The Pengelly USA Roadtrip

24 – 27 October 2014: San Francisco, California

Once I had arrived in San Francisco to join the family, we did a little bit of sightseeing as we were only in SF for one weekend. We went to the Golden Gate Bridge and drove up and down the steep hills in town, which were really, really steep. I’m talking like 75 degrees. It was a little bit precarious driving up these small little roads and looking back to see a steep road behind us.

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We went out for supper to a Vietnamese restaurant where we enjoyed some amazing Vietnamese food, it was really good a little bit pricey but well worth the price for the value.

We were staying in a motel just outside of the San Francisco city centre in a suburb called Alameda. Fun fact, this is where Mythbusters does a lot of their testing.

We woke up the next morning and headed straight into town near the wharf which is where the ferry to Alcatraz leaves from. There was a long queue of people lining up to leave to the island but we had pre-booked so it was not a big issue. The ride out to Alcatraz was reminiscent of the ferry to Staten Island in New York – we got to see the city from afar, we also got nice views of “The Rock” and Golden Gate Bridge.

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Now a lot of Alcatraz’s history we were all unaware of, and I’m sure it’s the same for you reading this page. Alcatraz started as a prison and was run for about 30 years or so. As the cost of running it became too high it was closed, then it became a settlement for the native Americans to reside in (illegally).

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There was a colony of Native Americans who lived on the island for about 3 years, but the island itself is pretty inhospitable with no water and harsh terrain.

Once we had arrived on The Rock we got an introduction about the island and what it was used for and for how long. Then we got to go and explore. We went to a short movie presentation and learnt more about the prison before walking to the top of the island to the actual cell block.

We did a walking tour with audio within the cell block. It was very eerie inside. We got to see everything inside from the mess hall to the library to the recreational facility and in all of these places we got some history about events that happened and people that were there. The cells themselves were incredibly small and still in their original condition. They told us a whole bunch of interesting facts:

* the prison closed on 21 March 1963

* on average there were only 260 prisoners on the island at any one time

* Al Capone and Robert ‘The Birdman’ Stroud spent a number of years there with Robert spending the majority of his time in the hospital wing

* 34 prisoners tried escaping over the years. All but 5 were recaptured or accounted for. Escape from Alcatraz, the Clint Eastwood movie, was based on the 1962  escape

* over the years, 8 inmates were murdered by other inmates, 5 committed suicide and 15 died of natural causes

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We walked around for a good half an hour to forty five minutes before heading back to some other parts of the island, looking at all the different views. We bought a couple of trinkets and goodies at the store before heading back on the ferry and back to San Francisco city.

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We decided we were going to have lunch at the wharf, which has world famous Clam Chowder and sourdough bread rolls (the soup is served in the bread bowl). The food was excellent and I would recommend anyone visiting San Francisco to definitely go to the wharf, the atmosphere alone is amazing.

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We walked around the streets after having lunch and decided we would try and find the cable car that takes people up the hills. Well, once we eventually found it the queue was so long that we would have to wait at least an hour. So we went back to the car (in our car!), and just followed it as it ascended the steep hill. Maybe it wasn’t as fun, but it was probably the exact same experience.

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Once we had done that, we were exhausted – according to our Fitbits we had walked over 15km. It was a busy day sightseeing. So we decided to just relax back at the hotel for dinner.

In the morning we packed the car and got ready to head to LA, it was to be a 4 day drive down along the beautiful coast of California – Highway 1. But things took a turn for the worst when our car got broken into and all of our valuables were stolen. It happened outside of a Wal-Mart for those who don’t know the story, in broad daylight whilst we got a quick meal inside a Panda Express. Cameron lost everything unfortunately, I was lucky enough that they didn’t take my Ipad. But everything else was taken, our passports, the laptops, the phones everything. We went to the police station and filed a report and then swapped out the car at the Oakland Airport. It was a very stressful time for all of us – no passports!


2014-10-27 20.18.18 2014-10-27 20.22.41After:


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It was an unfortunate event, but completely out of our control. And thank God nothing happened to any of us. But we still hit the road and headed down to LA. As we had NO technology available to communicate back home with, we stopped at San Jose just outside San Francisco and Dad bought a new Macbook. The test later was going to be – did his backup that he had been doing religiously each week work…..

California has been both good to us, and bad, but the bottom line is that this event did not ruin seven months worth of traveling here – we tried to see the positive in the worst possible situation we had been in in 7 months.

We traveled down to our stops for those nights, still in shock of what had occurred and trying to think what else we had in our bags. Every day we thought of other things that were missing.

The first of the three nights along Highway 1 was in Monterrey. It seems like a blur when thinking about it now, but there wasn’t anything special about the place we arrived quite late unpacked and went to bed. However I must add – the scenery and views along the coast were amazing.

The next night was in San Simeon, which was an amazing little place on the coast. On the way down we passed some of the most amazing views we had ever seen – very similar to Chappies in Cape Town:

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We also got to see some sea-lions on our drive down. They were the young ones, imagine the adults:

IMG_6463 IMG_6466 IMG_6449 IMG_6452 IMG_64552014-10-29 00.59.02 2014-10-29 00.58.19We stopped for lunch at a great spot just outside Santa Barbara. Great views and excellent food.

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Santa Barbara was our last stop on the way down to LA, and it was the place were Cameron had to write his first exam. It was an interesting little motel on a busy street – talk about an interesting exam venue! But we made it work for one night.  We went out for dinner at a Sushi restaurant in the busiest part of downtown Santa Barbara. The food was really good and reminded us of home. Santa Barbara was great.

And by the way, Dad’s backup worked 100%! All he lost was the 5 days of mails since the last backup so he was very happy!

IMG_6483 IMG_6484It was time to head into LA for the last 3 weeks of our trip. Watch this space…

Russell: Yes the traumatic loss of our backpacks impacted on us tremendously but we kept on stressing the positive to the family –  we were not mugged or hijacked – that could have been worse. It is now 3 weeks later and we have emergency travel documents from Ireland and RSA  so tomorrow we are coming home!  A big thank you to Marcelle and Shireen at the office who had to sort out the insurance claim with Nick at Lyall Morgan. A big thank you to Nick and his team – we have already been paid out or the loss and we have since replaced all the technology etc. Thanks all!


One thought on “24 – 27 October 2014: San Francisco, California

  1. Elizabeth

    Well done Mitch – a well-written piece. Not to harp on a subject, but Mitch asked me where we had stayed on the trip down to LA and quite frankly that part of the trip is a blur to me, places and names just don’t fit into my memory bank. It was a trying time for us as a family and many family discussions took place over the break-in. Well done boys for working through it – it was a very good learning curve for us, I’m just sorry that we let our guard down and that it had to happen at all! Love you. :-)

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