Saturday, October 5, 2013

Cities and Deserts

Our last day and the view changed from mountains to desert
I am currently sat at home, in the comfort of my bean bag, writing this post. It seems like only yesterday I was in 29 Palms, California driving to LA to catch my plane. In fact, the last stage of the journey was an exhausting effort, starting with a fairly easy 3 hour drive, but then taking on a 16 hour flight before landing in Melbourne. And on the way we crossed the equator, going from Autumn to Spring (though the Californian autumn was definitely friendlier than the Victorian spring) and the International Date Line meaning we lost a day.

29 Palms is a town on the edge of the Joshua Tree National Park. Unfortunately, we never entered the park because of the US government shutdown that looks to be worse than originally thought. I was reading on a news website that this shutdown might run through till the 17th October when there is a deadline for a bill to raise the debt limit of the USA. I'm not 100% sure what all this means, but I do feel for the people who are out of work while the Democrats and Republicans play a game of brinksmanship politics to try to earn points in the polls. I said before that we were lucky as we'd already covered most of our holiday before the shutdown hit. I'm sure there are going to be plenty of people who's plans have been ruined by this shutdown. Even at this last point, our luck held out. While we missed the cultural and educational centres in the park we did get to see the trees that give the park its name.

Joshua Tree

Seeing this part of America really rounded things for us. Virtually everything before 29 Palms had been at relatively high altitudes for us. Consequently, the temperatures were pleasant, and there was plenty of greenery. Even before we hit California, the scene changed to that of a desert with sandy landscapes dotted with scrubby trees and shrubs. It was a landscape that I expected to see more of in the west of the USA, but I guess we were too far north for most of the time. The temperature was in the 90's on this final day so it might have been a good thing that we couldn't do too much sight seeing.

From 29 Palms we drove directly to LA airport where we had to drop off our hire car. The drive was pretty nightmarish. After spending so much time in the countryside, and considering 3 cars waiting to get in a national park as heavy traffic, driving through LA was a sharp reminder of city life. LA is covered in smog, and from a long way out this is visible. The roads were busy from a long way out too, and the driving became less considerate and more competitive as we drove through the outlying towns, the suburbs, and into the metropolitan area. It felt bad to me, though I know my view was clouded by the fact I'd driven through some of the most beautiful countryside America has to offer. And LA isn't alone. All cities move at a faster pace than their neighbouring countryside, and are dirtier and more competitive. That was the main reason for our itinerary  which avoided cities wherever possible. While we were planning we'd thought about spending some time in San Francisco as it's a city we'd both like to visit, but this wasn't the time to do it. This journey was about experiencing the American west, seeing some of the great countryside, and learning about how it has become the place it is today. We've touched the surface of this, learned much more than we knew before, and have areas we want to follow up on and learn even more.

Back to civilisation, LA airport
But every cloud has a silver lining. Even in LA, after dropping off the hire car and waiting for shuttle bus, we saw a beautiful hummingbird duck into a bird of paradise plant. Funnily enough, once we dropped the car off, things became really easy. We emptied the car, took a shuttle bus to our terminal, checked in, sat around, boarded a plane (about 15 minutes late, so no big drama), flew 12 hours to Auckland, transferred, flew 4 hours to Melbourne, got our bags, went through customs (a long queue, but it moved quite quickly), got picked up and driven home. Though we left on Wednesday night in LA, our 12 hour flight arrived in Auckland on Friday morning due to crossing the International Date Line. It has been an absolutely amazing journey, probably the most enjoyable I've ever done, and just makes me want to start planning the next road trip.

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