Tuesday, 10 June 2014

On the road: Day 1, Santa Cruz -> Big Sur -> San Luis Obispo

27th May
Santa Cruz -> Big Sur -> San Luis Obispo

The three mile walk along the highway in the early hours this morning on an almost empty stomach (hello 7/11 coffee and cereal bar) gave me sufficient time to get so nervous I felt sick. But when we finally found the Hertz car rental I had managed to convince myself there was no way this was going to work, I mean, I'm wearing a pink dress, and brown sandals that have so many holes in them I am essentially walking bare foot, I'm clearly a child... A foolish child that wears pink and bows in her hair and can't even look after her shoes let alone herself, how can I be trusted with a shiny, real-life car? As I filled in the paperwork an handed over my lisence the silence between myself and S was so thick with tension I became convinced we must be doing something illegal.

As the woman behind the till (who was far too disinterested and nonchalant for such a high level movie style epic scene) nodded and filled in te details, I became disturbingly aware that everything was in fact going perfectly to plan. We were getting away with it?..

She hands me the chunky keys and leads us to a shiny bullet of a car, silver and suave. Crap, this is an actual car, like one that adults drive, people with jobs in offices and savings for the future and who are generally sorted in their lives. I can't drive this. I'll take one 14 year old rusty Nissan Micra please, preferably with a broken passenger seat window and a side of smelly gym clothes in the boot.

Almost as if to see how far I could push this whole ludicrous situation I ditzily stuttered something along the lines of 
"so how do you, like, I don't know... Start the car?"
"Oh.. It's easy - you just turn the key."
"Oh.. Ok... And then I..? So,um, I have no idea how to drive automatic."

Ok lady, this is the point where you take the keys back, where you laugh and go to 'have a word with your supervisor'.

But no, our movie style world where everything just works out continued and before we know it we are for real sat in this shiny, silent machine, blasting out country songs on some obscure radio station and skipping from moments of clenched stomach silence and not even daring to look at each other to suddenly laughing in each others faces and screaming in glee at out new found freedom.

In the drive saying bye to our Santa Cruz home

Grabbing our clumsily packed luggage, tents and as much common food as we could scavenge, we returned to our new baby and started our road trip. 

First stop!.. CVS...
After emergency room visit number two yesterday I had found out I am in need of even more steroids and "hmm, it's very rare to see someone react this badly for so long... No I don't like the look of that". So huzzah, even more pills to pop. I nervously asked if there was any side effects to the medicine, to which the doctor laughed and said "yeh, loads!".

But then we hit the open road! Well... Drove over the bridge to Radioshack, but hey, I am not driving to the edge of California and back without listening to some good music. We bought a cheap lead to plug into my iPod ad S became designated DJ.

Sam spontaneously decided to come along to San Luis with us, can't really go wrong bringing a lifeguard along with you! Although the paranoid craziness inside of me that I try (and fail) to hide was concerned that with 2 girls and 1 guy we were just  like the travelling trio in Wolf Creek, and that didn't end too well for any of them...

Driving on the right hand side of the road,  sitting on the left side of the car, abiding by weird speed limits that all end in the number 5, the first hour driving was stressful. But driving automatic is so ridiculously easy it feels like a toy. We set off down highway 1 which is a stunning toad that sweeps out  ahead of you wrapping around epic cliff edges, carefully balancing over old bridges built by prisoners in the 30's that drop down either side into lush, green valleys. And to your right hand side, an endless blanket of blissful Blue, sparkling like glitter, the waves winking at you hypnotically as they catch the golden sunlight. It looks so inviting that occasionally I recklessly didn't even fear the edge as falling off would simply drop us into that stunning pool of eternal blue. The same way how when you stare at the fire, the flames just look so wild and inviting... anyway, i didn't drive off the cliff, I'm not that crazy, yet.

We had scribbled down some directions copied from Google maps to Big Sur, but took full advantage of the freedom of owning four wheels, stopping at every vista where the views took your breath away and the wind almost took my skirt.

7BLG319, our baby

Big Sur, big beautiful

I've been pretty rubbish with my camera, which is a shame but some of the images are just so beautiful they're imprinted on my mind. the tall trees clinging to the coastline creating patterns ir shadow scattered on the dusty sand embankment, the large, jagged rocks randomly sticking out the glowing ocean creating white waves that crash up and fizzle, Svenja's long blonde hair blowing in the wind next to me, the rolling hills of dry wild grass rippling in the wind like liquid gold, the occasional bronzed cows and a lonely barn house with a rusty tractor its' only friend.

Google maps had instructed us to go up this tiny road called Palo Colorado that was so obscure I drove straight past it, but after a hasty U-turn in the desolate road we headed up there. Immediately the road narrowed, with massive ancient redwoods either side of you and plant covered cliff edges where the road had been thinly sliced in.

Palo Colorado Rd.

Letterboxes on the road to nowhere

We followed this tiny path further and further up the mountain, the drop on the left getting more menacing with each metre, our curiosity leading us onward. Tucked away up leafy, dirt tracks were large wooden cabins where people have chosen nature over society and some of the homes were so high up the cliff clinging on, they were practically tree houses, with balconies that could step off onto the top branches of giant trees.

We finally reached the end of the road at the top of the mountain with an old wooden fence between you and a vast valley of mountain slopes and woodland sliding over each other, hawks circling overhead.

We ate our hummus sandwiches I'd packed and just watched the valley, intricately and for such a long time, like a movie with only one frame. An old woman pulled up behind us and came and stood next to me and simply announced it's beautiful isn't it?'.

We climbed back in the car and S was itching to drive. We coasted back down the cliff and headed along the coastline, eyes peeled for a beach.

We drove for quite a long time before Svenja felt sleepy and suddenly pulled over at the side of the road for us to switch back. Singing/yelling at the top of my voice along with The Kinks and The Beatles (good song choices go to Sam) kept me going but my new found coffee addiction had me scouring the vast empty road ahead for the sign of a cafe.

daisies at a little cafe we found by the road

We came to a car park for a state beach and paid the $5 to park even though it was purely based on trust, but I think it's more fun to pretend to be on the lam rather than to be actual criminals. We crossed the road to a building we assumed to be a cafe but as we approached the brightly painted walls and the garish playground we realised it was actually a tiny primary school and we were there just in time to collide with all the little children clambering into the big yellow bus, also just in time to get judgmental stares from parents collecting their kids, mostly aimed at Sam.

We crossed back and descended down a tiny sand trail, embellished either side with bright, wild flowers flashing purple, yellow and pink in our faces. Some steep wooden steps clutching to the rocky cliff led to a secluded beach with wild, dangerous waves and large, smooth pebbles. Svenja drifted off in the warm, soft sand and I could feel my eyes dozing so to wake myself up I paddled through the waves, wild and temperamental but still shallow and safe, like a moody child having a hissy-fit, lapping around my ankles.

Sam, craving the water, went running in for a swim despite the warning signs and then we skimmed stones along the surf, wading in the cold, crazy water.

Aware of the dropping sun we headed back to the car and set off for San Luis Obispo to spend the night. The road twisted and turned like an absent minded doodle scribbled along the coastline and 20 miles took around an hour to drive before we were suddenly on one long straight road that stretched for miles and we were the only car in sight.

Speeding up we blasted the music loud and watched the acres of flat, agricultural land sweep by us. We passed a sign for 'Elephant seal vista' and didn't really pay too much attention. But as we got closer I sat upright to see if perhaps there was a lonely seal or two in the sea. To my surprise I saw this massssssive blubbering beast wobbling and worming his way along the beach, so huge and grand. Screaming 'ELEPHANT SEAL!', I swerved into the vista. The light was low and golden and perfectly illuminated the bulging bodies of over a hundred giant elephant seals bundled up together on the beach getting ready to sleep. Their giant, smooth, grey bodies looked like huge glowing pebbles, and the occasional angry male would be slapping his way along the beach roaring and smacking his wide, sharp-toothed mouth at us.

As the sun got lower we finally drove through San Luis Obispo down towards the beach and stopped at a campsite we'd found in Lonely Planet. Avila Hot Springs was a peculiar establishment, seemingly run by two young latina girls that were very abrasive and uninterested, chewing gum as they half-arsedly served us. We paid for a pitch and put up our tents, despite the peculiar rule of one tent per site.

We had one hour before the hot spring mineral pool closed at nine so I persuaded the other two to ignore their rumbling stomachs and absorb some minerals in this bizarre green pool that smelt like cow pat. The water was so warm and relaxing and we sat in there for so long, surrounded by the most peculiar assortment of people, all looking calm and content and discussing their various travel plans.

Both S and I were horrified to look down and see our silver jewelry had turn black and blue, but the colour is growing on me now. I guess it's a free souvenir of sorts...

We lazily slipped out and impulsively ran into the cooler swimming pool, doing laps and floating under the starry night sky and the orange glowing pool lamps.

Finally, around 10, we got back in the car, sans Sam, and drove into the city on a hunt for food. With no maps or advice we simply went with magic number 3 and took the 3rd exit which led us to Madonna Street, cue blasting out Madonna tracks and singing at the top of our lungs. We stopped at the first food place we saw which was some random late night doughnut cafe full of students playing cards.

But after pinky promising to each other that we were finally going to eat healthy we boldly turned around. We crossed the road and entered a little 7/11-esque convenience store but the idea of eating crisps, jerky and Oreoes for dinner was not appealing either so we asked the grumpy cashier if such thing as a downtown existed, 'you know, with restaurants open and shops and lights?' to which he laughed and said 'yeh, too many god-damn restaurants' in a thick Mexican accent.

We headed for the lights, only getting slightly lost and only driving the wrong way down a one-way street once, When I finally parked my heart was racing and I apologised profusely for being such a rubbish driver to which Svenja just laughed. I then collapsed my head pathetically on the steering wheel, only to pounce back up with a yelp as the horn honked. To which Svenja laughed even more.

San Luis reminded us of Santa Cruz, which we both found ourselves referring to as 'home'. After a hungry hunt we were finally directed to a late night bar and burger grill, fittingly called Eureka!. With soggy, mineral-soaked hair, mismatched clothes and tired eyes we obviously didn't fit in with the young, stylish students, but the staff were so friendly and the burger was surprisingly the best burger I've had yet (and I've eaten an obscene amount of burgers here in America).

When we finally got back in our tents we were both so exhausted and happy to collapse in out little hobbit holes that we've become so attached to.

And that's when I started writing this, under the stars and palm trees, scribbling myself to sleep.

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