When you think ‚California‘, you most likely think of endless summer, surfing and, of course, Hollywood. That was kind of what I was thinking about, too. But when I arrived in San Francisco, it was only 13 degrees Celsius, windy and grey. So on the first day I found myself on a mission to buy warm clothes. For 3 months in Asia I only thought about the way I looked or dressed when I felt like I was in a situation where it would be appropriate to cover up a little more out of respect for the culture or religion. Other than that it was more an ‚is this comfortable? / is this practical?‘ – kind of thing. Arriving in the States, suddenly I was entering a culture that is (very much like my own) focused on what you can see on the surface, rather than what kind of beauty you can find deep down underneath it.
Walking around in my Yoga-Pants, pineapple socks, my trainers, my only jumper that I had with me, my rain jacket and a scarf rapped around my head to stay warm, I simply felt like an alien. Everybody around me was busy, starring at their phones or the shop windows, rushing down the streets in a hurry, looking stressed out, and I was just standing there, looking ridiculous, thinking ‚what the hell am I doing here?‘. It was very overwhelming. I never would have thought that I would get my first real culture shock on this journey coming back into the Western culture that I am normally used to. But already 3 months away from it had opened up a complete new perspective on it. Therefore I couldn’t enjoy San Francisco as much as I wished, to be honest, and decided to get out of the big city and give myself the chance to see what else California has to offer. My road trip down the coast then lead me to smaller towns and into nature and, without planning it, became an expedition to explore alternative ways of living…
1st stop: Santa Cruz!
They call Santa Cruz „Surf City USA“ for a reason (and for that reason I wanted to go there). It is a small town an hour South of San Francisco and not only was it the first place where surfing started in California, it is also the place the wetsuit has been invented at by Jack O’Neill (who sadly passed away while I was there), so it’s safe to say that Santa Cruz has been and still is very important for surf culture and it’s development. You can really feel that in its atmosphere. Everybody in Santa Cruz is a surfer, the people in the water are young, old, male, female, longboarders, shortboarders, stand up paddlers and all of them are having the best time despite only 12 degrees water temperature. I asked myself all the time how all the people manage to go surfing so much (don’t they have jobs?), but it seems like everything in this town is shaped around this culture and maybe surfing is accepted as a basic human right in Santa Cruz?! In any case: I loved it there. Not only because of the surfing, but als because I accidentally ended up staying in a Coworking / Coliving – space for people who live as nomads or work remotely. Apart from the fact that it wasn’t bad at all to stay in a house just a five minute walk away from the shore, with a real kitchen and a washing machine, it was great to meet people who have quit their nine to five jobs and built up a lifestyle that allows them to travel and work at the same time. I met managers, writers, coders, photographers, translators… all of them have one thing in common: they want to live free and unconventional. At the moment, I am one of them and who knows if I will choose to live like that longterm one day?!
2nd stop: Big Sur!
Unfortunately, my plan to take the legendary Pacific Coast Highway was crossed by a massive landslide that went down in the beginning of the year and destroyed parts of the famous Highway 1 completely – what a tragedy for the locals in the Big Sur area. Forced to go around the coast, I ended up staying in the Los Padres National Forest, where I could rent a room from a woman called Betty. Before I came, she recommended a vehicle with four by four wheel drive and sent me a map to print out since there is no phone connection. The drive was adventurous and I was only praying that there wouldn’t be another car coming towards me, while I was slowly driving up the curvy and steep dirt road. Arriving at „the heart of the wild“, I directly felt like I was in the right place.
A breathtaking view was waiting for me, as well as a wood cabin to sleep in and Betty with her dog. Betty has been living in the forest for fourty years, raising her children here, building several houses and living without electricity, completely remotely in a time where there wasn’t a wifi-connection via sattelite or solar panels, like there are now. For me, Betty is a true hero of alternative living and has built a calm and peaceful oasis in the woods, I have nothing but respect for this power woman. I spent two days enjoying a life close to nature, with beautiful sunsets, swimming in hidden lakes and also used the opportunity to drive down to one part of the coast that you can reach through the inland, despite the landslide. Only seeing a small part of it was enough to see how beautiful this area is and I am left with the bitter feeling that I was to late to explore it.
3rd stop: Ventura!
I don’t even know, why I wanted to go to Ventura so much, I think I had seen some surf-related Instagram post about it and it was somehow stuck in my head, so I made my way down there and it was right to follow my intuition on that one. Not only has the town many surf spots and beaches to offer, it is also full of campervans, craft beer breweries, organic coffee places and has banned plastic bags completely – what a paradise. It has such an alternativ, yet hip vibe to it and when my host Ashly welcomed me with the words „everybody in this house is against Trump, so you can speak openly!“ and we spent two days talking about politics, future plans and dreams, I knew it is now also a place, where I have a new friend. Since the surf conditions weren’t good, I wanted to do some Yoga and coincidentally found „Ventura Pop Up Yoga“ when I was driving by a park next to the ocean. That’s one thing I love about traveling – so often things end up coming to you automatically. Pop Up Yoga Ventura offers outdoor Yoga classes based on donations. I think that’s a great concept because it enables more people to take a Yoga class without having to pay more than they can afford. Especially when you are traveling on a budget, you are dependened on things like that and here, everybody is welcome and just taking one class with them gave me a feeling of being part of this amazing community and being welcome and being enough. Isn’t it great that with surfing and Yoga, everywhere in the world you find (most of the time) a community that makes you feel like you belong?!
4th stop: Joshua Tree!
For my fourth and final stop on this road trip, the motto was: back into nature. I believe it is so important to find a good balance in everything you do and our world consists of opposites. Because I know grief, I can appreciate happiness, because I have lived in darkness, I can appreciate the light. After staying in the city, I went to the forest and after living close to the ocean, I now went to the desert – what a change. Joshua Tree is not like anything, I had ever seen before – what a surreal scenery. And what a lucky girl I am that I was able to live in a hippie trailer in the dessert and experience this special place while I was actually part of the scenery. Sitting outside of my trailer while the sun set behind it, shining this unforgettable light on everything and the full moon was rising in front of me, was one of the most amazing and fascinating things I’ve ever seen. Drinking cheap red wine that I only bought because it was called „purple moon“ and having this intense conversation with my host Constance afterwards, while the desert heat of the day slowly vanished into the night, I felt like meeting and talking to my 71year old self. I guess it’s true when they say ‚all roads lead to Rome‘. All the decisions I ever made, all the different paths, have lead me here, in some mysterious way, into this situation, into this conversation in the desert and suddenly there was so much wisdom and so many answers just lying open in front of me. All the time I had waited for some spiritual awakening and in Joshua Tree, I realized that sometimes it takes someone else to wake you up. For me it was my host Constance and all the experience she has collected in the last 40 years, living in the dessert – I am so thankful that she shared it with me. And, once again, I figure that living close to nature will somehow give you a deeper understanding of everything… an understanding that I have yet to achieve. But my road trip down the Californian coast has brought me 775 miles closer, by getting away from the temptations of modern society, by getting into the hills, the ocean, the forest and the desert, by discovering alternativ ways of living, loving, thinking, by meeting different people of different age, mindset and origin, and by experiencing the healing effect of salt water, fresh air and the sounds of nature, once again. Thinking about it now, I feel like I am still California dreaming….
By the way, Joshua Tree was my final stop on my road trip, but not my last stop in the US. I went to Los Angeles afterwards, but that’s a whole different story. You will read about it next week. Until then: Namaste, my friends!