Well today was Alcatraz day and what a stunning day I had to see it. From the photos it may look warm and sunny, but that wind is cutting, especially in the middle of the harbour! I definitely feel at home here, it is very like Wellington with steep hills, windy and thriving, forward looking city.
Everything is very expensive here though, well almost everything. It’s expensive even when I forget to convert it to $NZ. Like a bag of chips is $4 and a Ben ‘n’ Jerry’s icecream is $4. But other things like Alcatraz were remarkably goof value. It was only $24 for a 20 min boat ride each way, a free audio tour (more on that later), a documentary explaining the history and a guided tour around a certain section if you were lucky (which I was). Food seems very expensive here I guess, but the hostel puts of great evening meals for $5 (tonight was a roast!) and a free breakfast of the typical American bagel so I can’t complain.
Anyway, onto Alcatraz. I caught the boat out after lunch and arrived at the perfect time, one of the wardens was about to give a guided tour explaining the 3 major escape attempts … the best bit!!! He was really good and had a massive crowd. He showed us some bits that were off limits without a guide so that was sweet. I have like 200 shots so there are plenty more than went up on the website. Jeff, I am loving your camera ;). So he talked about the buildings on the way to the location of the escape attempts which was god because of its varied history, it’s hard to make out what is from what era. First was the establishment of a military fort during the 1850’s gold rush. Then it became the prison from 1930-60’s and it was then taken over by native American Indians, who seem to be in a very similar state as our Maori in terms of land being taken and slowly being granted back. The American Indians occupied it for over a year before being captured by the Government.
But the prison is the really interesting bit. After explaining how some escapee’s planned to get out we walked up to the top where the main cell block is. We were issued with little audio players and headphones that we could control. The thing that got under my skin was the language options were American, Chinese, Gernan……. American??????? There is no such language!!! Anyway, these players were really awesome. There was a narrator telling you what you were looking at and then former inmates spoke about what life was like. So much better than reading about it, and you could go your own pace, which meant plenty of stopping and starting for photos! We were introduced to the cells and then taken around and told what went on in each section or highlighting events such as escape attempts etc. One really good bit that I would’ve totally missed was speckled marks on the concrete floor. These were caused by grenades thrown into the prison by the guards during a time when the prisoners overran the guards inside. The cells are tiny, 5 feet but 8 feet by 7 feet tall. I could touch the walls on either side! Its an impressive and spooky place, especially hearing about that a murder happened in the cell you are looking into and the bullet mark can be seen in the wall! There are night tours you can do, noooo thanks!!! The solitary confinement cells were even worse. They had nothing in them al all apart from a grate in the floor for you-know-what, the cells were even smaller than normal, the windows were left permanently open so the freezing air from the bay comes straight into the room and you are locked behind two doors with no light. By law, they had to provide them light, but they turned them off for more punishment. As the saying goes “Break the rules and go to jail, break prison rules and go to Alcatraz”!!!
We then were showed the cells of the escapee’s that made dummy heads and made the inflatable raft out of rain coats. They managed to get the grate off the wall and dig through the concrete at night FOR A YEAR. They made it into the utility shaft between the cells and up onto the roof. The alarm was raised in the morning and all that was found was the raft floating in the bay. Some people think that they made it to South American (they did learn Spanish while inside) and they got away but the official Government line was that they drowned and their bodies went out to sea. Who knows!? Yet another mystery of Alcatraz. Mythbusters did a show on it, but I can’t remember if they said it was possible to do or not. their plan was ingenious though. The best bit is that they learnt how to make the raft from a Popular Mechanics magazine that was in the prison library …. ooooops!
We did a tour of the guards quarters and then I walked around the outside to get to the playing field. As you can see in the photo, you can see the Golden Gate clearly from there, I can see why they thought they could swim across the bay. And it’s such a short distance too, only 1.25 miles. But the water is freezing with strong currents. Speaking of which, the ranger guide who took us around actually swam across to the mainland last year without a wetsuit and did it in 45 mins. So it was possible to do it. But he had been training in the freezing water for weeks before hand!
The whole place is falling apart though. They have the same problem that we do where the salt water gets into the steel reinforcing and blasts the concrete apart as it rusts from the inside out. They are spending a lot of money to get it back in shape, but there is a lot to do with many layers of history. Whihc one do you restore it to?
So Alcatraz was a blast, exactly what I thought it would be. Spooky but exciting at the same time. It was packed though (even on a Monday) and everyone was at the same stage in the audio tour. It meant for some crushes at times.
I have having a uploading photos as the internet seems to be better sometimes than others.
I have booked the Yosemite tour for Wednesday and then biking to Sausilito on Thursday before flying back Friday night. Tomorrow I am going to go sailing on the yacht and go on the steepest cablecar line on California Street. Not sure what I’ll do Friday at this stage.
Hope you are all well and don’t spend all day reading my too long and detailled accounts!