Solo travel to California

Venice vibes! The famous Venice sign in California.

Written on 12 December 2018

Everyone needs a pit-stop every now and then – to rejuvenate, refresh and recharge the batteries.

It was a bright sunny day in Port Moresby and I had a warm fuzzy feeling about me – a tingly feeling that I was about to escape temporarily from the 9-5 rat race and travel solo to California. I packed my essentials in a bag. The trustworthy sky blue Caribbee that had travelled with me everywhere had been nibbled on by bandicoot-size rats at 5 Mile in Port Moresby.

The plan was to buy a new suitcase in Brisbane, Australia. I thought I’d go easy on myself and buy a new suitcase in a city where I was more familiar with versus coping with being overwhelmed as a first-time solo traveler and attempting to locate a shop that sold suitcases in a city as large as Los Angeles.

Port Moresby disappeared beneath me as the plane soared over the Coral Sea to Brisbane. I put my face against the window on the Qantas aircraft and let the afternoon sun rays dance on my face as I closed my eyes.

The two days stay in Brisbane began each day with an early morning run and then slow walks to book stores after a long bath and brunch. I love reading books and it had been a very long while since I had read a good book. I missed reading a good book, turning over each leaf in anticipation as Danielle Steele or John Grisham took me on an adventure.

The books and a cup of latte kept me company at the Brisbane International Airport as I waited for QF 15 to take me from BNE to LAX direct.

In front of me, a sports team of young kids were chatting excitedly. “I can’t wait to go home to a long shower. A California shower,” said one girl. Some more kids were taking photos with someone who from afar seemed like a celebrity. I took a closer look. It was Danny Glover of Lethal Weapon fame. “Funny we meet him for the first time for a photo and it’s not in America,” chuckled one of the kids. I quickly googled to see what Danny Glover was doing in Brisbane. One headline read “Lethal Weapon Star catches footy match amid union campaign’ while another, “Unions recruit Danny Glover as lethal weapon in work rules campaign’.

Super excited, I stayed awake throughout the 13-hour flight. “We will begin the decent to Los Angeles in 10 minutes. It’s a cloudy day today, 28 degrees out. Welcome to Los Angeles, ladies and gentlemen,” the pilot announced. I looked at my watch. It was 10:40 pm in PNG.

I spent a few days in Los Angeles. I filled the days sipping fresh watermelon juice at the Olvera Street Market in downtown LA (a hanging ceramic string of garlic, capsicums, onions and chilli decorative piece of Mexican inspiration, now hangs in my kitchen to mark the moment), shopped at Third Street Promenade, visited Hollywood, hiked the Runyon Canyon, went on location to Dodger Stadium where in the beginning of Fast and Furious, Brian O’Conner (late Paul Walker) tests out his racing skills with the downtown LA skyline in the background. Brian returns with the rest of the ‘familia’ in Furious 7 as they discuss how to take down Jakande on their own turf. I took so many photos.

I liked the service rendered to my friend and I at the Hard Rock Café in Hollywood where we had lunch. “Hi my name is Steve and I’ll be your servant. I can give you a few minutes to go through the menu, just let me know when you’re ready to order. I’ll be right over there,” said Steve the waiter as he pointed to the service counter. “After you’ve ordered, you can take a look around. This place is like a museum,” he added. A large frame held one of MC Hammer’s boots.

I am an ‘80s kid and remember singing along to ‘you can’t touch this’ and ‘2 legit, 2 quit’ in primary school.

I also took long drives with my friend along Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood Boulevard, Beverly Hills and Bel Air – just talking, about everything and anything, ooh-ing and aah-ing over the mansions and randomly tailed behind some rich people to see which mansion they lived in. It was interesting how many mansions had very tall (and neat) garden hedges at five to ten metres high. I think they wanted privacy from prying eyes from the public, like mine.

“OJ Simpson’s house is on this street,” my friend said. We turned into the street. “I’m not sure if it’s this house or that house,” she said pointing to two houses. “Does this look OJ Simpson-ish to you,” she asked vaguely, pointing to a house as we slowed down and peered past the large garden and stylish picket fence. A lone apple tree blocked our view partly.

‘How is an OJ-Simpson house supposed to look like? Can’t tell,” I supplied. We looked at each other and burst into laughter until tears welled in our eyes.

That ended our ‘mansion stalking’ and with the sunset and Hollywood sign behind us, we drove to the ‘Venice of America’, famous for its man-made canals. We took a walk along Muscle Beach and watched performers and skateboard enthusiasts along the boardwalk.

My friend had taken me to Islands Restaurant one evening, some minutes away from Venice Pier in Marina Del Ray. The burger chain gets its menu inspiration from Hawaii and is known for the finest burger fix, cool happy hour deals and tropical drinks. My friend’s daughter had challenged me to try a ‘double double animal farm’ burger from In and Out. She was determined the fries were better at In and Out.

We drove by an In and Out for burgers to complete the burger challenge. The burgers, fries and free endless drink refills from Islands Restaurant tickled the taste buds better.

I had planned to ride the Mega Bus from Los Angeles to San Francisco but my friends said there was really not much to see on the drive and recommended I fly to SF.

It cost me 80 dollars (about PGK190) for an airline ticket. I said goodbye to Los Angeles one evening and boarded an American Airline flight for San Francisco. I enjoyed the free wifi in the plane – I thought that was pretty cool for a domestic flight that was only a little over an hour. I hope someday soon Air Niugini can introduce free inflight internet wifi.

Our government leaders travel all over the world, I thought to myself. Don’t they see these sorts of services and want to take the idea back to our country? It’s hard to comprehend.

While Los Angeles is very spread out, San Francisco is a neatly packed hilly city.

When you ride a cable car over the hill, the whole city is tossed out in front of you – the iconic bright orange Golden Gate Bridge that spells out San Francisco, half immersed in fog and clouds welcomes you while Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 wait at the bottom of the hill near the ocean. It is a beautiful city.

San Fran or Frisco as it is fondly known by locals is easy. However, easy can be overrated. San Fran is expensive and like many other cities around the world, there are many homeless people (homeless but harmless).

One place I always wanted to visit was the Silicon Valley. I explored Silicon Valley on a Tuesday.

To me, Silicon Valley is a big village where simple ideas become million-dollar innovation that give birth to large corporations. It is the home of high technology and social media.

Isn’t it amazing that these simple ideas came from a group of friends or nerds who were failing classes?

Airbnb started when three friends turned an air mattress in their apartment into a $25 billion company. Uber is an app that has changed how the world hails a taxi. Uber is now worth more than $60 billion. I had visited the Airbnb and Uber headquarters (well, from the outside) in San Francisco. Hewlett and Packard (the makers of the HP laptop and computers) began with a one-car garage and $538 in capital.

These stories come alive when you visit the Silicon Valley. There is an enterprising vibe around this place.

My friend and I parked outside the Face book headquarters at Menlo Park. We looked for a car park ticket machine to pay for parking but couldn’t see one so we asked a group of young men standing under a white canopy. “Err… no this is all private property so you don’t pay for parking. The only place that’s open to the public is the Face book like sign near the highway. Instagram’s on the other side,” was the answer we got.

We thanked them and stood in the middle of the gardens and looked around. My eyes searched for the ‘young computer geeks with backpacks who rode bicycles to work’ that I often read about. There was a bicycle rank near the reception and yes young people were coming and riding off in their bicycles.

We took photos near the Face book like sign and thought we’d chance our luck at the reception. A very casually dressed man greeted us inside the reception area and asked in a sing-song voice who we wanted to see. We said we were only taking a look around. “I’m sorry, you can’t go beyond that door unless you know someone who works here who can take you through,” he smiled apologetically. Beyond the glass door was a garden that led to more offices and I think more surprises!

We walked out the reception and I asked the black American bouncer outside if I could take a picture at the entry to the reception. “I’m sorry sweetie, you aren’t allowed to take photos here but I could just turn my back and pretend I didn’t see you and you can take a quick photo in say 20 seconds?” he said. A quick-smile-for-the camera later, we thanked him and went on our way.

The Google headquarters and campus (Googleplex) reflects the company’s philosophy, which is essentially ‘to create the happiest, most productive workplace in the world’. Some buildings, tables, benches and canopy are splashed in the Google colours of blue, red, yellow and green.

There’s no place quite like Google with its fleet of hundreds of bicycles in blue, red, yellow and green that are available in all sizes to pretty much anyone who wants to ride and have a look-see around the campus.

We passed by some Google employees playing beach volleyball while some were stretched out on the lawn on yoga mats.

It seemed like the kind of work place where employees would look forward to coming to work at every day.

Android sculptures were spread out on the garden lawn. The sculptures or statues are versions of Google’s Android mobile operating system which are named after desserts and sweet treats such as Jelly Bean and Gingerbread.

Silicon Valley is also home to other big corporations such as Apple, HP (Hewlett-Packard), Oracle, Amazon, Wells Fargo and Chevron.

When people discuss Silicon Valley, the next thing they typically mention is Stanford University. The university is located in the heart of Silicon Valley and the relationship between the pair go a long way back in history. The presence of Stanford University was a key factor in the development of the technology enterprise now known as Silicon Valley.  Stanford University is a private research university, dedicated to finding solutions to big challenges.

I discovered so many new things on my trip to California. Travelling solo is awesome. It is a great stress buster, enhances creativity, makes me mentally resilient and helps me re-invent myself. I can’t wait for the next solo trip!

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