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Sunday, October 22, 2017

Los Angeles, California: The Gold Line Pub Crawl, Version 2.0

Yes, we already did a pub crawl along the Gold Line, the east side light rail line in Los Angeles. That was just a small trial run for the real thing, an all-day, complete end-to-end, deep exploration of the line. With an added visitor, my bother in law, and no driving to be had, we're not holding back.

Watch the Video!

The Gold Line runs 31 miles from the edge of Monterey Park in the south to Azusa in the northeast end of the San Gabriel Valley and makes a loop through downtown L.A. and Pasadena along the way.

We start off at Atlantic Station, the south end of the line in East Los Angeles and make our way a couple of stops to the Indiana Station.  This is a nutrition and fortification stop to prepare for the rest of the day-long journey.

Breakfast is red pork tamales and chicharonnes at Lilliana Tamales before getting back on the train.

Little Tokyo/Arts District Station is next where we take the short walk over to Traction Avenue.  Two breweries are here and two breweries are closed today.  We thought they might be open on their earlier weekend hours since it was a holiday (Memorial Day) but, no.

Lucky for us, Fritzi...which shares the building with the Arts District open and pours brews from the back of the building.

To go with our backyard dog and pastries, it's a Nitro Red Ale, their Belgian style wit, and a pilsner.  They were good, not the greatest beers we've tasted but decent, and the hot dog messy.

Back on the train it's a two-station jaunt to Chinatown. The newly built Blossom Plaza apartments have finally opened up the sidewalk adjacent to the station so it's much easier walk over to Gin Ling Way, the heart of the area.

Unfortunately, we couldn't find any bars open so we hit up Phoenix Bakery for some treats and jumped back on the train.

It doesn't take long until we're at the Del Mar station in Pasadena. This is the historic train station for the city and the old Santa Fe station now houses a fancy restaurant. Next to the southbound platform itself is a branch of Escondido's Stone Brewery, famous for its Arrogant Bastard ale.

We set up a row of tasters and dig in. We find a couple that aren't bad but most are a little too hoppy for our taste.

Tim suggests we check out of Stone and atone for our sins at the church across the street. At least you'd be forgiven for thinking it was one. It's Congregation Ale House, the Catholic mass themed drinking hall in the former Crown City Brewery space at Del Mar and Raymond Avenue.

Letty has a nifty blackberry sour ale while I have a St. Bernardus 12...a very tasty and strong Belgian quadruple ale.  Tim's done with beer and switches to soda while we all soak it up with a pretzel and beer cheese (pic at top).

So far, we've made four stops on this voyage across eastern L.A. county...breakfast in East L.A.; the Arts District and Little Tokyo; Chinatown; and's time for the last leg of our journey.

The Gold Line ends across the street from the campuses of Citrus College (a public community college) and it's next door neighbor, Azusa Pacific University (a private Christian university).

Just to say we've been from end-to-end on the 31 mile line, we go to that eastern terminus before heading back one station to the downtown Azusa station.  It's here in this unlikely area that has one of the most lively station-adjacent areas for fun on the entire route.

It's just a little over a block south of the station to our next stop, Max's Mexican Cuisine, where we'll fill up our bellies on that great Mexican food and have some margaritas (you might remember Max's from our 'Southern California's Best Margaritas' video).

Since we've been drinking all day, I opt for the drinking man's Mexican friend, a nice steaming bowl of menudo.

This goes perfectly with a Cadillac margarita.

After our time with Max and his minions...with a hearty "See you tomorrow, WHY NOT?" as we's golden hour out on Azusa Avenue.

Halfway to the station, we spot a Mexican Dive bar...Maria's...and it's happy hour. I glance at my brother-in-law, we shrug our shoulders, and head inside while Letty and Tim roll their eyes and try to figure out how they got in this mess.

It's one more Pacifico for the road (or rails, in our case) before we stumble back up to the station and head back to our home station and walk or wobble back to our house.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2016 - All Rights Reserved

Friday, October 20, 2017

ADVENTURES CLOSE TO HOME: Lake Arrowhead, California

In a region teeming with over 10 million people, you need a place close by to escape to now and again. In the summertime, when the heat inland can easily top 100 degrees, many people head to the ocean. Many, many people. This causes major traffic jams, making the drive last hours instead of minutes, and then you have to deal with finding a parking spot.

No easy task when it seems several of those millions have the same idea you do.

We like the beach, too, but we're happy to go off-season when the crowds are staying away. Instead, we might head up to the mountains.

Southern California is blessed with an abundance of mountain ranges, something you might expect in a region riddled with earthquake faults.  A lot of it is wilderness or open space (President Obama set aside a few hundred thousand acres of it to create the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument) with few roads but many trails.  Some of these mountains are quite big with San Jacinto (near Palm Springs), San Antonio (also called Mt. Baldy, near Upland), and San Gorgonio (rising up 11,503 feet above Big Bear) all cresting over 10,000 feet tall.

Just a handful of communities reside in these mountain ranges...Mt. Baldy, Wrightwood, Idylwild, Big Bear, Crestline, Running Springs, and a few others.  All have their charms but we've come to enjoy Lake Arrowhead the most, even though most of the lake is off-limits to the public since it's privately owned and maintained for the property owners that surround the lake.

Fortunately, there is a village on the south shore that is open to the public and it makes for a great little getaway from the heat below. Everything you need to have a fun day is here and, as a bonus, it's all within walking distance once you find a place to park.

Our weather at home is supposed to get near 110 degrees today as we get ready to escape up to the lake, where it should be a decidedly more pleasant 75 or so. A 90 minute drive, with the last half hour along a mountain road, will get us there. About the same as going to the beach on a hot weekend.

Not as bad as the beach but plenty of people have the same idea as us. We get lucky and find a great handicapped spot in front of the Pendleton Outlet store by the McDonalds (the village is like a small outlet mall with a few outlet stores from companies like Coach, Bass, Jockey and more). If there's no parking at this lower lot, we know we can find more in the upper lot, a short block away, where we can get back down via a handy elevator.

The main part of the village is just above us, up a short flight of stairs. Letty thinks there's an elevator along the lakefront side of the path. I don't remember one but we'll go that way (there isn't one, by the way). It's a very pleasant stroll, feeling the cool breeze off of the water and watching people speed by in their boats.

It is the long way around but it still isn't that far. We make it to Lollipop Park, a micro-sized amusement park out on the point.

You can ride on the bumper cars, a couple of kiddie rides, or even drive go-karts on a tiny waterfront course. A miniature golf course and carousel are also somehow squeezed in along the sidewalk.

Here, we can make the wide turnaround to access the main part of the village in the wheelchair.  A pedestrian walkway winds through the outlet stores, souvenir shops, restaurants and bars. A stage with open air seating is at the far end. A U2 tribute band will be playing a free concert there later.

A break for ice cream is called for before we continue into the village at the Village Ice Cream Shoppe, just after we clear the amusement park and across from the Bass Outlet.

My wife wants to do a little shopping but after driving up and walking around the far way, I want a drink first.

The Lakefront Tap Room supplies the chaser, a nice craft brew on tap, while the outdoor patio at Papagayo's...about ten feet the shot, a chilled shot of tequila with a lakeside view and breeze.

Letty goes on to browse the Famous Footwear Outlet, Wilson's Leather Outlet, and a few others while Tim and I knock around outside. We meet up at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate shop where they get some sweets and even I get in on the action with a selection of delicious sugar-free options. Good, but expensive at $22 a pound.

We cap off a day with a meal at the Belgian Waffle Works back on the edge of the lake where a nice dish of waffles awaits us.

After filling our tummies, we head back down the mountain to the heat below before it gets dark. It was very nice to escape from it for a few hours.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

CHEAP GETAWAYS: Budget Friendly Bakersfield

One of the things we wanted to do on this blog is to highlight budget friendly trips in this tight economy. 

We’ve been highlighting one of our favorite weekend getaways, Bakersfield, this week. We’ve also been telling you that it’s friendly on budget. So just how friendly is it?
Here is what you can expect to pay in 2014 for two nights in Bakersfield…

First, you have to get there. It’s approximately 120 miles from Los Angeles, so we’ll start from there. The two hour drive, using a car that gets 16 miles per gallon, will cost you $15 each way, or $30 round trip at the current $4 per gallon cost. Figure another 4 gallons for driving around while you’re there and the total comes up to $46.
Be sure to gas up in L.A. and Bakersfield, not in between where the prices can be significantly higher. Bakersfield tends to be a few cents less per gallon than L.A.
GAS - $46

Hotel – Our go-to hotel in Bakersfield is the Springhill Suites where, with a AAA discount, we can usually get a two-room suite for around $85 per night. This price includes a full breakfast. A quick search at the Expedia link below reveals many other quality hotels starting at $50 per night, so a two night stay will be between $110 - $170.
Save up to $500 when you book your flight +hotel!

HOTEL - $110 - $170

Food – Bakersfield is a food lover’s heaven and, apart from the hotel breakfast, one big meal usually is enough for us.  From a low of around $14 for stuffing ourselves silly at Los Tacos de Huicho, to a high of around $60 for two dinners and a bottle of wine at Uricchio’s Trattoria or one of the city’s famous Basque restaurants, you will never go hungry here. We’ll put it right in the middle, $30, for two big meals.  We’ll add another $15 for those of you who want to have a lunch between your breakfast and dinner.
FOOD - $90

Fun – There is a lot to do here for fun. Free stuff includes going to the Kern River east of town for some hiking and dipping your feet in the water (we won’t recommend swimming in this sometimes dangerous river). Many nature reserves, such as the Wind Wolves south of town, offer free wildlife viewing and hiking. You can take a drive up into the nearby mountains and search for Sequoia trees…the largest trees on the planet.
Professional baseball at Sam Lynn Park can be had for $8 per person. $6 will get you into the Crystal Palace to see the Buckaroos play a concert.  If you’re there on the right weekend, Buck Owens’ son Buddy will be there singing along.
FUN - $13 - $15 for two
So there are the prices for all you need for a good Bakersfield weekend, let’s total it up…a two night getaway to Bakersfield from Los Angeles, including a suite, food, gas, and entertainment, will set you back anywhere from $269 to $321 for two people.

Copyright 2012 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, October 16, 2017

CLASSIC TRIP - Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado 1997

I hope you don't mind one more post about Colorado (see our Salute to Colorado at the link). This trip from 1997 was Letty and Tim's first trip to the state...way over at the other end near the Four Corners.  Enjoy...

After driving across a third of the country, I was worried we'd be shut out at our destination. As much as we celebrate the ADA, the fact remains that a majority of our natural resources are still inaccessible. This happened to us at the Grand Canyon (great views from the rim is about it) and what was now worrying me as we approached Mesa Verde National Park in the southwest corner of Colorado.

Mesa Verde is home to many dwellings of the mysterious and ancient Anasazi people. For a brief time in their history, the Anasazi moved into spectacular multi-storied houses perched in cliff side niches. These remnants of an ancient and pre-European America are what draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to the park each year.

As it turns out, we needn't have worried, many of the best sites in Mesa Verde are available to people in chairs..with the one big exception to this being the most popular site in the park, the Cliff Palace and Balcony House cliff dwelling, which requires scaling a cliff-top ladder.
The accessible visitor center and gift shop is 15 miles past the entrance gate (this is the second visitor center, Far View Visitor center being the first). From here, an access trail leads to the magnificent Spruce Tree House cliff dwelling. The trail into the lush canyon is mostly flat and smooth. There are a few drops on the side of it that will make your heart beat a little faster but are easily avoided. You will definitely have an adventure here in a chair.

When at the dwelling itself, you are allowed to explore quite a lot of it with little being out of bounds. We could explore in our chair as well an anybody around us with the one exception of the sweat lodge pit where the only access is a ladder.

This was all very fun and interesting for us and our 9 year old son, but what really stopped us in our tracks was the conversation we had with the ranger on the site. I asked him why the natives are not here anymore when we were surrounded by native American country.
"They still come here. They still feel this is theirs." Then he told us many of the ancient community members are buried in the adjacent rubbish mound. Come here at night, he said, and we'd likely see the ghosts that roam these ruins. That brought it home to us. Here is not an abandoned ancient ruin. Here is a place where people still come and visit their long lost relatives to feel an attachment and ownership. Suddenly I had a slight feeling of trespassing.

(As an aside, the surrounding areas still in Indian Reservations hold many more such cliff dwellings. Trips can be arranged with some local tribes although most are inaccessible to wheelers.)

Our base camp for this trip for this trip was the wonderful A Bed and Breakfast on Maple Street (800-665-3906) in nearby Cortez. Though not up to all ADA standards, it does have access to one room downstairs with a big, adjacent bathroom. It also has easy access to the common living room and dining room where you feast on a hearty home-cooked country breakfast for less than $90 per night double-occupancy. It also has a spa to soak your tired muscles after a day in Mesa Verde.

Copyright 1998 - Darryl Musick

Sunday, October 15, 2017

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Tequila Tasting with the Tios

Rudy, one of the bartenders in our "Southern California's Top Three Margaritas" video, told me this is his favorite Cocktail Hour video. For Rudy - Ed

Welcome to a very special Cocktail Hour here on The World on Wheels. We’re on the road for today’s episode, crossing the border into Mexico and bringing some premium tequilas back for our own little tasting party. As you may know from previous cocktail hours, I’m a big fan of the blue agave spirits.

With us today is Heliodoro, Hector, and Lupe…our aunt and uncles from my wife’s side of the family. The two uncles are pretty serious tequila connoisseurs, and I take their opinions and recommendations seriously when I’m looking for good tequila.

With that, it’s on to the tasting which you can watch in the video above. In the morning, we crossed over into Mexico at Los Algodones, which is about 7 miles west of Yuma, Arizona. We acquired around $300 worth of tequila, all but one of which I would consider premium or ultra-premium. Each person is allowed to bring back 1 liter, so the little bottles you see in the video were taken to add to our 750ml bottles to get as close to the limit as possible.

Back across the border, we had our tasting session at our hotel, the La Fuente Inn and Suites in Yuma. Here are our opinions on each of the tequilas…

Corralejo Reposado – This is made in Guanajato by Hacienda Corralejo. You usually see this in oversize blue bottles at your local liquor store. It’s not bad, definitely better that Cuervo Gold or the supermarket generics, and has a pretty good agave flavor. There is a tinge of harshness to the taste that keeps it from being a truly premium spirit. It’s along the lines of Cazadores…a good, solid tequila that is a superb mixer and a decent shot maker if you cut the taste with lime and salt. That right there is my line in the sand between a really good tequila and a superb tequila…premium tequilas need no help from limes, salt, etc. to be enjoyed. They taste too good by themselves to be adulterated by other ingredients.

1921 – Next is a trinity from 1921, another distiller from Guanajato. First is the plata, or silver, tequila. Plata is not aged. Just distilled and bottled. Right off the bat we can tell there is a big jump in quality from the Corallejo. Smooth. Great agave flavor. No harshness at all. An excellent, premium silver.

The 1921 Reposado – reposado is Spanish for rested. A reposado usually means that the tequila has been aged in wooden barrels for at least 6 months. 1921’s version is another smooth entry but the wooden aging overtakes the agave flavor a bit. It’s really good but not quite as good as the silver.

1921’s Añejo – aged at least a year – picks up where the reposado left off. Many añejos are aged in old whiskey barrels and the result is an overtone of whiskey flavor along with the agave. Some distillers are masters at this blending of flavors, others not so much. 1921 is a master at this. It’s one of the best añejos out there. This morning when we were tasting samples, we had a taste of Hacienda de la Plata añejo. It wasn’t bad. Then we had a taste of Hacienda de la Plata ultra añejo, which is aged for several years instead of one. It was very delicious and $56 a bottle. The 1921 añejo has an almost identical taste to the ultra añejo but is $30 less per bottle (note, these are Mexican prices – they are much higher in the States). This is where the difference in experience comes in. Nice, deep agave flavor with just a hint of whiskey hovering around your palate.

The guys will take a little break from tasting here so the women can try a tast of 1921’s delicious tequila crème. Think Bailey’s Irish Crème and you get an idea of what this tastes like. Letty and Lupe both like it and it tastes just like Bailey’s with just a hint of agave overtones. I’ve had this before, and if you’re in the mood for a sweet, chocolaty, coffee tasting drink, this is very good. Would make an excellent Irish coffee.

The guys will now taste another ultra-premium añejo by Degollado. Made in the town of the same name, south of Guadalajara in Jalisco, this is really rare in the States. An online search showed only one ABC store in North Carolina that sometimes stocks this. Bottles on EBay go for north of $150. In Mexico, I grabbed a bottle for $26. This is another ultra-smooth añejo with a bit of stronger whiskey influence than the 1921. I like it, as do the other guys.

We’ve got one more to taste tonight. As the sky darkens, I bring out one more bottle. This time, it’s the white and blue porcelain bottle of Clase Azul Reposado. Made in the highlands, north of Guadalajara, this is truly a special tequila. Smooth, deep agave taste, a slight hint of syrup. As incredible as the taste of this tequila is, the aftertaste lingers with a sweet, almost amaretto, taste on your lips and tongue. What a truly fantastic tequila.

We saved the very best for the last of a stellar lineup of tequilas. What about the calories, you may be asking (since we’re focusing on healthier, lower calorie drinks this year)? Each shot of tequila (1 ounce) has 69 calories. Since these tequilas are made for savoring, you can have three shots over an evening, slowly enjoying the warmth and taste, for only 207 calories.

Copyright 2010 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Friday, October 13, 2017

MEDICAL TOURISM: Yuma, Arizona - 2010

In part 1 of this trip, we introduced you to the little Mexican border town of Los Algodones, a very popular destination for medical tourism.

We came for the eyeglasses but there are many other medical options in town, especially dentists who seem to operate an office every twenty feet or so. Touts will sit out in front of practically every business but instead of offering strippers and other unsavory fare, they will be trying to get you in for a low-price dental or optical exam. Many pharmacies also line the streets selling brand name drugs for less than their U.S. counterparts. Other medical services abound here from normal general practitioners to plastic surgeons but opticians, dentists, and pharmacies pretty much rule the roost here.
Watch the video for this trip!

It’s 2 ½ hours until we need to go back to Algodones Optical to pick up our new glasses.  Another thing we like about Mexico is the abundance of really premium tequilas at low prices.  Although there are many liquor stores here in town, we end up at twin purple stores of the Liqui’s empire.

On the east side of the street, the largest of the two stores offers a literal supermarket of booze attached to its pharmacy.  Across the street, a smaller version of the purple monster offers a slightly more relaxed version along with its own pharmacy and furniture outlet.

Tasting bars are set up in each store and the staff is more than happy to pour out a few drops of any tequila in the store to taste so you can know if you like it before you buy it.

The uncles, Heliodoro and Hector, are two of the finest tequila aficionados I know.  I’m getting there, beyond a novice, but not quite there yet.  Tim’s just starting out.

Before you think too judgmentally about me, know that a fine tequila is as tasty, smooth, and delicious as a fine cognac.  It is not to be guzzled in quick shots down your throat before the gag reflex sets in for a quick buzz.  If it is really good, it is best enjoyed by itself…no lime or salt…sipped slowly for the smooth warmth of its taste.  Try a shot of Cuervo Gold followed by a shot of Hornitos Reposado…both similarly priced mid-range tequilas…to see what I’m talking about sometime.

We taste a few samples, some good, some not so good, and a couple of outstanding examples.  Since each adult can bring back a liter of alcohol duty free, we buy six bottles of various platas, reposados, and añejos (see our Cocktail Hour for October 17th…Tequila Tasting with the Tios…to see how they turned out).  Since the bottles are 750ml and we’re allowed a liter, we fill in the gap with 100 and 200ml bottles of various brands. 

An example of how much you save is the Clase Azul reposado I bought.  This is the unanimous pick for the best tequila we tasted today.  At Beverages and More, a 750ml bottle is $90.  I got two 375ml bottles for $30 each, or $60 for 750ml…2/3 the price of BevMo.

After our tequila shopping, we continue on for a few blocks because Letty wants to buy a galvanized bucket at the local hardware store.  Nearby is a nice, little town park with a few taco carts along the perimeter.  We take a seat at a nearby table and the cook comes over to take our order.  Some fresh cooked-on-the-spit al pastor, quesadillas, and the delicious Mexican Coke take the edge off of our appetite.

On the way back to the downtown area, we make one more stop at Liqui’s so we can pick up a supply of various prescription medications and over-the-counter drugs at deep discounts (if your prescription is not a controlled substance or easily abused, it’s not a big deal to bring back a few months worth of drugs – otherwise you’ll need an ironclad prescription from your local doctor.  Check the U.S. Customs web site for more information).

With that, it’s time to go back to pick up our glasses.  Once we’ve got them adjusted properly, we head back across the border.  Luckily, it’s the off-season for the snowbirds (who should be starting to arrive as you read this) so there is no line at the border.  One time we came here right after Thanksgiving and the walk-across line was over 4 hours.  The line for cars went way beyond our vision.

Today, there’s no wait and the border guards are friendly (that is not always the case).  A quick glance at our passports (mandatory now), tequila, medicine , and we’re waved through.

At the exit of the checkpoint, a hundred feet or so north, is an old canal.  It’s worth noting that 105 years ago the levee on the side gave way and it flooded for two years.  The waters settled 70 miles away and created the Salton Sea which, of course, is still with us today.

The uncles want to do a little gambling, so we make a stop at the Quechan Resort back up the road.

It’s a big casino, mainly slots and poker.  I take the time to go have a cup of coffee in their café while the rest of the group feeds the slots and plays a few hands.  Gradually, one by one, we gravitate to a nice little sports bar, watching baseball playoffs while waiting for the others to finish. 

It’s a nice little casino and an even better looking hotel.  I’m not much of a gambler so the games don’t leave too much of an impression on me.

After the casino break, we run to the border.  Crossing over the Colorado River, we head to Yuma’s big historical site, the old territorial prison. 

In use in the era before Arizona became a state in 1912, the prison was the facility for many of the West’s outlaws.  If you remember the move 3:10 to Yuma , this is where they were heading.
A Picture in the Museum Shows What it used to Look Like

It’s $5 to get in and, no, there is no discount for the disabled.  Seniors, military, students and kids do.

Once inside, there are great views of the Colorado River back across to California, a nice little park, a guard tower (inaccessible to wheelchairs), and a time line of the prison leading up to the old Sally Port.
What we look like now...

The museum inside has many displays about prison life, how they were processed, punishments, prison crafts, and so on.  One display explains how when prisoners were processed, they had their mug shots taken in front of a special mirror so that both a front view and a profile of the prisoner could be captured in one shot.  There is a mirror on display that visitors can use to make their own mug shots…

...and what it would have looked like back then.

Outside of the museum is the actual remains of the prison.  Heavy iron doors are mounted on 4 foot thick walls made of either iron reinforced adobe or rock.  One cell is unlocked so visitors can go inside.  Although the path along the cell block is accessible, wheelchairs cannot get inside of this cell.

Down the path to the end of the cell block is the dark cell.  Here, prisoners served discipline time when being punished in this interior, windowless cell.  With a little effort, wheelchairs can get inside here.  It is very dark and the remains of an old iron cage are on the floor…watch where you roll or step!

At the end of this building, a low passageway leads to the exercise yard and some newer cells.  We noticed iron rings in each cell that prisoners could be chained to.

Outside on a rocky hillside are piles of rocks marking the graves of prisoners who are buried here in the cemetery.

After our prison tour, we head back to the hotel and hang out in the patio having hotel pizza and beer, along with tasting a few samples of our newly acquired tequila (see the video of that here).

One more night of rest and it’s back on the road back home, stopping for date shakes in Mecca.

Our sight restored, medicines and liquor well stocked, and our bodies rested up, we end our trip early in the afternoon when we arrive back home.

Copyright 2010 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

ADVENTURES FAR FROM HOME: The Best Complimentary Hotel Breakfasts

You kind of feel like you're getting away with something when your hotel feeds you for free. It's also nice just to slip downstairs to eat and come back up to the room to get ready for the day without having to leave the building. A one or two minute commute from the room to the lobby is so nice and timesaving too.

Some hotels barely make an effort with a few pieces of fruit, some pre-packaged pastries, and coffee but others with fill you full of good, hearty food to tackle the day.

We're going to reveal our favorites but first a few honorable mentions. These chains offer full breakfasts, good food, but don't quite go the extra mile to make it special.

Embassy Suites
Drury Inn
Springhill Suites
Homewood Suites

Now on to the top-of-the-line hotels that really call to us at breakfast time.

5. Charter Inn and Suites is in the Central Valley town of Tulare, California. It's not a place too many go to for a weekend getaway but it is within driving distance to several places like the giant ice cream sundaes of Hanford or the giant trees in Sequoia National Park.  It's also one of the best hotels along Highway 99 and includes a great, hot buffet in their cozy library room.

4. Red Lion Hotel, Bakersfield, California sits next door to the Crystal Palace, the country music club built by Buck Owens. You can still see the Buckaroos play there almost every Friday and Saturday night by just taking a few steps out the front door of this hotel. When you do, you'll walk by the onsite diner where you'll be able to order anything off of their menu in the morning for free. You might want to keep Sunday morning open, though. The Crystal Palace does a Sunday brunch that will blow your socks (and diet) off. That one's not free though.

3. Hotel Vi Vadi in Munich, Germany, is one of those hotels that have an arrangement with the next door restaurant. It's pretty common to find breakfast included in your room rate in Germany.  Here, the Italian restaurant next door puts out a nice spread of eggs, meats, pastries and more served in a very nice dining room with an assist from the waiters there. I found myself wanting to wake up early to take advantage of this great breakfast.

2. Best Western Station Inn, South Lake Tahoe, California, is another with an onsite restaurant.  Instead of a buffet, you are waited on and given a special menu with seven breakfast options like pancake combos, bacon 'n eggs, biscuits and gravy, and much more. Service is very good and afterward you still don't have to drive anywhere. The casinos, beach, and lift to Heavenly Valley are all only a block away.

1. The Buccaneer Hotel, Christiansted, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, is not an all inclusive resort but they do include breakfast at a spectacular 40 foot long buffet. You can also order anything cooked to order from the kitchen and enjoy it while chatting with the friendly staff on their open-air veranda overlooking their beach in the Caribbean. The best complimentary hotel breakfast we've ever had.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, October 9, 2017

MEDICAL TOURISM: Los Algodones, Mexico - 2010

If you’ve got a full tank of gas and don’t stop, it’s just over three hours to Yuma, Arizona from Pomona, California where we started our trip. That’s if you go by the desolate Salton Sea on the southside via Highway 86. It’s four hours if you go on the other side on Highway 111 but you do go past Oasis Date Garden…where you can get free samples of delicious dates and a date shake, and Calipatria…the lowest elevation town in the Western Hemisphere (184 feet below sea level).

Watch the Video for this trip!

The only real highlight on the southern highway is the Red Earth Casino and travel center, which makes a real handy rest stop.

Date Shakes at Oasis Date Gardens
We’ve got a full van today as two uncles and an aunt are traveling with us. Our hotel is the La Fuente Inn and Suites, just off Interstate 10 at 16th Street. We have two junior suites, one for us and another for the aunt and uncles.

Our suite is designated “handicapped,” which means there’s enough room in the couch area to turn around and a path to the bathroom that can be (barely) managed by a wheelchair. The bathroom has a large tub (roll-ins are not available here) with a shower chair. The toilet is slightly raised and there are grab bars throughout the bathroom. The roll-under sink is outside next to the doorless closet. It is the closest room to the lobby on the ground level. There is also cable TV, microwave, coffee maker, refrigerator, ironing board, and an iron.

There is a free breakfast buffet in the morning with eggs, sausage, bacon, breads, toaster waffles, cereals, fruit, and yogurt. From 5-7pm there’s a happy hour with food (BBQ’d burgers one night, Pizza Hut pizza the next), beer, wine, limited cocktails, popcorn, and soda.

A very nice pool and spa are the centerpiece of a comfortable and pretty courtyard and there are 4 gas grills available for guests to use.

A nice, comfortable place to stay but partiers in the courtyard kept us up a bit the first night. A call to the front desk put an immediate stop to it though.

After checking in, we have dinner at the adjacent Cracker Barrel and spend some time chatting and hanging out together at one of the many tables in the courtyard before heading in for the night.

Yuma’s a decent town and it does have its amenities and even some very interesting places to see but no one would really call it a tourist mecca. Although we will see and do some fun, tourist type things while we’re here, there’s really only one main reason we came to town…medical tourism.

With medical costs so high in the U.S. and fights with insurers for coverage are common, many people take to crossing the border for medical care that is either not covered, hard to get insurance to pay for, or expensive. Communities have sprung up across the globe to cater to this type of traveler.

Los Algodones, just across the border 7 miles from Yuma, is just such a community. Why out here…basically in the middle of an empty desert? Each winter, thousands of people from colder climates like Canada, the Dakotas, and Minnesota, pack up their RV’s, trailers, and campers and spend their winters in the warm deserts here. These “snowbirds,” often elderly retirees, will need someone to take care of their medical needs. Algodones fits the bill almost perfectly.

It's also nice that the border towns of Mexico are the most wheelchair friendly of the cities of our neighbor to the south.  Plenty of curbcuts and ramps abound for wheelers but do watch for the occasional pot hole.

If you’re in Yuma, you’re going to backtrack across the Colorado River into California about 5 miles to Algodones Road. There’s a large Indian casino, the Quechan Resort, at this exit. Go south two miles. You can drive right into Mexico but we prefer to park in the large lot right next to the border run by the Quechan tribe. From the handicapped spaces, it’s less than 100 yards to walk across the border into Mexico. The cost is $5 per day, more for RVs and larger vehicles.

The lot is open 6am to 10pm (same as the border crossing hours). Your car is subject to towing if you leave it overnight.

Once across, we cross the street, make a left turn and walk about another 100 yards to Algodones Optical. Here Letty and Tim will get their eyes examined and we’ll purchase new eyeglasses. The front door of the optician is about 30 feet from the border fence across the street.

Algodones Optical is only open Monday through Friday so you’ll need to plan accordingly if you want to use them. There are many other opticians in town and you can see some of them on weekends if you can’t make it during the week. We like it here because of the quality of the exams, the extensive selection of frames, and the professionalism of the staff. It also helps that prices are a fraction of what they are back home.

Letty called ahead and made appointments for her and Tim this morning. If you do that…and buy glasses…the exam is free. Otherwise it is $10. Tim is first in. The exam first measures your eyes and face, then a glaucoma test, then the normal vision test in the dark room with the lenses and eye charts. It takes about 20 minutes and if you have an appointment, you pretty much go right in.

While we wait for Letty, I help Tim try on several frames and pick a few candidates. When Letty comes out, her and the doctor go over the frames we picked and finds a good one. While Letty and her aunt browse for her, Tim and I go to find the uncles who are browsing the shops down the street.

After haggling with a local about a belt, we agree on a price when Letty and her aunt show up. 

It’ll be 2 ½ hours before the glasses are ready for pickup. We end up with a pair of polycarbonate progressive lenses for Tim; another pair like that for Letty with the no-line bifocals, plus another pair for Letty that are polarized sunglasses. The entire bill is $500 for the three pairs (I got a pair last time and I have a pretty vanilla prescription so my exam, frames, and lenses were $20). That is what Letty would pay just for the sunglasses and her prescription at the optician our insurer sends us to back home.

Exams over with time to kill, we wander the streets of Los Algodones looking for food, tequila, and fun. 

Stay tuned for that part of the trip coming up soon.

Copyright 2010 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved.