As I’m publishing this article, it’s been now four weeks since the beginning of the lockdown in France, due to the coronavirus pandemic. It’s absolutely necessary to prevent the spread of the virus, but it’s also very weird to be stuck at home for such a long period, especially for me who used to travel so much! So in order to take my mind (and hopefully yours) off this alarming situation, I decided to think about all the moments when I had this amazing feeling of freedom during my different trips, and to tell you the story behind five of them. Here’s the first one, the beginning of my road trip in the South-West of the United States on the 13th of April 2018, exactly two years ago today.
📷 For more pictures have a look at my gallery of photos of Southern California.
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Let’s begin with a bit of context. When I landed in Los Angeles three days earlier, I had been travelling for more than four months since leaving Auckland in New Zealand. I arrived from Japan, where I spent two fabulous weeks. It was the biggest cultural shock of my life: the language, the food, the architecture, everything was different. Two things in particular impressed me: the extraordinary level of cleanliness everywhere, and the extreme (sometimes too extreme) politeness and respect of people.
I left Tokyo on the 10th of April, in the afternoon. My flight was crossing the virtual International Date Line in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, which means that I kind of “travelled back in time”: when I landed in Los Angeles, it was the morning… of the 10th of April again! I basically lived the same day twice, without a night to rest in between. It was my hardest jetlag experience ever: I had never felt that exhausted before, and it took me a few days to get back to a regular cycle.
My first impression of Los Angeles was terrible, especially compared to Japan. The streets were dirty, the few people I talked too were rude and impolite, the public transport system was a nightmare… I tried to explore a bit the city and went to Beverly Hills but found it so fake and “bling-bling”. And the worst was yet to come! I told you the entire story in my Traveller’s Alphabet a few weeks ago so I’m not going into details here, but the hostel I booked was the worst I ever stayed at. I eventually got kicked out because I complained of the noise the staff was making at night… because of renovation work until 3 or 4am!
I had one last night to spend in LA (I was really hating the city at that point and missing Japan so much) so I went to a second hostel in the same dirty neighbourhood. I didn’t leave my room until the next morning, when I headed back to the airport to rent a car and begin my road trip. I had to wait about two hours at the rental agency and it already was the beginning of the afternoon when my car was available. You can probably imagine how happy and relieved I was to finally be on the road, leaving behind me these three terrible days and beginning a new exciting part of my trip!
Apart from this great sensation of freedom as I was driving away from Los Angeles, that first day wasn’t extraordinary; my goal was San Diego, close to the Mexican border, but I was there too late to visit the city itself. I only went to the Torrey Pines State Reserve for a short hike along the coast and to the picturesque peninsula of Point Loma and its vast military cemetery for sunset.
The “real” road trip began the next morning, when I drove to the desert of Anza-Borrego. I don’t remember how or when I first heard that name and what decided me to go there, but I’m glad I added it to my travel list! It’s not the most amazing park of the country, but I really enjoyed driving through these vast arid landscapes, the first I saw during this road trip.
It’s not a very famous place, so there weren’t many people around and I was mostly on my own. It was exactly what I was looking for: the freedom of solo travelling, going anywhere I wanted to, stopping whenever and wherever it pleased me. I felt so much better since I was back in nature, and the exhaustion of the jetlag was now completely forgotten and replaced by a very stimulating energy: just what I needed to explore the unusual landscapes of the park, from an oasis in the middle of the desert to a narrow slot canyon.
One of my favourite movies of all times, probably the one that inspired me most during my travels is Into The Wild. There’s a scene that I really love (video below), where the main character Christopher McCandless (played by Emile Hirsch) and his friend Tracy (Kirsten Stewart) visit this entirely painted hill in the desert and meet the old man who decorated it. I always found this moment extremely poetic and moving, even more when I realised that the endearing old man from the movie isn’t an actor: his name is Leonard Knight, and he dedicated his entire life to this place in the middle of nowhere, trying to spread the word that love is the most important thing there is, and that God loves us.
This hill is called Salvation Mountain and it’s not far away from Anza-Borrego, so I went there on the next day of my road trip. It was a very emotional moment for me; I had this amazing sensation that anything was possible, and I found the naïve message of Leonard Knight even more touching now that I was there myself. I would have loved to meet him, but unfortunately he died in 2014. There’s a quote of the movie that summarises really well the way I felt at that specific moment: “I really love it here, I think the freedom of this place is just so beautiful to me, I wouldn’t move for ten million dollars.” I could perfectly understand why.
I’ve been to many more extraordinary places during the next weeks of this road trip and have seen countless fabulous landscapes, but these first days and the many emotions that I felt will always remain very special for me!
If you want more details about the places I visited, have a look at my article “From Anza-Borrego to Salton Sea: meet the desert and its inhabitants”.
There will be more articles about other “moments of freedom” coming soon so stay tuned!
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