Nearly the final leg of my year's Round the World trip
14.03.2011 - 22.04.2011 15 °C
Flying from New Zealand to the United States, I crossed the Equator and the International Date Line. This meant that I got to do Monday all over again on a springtime day in Los Angeles.
In stead of hiring a car, the guy at LAX Information Desk assured me that buses were just fine. Rather than the last time I was in LA which was more than thirty five years ago. I got down to Santa Monica where I used to live and found the ubiquitous Hostel International - just two blocks back from the beach and only $25 a night. What would I do without these fantastic 'youth' hostels which are always located centrally and so reasonably priced when all I need is a bed and a shower?
Having been flying for thirteen hours, I felt a bit spacey but that feeling suits Southern California. I went in search of my old haunts and found Chez Jay's, a bar I used to virtually live in all those years ago - it was exactly the same. After a shrimp salad and cold white wine, I tried to find my old apartment building but, according to the lady in the motel across the street, it was pulled down only a couple of years ago. The office building where I worked (bounty hunter!!) was still there but, surprise, no ex-boyfriend Bail Bondsman!
For the grand price of $2, I took the bus to do 'Los Angeles in a Day'. I travelled all the way along Wilshire Boulevard to Beverley Hills and Rodeo Drive and then to the Farmers Market. I then walked north, all the way to Hollywood Boulevard which was a long, hot way. After a walk among the mad people of Hollywood, I took the bus back to the beach at Santa Monica and wandered along the pier at sunset and reminisced about the crazy times - 1974/5 seems a blur but is that surprising?
After lunch at the Los Angeles Museum of Art and a lovely afternoon viewing paintings and historical costumes, I then took the bus to scary downtown LA and the bus station for my first Greyhound experience! The place was filled with Spanish-speaking Mexicans, off to Tijuana and a great number of 'disabled' people, beggars and street people. The bus left on time and drove through Hollywood (again) and then out on the highway to Oxnard where my new HelpX family were there to pick me up - great relief.
Oxnard is the home of strawberry cultivation and so has a huge immigrant labour force, mainly from Mexico. I was living in the old, fashionable side of town, not far from the marina and the beach. Downtown was like a little Mexico where I actually saw a mariachi band playing on Saturday afternoon. The family (three kids under 10) was very lively and I had a hectic time, trying to clean their house and avoid all the illnesses that seemed to pervade the house.
Well, I managed to survive two weeks in Oxnard without catching anything more than a slight cold! I hadn't realised just how much the Americans rely on illegal immigrant workers to do so many labouring jobs and how everyone tries to turn a blind eye to the situation. There are distinct areas of a town where you will hardly hear English spoken. The other thing about America that makes me chuckle is their 'old' buildings which are very attractive but hardly more than 150 years old.
I caught the Amtrak train from Oxnard, all the way up alongside the Pacific Ocean, to Oakland which is the inland, industrial part of the San Francisco Bay Area. It was a long, nine-hour journey but the scenery was great and the company entertaining. There was a beautiful sunset over the ocean as I was having supper in the dining car - very luxurious. Having merely crashed at my hotel after the journey, next morning I took the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) train into the city of San Francisco and got to the hostel without any problems. I spent the afternoon travelling the entire length of the F-line vintage street car - much cheaper and far less touristy than the Cable Cars. I have always loved this city and it was wonderful to return to places I had been to so long ago and find that they were all still there. Alioto's Fish Restaurant on Fisherman's Wharf was as good as it was 37 years ago; Coit Tower is still there, on top of Telegraph Hill; Castro is still the gay district and the Golden Gate Bridge is still standing. I spent a whole day, walking through Chinatown and on down to the wharfs and then back via the flash areas of Russian Hill and Nob Hill. The queues for the Cable Car on Hyde Pier were ridiculous so I gave them a miss completely and carried on walking all day as the weather was so glorious.
As I left San Francisco for Sacramento on the train, I had a last glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge as we headed inland. Old family friends met me at the station and gave me a tour of the area, including Folsom Prison where all the guards very politely asked us to leave quickly - we must have looked very suspicious doing u-turns at the main gate to the prison. Next day, we went out to Sutter Creek which is preserved as an old gold mining town. The old part of Sacramento, alongside the nearly overflowing American River, was interesting to see and we also visited the State Capitol building which is very beautiful. As there is still a lot of snow in the Sierra Mountains, people are worrying about whether the levys will hold on the riverbanks when the snow starts to melt shortly.
I got up at 4:00am in order to catch the Greyhound Bus north into Oregon. Bus stations are never in the most luxurious areas of town and Sacramento was no exception. The place was crowded with all varieties of unfortunate people. One guy got arrested as he was shouting about the bus being late. When we finally boarded, the driver told all the weirdy passengers that he was not going to take any **it so we had all better sit down and shut up! The alcohol and drug content of that bus must have been pretty high but I managed to get to Medford without too much trouble after travelling through the beginnings of the Cascade Mountains, still with loads of snow. Lynne, my HelpX host, was at the bus station to meet me and take me out to their horse ranch, close to the small town of Ashland.
Ashland is a beautiful town which has a famous Shakespeare Festival for most of the summer. One evening, three of us went to the theatre but we only had two tickets. A man outside the theatre gave me his spare ticket (worth $80) how generous. So many Americans still seem to be impressed with British people and their accents - most peculiar.
My duties on the farm included feeding chickens and managing five horses, one of which is the grand-daughter of Secretariat. The horses are pretty lively and very hard to get in from the pastures when they have been out all day. The compensation is that the mountain scenery around the farm is beautiful and my hosts are great fun. It is the 'tax filing' time of year so I was also helping in the office, trying to find various missing bills and statements etc. Lynne suggested that, as she was going north to see her family, I should drive with her and she would get me to Seattle after my two weeks with them. Great - no more Greyhound buses to negotiate!
We set off through the beautiful Oregon mountains, heading north towards Portland. There was still quite a bit of snow on Grisley Peak when we left John in charge of horses and chickens for a week. I had a quick tour of Portland and its beautiful art deco marble station where I managed to change my train ticket and we then headed further north into the state of Washington. As we drove up the highway, I saw Mount St Helens, the volcano that erupted just a few years ago. We finally arrived at Bear Canyon which is virtually owned by the family who all have varying interests in Christmas tree production - very lucrative! I had a wonderful few days with the family, travelling with mum up through the snow to a place called Paradise which is half way up Mount Rainier. When we arrived, there was 20 foot of snow banked against the Visitor Centre - very spectacular. We saw a beautiful Silver Cascade Fox just alongside the road, begging passing drivers for food. Back in Bear Canyon, I saw wild cayotes roaming along the hillside, eagles circling around the valley and otters in the family's private camping ground by the creek. With quite a bit of rain in the valley, we were treated to a double rainbow at the end of the day which was quite breathtaking.
I was driven to the Seattle hostel by Lynne's brother and his family and spent a couple of days being a tourist in the coffee capital of America where they have bicycle-riding policemen who happily direct you to the best spots in town. The Pike Place Market, just by the quayside, was vibrant with stalls selling amazing fish and all kinds of fruit and vegetables. I visited the original Starbucks (but didn't give them any money for their overpriced coffee) and also walked along the Gum Wall - one of the top five germy attractions in the world apparently. After a fabulous supper, I went to the historic 5th Avenue Theatre and was subjected to a performance of '9 to 5' with video appearances by Dolly Parton. The tour guide at the hostel suggested just 'looking' at the Space Needle but actually going up the Columbia Center's Skyview Tower for only $5 - great advice. I took the famous (?) Doc Maynard underground tour around Pioneer Square which showed the level of the city before it was destroyed by fire and re-built much higher to avoid floods from the bay area.
After a fish and chip lunch at Ivar's on Pier 54, I took the monorail to the Space Needle and back. This area of town is pretty desolate and certainly a shadow of its former 1962 World's Fair glory. Then, up to the 72nd floor of the Skyview Tower for a wonderful panorama of the city, the oceans and canals and the Cascade Mountains in the distance. To finish my trip to Seattle, I went to a baseball game and left after the Seattle Mariners scored a winning home run as I was so cold! I'm definitely up in the north now. It still gives me goosebumps whenever the yanks sing 'Star Spangled Banner' at the beginning of sports games.
As it was the beginning of Easter weekend, the train station was very busy but I managed to get a window seat on the train to Vancouver. During the three hour journey, we passed the most beautiful ocean-side scenery with majestic, snow-capped mountains on the horizon. I was welcomed by the Canadian Immigration Officer and managed to find my way to the hostel in 'gay town' Vancouver - great location and the start of my adventure with Canada.