Tuesday, 24 June 2014

On the road, Day 6: San Diego -> Joshua Tree National Park

Sunday 1st June
Once again we managed to be slow and sleepy on the morning despite our best attempts to be proactive and leave early.

We took advantage of the free breakfast and ate far too much, and then sneakily shoved more in our Tupperware boxes. I then grabbed a load of common food from the hostel cupboards before heading to the bathroom and wrapping as much toilet paper around my arm as I could possibly manage and shoved it all in our bags.

Carrying our massive backpacks, shopping bags and stolen goods we searched for our baby BLG and created a plan of action on how to leave San Diego.

Unfortunately some people have to be fit and healthy and run stupid marathons leading to half the roads being closed, completely scuppering our plans. Come on America, I thought cars came before exercise?!

Becoming almost claustrophobic as we tried to escape the city we just headed for the nearest freeway and winged it from there.

You stay classy, San Diego... now we're into the wild.

We have started to notice that the expected time for every drive we do seems to be two hours less than the actual time. We hit the road then suddenly, Hey we should get some milk, oo stop here I need the loo, oh do you think they will sell memory cards? hey wait we forgot the milk! Oh I need the toilet too now,,,

But even all these mundane little moments in mediocre places are enjoyable because it reminds us how free and independent we are, stopping whenever we like, even just to take a photo of an amusing sign.

Today we also commented on the fantastical names of towns round here, drive up avocado highway with turnoffs to Rainbow Blvd and even passing through a little town called Kickapoo. As we headed further inland the towns became smaller and more bizarre, everything somehow being related back to Christianity.

Getting closer and closer to Joshua Tree National Park it occurred to us we had no means of making fire so we stopped a couple of times to gather our cavewomen essentials.

At one stop I made a fool of myself by trying to open the bathroom door only to find it locked. I waited far too long and started becoming insanely irate, knocking on the door I started to realllly dislike this faceless person hogging the bathroom for so long. Then over came a member of staff who gently pushed the door open. As well as being embarrassed I felt rather peculiar at finding that all my irritation and dislike had been aimed at no one at all, there was just me and an empty room. Peculiar.

As I came outside, eager for a quick getaway, I found S putting stuff in the boot. She slammed it shut and got in the driver's seat and reached in her pocket for the keys. Her cute German accent started firing out "f*ck, f*ck, f*ck" as she realised she'd locked them in the trunk. At first I panicked and then all I could think was 'balls, I'm going to have to show my face in that gas station again to ask for help and look even more stupid!' - which really was not an option.

Keeping oddly calm so's not to stress Svenja out even more, I clambered around the front of the car and actually felt a little leap of lightness in my heart as I pushed a button and heard that beautiful POP as the boot sprung open. Confessing her complete, undying love for me Svenja grabbed the keys and we fled that dreaded place for good.

FINALLY, reaching Joshua Tree we we were so excited to be immersed in nature again. I read in the exhibition at the Museum of Photographic Arts that every designated State Park is made an official state park because there is something unique about it, no two parks are the same.

Joshua Tree is breathtaking. The vast open planes are just full of these tall, spiky trees, all spread out from one another, like a creepy army of silent limbs, all bent at bizarre angles and covered in spikes. Then the mountains just look like massive man-made piles of stone all piled up together. The stones look loose, like rubble, like a child's pile of rocks next to a big hole they're digging. But then they're so monumental, you feel so small and vulnerable.

There is something spectacularly disturbing about the scenery here. The smooth curved rocks that resembles shapes and animals from your morphed dreams, the antisocial trees that stand disturbingly still and giant rubble piles randomly amassing - everything natural here has a creepy, man-made aurora about it. There's almost too much delineation, or spacing, or something...

But then the fact that these natural wonders can make you feel this way is amazing in itself. The scenery just overcomes you.

The heat here is sweltering and after our laughing and cursing as we put our tents up we suddenly became aware of the dense silence here. We sat still, and I don't think I have ever heard so much nothing in my life, until a bird made a funny warbling noise, which was of course followed by our laughter.

Our camp is a cute new home (for one night) already, walled with large, smooth boulders.

However we both simultaneously became disturbed by a lone, old man, continuously circling past in his car even though we were in the middle of nowhere with no one else around, and he eventually pulled up in the pitch right next to us and simply sat in his car. We both  tried to casually watch him, before deciding not to panic too much and to head to the trails.

We had the best afternoon soaking in the golden hours of sunshine from 3 to 7 that make everything gorgeous and glowy. We set off on trails, but were constantly drawn away by alluring rocks and boulders that just had to be climbed.

Not perhaps wearing the best clothing or being as careful as we should have been, we leapt across, squeezed between, scrambled down, push each other up and even tumbled right down the bumbling piles of boulders, bubbling over each other to create the best adult's playground.

We tried to get a photo of our reenactment of The Lion King (Ahhhhhh Svenja) which ended into Svenja tumbling backwards and rolling down a few rocks as she tried to steady the camera. Once I saw she was conscious we laughed hysterically at her epic, slow motion fall, but when we noticed 'real-life' blood coming out her knee we accepted we need to be more careful.

Just before sunset we walked one more trail, discussing rattlesnakes and religion then the meaning of life and all the possible outcomes of one action and our decisions and when will humanity die out.

We arrived back at our tents and noticed the guy still sat in his car next to our site so S suggested we go over and introduce ourselves before dramatically stating "know your enemy".

A brief conversation neither confirmed nor disproved our speculation that he was not to be trusted. So we are keeping our pocket knives at hand.

We took it in turns to guard the fire (which we made all by ourselves!) and watch the sunset, before creatively constructing cooking pots from tinfoil to heat up our beloved meal of baked beans.

Now I'm all wrapped up in my big ACE hoody and leggings, with a layer of Aloe Vera gel underneath to soak into my many cuts and scrapes.

There are so many stars here, I just asked S if she thinks there are more stars in the sky or rocks in the park and she laughed but we really can't work out the answer.

I stopped writing here, but I did not sleep. This man was terrifying. I was trying not to get too panicky or worked up because we felt there was nothing more we could do. This guy was crazy, he got out his car and placed a potted plant down then kept picking it up and moving it to other places before putting it in the passenger seat next to him, like a companion. We were totally stupid and basically accidentally told him that we are foreigners, no one knows where we are, we have no phone signal, hello want to kill us? retrospectively we should have just got in our car and driven to a different camp site. Live and learn. Which only really works if you do live, so stop being so stupid.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

On the road: Day 3, Santa Monica -> Hollywood -> Newport

Thursday 29th May

Even though we had no idea how long our car had time on the car park, we took advantage of having hot showers again and slowly got ready to hit Hollywood. The Hosteling International hostels give free breakfast so we ate as much as we possibly fit in our stomachs and then as much as we could fit in our bags.

Even though we were in a rush we somehow managed to find time to run back to Urban Outfitters and collect our pretty dresses, sure enough they had had no idea how to spell our names, is my accent really that bad?

We climbed all the way up the multi-storey car park and got totally confused about where we'd left our precious in this maze of massive cars and both looked at each other with a glance of shock and terror as our baby BLG was not where we'd left it. Turns out we'd actually just forgotten where we'd left it. 'What are we like?!'.

I offered to drive today which was a terrible idea because it had started to dawn on me that Svenja is a much better driver than me and that I should just give up already, but that wasn't really an option either, so in the hot and heavy heat we headed for Hollywood!!

We instantly hit traffic.

The drive into L.A. was stressful and I clumsily dodged and weaved through other cars manically trying to work out which of the kabillion lanes I was supposed to be in. The Motorways in America are insane with everyone constantly changing lanes to overtake each other and the rule in England of only over taking on the right (?) is not a thing here at all. Cars dodge and weave like synchronised swimmers and I just bumble down the middle praying I will get away with my stupid mistakes, nervously waving thanks and shouting 'Sorry!' at people who weren't even letting me out/in but hoping that will make them stop beeping their horns and swearing at me. After missing the exit and driving along looping shoe-laces of concrete that look like the roads you build in Hot Wheels tracks, we finally were informed we were now in Hollywood. YAY.

Only problem was, Hollywood is big, and we had no idea where to start. Mindlessly we just kept driving, impulsively shouting 'Left! No, right! Wait, I've got a good feeling about left!'. We weaved our way up narrow, ugly streets where telephone wires hung lazily over our heads and we were closed in by the backs of dirty buildings. Stopping at a red light (only after Svenja shouted 'That's a red light!!') I looked over at her as she desperately tried to use the various useless maps we have to work out where to go. Then in a disappointingly undramatic manner the famous beacon, the HOLLYWOOD sign, just appeared in the distance. I calmly told Svenja to look out her window and when she saw it we both started laughing and whooping and the crap maps, ugly wires and dirty buildings suddenly faded out and our eyes had little Hollywood signs in them like cartoon characters. We'd made it!

this is my Hollywood sign face

Like moths to a light we hypnotically drove simply in the direction of the sign. Like trying to reach the end of the rainbow, it kept suddenly evading us, we'd turn one way and follow the road only to look behind us and see the sign was in another direction. We slowly ascended up a fancy, winding road leading us up towards Hollywood hills and although we could no longer see the sign the houses were enough to keep us going. Big, beautiful palaces of homes were in every direction, each one unique. Some looked like big Spanish villas, all orange and with black, iron balconies and mosaic tiles depicting gods, others were the ultimate American dream home, all wood paneling painted in various shades of neutral with white picket fences, flowers boxes and tree houses. Others were vast, futuristic metal boxes with sweeping panoramic windows and oddly shaped foreign trees lining the way from their huge, metal gates. OK I'm useless when it comes to car brands, but we parked up behind some of the fanciest cars I've ever seen and slim, toned, blonde women strutted past in the sun pushing their perfect little prodigies in posh prams. We sat on the warm pavement, leaning on someone's fancy fence and ate our routine lunch of cheese sandwiches, an apple each and some dark chocolate. Shiny, open top jeeps full of attractive young people playing loud happy music drove by and we felt very foreign for the first time.

After our lunch we walked up hill, hoping it was the general direction to the Hollywood sign. When we finally reached the start of the Hollywood trail there was police cars and big signs saying that the route was closed, but we had come too far to let a silly little police car or two stop us...

We kept on walking past all the signs and laughed at how perfect it would be to suddenly hear 'Get down on the ground! Put your hands up!' right near the Hollywood sign, and how suddenly there'd be helicopters and sirens and maybe an explosion or two. But no, the lone chubby policeman just looked at us over his coffee and could not care less.

Up the dusty trail we got our obligatory 'this is me with the Hollywood sign' pictures and then used the good view point to look out for mountain lions. Unsurprisingly we didn't see one, not yet!

Next, god knows why, I got back in the driver's seat and we headed for Hollywood Boulevard to see the walk of fame.

Horns kept beeping at me and the sun was hurting my head and by the time we finally found somewhere to park that wasn't completely extortionate I was beyond exhausted. We set off on the Walk of Fame, surprised at how dirty and scratty many places on the Boulevard were and looked at the names that were outside tacky tourist shops and wondered if those people hated that they were in such a rubbish position.

We collapsed into a Starbucks, and did our routine of inhaling caffeine and sugar whilst manically using the WiFi to find somewhere to sleep that night. We had heard bad things about the mean streets of L.A. and did not want to find ourselves wandering the streets at night looking for somewhere to take us in.

Absolutely exasperated we remembered a website a friend, Eli, we'd met in Lake Tahoe had told us about called Couchsurfing. Basically a network site where strangers around the world are like 'Hey, wanna sleepover at my house tonight?'. Honestly, it sounds worse than it is! I searched in local areas and scrolled through the pages of photos using gut instinct as a filter about whether they 'looked like a rapist/murderer'. Once they passed the photo test I looked to see if they had any reviews from people who have hosted them or stayed at theirs, then finally I looked at their about me, carefully avoiding anyone with taglines such as 'live fast, die young', 'seize the day' and anyone who had a ;) anywhere in there. Finally I sent a desperate last minute plea to about 3 lucky contenders, the only thing comforting me about the whole weird situation being that I was convinced there was no way someone would reply.

However, much to our delight/terror a Mr. Fred Cooper replied almost instantly saying it was short notice but he could host us. We spent a long five minutes debating the pros and cons and eventually decided that a sofa in a potential killer's house was better than the streets (which is not true at all, the whole thing is insane).

I tried to put the near future out of my mind and forgot that night existed as we continued down Hollywood Boulevard. We passed bizarre eccentric people in crazy outfits shouting at us and politely ignored them, walking around them. We then passed bizarre eccentric people in crazy outfits that happened to be Spiderman and Batman and Captain Jack Sparrow, shouting catchphrases at us, and so we ran over and hugged them and asked to have photos with them and let them put their arms on us. Which is rather odd if you really think about it.

We put our fingers in the imprints of Marilyn Monroe outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre Show (could not stop singing that Kelly Rowland song) and played with the Oscar statues and dreamed of being famous like everyone else on that grotty, hot street.

Finally we detoured in the car to cruise down Beverly Hills, Svenja driving this time thankfully as all the cars were way too fancy to risk hitting. We played the Beverly Hills Cop theme tune with the windows right down and flashed smiles at our fellow drivers like millionaires, only in a Mazda.

As the evening approached it was time to grit our teeth and ignore those little voices of warning in our head and go find Fred.

Fred's address led us about two hours out of central L.A. to Newport, a rich, harbour town that hypnotized me as it is where The O.C is set. Oh the hours I spent as a teenager watching the decadent, dramatic lives of the young, rich and beautiful on Newport Beach.

We followed his directions but were totally thrown off when we reached a large private complex with security gates, so we turned around and parked up and after a serious pep talk from Svenja I summoned the courage to ring him and did my best to sound breezy and polite when my stomach was churning and my head was spinning.

watching the sunset from the car park
"Oh, you've reached the gates, O.K so the code is #8471"... "Oh, O.K, I guess we'll see you soon".

Completely in awe of such elegance and wealth we obediently entered the code and drove along the smooth drive, neat, emerald lawns and large, pastel coloured flowers lining the way. The rest of that night is still completely surreal.

Fred, who was french, ideal for my love of alliteration, lived in one of the fanciest apartment I have ever seen. A suave sofa lined an entire wall facing the large T'V, adjacent to a stylish, fake fireplace where a small flame was flickering, reflecting off all the shiny objects adorning the room. One wall was completely mirrored and another was entirely glass, watching over Newport, like a giant T'V constantly showing real life The O.C.

He offered us beer or coca-cola but we both just asked for water, but even that came from his tall, sparkling fridge filled with crushed ice in smooth, pearly glasses.

His French accent was obvious and his sentences at first seem stuttered and shy. We made polite small talk and he mentioned he knew some German, to which Svenja replied she knew some French and I stupidly said I had learnt both French and German in school so we had some silly little trilingual conversations as we nervously sipped our icy water by the fire. He had moved from Paris to California in January after being offered an engineering job that sounded too good to be true, they paid for his flat, paid for him to fly home to France five times a year and paid Fred favorably. But behind the affluent apartment and apparently dream lifestyle, it become pretty obvious that Fred was just lonely. He had been moved into a private complex where everyone lives behind a complicated system of various locked doors and coded gates. His hours were long and his holidays short, Fred just wanted some friends.

Also, once you got past the initial perfection of his paradise flat, it occurred to me how too perfect it is. There is no sense of identity, no photos, no exotic souvenirs or cheesy gifts. The only two items that gave any hint to his character were a french translation of Kerouac's On The Road and a small Tigger toy, a leaving present from his baby nephew who he is missing growing up.

Despite being completely drained of energy we agreed it would be quite nice to see the Jacuzzi... oh yes he has an outdoor Jacuzzi and swimming pool.

Our sleepiness and achy bones melted into the bubbling, hot water and we spent hours under the stars swapping the small talk for talks about anything and everything. Then when we were too hot and had been thinking too hard we sank into the pool and swam laps until we were cold again, then slinked back into the Jacuzzi.

I'm sleeping on the sofa, my wet hair ruining the fine fabric, and Svenja is just below me on an airbed. Wolf Creek flashbacks come to me of that moment when she wakes up all dozy and confused and sees her wrists in cable ties...

But I'm just so relaxed and comfy and if he's a murderer then he's the most hospitable murderer ever.

I'm sorry Mum and Dad.