19 Nov Tales of a Californian road trip
How it all began
I never thought I would be thankful for having my camera run away from me at Burning Man. Spending few hours in the lost and found queue made me find instead of my camera, a friend. Diana and I met under so much heat, I was a bit delirious from a no-sleep burning night, and covered in dust on the last morning of the festival. This sweet New Yorker and I started chatting, realising that we had similar plans for after the festival. We exchanged contacts then and left each other hoping to meet up again.
The other legend in this story is Ella, named after Ms. Fitzgerald, Ella’s character is something between the mama, the madam and the dominatrix altogether. A party specialist, from harvesting to tasting, the lady knows her stuff and can get along with pretty much with everyone.
After a few Facebook messages, we joined forces, leaving San Francisco with a map and some highlights of what we wanted to do: tree houses, hot springs and loads of wine.
Skipping through the vines of Sonoma and Napa Valley
We arrived in the gorgeous village of Sonoma by sunset, to find an Irish pub running a trivia night. We just couldn’t resist, participating in the Trivia and have a snack, working at the same time on Couch Surfing, trying to find a place to stay that night. Listening to the answers of every question being shouted from across the road, we noticed a handsome guy wearing sunglasses after dark. Having our team named Highway Stems didn’t really help, but we did get noticed every time we were late in giving our answers for each round, resulting in having our names loudly changed to… Fruit stamps by the angry ladies running the Trivia. We observed the guy across the road, who between shouting the answers, looked like he was having a frivolous conversation, a la italiana, full of gestures. From the angle we were sat, we could only see a bush in front of him and Diana and I got intrigued after a couple of hours. We decided to check on him, and went over to discover that in front of him there was no one but a bush and he was actually speaking to himself all the time. We were immediately greeted ‘Hello girls’ meet Jared, a computer builder on a lysergic conversation with God knows whom. Welcome to California!
We eventually found somewhere to stay at Air BnB. Our host tried to call us in the pub, freaking us out to begin with. Cat and her cats had a problem about communicating her conditions for us coming over that night, but she seemed a lovely hippie woman. Next sunny day we tasted incredible white port and pinot noirs, had a picnic around the vines and found a couch surfer host couple around the charming Napa. We arrived slightly late and were welcomed by Evan and as soon as we looked at him, our jaws dropped. This former underwear model and current soil specialist consultant for wineries cooked us a great meal and we learned a lot about wine, drinking it. A bit later on, his new wife Janet, a former country dancer, arrived home to join us. Princess and Hollywood (their nicknames) are a wonderful couple, we had a great chat talking about Couch Surfing ethos and travelling the world. We were almost convinced to stay longer but the road and more wine called us stronger…
Heading to the giants and the tie dye lala land
By then, the girls and I knew each other pretty well, I was adopted by the Jewish ladies, and there were a lot of driving through the grass valley, with the great aroma coming through the window, good music and wishes to see ‘the giants’. We found one and drove through the gigantic redwood tree, which in its diameter is bigger than the Picadilly Circus fountain in London. We were looking for the famous Avenue of the Giants but ended up finding a very few of the enormous trees on the way, and found out that we were in the land of the Big Foot. I can’t tell you how small I felt in a land that everything is massive. We decided to charge up with some beers for later on and stopping at a liquor store on the way, we saw a very angry local couple having a pretty god damn fiery fight. When roughness crossed our way, we quickly entered the shop and felt altogether that something wrong was about to happen. The door opens violently and what looked like jungle giant cowboy with a machete on his waist comes in, greets us by the freezer, where we froze scared holding a bottle of …bastards and Sierra Nevada beers on each hand. We quickly went to pay, finding behind the counter another character that looked out of a creepy travelling film. We ran into the car, opened the beer and head off, getting gradually relaxed watching the glorious sunset arriving in Arcata. Northern California… as we arrived to the main square of the university town, all the little shops had wine and music, having a late night open. What a great welcome that was, apart of our bad choice to go into the junkiest bar, to have a drink and wait for our host Jesse to get in touch. After his rehearsal for a parade on the next day, we met in a Japanese restaurant. We headed to a nice wine bar having Jesse stop every few meters to say hello to someone he knew: he was Mr Popular. We got a bit suspicious, after listening him in the bathroom shouting on the phone, but particularly after the manager came and ask Jesse to wear shoes inside the bar, and we discovered that Jesse hasn’t worn any shoes for the last nine years. But it only gets crazier; Jesse then told us that we were not going to stay in his house, but in a house that he was looking after for a friend of his and that his cousin was joining us later on. We followed his car, outside the town and up the hills. Entering a gated property, things started clarifying, we were in fact staying in a huge mansion, in a flat below it that belonged to roller skate professional girl, who had a pretty quirky taste in home décor, including a light switch that had the picture of the famous sculpture of David, and to light up you just need to pull David’s penis up; a very inspiring bitch list attached to her fridge and a cat poo box in the bathroom that infested all the house. But next door to it, there was a door, a kind of ‘Narnia’ door that took us through a corridor full of expensive wines and old Christmas decorations into a basketball and squash pitch underneath the house. Surreal? Not more than the sculptures in the garden before the tennis court.
Next day we headed back to the main square to see the parade that our drummer friend Jesse was coordinating. In fact that was the biggest street party at Arcata and we started coming through a delicious fruit and veggie market, to find art performances and cosmic looking vegetables. Getting to the square, I didn’t know where to look at first: the great looking eccentric dressed up characters, the stalls or the food. In fact I couldn’t stop noticing that one in five stalls selling tie-dye. To then click that Arcata has more people dressed in tie-dyes than I have ever seen at psy-trance festivals. No joke, there were tie-dyes of all tastes, all ages, from underwear to dogwear.
The long parade included all the ‘not that young anymore’ housewives dressed in tight lycras, great drumming followed by a circus troupe and to finish up, a Brazilian song was sung by Jesse’s friends, what a lively goodbye. It is time to get on the road again, heading south, it’s far too cold up here…
It was more than a long drive from Arcata down to Lake Tahoe. Taking our cosmic veggie as a gift to our next hosts, the girls were long asleep whilst I was hyped up on several coffees and enjoying some music for an after midnight drive. We finally arrived into our next hosts’ home, from outside it looked great and really big, with Gary gently waiting for us until 2 am. Note that our hosts’ names were changed in this chapter for fun purposes. We were also welcomed by the dog and the bearded gecko and shown around the house, including our couch and the two rally motorbikes sitting really close to it. We handled to Gary a box of beers, our usual treats as guests and we shared a great intro chat but as our eyes were rolling back, including mine after the coffee started to run down, we headed for “bed”. The next day we could see their house was cool, however it needed a bit of a clean. We had showers and went for a really huge breakfast down the road. Back at home we met Eden, Gary’s flatmate and we all decided to go for a ride. Gary and Eden were more like a caricature of Beavis and Butthead, they work all year around to be able to enjoy the winter season when Lake Tahoe becomes an expensive ski resort. The radical boys also did off-road motorbikes and build their own machines too. Ella adventured herself on the back of Eden’s bike and we climbed a rock to have one of the most wonderful views of Lake Tahoe, having beers and bongs and meeting some great people. Then it was my turn to freak out on the back of Eden’s bike, who felt like pulling jumps in the air… we got safely to the beach to meet some of their local friends and watch the sunset. Before shooting home we bought food for the barbecue and the boys had a short commitment including buying the gas for the barbecue, whilst the girls stayed home and prepared the food. We got to spend a lot of time observing our new friends’ décor that included guns, the most exquisite bongs you can think of including a 1mt one and some other rare things that I wish I knew what they were for. On the back of the living room another ‘Narnia’ door took us to the magic discovery of the ‘Garden of Eden’… and Gary. I particularly never saw such a bright garden, almost a jungle in fact. Those boys know their stuff. We had a wonderful dinner and spend a long night sharing a good laugh. Couch surfing has been a stunning experience…
We have been chasing nature so far, to see all the best California has to offer and Yosemite National Park just couldn’t be missed. After some incredible scenic driving, we found Mono Lake, a lake with granite stones and an island on the middle. The huge lake is a not to be missed invitation to enter the park, with the entrance a mile later. We have entered Yosemite through the east entrance, finding our camp pitch and our wood for fire just before dark. We set up our tent and after taking one hour to heat the water to cook our dinner we decided to go to bed, before any bear could come to dine with us or on us. After a really cold night and the three of us squeezing in the tent like sardines in a tin, we woke up to a majestic sunny day. We drove off to find those incredible landscapes that we see on the MAC wallpapers and don’t believe that they exist, like the greatest rocks formation on granite. Yosemite is a big deal for rock climbing, including the famous El Captain, a straight wall of 2,307 meters. We spent the day cruising around the mountains and lakes, feeling the wind and the sun, loosing breath during hikes and enjoying each other’s company to the maximum. After a delightful sunset sitting on the half dome that was heated from the all day sun with tears of emotion in my eyes, we headed to the Rangers talk in our camp. We looked for bears but haven’t found any, instead we met ranger Mike and that was so much better. The charming and astonishing good looking ranger was enchanting, telling great stories with really informative and interesting facts and singing by the fire… he became a myth on his own amongst the girls. We had to go to bed early, as on the next day we were going to see the Sunrise on the road, crossing the park to the south west exit of the park where the stables were open. It was a glorious 1,5hrs drive through the incredible park and getting there, all was arranged for the girls to have a ride on horses and I decided to go for a reflective walk on my own. After asking for direction I found out there was a lake not too far, perfect, there I went with my camera for a little adventure. Half way I see a sign: ‘ You are now entering a lion’s land’ ok, Alicia, I said to myself, keep calm and keep reading the sign: We don’t advise people to do this trail on their own particularly if you are short – by then I stopped smiling – ‘what to do if you see a lion: don’t behave as dinner, make big movements and noise and if it comes to fight you, fight it back.’ – then I freaked out, my legs were shaking, I look around and there was pretty much no one around. I looked at the trail and kept going, through giant round rocks and a small forest with the light coming through the trees. Any sound I heard it was like a heart attack, the adrenaline was definitely having an effect and I could actually see a lion and take some pictures. I looked for it, as I looked for the lake and didn’t find either of them. The lake was dry and the lions were busy elsewhere… Instead I found a rock garden, I mean, an area that people transformed into a mini mountains of piles stones, really sacred, you could feel it. It inspired me to sit down and thank the luck of still being alive after crossing the lion’s land. On the way back I decided to walk on the graver’s road, realising that I was walking parallel to the trail all time and when some sounds came through the forest, there were people chatting. At first, my heart galloped but then I recognized those giggles from the girls coming back from their horse adventure. We saw no lions or any of the 16,000 bears, but a couple of dear, a mouse that could carry the hanta-virus (that is scary). We’ve been to the most incredible spots, we visited the little village and learned about the history of the park, and the sad manipulation of the original indigenous tribes that lived there, turned into workers for the white people who took over the place. A few descendants of the original tribes still live around the area but it is food for thought to imagine that sacred land has so much power and that indigenous tribes knew it so well. It was sad that all that knowledge and heritage is no longer present, but at least the area is preserved and open to visitors like us. One last tip, when going there make sure you reserve extra time to go and see the giant sequoias by the exit of the park.
Big Sur and return
We were getting tired of the coldish weather and couldn’t wait to head south. This was one of our most enjoying driving days, with loud singing anthems of our teenage years, watching the radical change of the landscape from 3,ooo meters altitude to sea level. We headed to the Big Sur, looking for some sea escapes. Our next host was promising, as we were staying at the ‘Treebones’ resort, a glamping venue (glamour camping, darling), being hosted by someone who worked there. We didn’t really know what to expect and again drove in really late, very carefully as we were told that the Highway 1 is deadly. Getting there safely, we were welcomed by Taylor, our big-hearted wonderful young host, his cat Potter and his friends. In fact we met most of the staff and had a really nice evening with beers, double braiding bitches (Ella showed off the hairdressing skills), talking about jades and the wonders of Big Sur. We woke up to another sunny day, with breakfast cooked for us from our host and headed out straight away to discover the beaches and meet some more friends. We played music, walked on the slackline, visited secret caves and went jade hunting on the Sand beach. Back in the resort we went to visit the whole place including the yurts, the human nest and a tree house (one of our 3 main objectives of this trip), the magic organic garden, to then see one of the most beautiful sunsets from the balcony at the resorts’ restaurant. As a deserved treat, we enjoyed the freshest sushi around in the area, prepared by the chef Carlos at Treebones. We can’t recommend it more, his designed dishes that looked as good as they taste. We then headed back into our host’s private area and had a small party in with the rest of the staff, some good music playing, fun chats and some powerful smoking around.
Next morning it was our turn to cook them breakfast, to then hit the road again, absolutely in love with Big Sur. We had already arranged to return after LA as we needed more of that. We drove on discovering elephant seals and the antique shops around the area.
It was really nice to see Taylor again; we were back at Treebones and it almost felt like home. We hung around the chefs’ home, an old water tank transformed into a tiny chalet, it couldn’t be a more charming way of live. One important reason we were back was to experience the midnight hot springs at the world renowned Esalen, that works as a school and private resort during the day and it is open to the public in the evenings from 1-3am. We arrived and after checking in you get taken down to the hot springs building, by the cliffs over the sea and are the rules explained. There were two areas: the silent ones indoors and the outdoors ones. We decided to go first to the silent zone, enchanted by the sounds of the didgeridoo and drumming coming from within. The water was very hot and there were beds that you could chill on. The music resonated and made the whole room vibrate, raising the whole energy, making us quite hypnotized. Outside, there were a few hot springs, we couldn’t see many stars but the sound of the waves and the wonderful landscape were enough to our delight. We then found an even more private hot spring on the top of the building and there we spend our time having the most relaxing experience of our lives, we forgot about time, enjoying our naked bodies in the water. We had a wonderful and magic time at Big Sur and met some of the most genuine and interesting young people with a God damn good taste in lifestyle, we felt really inspired and can’t wait to come back. We left next day for a late breakfast and said goodbye to our friends, heading north to discover a few more places. We found the Catherine falls and saw one of the most incredible views of the beach that had a waterfall on it, a beach so wonderful that MAC actually used it for one of its product demos, and thatis isn’t a joke. There we met Cathy Z, a medical marijuana activist who is a wise fairy and her friend. We spent about three hours chatting to these fascinating ladies about the most holistic subjects on human existence, freedom and beliefs. Some people just cross our ways in order to teach us the most worthy lessons and Cathy Z is a legend in California. More than that though, she is an inspiring warrior for the common awareness of the benefits of natural medicine. We left Big Sur really empowered by all people and elements we related to.
After our first visit to the Big Sur, after Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, Arcata and Sonoma and Napa valley we felt so lucky and this was our last drive. Ella was going to Mexico on a Cruise in a few days and Diana was going to stay with a few friends. Ella and I stuck together for a couple more nights, when she rejoined her ozzy travel buddy Jo. We found a place to stay right on Hollywood Ave, outside our hotel door, we could trip and fall onto the stars, better known as the walk of fame. The LA I saw on those streets, with day and evening performances, was very much what I expected from the city. Venice beach was a street talent live show, with spider man to the famous roller skater that appears on every documentary about LA. A couple of things made me really uncomfortable with the city: the fact that without a car its very very VERY difficult to get anywhere, and even if the metro exists, it doesn’t connect the most touristy places. That meant that Ella and I took 3 hours to get between Hollywood Ave and Venice beach, including a lift and two bus rides. But it got even worse on the way back to the hotel, when we took the bus in the wrong direction and being advised to jump out in the middle of nowhere, take another bus and being told off that is Saturday night and buses are terrible at this time on the night (it was 8pm), that taxi would cost us around 60 dollars… We finally found the metro that took us 1hr back. After chatting about this with a local, I discovered that some of the underground transport railway was sold after the second world war to a multinational tyre and car making companies, who then destroyed the railway. There is currently a new line being built, and you can already find it in some public transport maps, just to make it more confusing. Going out around the walk of fame wasn’t the most exciting experiences either, looking for a club with good electronic music was not successful either, all the bouncers seemed to be in a film repeating the same line: “electronic? Yes sure, top 40!” and by the young ladies over produced make up, tight dresses and heels, I just couldn’t find my crowd. The best we could find was a bar that had a jukebox and a mini Mr T. (yes a midget Mr. T) pretending to be the ‘Dj’. People who we met were overly friendly, but not long after greeting, the question: ‘ so what do you do’ or ‘what are you in LA for’ would come up in the conversation. If I made a little mystery about my profession, I would get a follower or a few more insistent questions. Until I made it clear that I wouldn’t give people jobs, as I don’t work in the film industry and I am not a talent scout, some people wouldn’t leave me alone. Then, they would look disappointed and start drifting away quickly. All these first contacts felt until that moment, really superficial.
But things can change and they did. When I went to take Ella and Jo to go off on their cruise, I met Ella’s burning man friend Lance. On his motorbike, we had a wonderful time watching the colorful sunset by the observatory, overlooking the Hollywood sign shining with the last red light of the day and the city gradually lighting its sparkles up. Meeting Lance changed my whole experience of Los Angeles. Things just transformed and I started seeing a charming LA with its great art galleries in the Bergamot Arts Station and Culver City. We ate delicious Mexican food from the street food truck. We hung out with his host Gemma, a social art photographer who couldn’t be more inspiring and spent time watching the full moon rising from the roof terrace of their building, a historical former hotel. Lance is an artist and designer and a machine transformer, a sensitive man and wonderful company. I can’t tell how thankful I am to meet people like him, who became a great friend. I decided to try to couch surf again and meet some locals and it all worked out perfectly, I was hosted by Alex, a greek musician living and working in LA. With Alex I also had a lot of fun, specially after discovering that we were born on the same day and month, we couldn’t stop guessing each others actions and making jokes about it. We spent a lot of time talking music and photography and trying again to go out, this time to a electro 80’s night, it was much closer to my taste, we had a few drinks and went for a ‘Mulholand Drive and again watched LA glow.
In the end I discovered a city of many facets and a pool of all sorts of people, from the most interesting to the ones that are working hard to live the American dream.
I was really looking forward to meeting Diana again, we had a lot of things to update each other on until we got back into San Francisco. This time Chanel, a 19 years old English rose was joining us. Next stop, back to Big Sur (read above)
After our amazing and relaxing time in Esalen and the magic encounter with Cathy Z we headed to Santa Cruz where we visited the University (UCSC) Campus located inside a redwood forest. We visited the buildings where I will hopefully be doing my PHD in a couple of years. Later we met our next host, Bear who invited us to an open mic night, in a Anarchist center a few blocks down on the main commercial road in the city. The night was great, and to see how a cultural centre like this is self-funded and manages to gather a lot of pro-active, opinionated and creative minds, it was very inspiring. We then headed to Bean Creek, our home for the night, to find out that there were another nine people sleeping on the living room floor of this house that ran as a voluntary community. From a family of three, to other couch surfers we were surprised by this lifestyle that shared food, and space with so much generosity, and having Starlight, the family’s kid enlighting the ambience was wonderful. It was a very short time there but the visit was definitely interesting and worth it, especially after the chemical lesson in the morning. But it was time to go and look for breakfast and internet, time to get to our last journey back into San Francisco.
After falling in love with the city (read the blog about SF), we were returning together. Arriving, we left Chanel with her host in the Castro area, living on top of the Erotica sex shop… I took her up with the excuse of making sure she was ok, and her host seemed really nice, so on the way back down I dared to stick my head into the gay sex shop, to feel like a naughty kid and being stared at like a monster. Diana and I went to Tal’s house. I met Tal last time I was in SF, he was going to host me but it didn’t work and he accepted to have us this time. Tal and his flatmate were wonderful, we cooked dinners together, went to discover more of my ‘future hometown’. Tal became a great friend and we had amazing chats together. Diana and I finished our trip watching a golden sunset on Baker beach, starring at the bay then flaming red Golden gate bridge and remembering all this unforgettable journey and wonderful people we met. California is a very special place, with so many people who are really forward on collective awareness and healthy living where I felt welcome and curious. There is a great openness to the new and I have a feeling that this is one of the main drivers of the Californian prosperity, not to mention the natural endeavors and people’s relationship with them.