SeaSalt Chronicles 1: Pack Your Things and Castaway
For the second time in my life, I’m moving countries to spend a year abroad in California, USA. I’ve never been to America before, so I wanted California to be my first experience. The first time I left home with my family, I was 16. I left my own country, Portugal, to move to London. At the time, I was very young and naive, I knew nothing of the world – not saying I do now, I still have a long way to go – except, waking up every morning to go to the same school I had been attending to for the past 11 years. All of a sudden, I become this immigrant in a foreign country, in a city where the sky is grey, and the streets are mean. London taught me how to survive, it hardened my core until I finally grew up and stopped being a cry baby. It led my way towards dreams and success. Little did I know at the time, how the city of the different would encourage me to rock my way across the globe and bring me closer to the city of stars. Yet here I am in America! Again, I’m, trying to adapt to someplace I don’t belong, just not quite yet. I guess there’s always a price to pay when one seeks for adventure and for someone who comes from a country of explorers and conquerors, I should know better!
It’s 10 am in the morning, and we’re at London Heathrow airport. My parents have decided to take me all the way to California. We’re doing a little road trip, just the three of us before we say our goodbyes and then, they’ll leave me in Santa Barbara and follow their journey all the way up the Pacific Coast to San Francisco. I bring with me three pieces of luggage. Believe me, I didn’t bring a lot of clothing. It’s mostly creams and medicine. Anyways, the plane is leaving right now, about to spread its wings and fly all the way across the ocean to the other side and as it does, I’m left with a knot, tight on my throat, and a sudden sense of nostalgia starts growing on me. During the time I’ve lived in London, I’ve never realised how much it became a part of me, how much of myself is being left behind now, if ever left behind. This is a weird thing to say because I’m not even British! But I guess London it’s just one of those places anyone can call home.
Soon – like about 13h after the plane departs from Heathrow – we arrive in San Diego. My first impressions? Jesus Christ, I’m definitely stroke by the lanes on the road/highway. They’re so wide and long. Literally, everything in America is either tall and large or wide and flat. As we leave the airport, the jet lag slowly starts kicking in, and I feel somehow drowsy and heavy-headed.
We spend the next couple of days touring around San Diego and going to the beach. I can honestly say that one of the best places in San Diego is the beaches – especially Coronado Beach in Coronado Island – and the Balboa Park is absolutely beautiful. It reminds me of the suspended gardens of Babylon. They even got a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe inside! Coronado Island connects to San Diego through this long bridge that leaves the city and takes us across the ocean to the other side. Sailing boats can be spotted navigating along the bay and the marina. As the sun reflects on the water, everything becomes brighter, and we are entirely chained by the light that accompanies us until we arrive on the island. Coronado is one of the most expensive places in San Diego – even gas is way more expensive! Just before we get to the coast where the famous Hotel del Coronado – home to many celebrities – is, we drive by neighbourhoods of American holiday houses. These very funny, quite typical American wooden houses with their flags proudly waving their American status at us – sure, Sir, I haven’t quite realised we’re in America yet! We finally meet the beach in which the Pacific Coast extends beyond sand and sea, and we’re left with this cloak of water extended in front of us. The atmosphere and vibe are super relaxed and friendly in San Diego. People smile at you when you’re walking on the street, and there’s something about the surf culture that makes the city so unique. That kind of place that makes you feel cool and good. It doesn’t matter if you’re goofy or you’re groovy, there’s something quirky about this city that makes it easy to connect and hard to forget.
We leave San Diego on a Sunday morning towards LA, and as we do, we stop at a place called La Jolla, where a significant population of seals and sea lions can be spotted swimming just around the shore. The best part? You can swim with them if you want to! They’re fat, smelly and sound like dogs barking. These funny creatures can actually be seen in more places around the Californian coast as in Monterey apparently. As we make our way, the sun goes down and as it does the sky becomes a mix of bright orange with torrid yellow and the evening turns to gold. The sun rays burn my skin every time they approach the window of the car, and I feel joyful. The next time I turn my head to look out the window, I’m not just looking at the golden sky anymore but to these tall buildings at a distance, all crumped together to form this one big city. I feel myself going under an immersive experience to this futuristic place, where everything and everyone looks more fabulous than what they actually are. Welcome to LA!
It happens that the City of Angels is itself both a county and a city. The county is formed by the city of Los Angeles – which is actually pretty small, well for the American standards at least – Hollywood, Burbank, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and Malibu. A warm feeling of excitement fills me in as the car rolls on the highway, and we enter LA. This is until I get to go Downtown and my perspective of the city shifts altogether. From one side of the road to the other, we’re surrounded by skyscrapers. The city lights feel like flashlights piercing dart inside my eyes, and I feel small. My first impressions of LA are chaotic, saturated and polluted. To be honest, not even Hollywood Walk of Fame is that exciting. It was a complete disappointment! As I walk down Hollywood Boulevard, I can’t even have a proper look at the shining stars on the floor from the dirt accumulated on the pavement – or should I say sidewalk? Nonetheless, driving from Downtown LA through Sunset Boulevard towards the sea to Santa Monica was a happy surprise. You can really observe how the city’s landscape changes as you move along and you pass West Hollywood – where you can spot the Hollywood sign on top of the hills at a distance – and then Beverly Hills just before arriving Santa Monica. By the way, Californians really have a thing for palm trees. Every avenue has tall palm trees on either side of the road, which gives the impression you’re inside a 50’s motion picture kinda thing.
On our way to Santa Barbara, we stop in Malibu. I feel Malibu is that kind of place that offers nothing but a jumble of houses all next to each other on the beach. I mean, there’s clearly, or at least there should be, a difference between beach houses and houses on the beach. Do people even care about the environment? I’m surprised how this is even allowed. The dunes exist to provide a healthy ecosystem. Well, it happens that there’re no dunes along the coast of Malibu because they were swept away with houses. People can be really selfish… Anyways, we’ve managed to go a little more up the coast and spend the afternoon at El Matador State Beach one of the most pretty beaches in the area, they say, and I think so too.
Later in the day, when we finally arrive in Santa Barbara, it’s already dark. We just have time to buy some bed stuff for my room so I can sleep tonight. I check in at the accommodation, and once I get to my suite, I’m so tired that I can barely comprehend what’s happening to me. My parents spend the next five days in Santa Barbara with me, to help me unpack and organise myself. They’ve got a car so we can go shopping, we also got a chance to explore a little bit of Santa Barbara. We spend the day at Carpinteria, a very cool place to go to the beach, quite friendly and homie and then decide to spend the evening walking downtown Santa Barbara along the beach.
Suddenly, it strikes me. In this lilac moon sky, surrounded by the sound of the wind brushing off against the leaves, again, I give in to that feeling of worry that has followed me for a while now. In five days, I’ll be left entirely on my own. Until now, I had to give up so much to get where I am! Leaving Portugal – something that really had an impact on me – selling our family house, detach myself, leaving my friends, rip away the roots from the place where I was born; then moving to London at 16 the peak of adolescence, for a radical change in my mindset and being. However, all this time I haven’t internalised, I’d eventually have to give them up, my family. The remaining piece left from what has been gone. I’ve always been able to keep them around me. All this time, my parents have always been my armour. Honestly, I don’t think I could’ve made this far without them.
Tonight, I find life is using the last existing straw to test my emotional charge up to its limit. So I know that when I watch them drive away, I’ll be fine. I’ll find myself in the people I’ll meet on the way, the things I choose to take, not for them but for myself. I’m taking this year because I need to know who I am without them.
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