It was an amazing five-week vacation in California and Arizona. The impressions are manifold and run deep. I hope that by writing it down the memories will remain strong and you all can get a bit of an impression.
One of the crazy things about this trip was my sense that the vacation had been going on for ever. I know, as always, that once I step of the plane in Frankfurt the five weeks will seem like a blur and I will have the sense that the time went by like a flash.
It seems like forever that we were in Phoenix, Arizona where we took part in the wedding of my sister Jane’s son Noah and his new wife Daci. We landed there on July 22 in a heat wave. My brother Dave picked us up at the airport and I went outside of the air-conditioned terminal to look for him. Susa, luckily, said she would stay inside and wait. Not only did we have chocolate presents in our bags but the heat was intolerable. It felt like an oven and I thought I was going to collapse. Luckily Dave came soon and we jumped into his air-conditioned rental car.
The next day Phoenix, and especially the part of nearby Scottsdale where we staying, was torn apart by a massive thunderstorm. I am familiar with such storms because they are commonplace in Germany. But in Arizona they are rare. Lightning and thunder cracked across the sky and the heavy rains continued into the night. In fact, most unusual, the rain continued for most of the three days we were there.
The rain and the lower temperatures were a welcome surprise. Preparing for the trip I was anxious about how I would manage in the expected 45 degree weather.
Scottsdale was built by forward-thinking city planners. The city has water management built in. The city parks and golf courses all have flood areas. Even many of the homes are built slightly above the front and back yards. There was a golf course behind our hotel that had been transformed into a lake, as planned.
That was the beginning of this amazing vacation and adventure and as I wrote this I was at the end. In three days I will be boarding my plane and heading towards Frankfurt, back to my other home.
It literally feels like I have been here forever. It feels, actually, like I live here. My body has not yet realized what my mind knows: I live in Tübingen and will be catapulted there shortly.
San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay
Joshua joined me for the last few days of my trip. It was wonderful to have more time with him. We were privileged to witness dolphins playing out in the water off the rough coast of Montaña d’Oro near SLO. They were pretty far out and Mary, Joshua and I were first debating whether they were whales or sharks or dolphins. I very sure I saw two dolphins jumping over the water.
Walking through the streets of SLO on my last day I fell into a kind of trance. I felt so relaxed and connected to the streets, the houses, the yards and the houses. The sky was blue, it was a perfect temperature of around 24 degrees celsius. It was an intense moment and I wish it had happened earlier. Being alone makes a big difference.
Images of our time in my beloved San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay
After dropping Susa off for her early morning flight to Germany, I left the San Diego Airport at about 4:45 am on August 22nd and first stopped at the charming but ultra wealthy coastal city of La Jolla, just North of San Diego. It was warm out and nobody was on the sidewalk overlooking the rocky coastline.
The early morning walk was good to alleviate my sadness of leaving Susa. Even though we had spent four weeks traveling together and I would see her in a week, I was kinda lonely. I suppose, though, it was a combination of feelings of leaving my sister Jane and brother-in-law Jeff and also of the encroaching end to the amazing vacation.
About six large camper vans lined the street, all closed and quiet. They were making the most of their van life here in California. Mercedes Sprinters, Ford Transits and Dodge Rams are the most popular. It seems to be a very new trend. At least I never noticed it before. Maybe its a Covid side effect. Seemingly thousands of people, mostly young and white, purchase these vans with the high roofs, some even with four-wheel drive and extra high suspension. They are mostly new and they all look very expensive.
Spurred by Covid or the high rents and housing costs in California, tens of thousands have turned to the life. Broad band cellular reception makes remote work simple. The interior of their converted vans can be sparse. A comfortable bed, a sink and a table. Photovoltaic solar panels on the roof with high tech convertors charge the lights but more importantly the phones and laptops. No rent, beautiful views. Like this row of six vans on the street in front of arguably the most expensive real estate in the country, the inhabitants have apps to find and share free parking spots, they shop at Trader Joes and Grocery Outlet and cook for themselves and make espresso on their gas stoves. Modern, no-flush compostable toilets make it possible to install one of those vital amenities but without a hookup. You just need a place to dump your stuff every few days.
USB charged appliances like blenders, water pumps, lights make it easy to live “off the grid”. For around 1500$ you can install photovoltaic panels on your roof and all the necessary convertors and batteries to fulfill your electrical needs.
All that, plus a million-dollar view of the rocky coast and beaches make the van life attractive to more and more folks. I just heard that Californians often pay more than half their income on rent. So buy a van, convert it and live the life, rent-free.
I found a charming cafe at 510 Pacific Coast Highway in Encinitas, about an hour north of San Diego. It’s in the old railroad station, the wooden beams and siding all painted in yellow and white have made it a popular stop for tourists and locals alike. To the chagrin of many, California has adopted the European tradition of allowing dogs into eating establishments. When I was growing up here that was unheard of. Maybe they are all Covid dogs and the cafe owners have given up fighting against the trend. One difference to Germany is that in California dogs often are invited (by their owners) to sit on chairs and benches. Yesterday I even saw a puppy pee on the floor of a patio cafe. Pretty yucky even for me as a dog lover.
I had wanted to go swimming at the beach nearby but signs warned me that high bacterial levels were present and swimming was not recommended. Bummer. I decided to drive north about 30 minutes and look for a clean beach in San Clemente.
Continuing my trek north up the Pacific Coast Highway I wound my way up the curvy roads of Topanga Canyon, just east of Malibu to meet Joshua.
He was staying with friends at a big, fancy house with about 20 acres of land. The owner does not live there and has entrusted the place to a group of young folks, currently all women under 30, and one male landscaper. Joshua was invited to stay but decided its currently not the right place.
The house is empty of furniture but has terra cotta tiles on the flours and a full kitchen with all the modern amenities. The women are careful to conserve water, capturing all waste water in the kitchen. They collect and reuse all their trash, putting plastics into small, plastic bottles they plan to use as building blocks for walls.
The women were friendly and open and all help take care of the house and the gardens.
The land has been transformed into a food garden. There are a fig, grapefruit, apple and lemon trees. One tree had yellow fruit I could not even identify. The fruit trees all look very healthy and they have built stone paths, raised vegetable gardens and have planted herbs under most of the trees.
The landscaper is a professional and comes to the house most days of the week. The residents support him and also have their own projects.
The house is on top of the Santa Monica Mountains in Topanga Canyon, about a 20 minute drive from Malibu Beach. The views from the property are impressive and the people have set up tents, meditation areas under the shady trees. One person even has a round bed, swinging from a tree on ropes. They plan to build a yurt and larger tents.
I hope Joshua returns to the place also because I would love to spend more time there.
Now (while writing) I’m sitting in one of my favorite spots: On Lover’s Point in Pacific Grove. Its just south of Monterrey and about a two-hour drive north to San Francisco. I feel kind of empty today and a bit drained. I think I am ready to return to my “normal” life.
Images of our time in San Francisco and Northern California
It was fantastic to travel with Joshua
It was an amazing time in Cali this summer but I did miss my friends and family in Germany. Again I realize how important friends are. Just hanging out and drinking a beer. Like my buddy Ioannis once said, that’s the most valuable.