CALIFORNIA DREAMING!

And so we left Los Angeles and travelled 23kms south by bus to our next destination, the renowned Venice Beach and Santa Monica in Southern California. Venice Beach is home to stars such as Hulk Hogan, Julia Roberts, Nicolas Cage, Angelica Huston etc. It’s where Jim Morrison and the Doors started out, and the Beachboys, to name but a few of the many famous musicians to burst onto the world stage from here. It derived its name from Venice of Italy back in 1905 when an American tobacco millionaire Abbot Kinney founded it as a beach resort town, and adult playground. Its oceanfront was built as a circus-like fairground and the surrounding areas has lots of canals resembling those in Venice, Italy. They even had gondolas floating along the canals way back in the day. A walk along the canals is a totally unique experience. The houses are magnificent in the extreme and again, only those in the exceptionally high salary bracket could ever dream of living here.

From the moment you arrive at this spectacular place you can not only see, but you can feel the whole culture of arts and music around you. It is like no other place we’ve visited so far, and it’s pure and authentic Hippy! That’s the single most accurate word to describe the place. Hippydom for miles and miles! The boardwalk is full of colourful people on skateboards, scooters, bikes, and things with wheels on that I didn’t even recognize. There’s pretty much a huge party buzz going on from morning til night with miles and miles of spotless sandy beaches as far as the eye can see. And folks, sunshine! Glorious, daylong sun! Oh the luxury of being able to go for long walks on the beach without a brolly. Although a couple of the days that we ventured out we did have to take warm cardigans as the wind can whip up quite a bit and out of the blue, but those days were few and far between.

Our accommodation was within spitting distance of the beach and so each day was spent lazing in the sunshine on the beach, reading and chilling and doing what is the most interesting sport here. People watching! And boy do you see all sorts gracing these boardwalks day and night. There are artists and musicians, rappers, pottery makers, men and women botoxed from their a**es to their elbows and one of the most amazing sights as you stroll along is an elderly homeless man with his baby grand piano and his little dog. He sits and plays piano all day, and when I say he plays. This guy is an absolute genius! His classical music pieces capture you the minute you approach and it’s pretty difficult to break free from the magic of his spell. I just couldn’t comprehend that this guy who sleeps under his piano when the sun goes down each day is homeless. There is quite a high number of homeless people here at Venice Beach. Many are homeless by choice, some are wannabe musicians and actors/artists who probably came to Hollywood hoping to make it big and somehow didn’t, and others are war veterans from the Vietnam war. How sad to think that these men who fought for their country are now homeless. This is not the only place that these guys emerge. They can be found amongst the homeless communities throughout the States.

On a lighter note, we found ourselves in knots of laughter too each day as we walked along the boardwalk. Homeless guys with wooden placards offering “Shitty Advice for a dollar”. Others with huge placards saying “Need Money for Weed”. You gotta respect their honesty! 😂. You see, cannabis is also legal here. To the point that as soon as you turn the corner off the side street to walk along the main boardwalk the smell of cannabis hits you like a tonne of bricks! I swear my appetite increased during the time we were there from passively smoking the stuff! I had the munchies the whole time without even touching it. 😂

We decided on one of the first days that we arrived to take a stroll down the beach to Santa Monica. Now you might remember that Santa Monica is the last stop that Tom Hanks made during his famous run across the States in the movie Forest Gump? It is also the last stop of the famous “Route 66”. We had seen the start of the route on our trip to Chicago and it was cool to see the last stop too. We had quite a distance to walk in the heat and so when we arrived we found ourselves a nice green patch of grass to sit and watch the world go by. The patch of grass that we picked was right in front of the famous “Muscle Beach”. Yes, I kid you not! There is a section of the beach where men and women alike go to exercise and build up their six packs. Now bear in mind how we felt, sitting on the little patch of grass, pale skinned, with red noses (resembling drug addicts to the locals no doubt) and the only six packs we’ve seen for a long time are the ones chilling in the fridge back in our Airbnb. Oh the joys of being Irish really hit us hard at that moment. To the point that when a group of photographers began taking shoots of a beautiful couple who were exercising beside us and who were clearly models, we decided to move out of the way in case our white skin was causing a glare on the camera. 😂😂😂

Our socializing was done in Santa Monica and there are fantastic comedy theaters in the city. We ventured into one such place on a Saturday evening and had a night where we actually felt like we did have six packs from laughing! Of course once the comedians on stage heard we were from Ireland, the skit started. It was totally entertaining and top class comedians that hopefully will some day make the cut and get on the big shows on TV. That’s their plan anyway.

We also ventured back into Los Angeles (which was near enough to do a quick bus trip back) and visiting the La Brea Tar Pits and museum. A very different type of museum where on a daily basis they do research on the remains of animals that were preserved by the tar pits that are actually on site and bubbling with tar as you stroll around. There are skeletons of mammals and animals of every description dating back thousands of years whose bones have been preserved from a time when they wandered into these tar pools and became stuck and perished way back then. Well worth a visit if you are in the LA area!

Back at base and on one of our walks around Venice Beach I commented to Colm that there appeared to be a Chinese Community within the Venice Beach area and that it appeared that it was the Asian people setting up their own community on a smaller scale to that which we had seen in Los Angeles. As the days went on I kept seeing these signs along alleyways etc that led me to believe that the Chinese were living in a separate quarter to the rest of the Venice Beach residents. After a few days of chatting to Colm about this as we walked along, he eventually asked me what signs I was talking about that pointed to these Chinese people living separately within community. So, I pointed out the sign in front of us that read “Ped Xing” (to me a Chinese word?). Well apparently not! 😂 Now, back home we would have a sign for a pedestrian crossing with people walking on the sign. Not here. It’s abbreviated, and an easy mistake to make really. So after picking Colm up off the ground from laughing we continued on our merry way. 😂😂😂

And so after ten glorious days in Venice Beach, we boarded the train in LA for San Diego, our final and most southern stop in California before we head for New Mexico. Our new Airbnb had its own heated swimming pool with sun beds and jacuzzi for us to work on building up our tans…. At last, our white skins would be no more! Our six packs would come in time 😂. With only four days to go we got to work immediately and out with the towels and lotions and tossing and turning to make sure there were no spots untouched by this wonderful round ball of sun. We would be tanned! Come hell or high water…we were not leaving the States looking gaunt and pale. And we didn’t. By the end of the day, when we got back to our room, and looked at each other! Two words…..Lobster Red! Not a wink of sleep was got that night..and the groans were from pain and nothing else 😂

But we made it the following morning to San Diego Zoo, and while I guess there are some who I would agree with that have issues around animals being held in captivity in Zoos, this one is a little bit different to your average Zoo and rated as the best in the world in the context of how the animals are treated. On arrival, the first thing you see is a Cheetah and a Dog sharing the same pen. Yes, it’s hard to believe, but both have been reared together since they were young pups and are best friends. The Cheetah and the Dog are walked outside of their pen regularly and the dog sets the mood of the Cheetah with his ability to interact with people without feeling threatened. The domestic animal and wild Cheetah happily stroll around on a leash without any stress or strain and enjoy the whole experience, much to the amusement of the spectators looking on. Most of the animals at the Zoo are categorized as “endangered species” and keeping them at the Zoo is actually doing more good than harm in protecting their future. From Koala Bears, to Grizzly Bears, to Panda Bears, to hilarious Baboons running around on a huge allotment playing games with one another. And also fighting! When we arrived at the viewing point of the Baboon area, we noticed a female Baboon picking at the male Baboon’s huge hairy mane, as they do when they are mating. Baby Baboons and young ones were running around the male and female and were obviously part of the one pack. Suddenly, another male Baboon approaches the male having his hair groomed. The new male Baboon is obviously trying to win the attention of the female, and is aggressively snarling at her male partner. Within an instant, the male partner runs at the new male, and then quickly distracts him and gathers the female and all the young ones and leads them to a lower ground behind a walled part of the grounds. He then returns to fight off the new male who’s encroaching on his territory. After a pretty aggressive approach the new male runs off, defeated! The female Baboon approaches her male partner and he embraces her lovingly as if to say “it’s ok now, he’s gone”, and they go back to the routine hair grooming! The reason I tell this story is that I thought, “how lovely that the male, before engaging in a full blown fight with the other male Baboon, made sure that his woman and the little ones were protected and hidden”. I was so glad he won and that the female and her kids were protected and safe as a result of his actions. The animal kingdom is just awesome! (American accent kicking in lads !).

San Diego is a city full of unexpected wonderful surprises. On a beautiful warm sunny morning, we headed into the city and on the recommendation of our hostess at our Airbnb took a ferry to the exquisitely beautiful island of Coronado. Now I had no knowledge of this island before we headed out there other than the fact that there was a well renowned hotel along the beach that was a must to visit, and that it was the location of the making of the movie with Marilyn Monroe “Some Like it Hot”. On arrival to the island you would be forgiven for thinking you had arrived slap bang into the middle of the movie set of “Pleasantville”. The houses are worth 7 figure sums of money. The auctioneers window displays houses for anything from $1m to $25m dollars. These are homes to people such as retired high ranking army officials and people who are pretty much multi-millionaires. Yachts adorn the coastline of the island and you would travel far and wide on this planet to see the equivalent of the wealth displayed here. The gardens of each and every property are immaculately maintained, with not a leaf to be seen out of place. I’d live there in the morning, but sure I wouldn’t fit in 😂😂😂. I’d be neurotic trying to keep the place that clean and tidy. Other than that sure I would ! @@@????!!! Ahemmm. We arrived at the Hotel Del Coronado having walked the width of the little island (which took only 30 minutes). When we arrived, again, a surreal experience. I can see why all of the Presidents of America holidayed at this hotel at one time or another, the most recent being the Obama’s. Trump has yet to visit I believe 😂. Again, it’s somewhere that’s worth a visit for a day trip. To stay for one night there would cost a couple the best part of $1,000. We had a light lunch (eye roll 👀)

We spent our last evening with our wonderful hostess at our Airbnb, Rachel, who kindly offered to take us to see the sun setting at the Sunset Cliffs and for a walk along Ocean Beach in California before we left the following morning for Santa Fe, New Mexico. We travelled out with Rachel to huge cliffs with the waves of the Pacific Ocean crashing against them. Now, it’s at times like this, when you stand at the side of a cliff, that you realize how small you are as a human being in the context of this vast expanse of ocean and natural terrain of gigantic cliffs around you. It’s a pretty humbling setting, and then to top it all, to see the sun in all its glory slowly lower in the sky and set on the horizon of this beautiful ocean….Wow! Another lifelong memory created right there! Taking photos of it does not do it an ounce of justice. Some things just cannot be replicated with the same result as seeing it with the naked eye.

I am also pleasantly surprised at how much the people all along the west coast of the States (and indeed every part of the USA that we’ve been) have a fondness for the Irish. I don’t believe that we realize back home how well liked we are as a nation. I feel very proud at the reputation that we have obviously maintained throughout the years all over the world. It’s noticeable from the moment we arrive at some of the airports/borders etc. travelling all over this wonderful country. As soon as we show our passports, we’re waved through with a friendly smile and an almost “sure we won’t be bothering you harmless folk at all” approach. We’ve experienced the same as we travel all over the States on public transport. As soon as people hear our accents they begin a full-blown conversation with us and before our journey is over, the whole bus or train carriage are involved in the chat. It’s just soo fabulous!

We are now on the final stint of our tour of the USA, and I have to say that we have met the most wonderful, warm friendly people who have received us with open arms and such kindness and hospitality that it’s hard to quantify in writing. Some of these people that we have met along the way I know will be life-long friends and again, that is what this journey for us is also about. Meeting such amazing people as we go. We read almost every day in newspapers and watch the news on TV about the tragedies and horrors that are unfolding in the world every day, and here also in the States. Well, let me tell you that there is more good in this country that is never documented or reported and we have been very lucky and blessed to have experienced it tenfold during our time here.

On Monday morning last, we boarded a flight for Albuquerque, New Mexico, leaving behind us the fantastic west coast of the USA. It’s been our first experience of visiting this part of the States, and following this trip, it certainly won’t be our last!

Next stop, is the wonders of the desert city of Santa Fe, New Mexico! It’s 8,000 ft above sea level and will take a couple of days to readjust to the thin air at such a height. I cannot wait to see what this place brings. See you again soon with all the gossip on this new part of our adventure!

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