of the native Indian being genetically deficient in their bodies processing of alcohol.

There were several other interesting buildings in the guidebook, but there were no signposts or GPS settings that would enable us to get there so I would guess one would have to be on a tour with the tour guide to see them.

We then headed back to Santa Fe to the old State capital that was established in 1610 and abandon 70 years later but appears to have been later recaptured from Mexico. The historic area was all built on what I would call the Spanish Mexican type of buildings and they were all geared up for the tourist with lots of touristy gifts.

We then carried on Route 66 towards Santa Rosa and found that we were also following the Santa Fe Trail which in most places is the identical road but we are still in the sparsely populated area so we are yet to get to the interesting part of the old 1937 “Mother Road” eventually we got to Santa Rosa and found that the GPS did not list any overnight parking spots, but  they did show  the closest was 53 miles away, so when we found a truck and RV parking spot beside a McDonald’s we decided to make do with that.

Driving across this part of New Mexico we were between 5000 and 7000 feet above sea level and it was quite flat, and this afternoon we had a very strong wind coming from I guess it must be in the South, and I was quite a job to keep the motorhome on my side of the road, often I was had slowed down to about 30 mph and along with the wind there was a lot of sand in the air and we kept on telling ourselves we were not in the tornado alley.

Thursday 8 May
Today I discovered I’d left the parking lights on last night and consequently the battery was flat, the Euro European motorhome of course switch the lights off when you turn the ignition off so I have to get used to this new system.

So I walked about a mile to a spare parts shop and bought a couple of jumper leads with the intention of running a connection from my house batteries to the car batteries. That would have worked perfectly had I bought a heavier jumper lead but the lead length was too long and they leads started smoking so that idea went out the window.

As were parked next door to McDonald’s there was a regular flow of traffic and I picked on a pick up that was just driving through and they came next-door to where I was parked, parked beside my battery cabinet and a few moments we had the motorhome started.

It was then back on the road following Route 66 only to discover what we had been picking up all along that most of the road is deserted and if you want to see something of the old road stay on Route 40 and go off onto 66 when one is near a town.

We saw a large signpost telling us that of the next stop we could get petrol and 3 T-shirts for five dollars so we went off and found that the demand had been so great and had created so much heat in dashing the T-shirts out to the customers that the building had caught on fire and it was just a ruins with the petrol pump still there but unmanned.

We drove on and came to a town called Tucumcari that had a large notice on the motorway telling us how many of everything that was at the town and that it was part of the original route 66 so off we went again and yes it was part of the original route 66 but obviously nobody was passing through this town because every business had closed down, petrol stations have their pumps removed, motels have their prices reduced right-down into the low 20s this just goes to show that once people get on a motorway they just keep on driving even though route 66 is only a few yards from the motorway nobody bothers to slow down and pass through these towns in New Mexico.

We went off at a spot called Russells cafe that had free vintage car Museum, I’ve stopped there before on the way from Chicago to Tucson, went on to have a look again and then came out and found a pick up parked beside me very very close, that was no problem until when I got into the motorhome and found once again it would not start but this time it was sounded more serious as when you turned the ignition on there was just no sound at all.

Now the pick up parked so close I couldn’t get to the battery to see if there was a problem so whilst I was waiting for the pick up to be shifted by who ever the person was that owned it I thought I might as well do the laundry as I remember from last time they had a very good laundry attached to the establishment.

Whilst I was doing the laundry chatted to the truck driver that was there and he was an owner driver did not make quite as much money as he did when he was simply a driver but he could choose his own routes, take what loads he wanted and stay away from the East Coast. We are talking about the wind yesterday, he was saying that some time ago he was caught by gust and is truck that had a light load was blown over.

With the laundry done I came out and the truck was still there so became obvious that it was belonged to one of the staff so I asked one of the other staff who is truck was it and he went away and got the guy who eventually came in was a retired mechanic, so we started running through the things that were possibly wrong starting off by putting a jump lead from his battery to mine, no difference. However I did discover a switch on the dashboard that if the car battery was flat you could push that and start the motor with the house battery.  Progress !!!!!

So after a bit we rang a garage 15 miles away and the mechanic came down and after a lot of fiddling found that it was perhaps just a fuse, he replace that, and left us with the vehicle running, we drove to different part of the car park, turned the motorhome off, then decided we wanted to shift it again, same problem, back on the telephone he came back and after more fiddling decided that we should follow him back to is workshop where he soldered in an extra lead that took the signal from the the key directly to the relay that turned the power on to the solenoid and said this will make things work on those odd occasions when there would otherwise be a problem, time will tell!

This is all teething problems that you have when you take a new motorhome out, even when its brand-new there are sometimes greater problems than we are having with our American model.

We had considered bringing the European model to America but talking to the mechanic about this he said he did not have an idea as to where to get it serviced in America which was exactly our thought.

After doing the modification we parked out in their yard for the night and hopefully tomorrow will be on our way.  

Friday 9th May
Yes the Heath Robinson fix to get the RV to started putting the starter circuit into a never ending circle so was back to the drawing board and placed a push button on the dashboard with a wire from the battery to the starter and it but for some reason it won’t start at a petrol station or at traffic lights I just push this button and I’m on the road

Whilst in New Mexico we crossed the Rio Grande several times, just a muddy little stream, and again we tried to stick to route 66 but it had deteriorated to such a degree that most of the small towns that made a living from this main road started disappearing about 45 years ago when they put the motorway through. The state of these towns on the side of the road with houses that are in total disrepair does not show this country as being one of the richest in the world. You of course cannot judge a country in this way, but that is what you see as you drive through the countryside.

Eventually we left New Mexico for Texas driving across the part they call the Panhandle and as I mentioned last year we went past this enormous feedlot packed full of cattle with not a blade of grass in sight, I presumably they are the fattening lots, all I know is that you do not want to get down wind of them as you’re driving past.

The next stop on the journey was the Cadillac Ranch a bit of land 100 yards from the highway with 12 old Cadillacs with their noses built buried into the ground in a straight line, I presume some call it art! Of more interest was the Cadillac RV campground with a had four or five Cadillacs parked on 45° angles pointing in a straight line and they were in what appeared to be mint condition, that is from a distance.

We went on to Park at a Walmart in Amarillo, these people are not silly, you Park there and you do your shopping, it is all extra dollars in the bank and is not as if their car parks are tiny.

Saturday, May 10
We headed out towards Oklahoma City passing through Conway, Groom, Jericho, Alan Reed, and on to McLean the home of the devil rope factory name that was given to barbed wire. Also in McLean was one of the original petrol stations on route 66 having been restored to its original condition, all I can say is the cars must been pretty small because there was not much room to drive into the pumps.

Each time leaving route 40 to travel on route 66 and each time we are being faced with property abandonment. Our next stop was Shamrock and a rather interesting building painted green, for some reason and then it was across the border into Oklahoma, no signs to let you know you had changed states. Our next stop was the city of Erick to look at the Museum featuring Roger Miller best known for his song “King of the road” evidently he was a most prolific songwriter having written extremely large number before it died of cancer at 58.

The town is on its last throes of dying, the only thing that keeps of alive are the oil Wells that are slightly North of the town, there used to be five petrol stations and five supermarkets and goodness knows what else but all that started dying 45 years ago when the motorway went through. The only thing of note today there was a fairly large supermarket we could buy most things and Roger Miller’s Museum.

From there we did a left-hand turn instead of a right-hand turn and went for a pleasurable ride throughout the countryside with wheat fields either side of us until we headed back to Elk and the route 66 Museum which consisted of a lot of shops of the 1930s – 40s vintage and then we headed to the Walmart that was shown on our GPS to find that it had been taken over by a tractor supplier who were very happy for us to Park in their car park.

It is extremely hot here so we are running the generator and the air conditioner, thank goodness for the American necessities of life.

Sunday, May 11
We carried on driving across Oklahoma most of the time on highway 40 but making back onto route 66 when things looked interesting. I just realised today there is a lot of opportunities along route 66, there are a lot of businesses for sale, lot of empty shops that you can set up your own business in, and lots of houses from those that need a little bit of love and attention (well quite a bit really) to some that looked quite reasonable.

All day we had a very strong wind coming from the South, when I stopped at a petrol station they told me that the wind was always blowing like this, is certainly makes Wellington seem much more reasonable, and one can understand if the ground dries out with this consistent wind why Oklahoma became a dust bowl and certainly has the potential for that to happen again at any time.

Not much of interest today, just fighting to keep the motorhome on the road and passing through little towns that looked quite desperate for survival.

Monday May 13th
Today we carried on routes 66 crossing the border from Oklahoma into Missouri just missing Kansas by a few miles, the last few miles out of Oklahoma were quite green compared with what we’ve been seeing through Arizona in New Mexico and the green is stayed with us all day today and I guess it will be like that to we get back to the desert.

We continue to see abandoned houses many with the roofs fallen in and some with the vegetation just taking over. I have a feeling a lot of the houses along this historic route are on larger piece of land than we are used to in New Zealand and they seem to be spaced evenly all along the road and not in villages like we expect to see in other parts of the world.

It’s when you come to the towns or cities you realise just how much America is built around the motor car because all of the businesses are scattered down the main street all with large car parks on the front and none within walking distance of each other. The housing is a little bit like this, the situated in locations that you will need a vehicle to go anywhere. Of course in the major cities the situation changes dramatically with apartment blocks and no garaging.

I’m beginning to think Missouri is a very strong biblical state with the number of churches we are seeing spread along the road, not uncommon to see five churches in every mile. Today we went through a patch that had quotations from the Bible on billboards and placards along the road, this I found interesting.

As we have been travelling east we had been very aware of the very black clouds we are leaving behind us, although late this afternoon they did catch up to us with lightning and thunder filling skies all round us as we drew into the Walmart for the evening stopover.

Tuesday May 14th
We are finding route 66 very hard to follow, it disappears with regularity, is often renamed or renumbered in the guidebook tells us the most interesting part of the road is Oklahoma, so we are beginning to think we will carry on East off the 66 unless we see some signs’s directing us to something interesting.

Today has been very cold starting off around 10 to the 11° and getting up to a hot 18°C, quite a lot of rain. When we occasionally get on the route 66 we notice how narrow the road is and how wide our American RV is, hopefully I’ll be used to it before we get to Alaska where I imagine will have a lot of narrowed two way roads.

We stopped again in the Walmart car park for the night about 108 km out of St Louis in a town called Rolla.

Wednesday May 15th
I made arrangements to meet an old friend that used to own a photo studio in the Brentwood area of St Louis, he is obviously retired now and his son has taken over the business and is running it very successfully, so we made the hundred mile drive from last nights camping spot to the Westrich Studio, we had to drive past at twice as even with the small motorhome we have is larger than most of the car parks so we eventually ended up in a tenpin bowling car park barely a block from the studio, at this stage it had stopped raining a little bit so we made it,….. Dry!

The studio has changed substantially since I was last here in 1976, then they did their own colour printing, now whilst they do have a large high quality inkjet printer all of their wedding and portrait prints get sent out to a lab in town. Was interesting that they are purchasing their wedding Albums from Queensberry in New Zealand, the current owners of what used to be Chromatek!

We went out to lunch together at one of the high class restaurants one finds in America to have what I thought was a reasonably priced high-quality lunch.

I spoke to them about the recent economic downturn in America and how it affected their business, they said a lot of people got put out of work and a lot of those people decided to become photographers so for quite a while there were more photographers than customers but that has settled down in the back into good business.

After lunch we drove around the suburb that the studio is in and at last we have seen the houses that are part of what they call the “American dream” very nice very large with beautifully kept gardens and lawns, most were valued at over $1 million with some up into the four and 5 million bracket. A substantial difference to the raggedy houses with been seeing on route 66 as we travelled east.

After saying goodbye to Rob senior and junior we headed off for a nearby Walmart car park and was the second Walmart that we have visited on this trip that had closed their business, on this occasion all of the axillary businesses that had gathered round Walmart had also gone out of business so it shows that the recession in America has hit at players of all sizes.

Today whilst were on route 66 briefly we saw about 24 Harley Davison’s parked at a gas station and saw all of the middle aged men or older all dressed in their leathers milling about I assume they were doing the route 66 on their bikes!

In the evening I rang Fay Ramsey, the widow of Lyle Ramsey who had died in, about the last two weeks, she was well aware of Lyle’s exploits in the photographic field and his trips to New Zealand. I attempted to ring Evelyn Langaman, her husband died over 20 years ago and that affected her very badly, was not as if they were obviously very close but she went totally to pieces at that time. I think I brought her to New Zealand three or four times, she did a wonderful job helping with sales in photography, I made sure she had very good trip around New Zealand each time, it is interesting that she wanted no contact with that part of her life.

Thursday May 16th
Today I sent away a couple of emails chasing Ludas passport which had been sent to the Canadian Embassy in our a, they had received it on 1 May, there appears to be no action yet, the embassy in LA has no phone number that you can contact them and they give out a email address which by the time you have written it down and listen to it three times still does not work so an email went off to another address on their website and to the contact I had in Sydney. I’m not quite sure what the current resale value of a Russian passport is, so hopefully it will turn up.

Today we set in our destination as being Goshin, the town that we are heading towards for the Trek RV meeting, it is about 400 km away and we have five days to do it in so as we a little bit of comfortable driving with no rush.

Friday, May 17th
As we drive across America is obvious once you out in the country you are no longer in a house that represents the American dream occasionally you see a very large house but the norm are almost mobile home type buildings that are towed onto the site preconstructed. They seem to be scattered along the highway and not in villages like would see in Europe, England or New Zealand and again it became is obvious that you can not do anything in America without a car. We do see American flags flying everywhere even attached to gravestones and presume this must be part of the American psyche, which may not be much different to the flag flying we see in Scotland or Northern Ireland pronouncing the People’s Alliance to what may be a different community.

Saturday May 18th
It’s really been very cold the last few days, in fact we are wondering why we are in the northern hemisphere and not enjoying perhaps some sunshine in Ashburton. The motorhome at least has got a very good heating system which were in making use of the generator is come in very handy when the battery starts getting low.

We set off following route 24 towards our Tuesdays destination of the Trek meeting in Goshen, we stopped at a small town on the way called Logansport, we parked in front of the building which said loiterers would be prosecuted, and as they had all gone home an hour earlier we hoped we were okay.

We decided it was time to dump our dirty water etc so programmed the GPS to the closest dumpsite which was a campground and when we got there we were told yes we could use the dumb station but it would cost $20, I said what is the cost to stay here the night, he said $24. The two previous amounts we paid had been five dollars and $12 so we had the feeling we weren’t wanted and moved on. The other location was a RV Plaza and there we found a dump station which we could use at no charge which was the best price we had been offered. Will have to look for these in the future.

As we coming out of Logansport we started counting the churches and we gave up after we had reached 15 so we obviously take their religious practices in this town very seriously.

We didn’t want to drive very far today so we looked for the closest Walmart and chose the second one which was about 40 miles away and on the way we ran into some heavy rain fortunately by the time we got to Warsaw, Indiana (in case you’re wondering) we had a beautiful blue sky and felt perhaps some may be coming here after all.

Parked in the Walmart car park there were quite a few shops around and I went from wander, Radio Shack has always attracted me since I first saw it 40 years ago so I wandered into that and what a difference 40 years makes, now everything that they have we see in New Zealand if I was the owner of this particular Radio Shack branch I’d be a little bit worried as there were four staff there I was the only customer, and I certainly wasn’t go to be buying anything.

Sunday, May 18th
We got on our way to Topeka Indiana, we just got underway when we saw a laundry so we stopped and got caught up with clean clothes.

At the laundromat there was a “homes for sale” magazine, the giveaway sort that land agents use to get there houses on the market and it is absolutely amazing what you can do with your money for houses or sections in this country. There was a 5.500 square foot house with swimming pool for $550,000, houses for just over $100,000 including some by a lake were common, and empty section by a lake $10,000, of course all of these are American dollars.

Then we were on our way to see a little bit of the Amish culture so we wound our way through the countryside and as we got close we saw about 30 Amish carriages in the parking area of one of the farms. We went on into the township of Topeka and it was obvious the businesses that the Amish patronised, there was the horse and tack shop, in the parking area had a good dose of horse manure along with the Bank across the road in fact you just followed the trial and he found out where the Amish lived and met. We did some’s photos on the quiet of the carriages clogging by and then it was time to move on to Goshen again we parked up in a Walmart car park and discovered that alcohol is not allowed to be sold on a Sunday in this state.

A little bit later another Trek motorhome pulled up beside us in the Walmart car Park, they here for the meeting on Tuesday and will head off to the campground tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 20th
Today the rest of the Trek motorhomes arrived in from the New England States, Connecticut and Vermont so that makes the whole group now of about seven motorhomes varying in ages and fuel types so could be an interesting few days.

For the last seven days we have been with seven other Trek motorhomes at the Northeast and North Central combined Rally in Goshen Indiana. There are motorhomes from the New England States and Canada and one North Eastern from the Minneapolis area.

With so many other motorhomes of the same brand was a marvellous learning opportunity for the peculiarities of this motorhome which in, we will be spending considerable amount of time.

Was also interesting being one on one with a group of Americans and finding their thinking on a lot of subjects. None of course had been to New Zealand and some had no idea whether country was, mentioning Iceland as a location, so we did our best to complete their geography lesson on the subject.

I also use my expertise as a sports team photographer and organised a group photo of the 17 people attending the get-together and presented them all with the PDF file complete with names and other information.

An expert on a country is a person that has flown in, spent three days in the country and then flown out writing a detailed version of what they think they have found.

Having been here now for over 28 days my thoughts should be seven times more accurate than an expert, but we will see.

I would guess a lot of Americans have no chance of participating in the American dream.

Housing is much more affordable in this country than it is in New Zealand.

Medical insurance is a must and Obama Care appears that it will just drive the cost of medical insurance up by about 70% for everybody except the poor. One of the Trek participants cut his toe requiring three stitches and he went to the public hospital and got free treatment but had to wait three hours. Luda say this is normal in Russia ……  I have just found out from our Dr Daughter that NO he would have received a account!

I have a feeling that food is cheaper in this country and it is certainly a lot cheaper dining out, you can get a extremely large meal, more than you can eat, for $20-$30 for two people, and is enough for the doggy bag for the humans for the next day’s meals.

As a type II diabetic the food supplies here are wonderful as there is sufficient population to have sugarfree almost everything, they even have sugarfree ice cream with a sugar content of 4%, and it tastes good, maple syrup is another thing which is available sugarfree !

Tips to the waitress work out a 20% which adds a substantial amount to the meal.

Everybody flies the American flag, and the first thing you see when you walk into Walmart is a display selling the flag and the flagpoles necessary to fly them on.

I asked some why they fly the flag and the comment was that they were proud of it. They got me thinking and the only other place that of seen his many flags flying was in Scotland and they are flying the flag to indicate that they want to be separate from Great Britain, so that logic does not work in America.

They said that they were also loyal Americans and would fight for their country, and then I thought “yes” New Zealanders have been in almost every war and they are proud of their country, but do not fly the flag like they do in this country. Perhaps it is the British heritage where you do not make a fuss and you don’t show emotion!

The roads are often in bad repair, and I keep thinking of the National Geographic program called the “crumbling of America” when I see the roads as bad as they are, and of course after you pay for the military to be wandering the world as the world’s peacekeepers there is very little left for munday things like road repairs, however it is a sobering thought that the Roman roads that were built by the Roman Empire can still be seen in many parts of the world.

From Goshen we went to Shipshewana another Amish community where we dined out on fine Amish food at one of the Amish restaurants and we stayed on in the area for a couple of days to visit the flea market which was described to us as being one of the largest in the world, and as Mondays flea market was on Memorial Day they described as being extra large. We walked over early Monday morning and wandered around, Luda described it as being smaller than some of the ones in most Russian cities that are not on just one day but every day, in my experiences with the marketplaces and the Ukraine in 2001 bear Ludas comments out fully.

The Amish are an interesting group of people, they are locked into the late 19th and early 20th century, the general consensus seems to be that they are from Germany but some are called Pennsylvania Dutch, which indicates a Dutch background, their main transport is horse and carriage with the carriage being almost totally enclosed so it is difficult to see who was inside it, I was told that a single girl cannot ride in the closed carriage, and men are clean-shaven until they are married then they grow a beard.

Most of the businesses that cater for the Amish have parking places with a hitching rail to tie up the horse and these locations are noted for their good supply of horse manure.

The Amish do a lot of work on the fifth wheel RVs in this area and this area is one of the larger producers of towed vehicles.

They are not allowed to have a telephone in their house but often there is a small outhouse style building that contains a telephoned for the community’s use.

Bicycles are another common form of transport. The Amish gentleman that was selling RV parts as a sideline had an old gas light in his building but now has 12 V lighting, commented they were not allowed to connect to the mains.

Monday, May 26th
We finished with the flea market, replenished the water in the motorhome, went to the BP petrol station filled up with petrol (3.57 a us gal /4 = lt) and propane and switched on the Scanmaster ll which monitors the motor for all of its vital information and we were on our way North, over roads that we had already been on, which at some stage is inevitable, stopping for the night at a Walmart in Watseka, is nice to go back to somewhere you been before but that’s not can happen much on this trip.

Tuesday, May 27th
We carried on from Watseka to we reached highway 39 and then turned North towards Minneapolis staying on this road till we felt like stopping going off the freeway at Rochelle and finding the local Walmart for the overnight parking. We get about 9 miles to the gallon with our American motorhome.

Walking around Walmart, in the water section, they had bottled water from Fiji with a palm tree illustrated on the front. Now I would guess 99% of the Americans have no idea about Fiji, so would not question how a small Pacific island could have pure freshwater that they can bottle and export to America. Now I may be over harsh on this item and perhaps the got one of the biggest springs of clean freshwater in the world and if so I apologise!

Wednesday, May 28th
This morning, when I went on line and checked the Christchurch newspaper, there was an announcement that the Americans were pulling out of Afghanistan after fighting their longest war in history. There went into Afghanistan 13 years ago to fight a war on terror after the suicide bombers drove the planes into the World Trade Centre, about 4000 people were killed, a similar number of Americans have been killed fighting the war in Afghanistan and about 18,000 have been wounded, and about 4 trillion American dollars has been spent fighting this war.

I’m old enough to remember the war in Vietnam, and a lot of the Americans that were drafted to this war making their way to Canada to hide, the soldiers that returned from Vietnam being spat at on the street and being called baby killers, and at this point realise what a wonderful job the spin Drs have done on getting Americans to go overseas, to a country they don’t know, and fight people that they have never seen, and when they return home they are given the label of “Hero “or better still if they have been wounded they get the title of “Patriot”

This is a tremendous reversal of public outlook and the only way I can see this has happened has been as a deliberate course of action to get young Americans happy to go into battle, but enough of that!

Today we carried on North about 140 km to an area called Wisconsin Dells a very picturesque stretch of river with high cliffs and reputed to have some of the best scenery in the country.

Again we chose a Walmart for overnight camping, they always tell you to check with the manager and on this occasion they said is okay with Walmart, but the local police may give you a ticket, I presumably because it was a tourist area and a crackdown a little bit on overnight parking. So we up anchors and went off to the local casino about 5 miles away and camped there for the night, we figured that they would never chased the possible customers away.

Thursday, May 29th
Today we want to find a laundromat so we decided to take the long way through the countryside and programmed the GPS to avoid motorways and tollways and take normal roads. It was a very interesting drive through the countryside heavy into farming and cropping, we passed through many little towns of less than 1000 people with the main Street shops looking very bad and disrepair with quite a few still open, is interesting to see in almost every small town in office of the US post, they have not adopted our policy in New Zealand of appointing agents, but I guess if there are no other shops opened in the town is very hard to appoint an agent.  I’ve just been told that the Post Office is mentioned in the Constitution which is why I see them still open everywhere.

Finally we came to a town of about 10,000 people, large enough to support a laundromat, so in there we went, I made the mistake of asking an oldish guy in there, how are you? and he spent the next 30 minutes talking me through each operation. I told him my father was a farmer and if he was a cow with that many problems he would have been shot ! He seemed to think that was a good idea.

As we passed through West Salem in Wisconsin we saw a sign for Bayer cabinets, a cabinet making company, and as I needed the TV Cabinet in the Trek modified I thought was worthwhile trying this company, the foreman and the controller came out looked at it, questioned me as to what I wanted done, I had removed what I thought was every screw holding it there but it still would not come down, they found five other screws that needed to be removed and the Cabinet was down in no time flat, they told me to come back at noon the next day, I suggested they charge me doubletime and do it now, they had it done in an hour and just charge me normal time, so it is wonderful as a professional looking job much better than what I could have done now we don’t have to hit our head on it as were going to or from our seats.

We visited a Camping World to get a few supplies for the motorhome and while we were there we looked at some New Zealand size motorhomes and found them very interesting if not extremely heavy. At least twice the weight of New Zealand well built motorhome but then the Americans have never been known for building small or light vehicles!

It was interesting the price that was on the motorhome was $99,000, which was the recommended retail price, but they were happy to sell at the $70,000! Makes you wonder !

A final destination for the day was a city called Winona which was situated on an island in the Mississippi River, the last Winona I went to was in the 70s and it was the location of the PPA National School which was at Lake Winona, a bus ride from Fort Wayne, and it was a church community with a lot of church organisations.

This Winona was also very heavy into churches we must passed at least six substantial churches on the way to the Walmart. Again we were given permission with no overrides and we happen to be next door to a hardware shop so I took the opportunity of buying a TV bracket to mount the TV in the new location, that took most of the afternoon with many trips to the hardware shop to buy screws or whatever else I was missing.

Finally the TV was mounted, power was supplied, and we watched a couple of episodes of a DVD we bought earlier on our trip.

Friday May 30th
We decided to head back on the route we had come yesterday about 25 miles to visit a state park that had beautiful views as we had a little bit of time up our sleeve it was a good move. The ranger of that was in charge let us drive through for a free, but when we vet visited the second Park later in the afternoon there were two women were in charge and they were not going to let the five dollars escape!

This park was well worth the money as Luda walked down the hill, found three eagles sitting on a tree, and then proceeded to photograph their flight for the next few minutes. Being able to get so close to them in the wild was well worth the five dollars entry fee.

All day again we have been seeing motorbikes being ridden by people with no crash helmets on, but of course they only need a crash helmet if they are going to have an accident!

We drove up route 61 almost all the way, this Route is beside the Mississippi River and in places the river got so wide it became a lake in one of the lake’s was called Lake Pippin, we also passed Lake City and its call to frame was that this was where waterskiing was first invented, or should we say done!

After visiting to state parks and driving most of the day was beginning to get time to stop and when we saw a Walmart from the motorway, we got off at the next stop drove back and yes we could stay the night!

You get a little concerned that perhaps you are being a little bit tight staying at the Walmart every night, that is until a 60 foot monster RV costing as much as a good house, pulls beside you to take advantage of the free parking!

1976 when I took a group of New Zealanders to visit photographers in America and attend the PPA convention in Washington, we visited a commercial studio in Cleveland Ohio and they took us round Cleveland in a GMC six wheel motorhome. They have become a classic and are reasonably high demand even though they were made as early as 1973 and I believe there are people in Florida restoring them to new condition. So far on this trip we’ve seen two of these vehicles, and there was one usually parked in Brougham Street in Christchurch, they did try selling it for awhile but obviously wanted too much, I have always worked on the principle that everything sells if the price is right.

Saturday, 31 May
Today it was on the final 23 miles to Minneapolis to visit with Ludas daughter and husband, she is in the process of finishing her doctors internship in Fargo 250 miles away so comes home for the weekend when she has a weekend off, so our visit has coincided with such a weekend. Fortunately the internship finishes at the end of the month and they can get on with normal life.

There’s been a long hard process for Ola who is a Russian trained gynaecologist and had to repeat all of her training here in America to carry on with her chosen profession.

There was also a DVD waiting for us for one of the series with been watching in New Zealand and more important a letter from the Canadian embassy enclosing Ludas passport with a Canadian visa that is valid for the next 10 years, so perhaps all the trouble was worth the wait.

I decided it was time to buy some more trousers so in one of the first fully covered malls in America (fully covered because of the heavy snow fall in the city) I found a Macy’s shop and are running a special of two trousers for the price of one, but I wanted some little bit better so found two other trousers, but the 2 for 1 price got the better of my Scottish nature so ended up with four pairs of trousers for $253. I thought was a good deal.

Whilst I was wandering round the mall I went into Brookstone store to buy a speciality item of theirs, a full size folding umbrella with the blow through feature that prevents an umbrella being reversed in a strong wind. While I was there I saw a four propeller drone with built in camera is controlled from an iPad, this had been on my wish list so that is another thing crossed off.

Drifted into an Apple shop, that a new cleaning system for iPads so I lashed out and bought that, it is called “Woosh” and it actually works.

We just had word that our Kiwi friends the Pinders who now call Australia home that they have arrived in the States and are heading up towards Alaska where we plan to meet them somewhere in that large state with very few roads.

Sunday, June 1st
As Olga was leaving to go back to Fargo late today we decided to leave about 5 p.m. and head for Brainerd where a Trek owner had two swivel chairs he did not want and ours were missing when I bought the Trek so it was just a little bit out of the way to pick it up on our way North.

By the time we got to St Cloud and found they have a Walmart we figured we’d gone enough for the day’s we stayed there the night, I telephoned the owner of the chairs and made arrangements to telephone the next day, there was also a very large motorhome at the Walmart, 40+ feet, towing a car with at least four people inside and they ran the generator all night……

Monday, June 2nd
This morning I rang the Trek owner with the extra chairs and he agreed to meet us at his house at 10:30 a.m.

We arrived at his house, on the country road about 10 miles from Brainerd, took delivery of the chairs which looked good in the motorhome and then we got back on the road towards Duluth, eventually we started getting ready to stop and saw a signpost for the town of McGregor a little ahead of us, so we stopped there, drove around the town looking at possible camping sites and came back to the first one that we saw which was beside a motel that had a for sale sign on it.

After we’d been there about hour a pickup stopped beside us and tooted, it turned out to be the owner of the motel and he had driven up a hundred metres to talk to us. When he found out we were from New Zealand, he started telling us about his experiences in Vietnam with some of the Australians that were in that country fighting on how they use the word Pom for the English, I suggested they may have used an adjective in front of the word and he liked that thought.

Tuesday, June 3rd
Today we drove through Duluth and carried on the road up the edge of Lake Superior, (the largest freshwater lake in the world), towards Thunder Bay we passed several state parks in the first one we stopped at, Gooseberry Falls State Park it was the location of some beautiful waterfalls, very brown water as all the water in the rivers appear to be in this part of the world, though are fantastic waterfalls which could only be seen by walking towards them and could not be seen from the road.

With the success of that State Park when we saw a sign indicating the Split Rock Lighthouse again it was worth a stop, was built in 1910 after a large storm that damaged or sunk 29 ships on the shores of Western Lake Superior. The lighthouse primary served freighters hauling iron ore was mined northern Minnesota and shipped out of the two harbours in Duluth and superior. The buildings remain much as they did in the 1920s.

Was quite a long driving day today and we started looking for somewhere to stop and every parking spot had a no camping sign posted on it and finally when we got near Grand Portage Indian Reservation we found a levelled site beside the lake waiting for a house to be built so we commandeered the site for the night, it turned out to belong to the brother of the next door neighbour who came over to check us out and was happy for us to stay as long it was only for the night, the view was good but it was not that good that we want to spend more time there.