Wild Young Minds: 2015

Monday, December 21, 2015

An Ode to San Francisco

While I'm sitting here in my room on Oak St., listening to my San Francisco list on Spotify with the sound of raindrops falling on the window on the background (yes, it does rain in California), I cannot help but feeling nostalgic. For the last couple of weeks, I've been paying extra attention to the beautiful pink sunsets, to the friendly storekeepers and to the colorful houses on the never-ending San Franciscan streets. My California Dream is almost over, right at the moment that I discover so many new places, meet so many cool people and get so many new insights. I guess that's always the way it goes, though, and I'm 100% sure it's not gonna be a goodbye, but an '' until we meet again ''.
San Francisco, you've been surprising. You've been overwhelming, disappointing and double. So many people have had the luck to live in you already and so many more are going to in the future. You've hosted all these Asians after the Gold Rush and you still provide wonderful houses for them in Chinatown and Japantown. You've hosted so many Hispanics in the Mission, LGBT people in the Castro and hairdressers in Lower Haight. Even though you've turned into a goddamn expensive city, you are still authentic, progressive and diverse. San Francisco, you are awesome.
It took me a while to see this, though. I've read so many books Beat, I've read Janis Joplin's biography and I've read about Ken Kesey & amp; The Pranksters. Each one of them provided me with an insight or how you were, fifty to sixty years ago. And I could not help but feeling sad, while running through the Panhandle to see that the place where all the free music festivals were held, has now turned into a home for hobos, shooting heroin and sleeping in the bushes. I read how Ken Kesey hosted all these electric kool-aid acid test at the campus of San Francisco State University and I could not even imagine how colorful and festive the gray, boring and cloudy campus once had been.
San Francisco, you're definitely no longer the mecca for hippies and artists. Tech has taken over and turned you into an unaffordable city where the gap between rich and poor is terribly big. But if there's one thing that I experienced during these four months, it is that the eyes of the people on the street are still sparkling. For some, it might be because they're high on acid, but for many, it's because they're alive. You fill them with energy, they're constantly moving and they're talking to each other. Why italicize this word? Because I'm gonna miss this communication so much.
I do not mean to offend my own culture, but Dutch people can be so stiff, distant and fixed on their own business. If a crazy guy is sitting opposite of you in the tram and asks you if you're a rock star (based on real experiences, yes yes) in the Netherlands, you would frown your eyebrows and wonder what the fuck is wrong with this person . If a guy does so in San Francisco, you would smile and say: 'Yes, I am. Do you wanna start a rock band with me? "" That's what California does to people. Or maybe, it's what Californian people do to citizens or other countries. I appreciate their friendliness so much. Of course, the '' Hi! How are you? '' is a bit superficial, but you just have to see it as their way of greeting. People give you friendly smiles if they pass you by. Not in a flirting manner, but genuinely and honestly. And often, they are actually interested in you, when they ask you how your day has been, or when they say: '' I hope you have a wonderful day. '' In the Netherlands, we only talk about the weather, which mostly means: complain about the rain.
On the other hand, you can say that the grass is always greener on the other side. And it is. As I said, San Francisco has been disappointing, with her stupid closing hours (2 am, come oooon), $3 avocados and insane education system. Living in the States has made me appreciate certain things more in the Netherlands, especially in Amsterdam. I love all the culture we have, the night life and the peanut butter (Calvé, wait for me, I'm coming home!). I also realized I'm way more Dutch than I thought I was. I appreciate our directness, our down-to-earthliness and our humor (my sarcasm can still count on looks confused). But I've learned a lot from the openness here too, from the fluent conversations and willingness to help.
Interviewing people for Humans on the Road has shown me how different cultures are, but also how much people from different backgrounds can look alike. I've interviewed South American, Australian, Asian, European, African and American travelers, and they all shared the same free spirited vibe. Exploring life like a local, enjoy the moment and don't set your expectations too high - for unplanned moments are always the best ones. From seeing the sunrise at the Chinese wall to helping out in Nepal. Such awesome experiences. I'm definitely gonna continue meeting those travellers in Amsterdam and hosting Couchsurfers. And who knows, hitchhiking. Because I vote for a world where we trust other people instead of a world based on fear. Go team humanity!
So yeah, these are my last days in San Francisco. I'm not going back to the Netherlands though, I've got three weeks of travel ahead of me. Exploring cool areas, strolling the streets, surfing on American couches and meeting so many more people. I'm not done yet! The plan is: LA - San Diego - Phoenix - Austin - New Orleans. So if you have any recommendations, feel free to overload my message inbox. I want to know where to go, what to do and what not to do. Tijuana? Yes or no? :)
It feels weird that this is going to be my last post in America, since I'll probably write the next one from my parents' house or - who knows - my new room in Amsterdam (those recommendations are very welcome too!). I know this all sounds super emotional, but I really, really enjoyed all the feedback I got from everyone. It's super cool to know that people enjoy reading your stories, and I'll definitely continue writing about my travels in the future!
As for now, I'd like to give a final ode to San Francisco. I've felt at home since I arrived,  realized how special it is to be able to study abroad and live in a different country, instead of being a tourist, and I've always felt happy to be back in the city after my adventures. Don't get me wrong, the trips were amazing. Santa Cruz, Big Sur, Sequoia, Yosemite, Las Vegas, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver. Digged them all :) But there was no place - except for Portland maybe - I felt more in love with than San Francisco.
So here's to you, San Francisco. To your lively lanes, your beautiful beaches, your friendly folks, your big ass book stores, your liberal locals, your pricey peppers, your terrific tattoo shops, your great great Goodwill stores, your hippie history, your nice nature, your mystical fog, your annoying West Coast accents (sorry) and your splendid sunsets. I'm gonna breathe it all in one more time and hopefully sweat it out back home (sorry once more). There's so much to learn from your spirit and I hope everyone who was or is visiting you will spread these vibes. From east to west and north to south. Thank you, San Francisco! We'll meet again.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Hitchhiking our way across west USA - final part

''A big fan of bourbon, bluegrass and bad jokes'', is how our Couchsurfing host Cody described himself on his profile. I could definitely think of things to say about that in a request! So I wrote a considerate message telling him we were looking for a flexible host in Seattle and it turned out he appreciated it a lot, because after only half an hour we received a firm YES and that was our lucky ride at the same time. No hitchhiking from Portland to Seattle, but a comfortable three hour trip in a car filled with dog hairs, Ukrainian music and conversations about Putin.
Cody and his friend dropped us off at the Public Market, where they sold all kinds of fish, jewelry and other shiny things. It was a very touristic place, but since everyone had told us we had to check it out, we did and it was not that bad. They had small vintage stores, record stores (with a view over the sea, so it was easy to get carried away by daydreaming during the quest for cheap but must-have records) and good food. Of course most of the fish was way too expensive for a hitchhiker's budget, but a small crab chowder would do. 
We had prepared ourselves for the cold by buying two jackets, a big sweater, gloves, a hat and a scarf – Lavi wore all in one – but it was still damn cold. My feet were freezing and I was happy to be inside, when we entered the futuristic EMP Museum. I had expected it to be some sort of science fiction museum, which it was, but oh, there was so much more to that! The EMP has two fixed exhibitions dedicated to a few of my all-time favorite artists: Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain. I suddenly remembered they both grew up in Washington State, which meant I was standing on their birth ground! Slightly dramatical, but hey, these people changed pop music forever. They deserve to be honored. And that was exactly EMP's approach, because they had done a great job collecting cool artifacts that once belonged to either Jimi or Kurt. However, it was kind of chaotic and I'm not sure if it was worth the 22 dollars, but it was nice to have a cultural afternoon. When it comes to exhibitions, though, American curators still have lots to learn from European ones.

Meanwhile, it had gotten dark and we decided to delight our hosts – there were two of them, the other one was called Cory, so yes, Cody and Cory – with our presence. They lived pretty far from the center, but man, their house was awesome. Cody and Cory were both in the American army, so once every few years they are stationed on different locations. Cody was kind of nostalgic about his home town Atlanta – ''it's so cold in Seattle'' – but had made quite some friends since he'd moved to Washington State. They took us to a Taco Tuesday night organized by Couchsurfing members, so we met more interesting internationals, drank cocktails and played pool. Cody and Cory both had to wake up early, so they didn't go out with us – not that we really did either, we mostly sang Spice Girls songs in the car – but before they went home, they brought us to this magical place.
Outside of a chocolate factory, about five big containers were located and they were filled with chocolate bars. Free chocolate for all! That night, I ate so much chocolate that I had to throw some of it away because I felt too nauseous. At the moment, I'm fine again, so feel free to send those Sinterklaas presents to San Francisco.
Cody and Cory's house was the most comfortable Couchsurfing place I ever slept in, since they had two private rooms, huge beds with soft pillows and a very luxurious bathroom. It almost felt silly to leave all of that behind to hitchhike in the cold, but we were actually pretty excited and after a coffee and a short stroll around Seattle, we headed off to the highway again. Our spot was a pretty good one, we thought, since many roads came together there and everyone that passed, was going in the direction of Vancouver. Please let someone pick us up and bring us all the way!
That turned out to be a naive thought. We started hitchhiking around 12 and 12 hours later, we still hadn't arrived at our destination. So what happened? For one thing, everyone that took us could only bring us around 30 miles up North. The first people that stopped were a mother and her son, who were on their way to celebrate Thanksgiving with the family. Unfortunately we only got to spend a little time with them, because they were very sweet and caring. They dropped us in a smaller town, where it took ages for us to catch a ride. What was up with these Washington State people? Oregon had been so easy!
The only cool thing about hitchhiking in the cold was that people gave us free food, probably because they felt sorry for us. We received one bag with candy and cookies and a sticker saying ''You too are a child of God'' on it, an entire homemade banana bread and some pumpkin cake and four apples. We might be cold this night, we thought at that point, but we definitely won't be hungry.
Finally, a lady in a van picked us up and brought us close to the Canadian border. She was working as an engineer for some airplane company and she had an interesting music taste, from Taylor Swift to some John Mayer kind of country. She took us to Mount Vernon, where we had to wait for ages again. Feeling frozen to death and frustrated by the people that just passed by, we accepted a ride from a sketchy looking truck driver. Lavi was skeptical, but sitting in a truck had been on my to-do list for ages, so I just had to get in. With the three of us, we sat in the front and we definitely weren't cold anymore. ''Tell me if you're too hot'', he told us. This might sound like real bad pulp literature, but it was actually steaming in there. The guy, however, was really nice. Pat was his name and he drove a tow truck. His job was to pick up broken cars. Not the most exciting way to spend your day, so that's why he occasionally picked up hitchhikers. He brought us to Bellingham and this is a place we will never forget.
For 1,5 hours we were standing in Bellingham, when we decided that we might need to catch the train in order to arrive in Canada the same day. Apparently no one wanted to bring hitchhikers over the border – or Canadians are not that friendly as everyone says they are. We even tried showing our passports to prove that we were no illegal refugees, but It. Did. Not. Work. When a young girl stopped, being thrilled to pick us up - “I've always wanted to pick up hitchhikers! I have to tell my friends!'' - we decided to warm up in her car. She wanted to drive us to the station and was very enthusiastic about her good deeds, but she ended up bringing us even farther from the Amtrak station than where we began. Blame it on our slow Internet and the fact that we were a bit overwhelmed by her happiness. As Lavi wrote afterwards: ''Emily leaves us at the wrong bus station and ends our trip. Sadly for us, she enthusiastic''. 
Luckily, we were two grown-up women – though you might not always think so while reading this – and we made it to the station ourselves. Extremely tired and pretty pissed off, I sat down on the ground and started reading my book. Meanwhile, my cold had gotten pretty bad and I was close to being sick. Great, after the poison oak there was another health problem! But well, the Amtrak turned out to be comfortable and around midnight, we finally made it to Vancouver.

Vancouver was definitely one of the most unique cities I've ever visited. Such a big downtown area, with all these fancy buildings and business people, and then all those beautiful mountains surrounding it! We stayed with Geert, a guy I know from the student house I used to live in back in Amsterdam, and he gave us many cool tips. So we walked through Stanley Park, went for drinks in Gastown and saw all the hoboes on Hastings Street. Geert has awesome roommates, from all over the world, who joined us for an improvised vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner and a house party on Friday. On Thursday, we went to Guilt & Co, where I randomly ran into a Dutch guy I knew and had a few too many Gin&Tonics. In the taxi back, I shouted ''Bring me to Haight-Ashbury!'' to the driver. ''That's in San Francisco, darling''. ''I don't care, I need to go to Haight-Ashbury!'' Ah, San Francisco, I guess you've become my home, sweet home.
On Saturday, we were sad. Sad, because our hitchhiking trip was over. Sad, because we had to go back to San Francisco and study our asses off. But mostly sad, because we had to spend 26 hours in a Greyhound bus filled with crazy people. In the morning, we spent our last Canadian dollars at the flea market, where I got hold of ''Cheap Trills'', a record by the Big Brother & The Holding Company with Janis Joplin. Afterwards, we got to the Greyhound station and entered the bus, to leave it a couple of times in tiny snow white cities on the road, and to exit it for good 28 hours later in warm San Francisco. Kerouac once wrote ''Live, travel, adventure, bless and don't be sorry'' and I can't think of a better way to end this hitchhiking series. A memory to cherish from here to eternity!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Hitchhiking our way across west USA - part 2

The alarm clock went off on Saturday morning and all I could think was: we have to leave this drug hole. Garberville had been quite the experience, but we had had enough adventures the previous day, so now it was time for drinks, music and good-looking people. Off to Portland! ''Think positive and you will attract positive'' is what the Hitchhiker's Safety Guide on the Internet had taught us. Let's say that sort of turned out to be right.  

Pretty quick, we were picked up by a guy in a dirty looking car. Though he didn't look that proper – unshaven, circles under his eyes and lots of cigarette stubs on the floor of his car – the guy appeared to be nice. He was from Portland, so he'd love to help us on our way up there. This turned out to be the most interesting ride of all. The guy, we forgot his name, was the owner of a weed farm and made a good amount of money doing this. He told us all about the business, his friends, his co-workers and the dangerous people in the mountains. Apparently a guy was killed very recently in his street. After all, he lived on the other side of what was called Murder Mountain. Alright... Then, he started telling us about his brother, who was in prison because he just couldn't stop robbing banks. But hey, he was a good guy, extremely charming and handsome. I almost felt sad because he didn't have a picture of his brother with him. A sexy criminal straight outta Oregon. Something different than your average tv-character!
The guy dropped us off in a place about one hour up North. This spot wasn't the best for hitchhiking. However, a very, very cool lady stopped after an hour and told us she could take us to Arcata. Hell yeah, I thought. This was what I had been waiting for all along! I loved her style (long, gray hair, velvet jacket, beautiful jewelry) and I just knew she'd hitchhiked in her youth as well. And yes, she had. In the sixties and seventies, she used to hitchhike all over the country and she would do the stupidest things with her friend, such as showing their boobs to truck drivers in order to make them stop and form a row. Hilarious, they thought. We had to laugh very hard, meanwhile thinking how crazy and cool it is that this was possible back in the days. Nowadays, somebody would probably call the police, which would arrive within a few minutes. The woman, we forgot her name too, told many inspiring stories and was visibly intrigued by two young girls hitchhiking. We were the first hitchhikers she'd picked up in 35 years. Honored as hell!
The lady dropped of us in Arcata, which turned out to be an awesome, laid-back hippie town with a farmers market and friendly people. We had breakfast and made our usual way to the freeway entrance. After 40 minutes or so, a guy of about 25 stopped. This was Stephen and Stephen would be our buddy for seven hours. He drove us through most of Oregon, since he was going to visit a friend in Pacific City. Stephen was a modern day hippie, very relaxed and cool. We got along well and talked about everything, stopped at beautiful Pacific Coast sights and listened to the Gorillaz and A Tribe Called Quest. Just like a father, he drove around Newport until we, the hungry kids, were satisfied with a nice restaurant. The restaurant was not fancy – as no eating place was during our hobo hitchhiking trip – but it was fine. A huge burrito with guacamole and cheese, all I could wish for after such a long ride. I almost felt sad when Stephen had to drop us off, but we had to leave, because we'd arranged a Couchsurfing place during our ride!

We'd hoped we'd make it to Portland on Saturday, but since it got dark so early, we wouldn't make it that day either. We didn't want to spend another $100 on a motel, so we looked up everyone that lived in comparatively big cities in Oregon. We found a host called Heather, a woman of 58 that responded super quickly and offered to pick us up in Newport and host us for the night. Heather was amazing, she had many interesting stories to tell, bought us some wine, cooked breakfast and most importantly, offered us a warm bed. She looked after the cutest kittens, had two dogs and two turtles and was a very caring, considerate woman. Thank god for the Couchsurfing community!
The following morning was our lucky morning. Had we become hitchhiking pro's or was Oregon simply a state filled with friendly people? We never had to wait more than five minutes for a ride. The first driver was Jessica, a PhD student specialized in plankton, the second was a guy who hitchhiked in the nineties with some sort of rainbow group and the third was a mother with a young kid (never thought that would happen!) who was all into Bernie Sanders and wore a little bit too much make-up. But hey, she brought us to Portland and jeeees, were we happy when we arrived there.
During our rides, we'd heard the best things about Portland. It's hip, cool, upcoming and most importantly, there were handsome guys everywhere. Since we had been complaining about San Francisco's lack of those (I know, what's up with that? Perhaps Amsterdam had spoiled me over the past few years), Lavi and I took every chance to go to coffee bars, parties, the art museum and cool streets. We arrived in Portland on a Sunday and were sad about this at first, since we missed the weekend, but it turned out that Portland is alive every night. Many young people working in the service industry live here, which means that they mostly work on Friday and Saturday and can go out on Sunday!
We didn't have many problems finding out where to go, because I had found a really nice host on Couchsurfing, Jennifer Marie, who lived in a fabulous house in the Northwest (hip) area of Portland with four friends. They told us where to go for good and cheap falafel, thrift stores, live music and they even let us borrow their bikes. Since I hadn't cycled for more than two months, I couldn't wait to put my feet on the pedals again. Even though the saddle was waaaaay to high – Jennifer was German and her height showed it – I managed to stay alive. Someone else didn't, unfortunately. When we were cycling across the bridge from the East to the West, Lavi stopped to take some pictures. She looked over the railing and had the most disgusted look on her face ever. And I can tell you she's made quite some interesting faces during the last few months. This was different. ''I. Just. Saw. A. Dead. Body''. Whuuuuut? Apparently, a boat passed the minute she looked into the water and there was a dead body on deck. Slightly nauseous, we got back on our bikes.
That feeling only lasted for a little while, because we fell in love with Portland a few moments later. Despite the rain and the cold, we enjoyed cycling around, discovering little stores and good food. Portland is the place to be for foodies, almost everyone is either vegetarian or vegan there, and every bar or club is obliged to serve food. Strangely enough, we saw more food trucks in icy Portland than in sunny San Fran! Portland is as alternative as Amsterdam, but more industrial (and less historical, as any American city). It has the artsy and cultural vibe San Francisco lost when it sold its soul to Silicon Valley. José, the weed trimming girl that picked us up in Santa Rosa, had advised us to go to ''A Roadside Attraction'' and so we did. We ordered whiskey coffees, sat near the bonfire and met the most amazing old people.
Jonathan was a guy with a huge beard who worked with furniture in an art center and guess what, they organized an open house that same evening with a potluck. Free food and art vibes, what else could we wish for? He gave us a tour, showed us all his work and even introduced us to the city counselor. The other older person we met at ''A Roadside Attraction'' was the wife of the owner of the place. I'm not sure if she was super drunk or just very friendly, but she seemed to have fallen in love with us the minute she met us, because she kept saying how great it was to meet us, how sad that we already had to leave and she hugged us several times. As a distant Dutchie, this was an unusual experience at first, but since I'd gotten used to the American friendliness for quite some time already and I'd finished my whiskey coffee rather quick, I embraced the moment. One love, right? 
On Tuesday morning our trip in Portland had already ended, which was sad and sensational at the same time. Sad, because we felt so at ease in the city, met awesome people (Jennifer worked in a bakery and gave us fresh pastries for breakfast) and wanted to discover more. Sensational, because Seattle and Vancouver were scheduled next. And we felt like hitchhiking again. However, we didn't do this from Portland to Seattle, because our next Couchsurfing host had offered to bring us. He visited a concert in Portland the other night and was driving back on Tuesday morning anyway. For a moment, we were in doubt. Hitchhiking had been so much fine, why would we let down another opportunity? On the other hand, it would save us a lot of time and waiting. The last argument won and so off we went to Seattle, the city where Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix spent their first moments of fame. More about that in the third and final part!