Flight From Puerto Rico to USA
Katchafire - On The Road Again
Hoodoo Gurus - 1000 Miles Away
Luke Bryan - That's My Kinda Night
Jack Ingram - Wherever You Are
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis - Can't Hold Us (On Repeat)
The Black Seeds - Good People (Get Together)
The Beautiful Girls - La Mar (The Ocean)
2Pac - California Love
And so I'm back on the road. Back to jamming all my worldly possessions in one bag. Back to wet towels and wet board shorts. Back to not shaving until I feel like it. Back to changing money and never quite getting to grips with the exchange rate. Back to Hostelworld.com and skyscanner.com. Back to bad coffee. Back to travel adapters and padlocks. Back to enjoying the present but also planning the future. Back to Lonely Planet, dog ears and post-it notes. Back to hammocks, cheap beers, sunsets, girls in bikinis, dread locked and tattooed travelers. Back to convincing yourself that 50 push-ups a day is reasonable and won't be an inconvenience. Back to ordering food without being certain what it is. Back to saying yes to a locals question even though you only understood one word of it. Back to asking if the bar or cafe has wifi before
you even open the menu or sit down. Back to wishing you learnt another language, which one it doesn't really matter. Back to packing runners and running gear with the best, but mainly failed, intentions. Back to sand in your bed sheets. Back to taking photos of random statues, buildings and parks simply because some tour guide told you it was important to his city. Back to slow mornings, busy afternoons and relaxed evenings. Back to asking friends of friends for tips, and more often than not utilising them all. Back to that zip-lock bag full of coins collected from around the world, knowing you'll never use them again but not quite being able to throw them away. Back to check-ins, customs forms and early morning no frills flights. Back on the road. Back to what I love.
My last few days working in the yachting industry were not exactly enjoyable. It's always hard getting through the last few days of any job, and likewise its just as tough getting through the last few days of work before going on holiday. For me, it was both, and it wasn't just any holiday. It was a big one, one that had been a long time coming, much planned, much anticipated yet much unknown. Those last few days passed in a rather mundane uneventful manner, until finally
my colleagues and I met on the stern of the boat for a goodbye photo. Little did I know this was really an excuse to distract me in order to throw me in the water. It's a polished routine and being one of the newest onboard, I hadn't yet had the privilege of doing the throwing, rather made a pretty good throw-ee.
After a flight change in Fort Lauderdale, I landed in hot, desert covered, cactus ridden, cowboy riding, gun wielding, beer drinking Texas. Or that's what I thought. Unfortunately I seem to be a victim of my generation in that the image of the Texas I was arriving into had been formed by the American Juggernauts of TV shows and Movies. It was indeed far from it. Despite some huge Texan flags at the Austin airport, the University of Texas Longhorns having a shop in the terminal and one guy wearing a cowboy hat and carrying what looked like a gun case, the real Texas continued to surprise me throughout my 5 days there. I saw more oil rigs off the coast of California and already I've seen many more guns, cowboy hats and cactus' in Mexico. Austin and it's Northern counterpart Dallas are both modern cities, and I was soon to find that the image I had of Texas was of the far West, where Oil is King and apparently movies are filmed. The surprises continued when I discovered that gambling is illegal in Texas. I'm sorry, so you can't play Texas Hold 'Em Poker in..... Texas? You can't even play Hold 'Em Poker, you can just Hold 'Em I guess. Despite a very strong and obvious drinking culture, no doubt a result of the very well known and popular University of Texas, it is illegal to serve alcohol after 2am. In order to minimise problems and help the bartenders get home faster, the bars usually stop
serving at 1.30am, resulting in a whole host of young people gathering on the streets, mainly lining up at the countless food trucks for which the city is famous. Mexican food has sizzled into a whole new life here and become a somewhat typically American take-over; known in these parts as Tex-Mex. My wonderful host Natalie Brown did her best to explain the subtle differences to me on more than one occasion, but as my initial knowledge of Mexican food didn't extend much past the Old De Paso section of my local supermarket, it was mostly lost on me. What I gathered was that it was a fusion that has evolved during the colorful Texan/American/Mexican history. A history which intrigued me no end and highlighted my previous lack of interest in Mexico and Central America. Technically speaking, between the years of 1519 and 1845 the area now known as Texas was claimed by 6 countries. France, Spain, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederate States of America and of course the United States of America. It wasn't until 1845 that Texas joined the United States and in doing so became the 28th State. 1845 isn't really that long ago, so it was little wonder that
in the Lone Star state most of my meals had a Mexican flavor, and many of the people I met had some Mexican blood in them. Natalie joked that despite it's proximity to Mexico, not many Texans holiday there, they simply don't need to.
After visits to Lake Austin, a search for Lance Armstrong, nights out on Rainey Street and "Dirty Sixth", drinking in the same bar as Dallas Cowboys star Tony Romo, a classic Texan BBQ at the famous Salt Lick, a down right embarrassing attempt at riding a mechanical bull, a tour of the Dallas Cowboys stadium and Cheerleaders locker room, somewhat stalk-ishly driving past the home of my billionaire former Boss and some lovely Texan hospitality, it was time to say goodbye to my host and tour guide Natalie, and head to Dallas Fort Worth airport. They say everything is bigger in Texas, and following my tour of the Cowboys Stadium and a visit to this airport, I can say that
for the most part it's true. The entire grounds of the airport are apparently bigger than the island of Manhattan, and the 2 huge TV screens at the stadium measure 22m by 49m. The biggest of all surprises about Texas was one that I felt upon arrival, and nearly delayed my departure. It was cold. Very cold. While I was there the temperature regularly hit zero degrees Celsius, there were snow reports in the North, roads were closed due to icy conditions, offices were closed and schools didn't open until midday. In Texas! Alas the icy conditions didn't affect our drive to the airport or my flight and I jetted out of the Lone Star State bound for California.
I'd been to California before, way back in 2006 when the one and only Michael Stribley was
living the dream and letting us tag along for the ride. I'd felt the warmness and genuine hospitality of his vast friendship group from the outset - fast forward some 8 years and I was heading back for more. Before I hit Newport Beach to soak up the laid back surfy vibe that is second to none, I was heading to San Francisco to catch up with Nick Travolta, otherwise known as Nick Dimattina. Now a recruiter for Google, a pairing which most would agree is close to perfect, Nick welcomed me into his home in North Beach, an area I would describe as Little Italy on the boarder of Chinatown. Again, what I knew of SF was derived from Movies (Pursuit of Happyness), TV Shows (Full House) and in this case a computer game, GTA. I knew it was hilly, I knew there were trams, and I knew there was Alcatraz. During my short 4 days there, the city really grew on me and I constantly found similarities to Melbourne. I can see why Nick is so happy there, although he assures me the nightlife is a little lackluster. One of the UCSB connections from 2006 is Bryce Adams, and Bryce happily showed me around the city on his dirt bike, me trying to hang on without having to hug another man. Think of Bryce as a bit like Ryan Gosling in 'The Place Beyond the Pines' and you can understand I had my work cut out. As we zoomed around the city I began to realise
what a surprisingly compact and diverse city it was. For such a famous place, it has only 825,000 residents, but has a huge bay that stretches inland for miles, plenty of surf spots on the rugged shark riddled Pacific Coast, a huge (nearly 5km long by 1km wide) forest-like Urban Park that transports you from the city in an instant, the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, inner city areas bursting with life that seamlessly flow from modern sky scrappers to cafe lined streets to busy piers and waterfront esplanades, the mysterious Alcatraz Island, leafy affluent suburbs with astounding bay views and a upsettingly large homeless population. California is undoubtedly a tech-savy State, and San Francisco leads the charge in this regard. On my first night alone, Nick ordered a cab without breaking conversation, the cab driver had a picture of Nick on his
phone when he arrived at the house, Nick then paid for it on his phone, and after he paid for a friends late night kebab, a few clicks later his friend had transferred the money into his account with a note that read "Thanks for the Kebab Dim, now lets go home". Maybe I'm a bit out of touch not having lived in a city for over 2 years, but I was impressed.
Before I knew it Friday had rolled around, and for those working folk this is kind of a big deal. It's bigger when it leads into a long weekend and you are heading to Los Angeles and San Diego to celebrate your friends birthday. I couldn't say no to another couple of nights out with Nick and a friend of his was a friend of mine, so about 2 hours after boarding our flight to LAX I found
myself in a uber-cool Santa Monica bar called Bungalow. This place was so cool that even Owen Wilson decided to join Rami, Ricardo, Nick and Nick for a night out. Didn't we have some fun introducing ourselves to people with names like that! Rami and Nick had worked together in New York before both hearing the call of California, a tough call for NYC native Ricardo, and Rami was another "Googler" originally from Sydney. The Rat Pack hit the ground running and before we knew it we were recovering with Margaritas beach side in Ricardo's new hood, Hermosa Beach. I must admit that in all my travels I had forgotten what an amazing place the Los Angeles area was, and after an hour of bottomless Margaritas and a walk along the beach front, I was not only in a very good mood but also making plans to either move here or at least spend more time here. Perhaps it's just a passing crush, but to me Californians are very cool people, seemingly trying to erode that annoying arrogant image of Americans that we have all experienced. The place was alive - skateboarders, roller bladders, joggers, people walking dogs, countless games of beach volleyball, Frisbee, surfers young and old male and female, cafes were overflowing, brunches were in full swing and it was only February. Alas we had to get going because the town made famous by Ron Burgundy and Steve Ryan's impressions of him was calling.
Ricardo had wanted to party it up in San Diego on the Saturday night, and who was I to argue. Any chance to visit a new city with some friends sounds good to me, and I'd heard only great things about SD.
It was another great night out, and thankfully I didn't have to make the drive back up North, as a couple of hours nap was just what I needed. The guys kindly dropped me off in Newport Beach, a place I'd heard about constantly since that 2006 trip but had never managed to visit. In a typically Californian manner, and as if to set the tone for my time there, my host Ross Sinclair told me his housemates would be home drinking beer on the patio, and I should grab his bike and go for a ride along the beach, and that he would be home "later on" to catch up with me. The ride along the beach calmed my already relaxed mood and a few beers that night with (Not-so-much-anymore) Crazy Chris Houston, his wife Kelley, Ross and his housemate Danny was a nice way to catch up on things. Most of my friends back home know Ross, and if you haven't met him, he is born and raised in Newport Beach/in the surf and after traveling the world playing professional water polo, he became a professional life guard and now is a full time water polo coach. This vibe of this place is amazing - it basically revolves around surf and the associated lifestyle, and when the swell picks up, the word spreads, and the streets and lined with parked cars of people who should be working, but prefer to be surfing. It's also a place where most people get around on bikes, and in just the same way as I was fond of these places in Europe, I liked that people rode or skated to the beach, to the shops and even to the bars. The Monday was a Public Holiday so Chris and Kelley were kind enough to give me a tour of the area, including one of their favourite breakfast spots for a breakfast burrito (more Mexican food) and a visit to Chris' favourite pub. It was here I was introduced to Shuffle Board, a relaxing social game that was a little addictive. Then it was back to Chris' patio for a "Tri-Tip" BBQ and some more Cali hospitality. On my last morning I took the
oft-used travel motto of "When in Rome, do as the Romans do" to a new height when I joined the "Pier Club" for a 7am swim around the Newport Pier. Spending time with Ross in Newport had confirmed to me that if there was a Governor of Newport Beach, then he is it, and as leader of "Pier Club" I followed him and the others into the chilly water. Being on the slightly hairy side, I've never been a fan of Speedos, so if I didn't stand out in my board shorts and hairy chest, then trying to keep up with the locals, water polos players and a two-time Olympic Medal winning swimmer, then my swimming ability sure rectified that. Alas those freezing Sunday morning mid-winter Old Xav Footy recovery session at Port Melbourne Beach had me well trained and I managed to make it back
to shore in time for the customary post-Pier Club photo.
When booking my flights out of America bound for Mexico, I didn't quite realise the distance of Newport Beach from LA. On my previous visit we had the pleasure of seeing Manhattan Beach, and all this time I had thought that Newport Beach was just down from this. I was way off. I guess that has only helped to create that proud community atmosphere in Newport - they aren't LA, they are Newport. Thankfully, I presumed that there would be plenty of transport between the two - a train line for sure, if not probably a few bus options. Nope. Wrong again. It seems for all the inventions in this part of the world that make life easier, public transport isn't one of them. Indeed the metro system in San Francisco pretty much lacked technology all together, not even a plasma screen to display the next train time. Worried for my safety and concerned it would take me all day catching public buses, the lovely Kelley Houston saved the day and dropped me off in buzzing, sunny Santa Monica. Another Newport Boy and UCSB connection Jules Bates was then kind enough to come and collect me, not before I lined up for coffee behind the singer P!NK and her young daughter Willow. It seemed P!NK was pretty keen to take away Willow's "privileges", whatever they may be for the daughter of an international pop star who once played 14 sold out shows at Rod Laver Area, and that she doesn't like to tip her local cafe. After a quick chat with some hot shot name dropper who has worked with Russell Crowe, Cate Blancett and "May He Rest in Peace" Heath Ledger, Jules gave me a personalised tour of Muscle Beach,
Venice (not sure the Italians would like this comparison) and Santa Monica Pier. A couple of beers that night with Tara Lankford and I went to sleep assured that my fondess for this part of the world will have me returning before too long.
More Photos below (click to enlarge), more on my Instagram (@nicksera) and more to come on Facebook shortly.
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