So. I’ve discovered that America is pretty cool. And Americans are really nice people. This may not sound like an epiphany for some of you however it was for me. Although I don’t see myself as a racist, I think I did have a little bit of a bias against America and it’s people. Which is a bit odd considering my brother has lived there for over 35 years and I had met and liked his friends, but I didn’t have the understanding/experience to broaden this to the populace. It’s a little like when people say ‘I don’t like Muslims, however that Muslim, who I know and like, is different’, as if they are the exception to the norm, rather than the norm. My only real intention of going to the US of A was to see my little bro. I have been to San Fransisco and to New York but have never looked outside of these iconic cities to discover what else it has to offer. Also, I didn’t find people that friendly in these cities (a bit like Sydney and Melbourne I suppose..or cities anywhere!). My response to America was ‘first world English speaking country, sounds pretty boring to me’. So, I now apologise, with my hat in hand (if I had one!), for being so closed minded.
As part of my journey, I made a decision to be as open minded and inquisitive as I have been with other countries that I have visited. With that in mind I headed off to an island off the coast of California called Catalina. It is a rich man’s paradise (and I have the receipts to confirm it!) and many famous people worked and played there especially in the 1930’s. It was lovely and I chatted with a number of American people. I even made some friends! But maybe Californians are different to the rest of America (a majority do vote Democrat so my brother tells me!). So then I headed off to Arizona to see the absolutely amazing Grand Canyon. I walked a lot of the south rim track and along the way chatted to different people. They were all lovely! (However, I think most we’re Californian!). Generous in their time and their interest in someone who lives a different life to them and comes from down under.
I drove to the Grand Canyon in my brother’s car. The scenery was wonderful and the actual canyon is breathtaking. It is 446km long, 29kms wide and 1,857mts deep. I couldn’t take my eyes off it (and couldn’t stop taking photos even though there are a lot of similar ones) and it is up there with the standouts I have experienced during this journey. I didn’t venture down into the canyon however there is a path you can take which goes deep into the valley. My lungs do not work well in high altitudes (the Grand Canyon is around 2300mts above sea level) which coming up out of the canyon would definitely have tested. Excuses, excuses, but the fact is I just didn’t want to do it so I didn’t! From there I decided to drive part of Route 66 (as I had to get my kicks!) on my way to Vegas. It was basically a long stretch of country road with some very interesting places along the way. Seligman has an interesting tourist shop with all the Route 66 paraphernalia, and there is a great place in the middle of nowhere called Hackberry General Store which is totally cool!
I ended up in Vegas. What can I say about Vegas! I walked along the strip (although I’ve since been told I should have gone to another area, but it is what it is!). It is definitely a very over the top place which does nothing quietly or by halves! Everything is big and in your face. Not really my gig however I enjoyed looking around and seeing what the fuss is about. I definitely think Vegas would have been much more interesting with other people. As a solo traveller I have found most English speaking cities to be more isolating even though there are many more people. Vegas isn’t an exception. But like I said, it was interesting to have a look. I high tailed it out the next morning and came across this cute diner called Peggy Sue’s 50’s Diner. It was over the top as well but a lot more quaint. The views of the Californian hills were beautiful on the way back to my brother’s place.
The next weekend I headed down to San Felipe in Baja, California with a lovely friend who I met through my brother, for the yearly Shrimp Festival. Baja is actually in Mexico however was named California by the Spaniards. The Spanish explored California in the 1500’s but didn’t see much there and then returned in the 1700’s and established themselves. In 1821 Mexico succeeded in gaining it’s independence from Spain however there was a lot in instability in their government. In 1845 the Mexican-American war broke out over land rights and the North Americans claimed California as their own (a treaty was reached and payment was made for the area claimed). The peninsula remained part of Mexico while still maintaining the name California. So I went to Mexico for the first time (other than sitting in an airport in Mexico City). One could say it’s not the ‘real Mexico’ (which it really isn’t) but it was pretty cool to spend time there. Baja has an interesting landscape and is where the desert meets the sea. San Felipe has many gringos (Americans) who have retired there. It made me think about what retirement means to me and how I plan to spend mine. I haven’t come to any conclusions as yet but it is something which I need to contemplate more about in the future. My friends left after the weekend and I stayed for a few more days and did some fun stuff like having a buggy ride through the desert to see the giant cactuses and ripping over sand dunes, and hanging out with gringos in seedy bars (I did class it up by going to an art gallery opening!).
My friend that I met on the way to Catalina invited me to join her and a friend of hers to look around San Diego. She is an interesting woman who has been in the navy for many years. I am historically a bit of a left winger who doesn’t support war and has been known to attend anti war rallies. To meet, and become good friends, with someone in the navy has been a growth experience for me. Ironically, my new friend has many similar values to me in many areas which has reaffirmed my views that stereotyping limits understanding of others and their perspectives. I think as a liberal person, we can sometimes open our minds to minorities and social inclusion issues yet shut our minds down to subcultures that don’t fit in with our ideological perspective. I’ve already flagged my now recognised tendency to do this and my time in the US has challenged my exclusivity within my inclusive philosophical views. It has been an interesting exercise for me to broaden my acceptance of people and their views without necessarily having to agree with them about everything. I loved spending time with this friend as she is a generous, beautiful soul who I believe will be my friend in the long term.
My new friend took me to places I hadn’t seen in San Diego. We went to Barrio Logan where there is street art everywhere and most of it portrays the Mexican story. We headed up to the Cabrillo National monument which commemorates the landing of Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo in 1542. We then went to Old Town which made me feel like I was in Mexico. It’s worth looking around at San Diego as it does have some very interesting places. The next day I went with my friend’s friend (now my friend! She is from the gulf and has been in the US for a few years and is an incredibly interesting beautiful person too!) to Galleta Meadows which has the most amazing metal sculptures. There are 130 of them across a large area. I only got to see about 20 of them but they are mind blowing, especially with them being out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by national park.
After spending more time hanging out with my brother and sister-in-law I headed off on another road trip. I went up the north coast of California and spent the first few days visiting Santa Barbara, Solvang, Mission Hills and Hearst Castle. I then headed up the Big Sur which was stunning and ended up in Monterey. I had planned to go further however realised that I was running out of time as I planned to be back at my brother’s for thanksgiving. I wanted to go to Yosemite but unfortunately snow storms were predicted and I didn’t want to get caught out so decided to head close to Sequoia National Park in the hope of seeing the big trees.
As it was, I was on the wrong side of the mountain and ended up exploring the desert instead. I could see the snow on the mountains which was pretty cool. I wandered around Alabama Hills and went up to Mono Lake which was about a 2 hour drive and close to Yosemite. I headed over to Death Valley National Park which is amazing. Badwater Basin, which is in the middle of the park is 282 feet/86 mts below sea level and is a massive expanse of salt. This still blows me away!
I took a day off my desert wandering and spent a day in Palm Springs which is a desert resort city. It is like a bit of an oasis in the middle of the desert. It wasn’t a bad place to indulge in art, food, wine and a bit of glitz. The next day I went to Joshua Tree National Park which has the most amazing rock formations and desert plant life. I have always been a lover of lush green landscapes and oceans however my experience wandering around the Californian desert gave me a true appreciation for the beauty of desert landscapes and rock formations. I look forward to exploring the deserts of Australia in the future.
I initially didn’t really see my visit to the US as being a part of my journey. It was just to see my brother (I couldn’t really travel around the world and not drop in, now could I! 😆). In saying that, the experience broadened my understanding of myself and opened my mind to recognising that diversity and inclusion is not limited by beliefs or language or economic status, on either side of the fence. I don’t necessarily agree with its politics, however, I have travelled enough countries to recognise that political corruption, manipulation and opposing agendas is rife across the world (including Australia) and that the people are not a reflection of the political environment even if they support their government. That doesn’t mean that I have to agree with them, however, I do need to open my mind to understanding why they see the world differently to me. Truth is relative and usually dependent on people’s experiences of their world. I don’t have a right to judge that, even if I disagree with them.
Anyway, I look forward to going a little further in exploring the United States next time I visit my brother. My understanding is that the culture is different across the country and it would be great to further broaden my understanding of the culture and its people (regardless of them speaking English!). I had an amazing time with my brother and sister-in-law and I am so grateful for their hospitality, generosity and the use of their car and taking me sailing! (one of the highlights of my trip!). It was the refuge I needed. I spent two traditional days with them…Halloween and Thanksgiving – and it was lovely to join in these events. I also spent time with my gorgeous niece and met some amazing people along the way. The US was supposed to be a time of resting up for the rest of my journey, however, I ended up on the road again for a lot of my time there which was tiring but I absolutely loved it. It was a very different experience to the rest of my journey, nevertheless, much to my surprise, it definitely became an integral part of my journey.