Thursday, June 7, 2012

LA to San Francisco via the great woods

I did not get lost driving in LA somehow. I do have the ability to get lost just walking to the corner. But these huge numbered freeways seemed to communicate effortlessly with my internal compass :)
Didn't really see much of the city in two days there. Mainly my auntie's house, the freeways and the UCLA neighborhood were my friend Diego studies and learns the nuances of LA's showbiz language.
For me that is the best kind of tourism. Just sharing with people. And it was great to share a couple of noons with my auntie and cousi. And a beautiful day walking, talking, laughing, even dipping our feet in the ever-cold Pacific ocean with Diego.

I swiftly escaped to nature again towards nature after the big city.
Next destination: Sequoia/King's Canyon Park.
Did get a bit lost always climbing through the small winding roads amongst fruitful fields filled with taller and taller trees hiding laboring squirrels in their bark. Gradually the fields start disappearing and are replaced by this huge trunks that it is impossible to frame with the naked eye. Not from the car, not standing near them, not even far away.
Their size partly comes to show their age and wisdom (though there are plenty of small, old and wise things in this world). Anywhere between one hundred and three thousand years. Numbers that are as difficult to grasp as these giants themselves.
They appear, fat red trunks illuminated by the green shade of the forest clearing, of their own shade. Always  surrounded by life. Blue woodpeckers, cheecky little chirping birds, squirrels galore, deers, black bears (that are not always black).
I sort of wanted and didn't want to see a bear. The campground lady told me that there had been a mother and her two cubs exploring the camp all day. So I thought I'd see them from the car window at night.
But nothing except the crisp coldness of the night. So much so that the next morning, after a good run zig-zagging around the huge red trunks. After exploring natural tunnels carved in the middle of dead trunks that never corrode. I left the park.
Too high, too cold, for an unprepared camper like me.

I directed the steering wheel towards the ocean and kept on following lost roads until I was driving in the middle of another beautiful forest shielding a fort. Felt a bit like a movie, where you see the soldiers training in those climbing nets, jumping tires. It was all there, only empty. This is, after all, a country at war.

I was in Los Padres National Park. A huge green expanse in the coast of California. As it was a long weekend I decided to stay in the first campground I saw. Beautiful friendly forest by the side of a crystal river. Also beautiful, kind neighbors that shared their fire and loving family with me.
Two days of chilling. Lying on big rocks in the middle of the river. Watching clouds go by through the leafs.
Spending a surprisingly entertaining time turning the car into a gypsy tent to insulate it.

Then on the way to San Francisco, just one final stop in Monterey. I wanted to see this coast loved by Miller, Steinbeck, Kerouac and so many others. I merely drove through Big Sur. Walked the windy powerful beach. The coast is majestic blue, not friendly but awe inspiring in its misty roaring waves.
It was also packed-full of people enjoying their Memorial Day weekend. But I was lucky enough to find room in a cozy hostel near the Aquarium.
A bit of clam chowder while listening to swingy tunes in the Calamari Festival (yes, it is a festival celebrating calamari, and what a great thing to celebrate!). A bit of wine tasting. Getting to love California's Pinots. A bit of walking around, amazed by the amount of tourism in the area.
And next day the main attraction: The Aquarium. It has this HUGE tank housing sea turtles, mola fish, blu fin and yellow fin tuna, sardines (it's all about the sardines in Monterey) and sharks. It's pretty amazing to see them all interacting, feeding, just a step away from you. Closest thing to being in the open ocean without a tank.
Jellyfish were also a highlight. I had never seen such a wide range of them, all different shapes and colours. The ocean's ballet.
It is a visit worth its while. But, again, packed with people.

So off to San Francisco. Through the Redwoods, the other giants of the area.
I could just spend a little hour walking between them in the Big Basin Reserve where I would have happily stayed one more week. California is a magic land where you can be deep in the woods and only a couple of  hours from the big city.
Between the Redwoods and the city I could see there's already tons of people living in the area. Lots of beautiful houses showing their corners between the green.

And finally into the windy city of San Francisco. Returning the car. My home, my friend. I think I actually spent the last few days talking to it and singing songs to him. Things that happen when you spend too much time alone...
And into a massive hostel full of young (younger than me at least) partying Irish folks.
It was a great neighborhood, just by Union Square. So I spent my days there being an absolute tourist. Waling around, going to gigs, museum.
I met a great bunch of Latin Americans. First day with Gabriel and Cote (Uruguay and Chile) scavenging around China Town, the fabulous City Lights library and Haights Road, cradle of the hippie culture.
It is great how in San Francisco they are so proud of their hippie roots. You can feel it in the people there and in the self-love of the city. That is mostly expressed in merchandising. Not sure how hippie is that.
Gabriel said that the only way to really get to know a city is through its bars. So that night I went out for a poetic wine at Vesuvio, where the City Lights beat poets would meet. And then a gig at a place called "Saloon". The man with the long, white beard would open the door to this dark bar. In the low stage a band of three: A Japanese vocalist/guitar lady and two old guys in the drums and guitar. I was amazed once she start singing, with the voice of an old rocker. They were great. A mix of Beatles, Johnny Cash, Elvis. I think they were called the Powell St Band or something along those lines.
It was a great night dancing and talking with the varied audience.

I also had the chance to cross the Golden Gate Bridge with my friend Gabriel (Argentina) which is just as big and long as it sounds. Beautiful construct of lines, vanishing points. And all the time the river down deep below.

I also met with one of my cousins and his family. Great dinner with my multi-talented cousin/niece who likes singing, maths, writing and wants to work as a car designer in the future. I had never seen so much clarity in a seven year old : )

Time flew in that beautiful windy city which reminded me a lot of Wellington. The port, the concentration of culture and business, the amount of techie folk. I would happily stay there for a longer period.
But oh well.. moving on to New York, which hasn't been that bad at all...

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