Day 9: Alcatraz, Muir Woods, and Sausalito

I've been lonely, alone in a box of my stone
They claim to be near me but they were all lying, it's not true
I've been lonely, alone in a box of my stone
This is the place I know I now belong

Cornerstone - Benjamin Clementine

For this post, I will use 2 songs because Benjamin Clementine's Cornerstone is kinda too depressing to be used for the second part of day 9. It kinda fits to describe the first part of the day though. This song is a really sad song. I love it because when I heard the lyric I feel like this song describes me really really well, it's kinda everything I feel, all the time, okay most of the time. Some people like my mom may not understand the need I have to travel and how I could just do it alone when I have no one to go with. Well, it's my way to be away from my box of stone. When I travel, I feel so free. It's like there are a lot of chains that bring me down in my day to day life that I can't really be who I am, be the inquisitive curious me, and just be happy. I live a very lonely life and one would think that the lack of people means less people to bother and annoy me. If only that is the case, I still need to deal with people and not all people are nice, some people can be a bully. Almost daily when I step out of my room, I feel like there's a role that I have to play and it's not a happy one for me to do. It's not the only reason for my sadness I guess, but it does take a lot from me mentally. When I am just away travelling, I don't have to play a role. I can just be me, the dumb me who gets me lost sometime (often), the me who gets myself nice presents like the chance to see nice wondrous things. I feel more like myself when I travel. The me in my daily life is the me who is subdued. Some days ago during a rare lunch in which I actually ate with some people instead of alone, someone in the group said he knew I'm weird so he didn't see the things that I do as weird, instead he saw it as being normal for me. I actually like hearing him telling me I'm weird, I guess that means he sees that whatever it is that I present to the world is not truly me or all of me, underneath I'm a many different things that perhaps can be unorthodox and for me that is more interesting than being "normal". It's funny because when I was a teen, I remember writing or thinking how I wanted to be ordinary. As I grow older, I think being outside of what ordinary is is more awesome and I don't want to be the same as everybody else. Hmmm, sorry that this post started with me rambling about me. Talking about the trip might be more interesting, so let's go.

The plan for day 9 was to go to Alcatraz in the morning and then take a half day tour to Muir Woods and Sausalito in the afternoon. I have heard of Alcatraz of course but before this trip I wouldn't be able to tell you where it is. As I was planning for this San Francisco leg of the trip, I found out that it's nearby. The lazy me would have like to just book a day trip that includes Alcatraz and Muir Woods, however when I tried to do that, the next available date that included Alcatraz was like almost 2 weeks away from when I was going to be there. So I decided to just book the Alcatraz trip directly from Alcatraz Cruises. This is the only way to get access to Alcatraz. The tickets sold out pretty easily and it's unlikely you'll be able to get a ticket for tomorrow or next week for example. I booked around 3 weeks before my visit and so all the timing for the ferry were pretty much available.

I booked a 10:00 AM departure, so I had a lot of time and could afford to be slow in the morning. When I googled the area of my hotel, I found out that there's an IHOP and I knew that I had to go there. Can I say that I love IHOP? Is it embarrassing? I love it and if there's an IHOP in Singapore or Indonesia, I would be so happy. It wasn't hard to get seat that day. I ordered the classic breakfast in which there were 2 fried eggs (I really missed eggs by that time of my trip), hash brown (which I would call rosti actually), and then I had to choose, I chose bacon instead of 2 pork sausages because I knew I wouldn't be able to finish those, and then I also chose English muffins. See that 1 set already has a lot of things! There was a bit of confusion when the waiter asked what kind of eggs I wanted, because I thought it would just be fried eggs. So I said runny??? The eggs came out perfect though, the way I like it, though the crazy salt person me would most probably put some salt on the yolk when I'm frying them. I thought I could, but I couldn't finish it all. I didn't finish some of the rosti. It was so good, the waiter and waitress were so friendly and nice that day and can I say again that I love IHOP?

After that it was a walk to Pier 33 where the ferry departed from. There were a lot of people. The queue was longer than when I took the ferry to Liberty and Ellis island. Since there were a lot of people ahead of me, I thought that there wouldn't be enough seats at the very top, so I didn't go there. I found a seat outside on the second level and decided to just stay there. Slowly Alcatraz came into view more clearly, that little island which is so near and yet so far (if you try to swim it).

Getting off the pier, first all of us needed to be briefed by the park ranger about the do's and don'ts. I think there were some people who ignored this, perhaps they didn't speak English well so they didn't see the point. Some things I remembered were the common sense ones like stay on track and don't venture into unmarked places, also it's nesting time for the birds so don't disturb them. I think the birds are the main occupiers of this island now. There were so many of them.

There were some guided tours by the park ranger on the island and when I arrived, one was about to commence. This is not the tour of the prison where it's more of a self guided tour with the audio guide. The one that was about to commence was about attempts to escape the island. I decided to follow along, along with many other people. It's a big group. I couldn't remember all the stories except for one. There's this inmate who had a task cleaning the dock and slowly he managed to steal parts of a uniform to make a complete uniform. His plan was then to dress up as an officer and board the ferry back to San Francisco. He did that, but unfortunately the ferry went to Angel Island instead. Crap!!! right? and so he got caught. A lot of inmates thought they could swim the distance and a lot of them died that way. The park ranger said the water is really cold and I can believe that because as I mentioned before San Francisco is much colder than I thought it would be, imagine how its water would be. Then the park ranger allowed us to visit the storehouse which is not open for the public. He literally used his key to open the door. Nothing much there, the walls are peeling, the glass on the windows are broken, and there's a remain of an office.

After it was done, I headed up to the prison. It's a walk up, but it's not that taxing. There's a little cart you can use to go up if you want to wait and not embarrassed to use it with the older or infirm folks. Unlike in Ellis island, the entrance to the prison is more directed, there's just 1 route and I think that really makes sure everyone has the audio guide, unlike Ellis island where you can just go off at the direction of your choosing. We entered the way the inmates would enter, which is the shower area. It's a communal shower with no divider at all and rows and rows of shower head. As a inmate you really have no privilege, I guess it helped the officers to make sure that the inmates weren't hiding anything when they came. I bought a magnet with this wording which I really like, Rule #5 - You are entitled to food, clothing, shelter and medical attention. Anything else that you get is a privilege.. I hope to use this on my kids one day :P Anyway, this area is also where the inmates get their new uniform and shoes. So from here we got our audio guide. The audio guide is excellent. It has voices of the people who were there like the officers and the inmates. The cells were small. There's a bed with a thin mattress and a toilet. Being there and seeing the rows of cells and the different levels reminded me of the TV series Prison Break, but here they didn't share cells. It's just enough for 1 person. Inmates talked about their experience there and things they did to fill time. There's a library but it only contained approved books. The inmates talked about how they learnt a lot there and the subject were varied, one talked about how he learnt farming and mentioned the gestation period of a pig if I remembered correctly.

Some inmates also picked up hobbies, like knitting (yes the inmate did mention, can you imagine all these tough criminals sat down quietly and knit?), paintings, and music. Some cells were staged with items that inmates used to have in their cells and shelves.

There's some really dark side to Alcatraz, it's a prison after all. There are solitary confinement cells with double doors and when I went inside even without the door being closed, it got really dark and claustrophobic. The ceiling was lower here and I could imagine that this would drive anyone crazy. The inmates talked about how when they're put inside that dark solitary confinement cell, they would take the button from their clothes and threw it to the wall and felt their way throughout the floor to find it and repeat doing it again and again. I cannot imagine being put into a dark box without knowing when you could get out. It's really really horrible. It was sad being inside the cell and imagining that. Another sad thing was when I saw these little windows with the view of San Francisco, sometime for some of the inmates these were the only views of the outside world they could get. That feeling knowing that you lost your freedom and you're there in the island while the world was continuing without you out there, it must have been tough, really tough. It's a sobering experience being in a prison. Other things I saw were the kitchen and dining room, the control room, and the warden's office. The warden's house is unfortunately a ruin now and there's a lot of plants growing there. When I went outside where the lighthouse is, it's actually very very windy. I took a picture of this bird sitting beautifully among the wild flowers.

At the end of the audio guide, an inmate talked about what it's like when he was released and arrived in San Francisco. It was kinda sad hearing him say how he felt lost and afraid, he saw a lot of people and they're walking fast having a destination to go and he wasn't sure what's next and how to navigate himself in this new world. It is really an enlightening and sobering experience visiting the Alcatraz prison. Before I knew it, it's already passed noon and I was like, oh God, I have to hurry because my half day tour would start at 2 pm. I quickly took some last pictures like the beautiful garden outside. I don't know if it's accessible, maybe not, I didn't see anyone walking in it.

I managed to make a stop at the souvenirs shop and got some things, some of the things they sell are pretty cool like the tin cup similar to what the inmates got, I didn't get those though. Then I kinda walked really fast to the dock because I saw that the next ferry was leaving real soon and a big queue was already forming. Thank God, I made it. For pictures from Alcatraz, you can go here. I do recommend you to visit Alcatraz if you're in the area. It's the first prison I've ever visited and the experience was amazing for me. I'm really glad I did this.

Tell me tell me you'll be alright
When you're in the shade
Tell me tell me you'll be alright
When you start to fade

What Will You Do When Your Suntan Fades? - Beulah

Since I didn't miss the ferry, I managed to make it on time, even managed to go to my room first and dropped some things. The meeting point for the half day tour is just across the street away from the hotel. The group wasn't big and I was the only Asian. I often get nervous when I'm the only Asian, not that I would definitely talk to other Asians if they happen to be in the group. It's just there's a comfort if there are other Asians as well. Anyway so this tour is a half day, going to Muir Woods and Sausalito. They're located in Marin County, across the Golden Gate bridge. The driver / chaperon, Manny (like that character in the Ice Age movie), was nice enough to take us to a stop to see the Golden Gate bridge. He took us to this look out point a bit high up, not directly across the Golden Gate bridge where the many tourists are so it was very peaceful in the place where we stopped. Just a few people here and the bridge looked so serene even though I know there were many cars on the bridge.

I really really like the visit to Muir Woods, love it! It's a redwood forest and some of these redwoods are really really old, like hundred years old. They're also very tall, so tall they kinda blocked the sun at some area. The weather was pleasantly cool inside it. I kinda forget how much time was given to us, but Manny told us just to follow the simple path to the 4 bridges and come back. There are other paths which would lead somewhere but it may take longer time and it's more complicated, so following the path to the bridges was easier. How I really love my walk that day :) Since there are bridges, there's a river, Redwood creek. It's not dry, but there wasn't actually a lot of water there, maybe not the season yet.

It's pretty much all green inside the forest. On the ground, I saw some plants which I thought were clovers, but now that I just opened the guide brochure, I learnt that these are redwood sorrel. Look at it, they look like clover no? I don't know if clovers do this, but on some spots where the sun hit the redwood sorrel directly, they would close down a bit, like a half opened umbrella. It's very interesting. I heard one visitor describing it like they're sleeping :)

It is really peaceful in the forest and you are advised to walk in it quietly to enjoy it. I love all the trees, I love looking up at them, I love how peaceful it is inside it. It's like a forest in the fairy tales, like a magical creature might live in it.

I love it most when I found myself suddenly alone in the path, it's just me and no one else. The path itself is really easy, it's not laborious at all, all flat and the path is paved well. Before long I reached bridge 4, stayed there for awhile and I headed back. I think one needs a forest like this or at least people like me. It's just great for us to just walk in, be in total quiet, just walk and enjoy the air, the calmness, it's very relaxing. Too bad, many people like me don't live near a cool forest like this. For pictures from Muir Woods, please go here, they're all pretty much green, but really it's a really nice place to visit, do go if you have the time and happen to be in the area.

After that we made a stop at Sausalito, this little town in Marin County. I think the stop was around 1 hour and I really didn't know what to do here and got a bit bored. I saw their fountain and was asked to take a picture by a couple here. The lamps by this fountain have elephant sculpture on them, that was kinda interesting.

I didn't feel like eating here or entering each of the shops (I only entered a cute sock shop), so I ended up walking the docks, seeing the names of the yachts. I wonder if it's a must and it's bad luck if you don't name your boat. So I was reading the names and seeing if they have interesting name, one interesting one that stick in my head is why walk, clever. Then when there were seagulls on the boat, I took their pictures. I reckon these seagulls are annoying because they would just poop on your boat.

Pictures from Sausalito are here. So that was the trip. Arriving back, I decided to go to Pier 39 to see the sea lions. There were many of them just sleeping around on the platform, very loud, and it smelled like fish. You could see some sea lions jostling for places. I don't know why they like to be so close to each other and why they're only sleeping. There were many people watching them.

With the sun going down, I decided to just eat in one of the restaurant. Got fish and chip and again it wasn't amazing, the batter didn't stick to the fish and again the fish was a bit tough. Maybe it's the type of fish or maybe I hadn't been lucky, I hate to think it's an American issue in cooking fish. One interesting thing I noticed while I was waiting for my food was, in the table next to me, I saw a man making the sign of the cross and prayed before he ate. I don't know if the lady eating with him also prayed. Then in the table behind him, a dad and I think that's his daughter, hold hand together and also prayed. It's interesting because the way people outside America know about America is most of the time through TV series and movies and if anything they present Americans as not really religious. In any action movie, where have we ever seen the good guys take a short time to pray before charging at the enemies? If anything there's always a pretty lady and the hero and the lady would have a pre-marital sex. So it just felt good and hopeful seeing those people pray, they obviously think their religion is important and care enough to practice it. This side of America is perhaps what would make it more relatable to other part of the world, sadly it's rarely seen. So anyway, day 9 was really great, the best day spent in San Francisco.

:) eKa @ 7:23:00 PM •

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