Postcard from the Edge of USA #1

A Trip to the Market
One of the big things to do on a weekend in San Fran, is to go to a “farmers” market – which is not dissimilar to a “normal” market, except it has the word “farmers” in the title. But as usual in the USA these are bigger than normal – the selection was amazing. I literally have never seen such a variety of fruit and vegetables in one place and all sold directly by local “farmers”, who would fill you in on every aspect of the fare.  On the veggie side, as well as my favourites (artichokes, corn, broccoli) there were many varieties I have never seen before such as ocra, purple cauliflower, blue potatoes and strange green knobbly things. The fruit selection was just as vast, and included the sweetest nectarines and peaches I have ever tasted along with mind bogglingly delicious strawberries and blueberries.


For me, the biggest benefit of such competition is that everyone offers free samples to tempt your purchase – so, in theory, you could stuff yourself silly for free. In practice, this just what I did, and free food was not just restricted to fruit market – next door there were a number of food stalls also offering samples. This snack market really reflected the cultural hodgepodge of San Francisco, some highlights included:

  • Mexican tamale (corn meal with sweet or savoury filling)
  • El Salvadorian pupusa (hand-made corn biscuit-like flat bread, covered in yummies)
  • Hummus and
  • Chilean alphajores (delicious caramel biscuits made, as it was described to me, from angel sighs and unicorn giggles). They were so addictive I think they are rather made from giggles of cocaine dealers.

After stuffing ourselves, we rolled contentedly out of the market back up the hill to the car. From there it was down to the water’s edge to the scene of 4th July Pier 39 freeze. But this time a kind colleague had invited for a sail around the bay in his 34 footer. And what an adventure it was.

Sailing the Bay
After the sail and the jib (the small sail at the front) were unfurled, the small diesel engine (used for tight manoeuvres) took us out from the dock in to main bay. From there we headed over the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. As it was a bit foggy in that direction, we tacked off in a southerly direction and sailed down to the Bay Bridge. It was just spectacular, and at times for a novice a bit scary as the hull heeled (ie tilted) seeming perpendicular to the water necessitating us throwing ourselves to the other side of the boat to balance it.

After sailing around for all too short 2 hours, we headed back to the dock, rolling up the jib and taking down the main sail, and readied ourselves to cruise back in under diesel power. However, 2 minutes after starting the diesel engine there was an ugly sound as it started overheating due to a blocked water intake. We were floundering, and after trying to hail a passing boat our brave captain made the rather bold decision that we would sail in to the dock. So we unfurled the sails again and prepared for this really rather tricky operation. Honestly, it involved real split second timing with everyone pulling their weight, but under his competent guidance we managed it, much to the relief of all involved.


There followed a pleasant chat re-living the experience and using vocabulary which I shall probably never use again – stuff like “self tacking jib” and “that halyard is a bit frayed”. I will attempt to insert these phrases in future postcards to see if anyone notices.

Roller-coasters Galore
The following weekend, we stuffed ourselves silly at the market again, and then chose to try to relieve our swelling stomachs on a rollercoaster ride. There are two large theme parks around San Francisco and we chose the Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo. It was formerly a Sea World park, so was heavy on the aquatic life, and was subsequently bought by Six Flags chain that added 5 roller-coasters and then went bankrupt. The park is still open though while they recover from Chapter 11.


The park was a peculiar mix of zoo, water creatures and thrill rides.  The queues for the roller-coasters were lengthening, so we headed over the whale show – apparently a highlight. There was enough entertainment trying to find a seat between the human whale families that were already seated even before the show began, and we were pleased to be at the back of the auditorium as the first 10 rows were dramatically doused in whale splash, a theme that repeated itself at the dolphin and sea-lions shows. As a result, wet people were a common sight at Six Flag, but when a photo opportunity with Batman came up, I naturally rushed up. However, he was soaking too. Due to the heavy plastic costume and the 38°c heat he was sweating like crazy and it sort of destroyed the illusion – Batman with a perspiration problem never made it in to the comics. We left soon after that.

Dust Bowl Garlic Festival
Following weekend, looking for something to do, we were recommended to experience a “once in a lifetime” event, a The Gilroy Garlic festival. Feelings in the office were mixed on the subject and ranged from “load of old toss” to “overpriced, hot, dusty hell-hole”. The truth was somewhere in the middle. $12 entrance fee to basically have the opportunity to join 10,000 other people looking for shade and occasionally dashing out to view the tat on sale, peruse the “gourmet” food stands which all had the word “garlic” prominently displayed or listen to some garlic related music.

We tried several interesting dishes, garlic chips (sorry, I mean French fries), garlic bread (original), garlic popcorn, garlic chicken, garlic scampi etc etc. The highlight for me was garlic ice cream, which was a big disappointment – basically vanilla with a few cloves crushed in – interesting taste but nothing spectacular. We left to the parking lot (very large fields) and watched the circling irrigation trucks pouring gallons on the ground in an attempt to stop the hot dust creating a sand storm as cars drove by. It really was a once in a lifetime event – it deserves a single visit.

Garlic Galore

More excitement is planned for the weekends to come, like searching for a self taking jib, but more about that later…

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