Up until we reached Arizona, our time in the United States had seemed like a rather touristy affair. We’d spent three weeks in LA, San Francisco and Las Vegas, and even San Diego with its more laid-back attitude to life had a bit of a polished sheen to it. Knowing that we wanted to reach New Orleans at some point in the future, we decided the best route to take would be a fairly straightforward one; ie travelling by as direct a route as possible instead of criss-crossing back and forth via aeroplane all across the country. And so, somehow on our Great American Roadtrip-Without-a-Car, we ended up in Tucson, Arizona. Within the US this is a rather well-known city, but personally I had never once heard it mentioned until I opened our Rough Guides book and did some light reading; most visitors to North America will naturally go to the big cities on the East or West Coast (basically LA and New York with a few others thrown in for luck), so I was none the wiser about this intriguing location my friends, and let me tell you not knowing anything about a place can really lead you to being pleasantly surprised and downright happy to have found it.
Our journey began with the booking of a shuttle to the airport in Las Vegas, which turned out to be a very luxurious and slick vehicle which turned up LATE. Brilliant car, but if you’re going to get a brilliant car which is late,is there any point getting a car in the first place? Perhaps not. I really do get very agitated when I think I’m going to miss a plane or a bus or a train, to the point that my heart starts to beat in at least double time and with a very much drum ‘n’ bass feel to it. It is not fun AT ALL.
But don’t worry you lot, we got there just in the nick of time and made it through airport security (which is always a relief, despite the fact that there’s no reason why I shouldn’t make it through airport security) and progressed onwards to our first SouthWest Airlines experience as fast as our little legs would carry us. Southwest is like the Easyjet of North America and as we had managed to get our flights at rock bottom prices we were pretty pleased. The fact that these flights were cheap was partly why we had ended up going to Tucson in the first place- basically they were the cheapest flights that were to somewhere vaguely between Las Vegas and New Orleans and so that cemented the deal. Like I said, our arrival into Tucson was really purely by chance. We were among the last to board the plane so we were literally right at the back, by the toilet, but as there was a little girl sitting directly in front of us who provided lots of in-flight entertainment pulling faces, I wasn’t bothered at all by the toilet proximity; good times all around! What a classic lass.
The interior of Tucson Airport is an air conditioned, cool as you like it paradise. But take a few steps outside of it- whilst wearing a giant rucksack that seemed to have tripled in weight over the previous three weeks- and you have a code red situation on your hands, my friends. It took a while for us to locate the bus stop, partly because there weren’t many people around to ask directions and partly because the heat was beginning to disorientate us.
So we stood in the desert heat, and waited for the Number 6 bus driver to appear. (The Number 6 bus was actually already parked up, but there wasn’t a soul in sight who looked like they were up for driving the thing.) What a wait it was. The sun was beating down, and you know how it is when it does that. Uncomfortable! If you ever find yourself in a city which is in the middle of the desert, be prepared. Eventually after about forty minutes the driver appeared and we were on the way to Downtown Tucson.
It’s a strange feeling to suddenly be the outsiders; to be frank as a blonde haired blue eyed lass from the South of England, I’ve never felt very much like the odd one out before (looks-wise, at least). We obviously already looked a bit weird with our crazy giant rucksacks on, but aside from that fact, we were the only non-Mexican looking people on the bus. After a while I got the distinct feeling that we were being watched; I mean let’s face it, a variety of clues made it startlingly obvious that we were clearly not from round there. The bus journey felt longer than it actually was, I think…it went through so many different areas, till I sensed that we were starting to get closer and had to ask the driver to let us know when we were nearing our stop. At home I would never have asked a bus driver to let me know when to get off the bus, but I’ll tell you this for free: travelling all over the place really forces you to put a lot of faith into strangers, that’s for sure.
Through the power of my own mental mind I’d memorized off of Google Street View what the route from the bus stop to the hostel looked like so we found it pretty quickly. I discovered during these early travelling days that Google Street View is one of my most important tools when going to a new place; I hate the idea of appearing lost, mainly because it makes me feel like an easy target for all sorts of trouble, so nine times out of ten I look addresses up and trace my exact route online beforehand, looking out for landmarks that will keep me on track once it gets to real life. Call me crazy, but another brilliant benefit of that is that without GPS I can still manage to find my way, and actually look at the world around me instead of my phone’s screen.
In the early evening with the sun still up, strolling along the wide dusty streets of Tucson was once again like stepping into a parallel universe. (The beauty of the US is that it felt like this pretty much every time we set foot in a different city) The residential roads we walked down were lined with giant cacti instead of trees, which I’m not gonna lie, I found pretty impressive, and we must’ve only seen one other person actually walking around aside from us. Our hostel- The Roadrunner– was basically the only place we could find in Tucson, tucked into a corner of one of these residential cacti-lined boulevards in what was once just an ordinary average-Joe house. It was all very unassuming you guys, but Tucson, and the Roadrunner, turned out to be one of the most brilliant places I’ve ever stumbled on.