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North Rim Grand Canyon is pristine, spectacular and mesmerizing

For those who seek off the beaten paths, quiet nature and don’t want helicopters and loud tourists disturbing their spectacular hike in the Grand Canyon, the North Rim is where you want to go. There are over 10 different hikes, all starting from different points on the North Rim and all with different difficulty levels (from 20 minutes up to 2 days hiking).

In the beginning we didn’t even knew that there were two separate entrees, the most touristic South Rim (90% of the visitors go here) and the North Rim. The two entrees lie more than 5 hours driving away from each other, so you cannot do both in one day. As we were planning on going in July and wanted to go camping as well, South Rim was not ideal, because we didn’t book anything ahead. So we decided to try the North Rim, also because it is far less crowded and touristic. Best choice ever!

We drove right up a very basic campground in Jacob Lake (17$). The temperature was excellent (didn’t need a/c) and we could make a nice campfire. The advantage of this campground was that it was commercial (normal tel. number), but the Forrest campground looked fine as well. The next day we started our hike at 8 am at the visitor centre (with a very nice and down to earth lodge for eating and drinking). Simple hike of 30 minutes but with a spectacular view! Perfect if you only have a few hours. After that we drove to the starting point of the Whitford trail (4/5 hours hike). What an amazing hike. It seemed as if it was just us there (little people on the trail). The views of the canyon were incredible. I highly recommend the North Rim to view the Grand Canyon. If you want a glimpse of the Colorado River you still have plenty of opportunities in the Navajo tribe area. For example towards Kayenta (from Jacob Lake).

Near Kayenta we visited the Navajo Monument Park. It has two very nice primitive campgrounds that offer toilets, grills and free camp sites with stunning views. The hiking tours are very informative (native ancient village in a cave) and not that hard to walk, yet they offer a nice work-out. The views on the Colorado River and the canyons there were impressive.

After Navajo it is a quick drive to Monument Valley. The best pictures we took there were at sunrise outside of the park (open’s at 7). The campground on the other side of the road was the perfect location for that. Expect many big rigs and loads of tourists, but for one night it was ok. They offer wifi which was nice and rare in the Navajo area. Toilets were very basic for the price you pay (28$).

Wish we had more time! This part of the US is absolutely gorgeous!!!

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Buying a car in US with a European drivers licence

When buying a car in the US you need to take a few important things in mind. For example, which state do you choose for buying and in which state are you registering. First of all, it is possible to buy a car if you register it in your name (in the US the title of a car is personal) and if you get a proper insurance. Look into which states have certain restrictions on registering a car in your name. For example Georgia has a new law (March 2013) which allows a person to register a car in your name, but only if you have a Georgia drivers licence (are you willing to get that on before hand?), so you can buy the car in Georgia (like we did) and drive it to a different state to register it. In the mean time, get a temporary drivers licence or go to the nearest DMV agency to get the state’s rules on temporary tags.

Get insurance right away. It was quiet the search, but we found company that was willing to insurance our car with a European drivers licence. Go to Nationwide and ask for a Victoria Select Insurance (we did the simplest one, read cheapest). Now here is where it gets tricky, you’ll need an address within the US. This is very important for many things, such as, registration and insurance. So find a friend (doesn’t really matter where he or she lives but best is there where you register) and use this address for your credit card payment to pay for the insurance (if you use your own address in Europe it won’t work). I actually used an American address the entire time we were in the US, it is in many ways so much easier (less questions). Buying the car usually happens in cash (people just like money) and the registration is often in cash as well.

We registered our car in Florida where all is possible, but you have to bring a big wallet! There are probably states that are cheaper to register your car, try and call a few Tag agencies or DMV’s in different states to find out what the restrictions are and how much they charge for the registration. One important thing is the tax. Keep in mind that you always have to pay tax over every amount that is presented to you (restaurants, bars, shops, etc.). For a car, the tax is determined by the amount you paid for it. Here’s the next trick: make sure you put ‘gift’ on your title (with this document you register the car in your name) instead of the amount you paid for it. Then you’ll pay no tax!

In our case the previous owner had a title loan (loan to buy the car). For us it took a minimum of 5 days to get the original title (because this title loan company is partial owner). The previous owner sent the title to us later and in the meantime we got a ‘bill of sale’. This is a letter, in which the previous owner claim’s that he sold the car to you and you both sign it with a whiteness (most of the times a bank employee).

Unfortunately for us we all learned these ‘tricks’ but paid for it big time. See my previous blog to read what happened to us in Miami. Despite all the arrangements i still highly recommend buying a car or van if you are travelling in the US for at least three months. We had so much fun in our little van and we are still travelling in it (until half August) and so far had a great road trip. It just gives a nice dimension to you trip and makes you in control of your time table and destinations.

Getting around and tips:
Our van is 8 ft high so most of the parking garages are too small for us in the cities. But with the van we could camp as well because our couch folded out into a bed. And as we mixed nature with city live the van was very welcome. In the cities we stayed in motels (booking.com/Priceline) or hostels and we just found out about airbnb.com, which is a website where people offer couches, airbeds and private rooms or homes (depending on how much you want to spend).

If you go to Wal-Mart with a T-mobile store in it, you can buy an American sim card. I highly recommend this! If you’re travelling in the US you have to have an American phone number. Even more if you’re buying a car. So get that right away. And if you buy the T-mobile starter kit you can text for free, call 100 minutes (this goes faster than you think!) and most importantly, use 3g internet. Very handy to navigate on your smart phone and make reservations as you go.

Another thing that was very useful to us was the allstays app or website. Here you will find all the campsites in the US, per state and per category. We always stayed in state parks, which are nicely preserved campgrounds with very good amenities and always in the middle of nature. Forrest campgrounds are also very nice. Please stay far far away from RV parks; in fact make a detour, these ‘parking lots are ugly, often close to a highway and full of big rigs.

Good luck and have fun!


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Time to reflect after driving the Route 66

So i was going to a coffee place because i finally had the time and the inspiration to write my next blog. But i ended up in a wine bar having the most fantastic glass of white wine to go with my (apparently English) writing. To keep me focussed and relaxed i have Beethoven on my iPad. It also helps me to not hear the two exceptionally arrogant ladies that almost took my table and now have to sit somewhere else, being annoyed. These were the type of women that talks about you in the third person while you are right there in front of them saying things like; “she wants us to move, let’s go sit over there”.

Driving the route 66 has always been a dream, like a nostalgic road trip with extremely loud music out of the speakers, while smoking a cigarette with my arm out of the window. Well, it has been exactly like that! Although the Route 66 has been replaced by the Interstate 40 for the larger part, we still had the possibility to drive it trough some really nice and nostalgic places. The neon lights and big commercial signs are still there but they don’t work anymore and the old-timers are now parked in front of renewed motels, just to attract tourists. But still, it’s the Route 66. Pretty awesome to be here. Another thing that stood out was New Orleans, what an experience to finally see this southern Mississippi city with all those crazy people on the streets, the lovely soul food and of course the fantastic night live and music scene. Just like in Nashville where we met this musician who knew and had played with a very famous Dutch singer (Andre Hazes). We had the best nights going out in these musical cities. Definitely worth going back to.

Due to extremely hot temperatures, we’ve been driving our cool (figurally speaking) 1992 Dodge ram van really early in the morning (4 am) from one place to another. Like the road from Las Vegas to Reno, which is pretty, scenic and sometimes completely deserted. Just driving through the desert for nine hours and crossing the old mine villages which have decreased in number of inhabitants drastically, was like a movie scene. The landscape changed so much since we’ve started our road trip from the east coast to the west; from very humid and tropical climate in Florida to nice cold winds and mountain rivers in California. All very different and beautiful in their own way, but i think (for now) my preference will go to the west of the USA. Incredible nature and liberal people. Furthermore, people are really friendly and helpful. We had a flat tire in Texas and of course our tools were so minimum that we would have never been able to take off the tire. This Texan guy hears the sound of our flat tire and just comes out of his comfy home and helps us out and within 45 minutes we are back on the road again! It seemed like no trouble to him.

Very different from the nasty Miccosukee police officer that had a very bad day, when pulling us over, while we did (almost) nothing wrong and had our car towed away in crazy Miami. It all started with our desire to start camping in Miami, which was just the worst plan ever. We did not find any (normal) campground so we decided to camp out on a parking lot (with a 120 degrees and no a/c). The plan just got worse slowly, like a very bad movie that you cannot turn off because you’re in it too long. The van needed some constructions before we could camp in it; there was this cabin that we had to saw in half, so Hielke started to work in that, while i cooked dinner and cleaned up the van. It turned dark, so we needed to hurry because of all the bugs, but we had no luck, again picture the bad movie. I accidently messed-up the very simple rice diner with a rotten lime (which i couldn’t see of course) Also the small construction on the cabin was giving us no luck, so, frustrated and fed up with the whole thing, and after being attacked by insanely big flying black bugs who smashed into our van, like kamikaze pilots, we decided this was the end of this horror movie (so we thought) and we drove off.

Just a minute after we left the parking lot, this police car turns up behind us and turns on these massive lights. It took a while before something happened (apparently the police officer thought that the van looked threatening), so Hielke got out of the van and immediately was summoned ‘BACK into the vehicle’. At first we thought it was funny (you know like in the movie) and we thought we had absolutely nothing to worry about, because we were being pulled over that same day by different police officers and they gave us the ‘friendly advice’ to get a temporary licence plate because the one we had was no good. We actually had a cardboard licence plate (with a date on it) from the previous owner, because he had a title loan on the van and therefore it took a while for us to get the original title on our name. So we were thankful that these nice police officers advised us and were happy to get a new licence plate once we would arrive in Miami. No problems, just good movie stuff.

We tried to explain this to the police man, but he just had a bad day and wasn’t going to give us any advises! He just kept checking our VIN number even after we explained the title was not yet in our name! When he just couldn’t find us as the owner in one of his systems it went wrong. “This van will not drive one more mile tonight”, he said while flashing us in the face with a flashlight. “You better start packing your belongings because the towing car is on its way”. This movie just reached It’s lowest point! We just couldn’t believe that this was happening and certainly did not realize the consequences. So there we were in the middle of nowhere, waiting for a taxi to take us to a hotel somewhere. Where to go? Miami was a $50, – drive away we learned.

The following days we spent most of our time in this crappy hotel calling all sorts of companies. The guy who checked us into the hotel was a kid, giving us a hard time and the service just got worse with the day manager! Seriously the guy belonged in a muffler shop (and still would have been considered rude) with all his swearing and nagging. But we had no van, not enough clean clothes so we had bigger problems on our mind. We needed the original title on our name and quick! Apparently you can get a really cheap title in Georgia, but you have to have a Georgia drivers licence. So that was quickly out of our reach. Fortunately you can buy anything in Florida, if you’re willing to pay! We found out we could get a Florida licence plate and put the title on our name for the little amount of $400, – (BAM!!) at this local tag agency. But these agencies do a live check on the VIN number, so we needed to get the van first. But in order to get the van back from the towing agency, we needed the title to be in our name first. Wow, this was getting really frustraded! But we were in luck, the previous owner had sent a ‘Power of Attorney’ with the original title which was on his name, so when i mentioned that to the, not so very cooporative tralor trash lady at the towing agency, all doors were suddenly open. So, on the third day we finally could pick up the van after paying $ 350, – and then got the title. This was some trip to Miami.

Through the State Police we found out that the police officer was actually way out of line to take such strong measures. But hey, without a lawyer you get nowhere in the US. So we just learned from this experience and tried to forget the whole thing.

As i almost finished my wine in this nice café i realize that this experience has been a good story to tell. And to be honest, if you’re going to buy a van in the US, you are likely to get in some kind of trouble. You also make this awesome trip where you see so much of a country and meet so many people. It is just a great ride.

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