The Hillbillies Arrive in California

Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
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Friday, April 13, 2007

It's cold and grey. It's miserable, expensive and unfriendly. It's a concrete jungle, jam-packed with cars on the frenetic freeways. It's a never ending succession of shopping malls, box stores, fast food joints and car dealerships. Yes, we're back in North America ...and we hate it!

Okay, so maybe we're exaggerating a tad, but arriving in southern California during an unseasonably cold April has been a real shocker. It's spring break, so everything is booked solid and prices have doubled. But where are the people? Where are the friendly smiles and greetings on the street that we so enjoyed in Latin America? Where is the soul of American society? Where is the human face and warmth of the richest and most privileged of civilizations? Reduced to mindless, rampant consumerism....does life really revolve around speeding down the freeway to Costco, using your GPS to get there and chatting on your cell phone? You can't believe how difficult it has been to resist the temptation to just turn DC3 around and head south again!

A week ago we crossed the border at Tecate before we even knew it, suddenly finding ourselves in the line-up at the US Immigration booth. No sign of any Mexican authorities. Luckily, we had cancelled our vehicle permit in La Paz, and nobody seemed to be interested in our tourist cards - they probably all end up in the garbage anyway. The US immigration official asked our nationalities and where we were coming from (duhhh...Mexico?), and swiped our passports. No forms to fill out, no photocopies in triplicate, and no sweaty traipsing around from booth to booth. Just line up over there for the agricultural inspection. Everyone else seemed to be waved right through, so we wondered if the egg smuggling incident from five years ago had popped up on her computer screen. As we waited we watched a couple of agents tear apart a pick-up truck ahead of us - obviously Mexican - and made them put a bunch of produce in the incinerator. Then it was our turn. "Any eggs, fresh meat, vegetables or fruit?" "No, sir." "A pet?" "No, sir." "Do you mind opening up your fridge?" "No sir, no problem." "Okay, move along." Not once during innumerable searches by police, army and customs agents over the past three years has anybody ever asked us what we have in our 'vanobag' strapped on top of the driving cab.

Very soon we found ourselves on Highway 94, being inexorably sucked into the metropolitan sprawl of San Diego. DC3 was wondering what the heck the hurry was, with everyone passing us at 80+ mph. Maybe she was intimidated by all the BMWs, Porsches, Ferraris and Maseratis. We managed to head north on Interstate 5 at the last moment before we got hopelessly lost in the maze of downtown. We figured it would be easy to find somewhere to camp on a quiet beach along the coast north of the city. Are you kidding? All the campsites were full to overflowing and every other potential spot had ominous signs advising against sleeping in vehicles overnight. Night had long since fallen, and finally we found a parking lot without any obvious signs prohibiting riff-raff like us. It only took the security guard five minutes to foil our devious plan, tapping at our window and politely asking us to move along. He recommended the scenic pay-parking lot overlooking the ocean. We woke up the next morning surrounded by RVs and campers on a soul-less expanse of tarmac dotted with stunted palm trees. The sky was a foreboding shade of grey, and the ocean looked dismal and gloomy. A few hardy surfers clad in insulated wet suits were doing their very best to look as if they were enjoying themselves. Welcome to sunny southern California!

We won't bore you with the rest of the details of our depressing week, but will just touch on the highlights that kept our spirits up. In Irvine, we spent a very special evening visiting with a couple we had met several times on our trip - in Argentina and Bolivia. Larry and Marylyn had travelled throughout South America in a pick-up camper for eighteen months and returned to the US almost a year ago. When we first met them hiking in the Fitzroy Range in March 2005, we stopped to chat and felt an immediate bond. It wasn't until we met them again in Ushuaia a month later that we discovered how close that bond was. They had also lost a child - their son Joseph had died in a tragic car accident two years previously when he was 33. An avid traveller, they were retracing his steps and scattering his ashes in some of the places he loved most. It was great to meet up with them again, share a wonderful meal and some Argentinean wine, and catch up on their latest news. It had apparently taken them almost six months before they had felt comfortable re-settling into North American society! We shared stories of our travels, laughed about almost identical brushes with the police in Bolivia and Peru, and discussed future travel plans and some of our common health concerns. Our conversation inevitably turned to Joseph and Mike, and we learned how much alike these two young men were in their zest for life and courage in following their dreams. Thanks, Larry and Marylyn for sharing your time with us - don't forget to stop in and see us in Ottawa on your way through to Newfoundland in the summer.

Easter Sunday morning we went to one of the six services at the Crystal Cathedral in Anaheim. We joined the line up and were issued our tickets - not quite sure whether we hadn't missed our way, and were inadvertently at Disneyland or Hollywood instead. The modern glass and steel structure is certainly impressive and the setting is very spectacular. A magnificent organ, choir, orchestra, gospel soloists and flamboyant pianist, all surrounded by masses of hydrangea and lilies. The message reflected the surroundings and concentrated on the famous celebrities of the week - Evil Kneivel who had been baptised there the previous week, and Anthony Hopkins who had renewed his wedding vows. Certainly a grandiose performance, but unfortunately neither inspiring nor insightful.

In the afternoon we managed to track down Aunt Mary in Arcadia for a surprise visit. She was certainly surprised and pleased to see us, and we in turn were surprised to find Alice and Peter also paying a visit. It was good to catch up on family news, and to share a very delicious Easter dinner with Mary and her family. We were even treated to an energetic demo of swing dancing by two of the younger set.

Heading north up Highway #1 along the coast, we couldn't resist a visit to "Go Westy" at Los Osos - the mecca for VW Campers and Vanagons in California. DC3 got to visit all her cousins, but unfortunately their service department was booked up solid until the end of the month so we couldn't get some anticipated maintenance done. But we needn't have worried. A little further up the coast in Santa Cruz - surfing capital of the world - our problems were solved. Frank Condelli - our Vanagon guru from Almonte who prepared DC3 for our trip and has been our technical life-line for the past three years - happened to be visiting with his daughter April who is in college there. We spent a pleasant day with them, and meanwhile DC3 got some TLC from the folks at "Volks Café", another well known VW garage specializing in camper vans. These vans from the 70s and 80s are very popular with the surfer crowd, and we saw more vans and campers in three minutes than we saw in three years in South America!
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