Escape from LA

Trip Start Apr 18, 2011
Trip End Dec 09, 2011

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Flag of United States  , California
Sunday, May 22, 2011

The overnight train from Tucson sees me arriving into Los Angeles early morning- colder then expected; but coming from southern Arizona any variation away from painfully scorching heat is probably going to be a shock to the system.
Okay so I'm excited to be here, it's LA. There's a lot of very rich people and they must be here for a reason. However I have heard so many conflicting reviews; "it's too big", "such a good city/beach combo", "nice if you have a car" - Either way, over the course of the next few days I'm going to try and find out what all the fuss is about.

First port of call is the hostel; check-in, shower and plan out the day. I've opted for one of the cheapest at $17 per night, but it's within walking distance of Venice Beach. I'm unsure whether the phrase 'location, location, location' will make up for the 30-bed dorm I will be staying in, but we will see. I can already see why people criticise the public transport- the only mass transit in place to Venice is the bus- this takes an hour an half.

On arrival I am promptly checked-in and introduced to the crypt that is my dorm- 15 old wooden bunk beds in a room with one small window. In an attempt for privacy, or the desire to keep the limited sunlight out further, the lower bunk occupiers hang blankets around the frames to act as curtains. I go for a shower and upon return note that I will be sleeping next to one of the weirdest people I've met in quite some time- a Chinese girl with some perculiar traits. After attempting to make conversation, I can see she doesn't like to talk, making some sort of animalistic grunt she stares straight through me (maybe she doesn't speak English). She also has a cackle which is produced at anywhere between once an hour to every couple of minutes (maybe she keeps remembering jokes she heard earlier). Her behaviour is obscure -80% of the day she's in bed (maybe she's ill), when she goes for a shower she runs back to the bedroom whimpering and shifting loose wet clothes over herself (maybe she lost her towel), occasionally she stalks people and just follows them around (maybe... okay I'm out of excuses, she's not all there). Along with the fetching image of knotted hair and blackened teeth I am, for all intents and purposes sleeping next to the girl from The Ring.

I hang my blanket up around the bed frame.

Removing myself from the soon-to-be location of some sort of killing spree I walk down to the beach and bravely face the Pacific breeze. I stumble across the American Ninja Warrior assault course, but as it's not my birthday I cannot attempt to take part for a chance to win the $1000 prize.

Over the course of the next few hours wandering around Venice I am regularly stopped for change/cigarettes - this kind of seals the deal with points of note in America, this place has a ridiculously high proportion of homeless people and within this demograph there is an even more unsettling number who more than likely to be clinically insane. My first day is a little depressing- it's cold I struggle to meet anyone at the hostel and most of my time interacting is spent telling people I'm either not interested, I don't smoke or I don't have any money. Not the greatest start to my LA adventure.

The next day, with Hollywood so far away, I head back to Venice beach with a view to walking up the seafront to Santa Monica. Taking my sandles off and walking along the cresting Pacific, I think a little deeper. This is nice, very nice in fact- the day is a lot hotter and I'm not getting harrassed in the slightest.

Yesterday was an anomoly- today is LA. I walk for miles, see the pier, attempt some sort of gymnastics on the beachside aparatus, I even settle down under a palm tree to finish off my Tucson writings while a guy under the next tree strums away on his eukelele (no innuendo intended). I befriend a local living at the hostel called Bill, he informs me of Thursday night Turtle Racing, which is an extremely accurate description. It's a Thursday night, there's a beer garden with a circle painted on the floor, and into the centre of said circle turtles are placed to race one another. Highlights include seeing people get fined for pointing and the cruel sexist umpires who are particularly picky on how turtles are placed into the circle (see vid).

Looking for a completely different experience I go to sit at Bill's stall down on the beach front, he sells incense for a living; the sales pitch is polished. Within the first hour he's made $60 and the majority of this is profit; very low material costs, no cost for the pitch and no business license - I enquire on the legality, to which he responds "this is Southern California". I people watch and admire the different levels which people operate on for money. There are the street vendors, the street performers, the mobile food and water salesmen supplying the stalls, even the scavengers looking through the bins are looking for cans and bottles to claim deposit money back. Venice beach promenade has its own micro-economy, it even looks like a seperate eco-system.

Keeping in touch with Hannah (of Washington DC and Austin fame) I switch accommodation from the sea front to her rented downtown apartment which she is sharing with her newly arrived boyfriend, Cameron. The apartment is really modern and open plan- owned by some character called Rough Duchess (from the artwork and posters around she seems to be a cross between La Roux and Jenna Jameson). I am more than happy to use the giant beanbag as my bed, especially considering the absence of any psychotic Chinese girls.

Looking to explore Holywood, we take the Metro to the Kodak theatre; after emerging out of the subway for no longer than 5 minutes I am given a free ticket to see Pirates of the Caribbean 4. With this being LA the film is more of an experience. A pirate playing an organ on entry, pyrotechics, an MC, even a draw to win a piece of treasure (some Spanish coin worth $2500). The film is dwarfed by the occasion.

After failing to meet back up with Hannah and Cameron I go see some of the touristy bits on my own; Hollywood Blvd, Walk of Fame, Mann's Chinese Theatre. Kind of get to see the Hollywood sign, but it's so far away; if I do return I would really like to stroll up the hills and see it up close.

I depart LA knowing that I haven't seen all of it, in fact knowing that I haven't seen anywhere close to all of it. But it's just too difficult to get around, I understand the quarms with public transport and it would definitely be better if I had a car. Accordingly I'd prefer to spend my finite time elsewhere. I am so grateful for Hannah and Cameron letting me stay, a lovely break from the norm and I'm pretty confident no-one robbed me (at the time of writing I have surpassed the 7 days which people are generally given to live after meeting Samara from The Ring). Bonus.

Now for a snatch 'n' run at the Grand Canyon- the plan is overnight train to Flagstaff, early morning bus to the Canyon, 8 hours on Arizonan soil then bus back to Flagstaff and overnight train to back LA. Wish me luck.
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Nicola Carleton on

Hi Matt, glad you're going on ok and you are having an amazing time. It looks so good, hope NZ is as enjoyable as the US. Missing you loads, Lots of love From 'across the road' :) xxxxx

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