....straight to the Wild, Wild West!!
01/10/2010 - 30/10/2010 23 °C
Traveling for 24hrs can get you very far in terms of distance but sometimes it can literally feel like you've been transported into a completely different world.
After 6 months of truly incredible experiences in South America, I prepared myself for the contrast of returning to the United States. The price of $5 for the using 10 minutes of internet at LAX quickly made these differences apparent. The cost of 10 minutes would have got about a days worth in Bolivia....but as I said, a different world….. I had to use the internet to write down the address of my first host in LA, I copied it down and then asked advice on how to get there. This took a while, the three ladies at the desk were very helpful but didn’t seem to be too familiar with using the internet. On their original search they said "hmm, it appears to be really close"....one then pointed out that they’d entered the address of the airport and not the one I’d given them! When the real location was discovered, I could hardly hide my smile when they told me "you're going to Hollywood!"......and despite being told this, it was still a surprise when I came out of the metro station into the morning heat, to find myself right on the 'walk of fame'. With my big bag on my back, it felt like I had arrived to seek fame and fortune!...
After a hot walk up a steep hill, I found Jons house....and my first couchsurfing experience for a while began. Being a music student conversation was not difficult to come by, plus being a fan of English football, things got off to a good start. This continued when in the evening we went with a few of his friends to his mum’s beach house on Venice beach...literally on the beach. Playing some American football and a few beers, was definitely a nice beginning to my travels on the West coast
The next day we checked out the sights of Venice beach. Including the canal systems developed to recreate its namesake, the beach and my favourite....the promenade. Some very entertaining entertainers can be found here.
After two fun days with Jon I made my way to another part of town to stay with my next host Nagat, and her family. I was greeted with beaming smiles from all three kids and welcomed straight into family life and good food. I went on a bike ride the next day into the hills of LA. At the top we got a great view of the valley and the dry hills with eucalyptus all around really reminded me of being back in Peru....just the mansions on top of the hill that set it apart.
We encountered a somewhat strange fellow on the way up, he was riding to his home somewhere out in the bush where he said he was rescuing Salamanda's. A fair enough cause, but when he started telling us about his sign that he had on his bike to 'inform' the community - it became apparent this man was a little different. He began to tell us of the physical and mental abuse he'd received from a system 2 cult member! Intrigued, I asked what the ‘system 2 cult’ was and he responded with.... "you don't need to know what it is, the only thing you need to know, is that i've told you that it happened"......he could be a politician. He continued to go down the usual deluded route of turning to blame mexicans for all of Americas problems...."they need to be Americanised". He was annoyed at the speaking of Spanish, food and traditions that they continue to follow. We asked him where he was originally from and he replied "i'm proud of my irish italian heritage…but I don’t follow any traditions"......point proven - confused or deluded or both. I could go on....he seemed to tick every box of the stereotypical nutcase. Luckily through my travels I've experienced that not all people are like this, in fact, thankfully very few are.
Another couple of days in fun family surroundings followed and I got the chance to visit a few of LAs museums.....on their free days of course! My favourite being the Grammy museum, with a joint exhibition on Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison, another on John Lennon and then just the rest of music history....I was in my element...never spent so long in a museum
It really was great to spend time with Nagat and her family, and I think it’s so great that despite having a busy house with her own kids they still have a constant flow of guests….the kids will grow up learning more languages than I can ever hope to know!
My last couple of days in LA were spent with my next host Drew. Being a tour guide of LA he was a good person to get tips from for places to visit. So I went to see the famous LA tar pits and the Hammer museum, where during my visit they had a free meditation session, so I thought I may as well check it out. It was another amusing scene, when everyone was preparing to get into the 'zone', an old guy entered guided by two of his helpers. Possibly slightly deaf, he kept shouting questions to his assistants. They responded in whispers and reminded him everyone had to be quiet whilst they were in the room.... a couple minutes of silence passed before he blasted out "so when is this thing gonna start"....the sound of annoyed breathing was deafening but I chuckled, and it certainly relaxed me....so its official, meditation works!
On my last evening we visited the Japanese American museum and contemporary art museum. After a blast of culture I was off to meet an old friend in the form of 'the greyhound'! And another blast of culture followed! Around midnight in the LA greyhound station, you certainly get an interesting cross section of society. Then an hour stopover in Las Vegas just tops it off – I cant believe it’s not been made into a sitcom.... The people I've met whilst on the buses have always been so nice, and this time was no different. As the bus departed at 6am from Vegas I chatted with a guy who'd been stuck in the station for the previous 3 days! His bad luck included a faulty ticket, stolen wallet and luggage getting stuck in a locker - but he was still incredibly upbeat and adamant that I share his beef jerky's and reese's pieces. He gave me a guided tour of all the areas we were passing through (including the point when it’s possible to see 3 states at once) and showed me his collection of photos from when he lived in Hawaii 25 years ago. He got off and wished me a fantastic stay in the U.S and told me sometimes you'll meet a few horrible people, but don't let them spoil your trip because there's so many more friendly people out there just waiting to meet you. He was a nice fellow.
I arrived in Flagstaff, Arizona at midday and walked to the local university where I was meeting my host for the next couple of weeks. I was going to be volunteering at the 'Lavender Sky Ranch' where she lived. I looked around town the rest of the afternoon and then met back up with Elissa after she'd finished work. The ranch is an hour and a half away on the road and then another half hour on the dirt road. By the time we arrived it was dark, so I had to wait until the following morning to see the beautiful surroundings of the ranch....and also see just how far away from everything we were.
I started the first morning with a tour around the ranch to see how it all functions, given to me by Elissa and another fellow volunteer Adora (who'd been there a week already). There was a lot of information to take in about how the place runs, the solar panels that powered the entire house, the water tanks and pumps used to filter collected rainwater, the composting, and the different jobs that were to be done.....as well as all the animals names. Firewood duties took up the majority of the first day and with the chainsaw and axe it was an enjoyable activity! Whilst on the ranch we got through a range of tasks, repairing trailer roofs, lining stone paths, garden work, clearing, and finishing the insulation slats in the house.
I found the work interesting and a good way to learn how to use a whole host of new tools. Adora and I had a great time laughing through the days and keeping ourselves entertained.... Star Trek soundtracks, rumours of near by spaceships and psycho analysing the animals of the ranch provided some smiles. Then on Elissa's day off we went on a day trip to go and see the petroglyphs (rock carvings) located close by. They are 1000s of years old and were carved by Native Americans when passing through the area.
Being a wimp when it comes to critters, Arizona is a hotbed for scary encounters! With rattlesnakes, scorpions and the infamous Black Widow (the name alone strikes fear into me…probably because of that ‘worlds most dangerous creatures’ pop up book I had as a kid!). Now we didn’t have any bad run ins, but we did see a scorpion, and one day I thought there was a rattlesnake annoyed at me whilst I lay on the trampoline and every time I moved the sound got more ferocious (but I couldn’t actually see it), and Adora uncovered a Black Widow…I would have been across state lines in a flash had I found it……this was enough for me!.... I did however manage to get a David Attenborough worthy clip of a Praying Mantis devouring the head of a Grasshopper though....BAFTA award winning stuff!
When the weekends rolled around the neighbouring ranchers would come for a bonfire and food. They also had volunteers staying so it was always interesting to speak to them and hear what they had been getting up to. Funnily enough the other ranch kept Llamas and Alpacas, so when I got to see these it reminded me of my days back in Peru. It was also Adora’s 18th birthday on the middle Sunday so with the other ranch’s volunteers we made our way to the Grand Canyon!
Despite knowing that a canyon goes down into the ground, I was still surprised when approaching the site you’d have no real idea what lays ahead. Even when parked up you still don’t see anything until you follow a path a suddenly the ground just seems to fall away in a spectacular fashion.
The view was breathtaking and almost too difficult for you eyes to process as a whole, it just kept going further and deeper everytime your eyes adjusted. We spent the whole day walking along part of the south rim, stopping for a celebratory birthday mango halfway through.
There are many trails that can be done right down into the canyon that take several days to complete. I hope to return one day and do one of these, it would be good to see the canyon from the opposite view, on the very bottom looking up!
After a great two weeks on the Lavender sky Ranch it was time to continue with my journey and onto Santa Cruz. So I said my goodbyes to Elissa and Adora and thanked them for a wonderful time….again as with every helpx and couchsurfing experience I’d love to return one day.
A 28hr combination of bus journeys and layovers lie in wait for me, with the first stop coming only a couple of hours into the trip….3hrs sat on the floor of the Pheonix Greyhound station (spelt Pheonix, regardless of what the Oxford English dictionary tells you!). In Santa Cruz I was going to be meeting up with Beth, a friend I’d made whilst at Yanapay.
I arrived in Santa Cruz to 48hrs of non stop rain (a feeling of home), however it brightened up for the rest of the week and I was able to make good use of the bikes Beth had. One day I went with Beth up to the UCSC campus which is situated right up in the forest. There are several bike trails that take you around the area, and although I followed the signs which said ‘loop’, it never quite seemed to lead me back to the start. In fact I ended up miles away down at the cliffs. That was fine with me….
Staying with Beth and her four friendly and very hospitable housemates made for a very relaxing week. Between trips to the beach and cycling along the coast, they were full of suggestions for other interesting places to visit (plus they liked my Cottage Pie). One day I headed to natural bridges, which is exactly what is says, natural bridges made from rock which have been eroded by the sea (it took me back to my geography lessons of coastal erosion…my teachers would be so proud!). Near by, there was also a small nature reserve which was home to many creatures and at this time of year there was an abundance of migrating Monarch butterflies. So off I went to check out the calming butterfly effect….
One evening, Beths parents were coming to town for a visit. This meant I got the chance to go and stay at the beach house which had been in their family for nearly 100 years. My second beach house of the trip so far and another great view to wake up to!
My last evening in Santa Cruz saw me try possibly one of the best burgers I’ve ever eaten, ‘the phatty’- a bacon and cheese burger with two grilled cheese sandwiches instead of a bun!.... That night the house had a party for Halloween, and they owned plenty of outfits for me to choose from - the baby outfit fitted the best. I went to purchase a dummy to make the costume complete and when in the checkout line, the guy behind me caught me off guard and said “good thing they’re sold in two’s, they get through them so quick don't they?”. I just responded “oh yeah, tell me about it”….didn’t have the heart to say they were actually for me…. The rest of the house, as you can see were an impressive tribute to the Spice Girls!
The best conversation I had all evening was when someone asked me “So why are you a British baby?” and “are you going to keep doing the accent all night?”….. “Yes I’m gonna try”. The party however came to an abrupt end when around 1am the police turned up and ruined everyone’s fun I was due to be on a bus at 6.40am the following morning though, so maybe they were doing me a favour and gave me a few extra hours of sleep.
So onto see another Santa, this time Santa Rosa. Not too far away, although the 6hr wait in Oakland made it seem the opposite. I was making my way to the McDonald Ranch, not a place for the restaurants genetically modified cattle and chickens, but a non-profit organisation providing sanctuary for animals and a place for children to come and learn about animal care.
Yet another exciting opportunity to learn a new bunch of skills lay ahead, but the adventures will be saved for my next entry…. This is long enough already….
….. but one thing I would like to mention, is how seriously excited I am about the important date I have with a special someone in San Francisco