California. Nevada. Arizona. Utah. Colorado. The American road trip begins.
Somehow, entering America didn’t seem quite the big adventure. After all, they speak English here (sort of). We inadvertently switched our culture-detectors into neutral. But they got bumped back into gear pretty rapidly – even in Southern California we soon realised that we need to learn to communicate here just as much as anywhere.
For starters, we weren’t being enthusiastic enough. When the waiter comes to the table with a vigorous ‘How y’all doing?’, a timid English ‘fine thanks’ is simply not sufficient. And at 4th of July fireworks the English compulsory ‘Ooh’ and ‘Aah’ only dialogue is not sufficiently individual or self confident. You really need to speak your mind on these occasions and tell people what you really think, even if what you really think is ‘Look, there’s a green one’, or ‘I like the loud ones best’. So we’re being super positive, operating a minimum quota of 50 ‘fabulous’s a day. And, once we’ve mastered the accent, we’re going to start saying ‘awesome’.
Though in fairness, this will immediately mark us out as Californians. Moving across the states you can feel the difference in cultures – it’s a helluva big place. We’re only beginning to grasp the differences, beyond the obvious trite stuff. Though a few days in Utah’s ponderous, respectable, god fearin’ counties is certainly a rare experience.
But America has its consistent threads.
The endless miles of Stars and Stripes (even, it appears, in the Indian reservations). Patriotism is in.
The colossal cars. Big really is best.
The tools. People here have a tool for everything. It’s a great place to buy stuff. And the wonder of American tools is there’s no sense of the ridiculous. The other day I saw a car cruising in Yosemite National Park with a roof mounted video camera for that perfect ‘My holiday without leaving the car’ footage.
I was most amused to spot a pickup truck with a special tray fitted in the back so your stuff doesn’t slide out of reach of the tailgate – a great invention, but surely a smaller vehicle, such as a car with a boot, would achieve the same effect.
I think it’s really that here, if you’re going to do something, you really should do it properly. No half measures. If you want to go hiking, you should have good boots, a sleek camelback rucksack, the works. And if your hiking ends off as only a 2 mile stroll on a paved path, then there’s no shame in that. It only seems over the top to us because British culture works the other way round. You’d never in a million years find an American halfway up a mountain in her white stilettos, like you might in any English National Park on a bank holiday weekend.
The friendliness. We’ve been better received here than almost anywhere – with a real interest and passion. Its true in every place we’ve been here. In particular we have to thank some really lovely friends in California: Pete, who showed us how to hang out like dudes on the California coast. Gilman and Maria, who took us to the funkiest parts of San Francisco. And most of all Wendy and Bob who made us so at home, fed us hotdogs on the 4th of July, and even sold us a car.
So America is proving to be just as absorbing as anywhere. It goes to show that travel is not really about how far you go, but about how far you put yourself at the mercy of other people, and try to understand them. If you really want to be a traveller, go a hundred miles and try to understand the people you find there. Go to your neighbours and try to understand them. It’s more complicated, and more fun, than you’d think.
You might still see it in the desert
For the first time in my life I am a car owner – cruising around in a fine green Jeep, which would seem enormous in England, but can get lost in carparks here amongst other meaner machines. The change in pace and style of travel is refreshing. Our backpacks were beginning to weigh us down, and the final 22 hour bus journey across northern Mexico was enough to make you never want to go in a bus again.
America is a land of campsites, and we’re living outdoors as much as we can, even though our small hiking tent looks daft amongst the glamorous RVs (It is important, when driving your RV, to have something cool towed behind. A couple of jetskis will do nicely, or maybe a 4 wheel drive with some mountain bikes strapped to the boot. Enjoying yourself is a serious business).
So we’re able to take whatever route we like, and go to whatever little places we like. There are simply hundreds of amazing national parks here – it’s easy to see why so many American people never leave their own country. They’ve got everything here.
We’ve just completed a drive across Arizona and Utah. After the Grand Canyon, and the lesser known but equally marvellous Zion and Bryce canyons, we’ve continued east. The places get smaller, less well known and more remote, but the scenery continues. The road from Hanksville (population about 200) to Mexican Hat (smaller than Hanksville) twisted through some of the most extraordinary scenery we’ve seen all year, and didn’t pass a single place in over 150 miles.
Just plateaux and canyons and mountains and coloured hillsides and endless skies of fluffy clouds. It ended in the ‘Moki dugway’ – a road of terrifying proportions, where Thelma and Louise ended their journey (but we drove safer), and then Monument Valley where nearly every famous Western you’ve ever seen was filmed, under the soaring red sandstone spikes that reach 300m out of the desert floor (e.g. ‘How the West was won’, or more recently ‘Back to the Future 3’). Its impossible to describe – I really need a roof mounted video camera I guess. Suffice to say it sure is freakin’ weird. Southern Utah should be on everyone’s ‘places I want to go’ list. (If you haven’t got one, start one.)
Now we’re in Colorado. This is very exciting, not least because it’s almost impossible to buy a drink in Utah.
From here we’re going to head north again – we’ve already put 3,000 miles on our car, and got little closer to our final destination. But beautiful, wild, untamed, and largely unpopulated Wyoming and Montana will lead us to Canada. The Big American Tour of Nowhere continues.
It’s been a long time since we were online. Those of you who thought we were dead can breathe a sigh of relief (or despair). It seems the land where the internet was born is not the best place to hook up. We realised this pretty quickly in Pismo Beach California, when I asked someone where I could find an internet cafe. ‘Oh, I know what you mean,’ she said ‘my son did that once from Costa Rica’.
In the land where every house is online, the traveller is a little adrift. No knowing when we’ll hook up again.
You fill up my senses
Our life is all change. As well as the reversion to English (tengo triste a decir adios a mis estudies espanoles), and the car, we’ve had the joy of co-travellers. First Helen and Nicky with us from Mexico City to San Francisco, and now Gary from Las Vegas to Denver. And Stuart will meet us in Calgary in a couple of weeks for the haul to Alaska. It’s nice to see friendly faces, and it adds a different dimension to everything, a new, fresh, perspective.
It also means we’ve got someone to point out the less people-friendly aspects of our lifestyle (like when we smell, or when we’re stingy). The rehabilitation process to real life has begun.
And in the process we’ve been reacquaint
ed with music. Those of you who’ve seen my living room will understand that a prolonged period without my tunes is painful for me. So a car stereo, and a bag of CDs is a real joy. The first note of ‘I want to be adored’ almost brought tears to my eyes.
And, since all our friends have impeccable taste, we’ve even had music to match the moment – Mamas and the Papas for California, John Denver for the Rockies. You can’t really do that in Belize!
Now, about that drink…