California

Two weeks ago on Sunday I was faced with the miserable task of returning home after two glorious weeks road tripping around sunny California with Sam. This post attempts to document those two weeks with the help of 50 digital images. About half are mine, half are hers. She has plenty more on her Flickr if you fancy it. Okie dokie, let's go.


Christchurch → Sydney → Los Angeles → Santa Barbara

Sam scooped me up from Los Angeles International Airport early on Saturday morning. After an emotional reunion and a short period of getting really lost in obscure LA suburbs, we began our way up the coast to her home in Santa Barbara. We stopped in Carpinteria, a lovely little seaside town where I ate the first of so many delicious Mexican meals. The options for meat included "chicken", "steak", "tongue", "head" and "marinated".



Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is exactly the sort of utopian wonderland that ought not exist but somehow does anyway. Wedged comfortably between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, its perfect temperature varies by less than ten degrees between seasons. I could easily have spent the whole two weeks here but that wouldn't have been particularly fair on Sam. She showed me some of her favourite spots, including pelican stronghold Goleta Pier, and the awesome "Lizard's Mouth" lookout point.



Santa Barbara → Big Sur

The drive up the coast to Big Sur got more and more beautiful the further north we progressed as the landscape transformed from farmland into cliffs and forests and rocky beaches. It got dramatically less beautiful when we stopped at an elephant seal colony. Elephant seals really drew the short straw when God was deciding which animals should be remotely appealing to look at. Even their method of getting around - dragging their fat bodies along the ground with frequent stops to catch their breath and sink their ugly faces into the sand - is completely repulsive.



Big Sur → Santa Cruz

Camping in Big Sur was a bit of a mess (we forgot to pack basic things like a torch) and we opted out of a second night, instead continuing north to Santa Cruz. Sam let me drive some of the way, my first experience in an automatic, and I had a great time. Something you might not know about automatic cars: they don't have gear sticks! I think if more people knew about this, automatic cars would be a lot more popular.



Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is a seaside town with a lively boardwalk containing all manner of rides, amusements, and deep fried food. We rode the "Sky Glider", a gentle cable car ride from one end of the boardwalk to the other. It gave us lovely views of the beach, where crowds were gathering for a free screening of "Footloose" that evening, an event surely impossible to stage on UK beaches without the need for paramedics stationed to the treat the audience members whose core temperatures have dropped below the required level for watching films/consciousness.



Santa Cruz → San Francisco

The short drive from Santa Cruz to San Francisco cut through Silicon Valley, a region famous for the hundreds of tech companies headquartered there, among them Adobe, Intel, Oracle, Yahoo!, Apple, Facebook, and Google. Visiting the headquarters of Google constitutes a sacred pilgrimage for a computer science graduate like me. We managed to infiltrate the campus and walk around freely for at least ten minutes before a security guard, whose sole job appeared to be shooing imposters like us, asked us to please leave. A very cool place from the little I saw.



San Francisco

San Francisco became my favourite American city when I first visited two years ago and it still holds that title. We spent most of the day wandering around with no specific agenda, soaking up Little Italy, Chinatown and Union Square. The hostel was packed with Outside Lands festival goers, where Nine Inch Nails were playing that night.



San Francisco

Our second full day in San Francisco was a continuation of the first, with possibly even less direction than before. We spent a while exploring the most dense record shop I've ever been to. The sign above the narrow staircase leading down to the basement boasted a collection 50,000 records, and I doubt they had the floorspace for 50. It was mostly just a cramped maze of plastic crates full of vinyl stacked from floor to ceiling with no room for one person to pass another, or escape in the event of a fire. I wanted to buy something but the choice overwhelmed me and I had to leave and have a sit down.



San Francisco → Sacramento → Lake Tahoe

We left San Francisco across the famous Golden Gate Bridge and set our compass to "east". Somewhere along the way we reached Sacramento, the state capital of California, where we stopped for lunch. We left Sacramento undecided whether "Suckramento" or "Excremento" was a more appropriate pseudonym for the boring town, which might have been slightly unfair given the length of time we spent there. The food was alright though. Continuing east, the landscape quickly gave birth to mountains, and after an impressive 7,000ft climb, we arrived at Lake Tahoe.



Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe was really amazing. We met up with Sam's parents and family friend Jim, who'd kindly offered to host everyone at the lakeside property he'd built himself twenty years ago. We spent the day exploring the area, swimming in the crystal-clear lake water, and floating down the Truckee River in a dinghy, sipping watermelon-flavoured beer. Lovely.




Lake Tahoe → Mammoth Lakes

The beautiful drive south from Tahoe drifted briefly into the state of Nevada, where, unlike California, gambling is legal and casinos are rife. We stopped at "Sharkey's", a particularly grungy-looking establishment, to try our luck. Midway through a winning streak on one of the slot machines, a Sharkey's employee approached us and asked to see our ID. It turned out you have to be 21 to gamble in Nevada and Sam isn't. We cashed our $1.25 profit and made for the exit, which felt like starring in a particularly weak episode of BBC Three's "The Real Hustle".




Mammoth Lakes → Yosemite National Park → Santa Barbara

The daunting eight-hour drive across the state from Mammoth Lakes to Santa Barbara was broken up by visits to different parts of the extraordinary Yosemite National Park. My photos can't do the vast scale of this place any justice. They're also out of date, given Yosemite has since become a giant inferno.


Santa Barbara

I didn't take many pictures during my last full day in California, but that's okay because I did manage to capture the single most important event of the day, the trip, and arguably my whole life. Sam prepared this masterpiece of tri-tip (a type of steak), pepper jack cheese, grilled onions, salsa, avocado and mayonnaise from the deli she works at. Words failed me at the time and words continue to fail me.


Santa Barbara → Los Angeles → The Sky

Stearns Wharf is home to a community of seriously entrepreneurial homeless people who have set up games along the beach, challenging tourists to throw coins off the pier into a series of elaborate targets drawn on scraps of cardboard. A smart idea that was working very well for them. We pottered around for a while, trying to delay our drive back to the airport. Eventually we gave in, and after an emotional deunion (a new word) at the terminal, we parted ways. I miss Sam, and we're already planning our next trip together.


The Sky → Sydney → Christchurch

The image of Sydney's iconic skyline came as a welcome relief after fourteen hours spent not sleeping and being fed gruel by the surprisingly hostile United Airlines cabin staff. A shorter, less awful flight whisked me across the Tasman Sea where I caught my first glimpse of rainy old New Zealand, home sweet home for the next few months.