Sunday, June 22, 2008

Written: Sunday, April 6th - Slab City, CA

The range was great last night - lots of great music sounded into the night - everything from John Wayne to L.A folk music. They have quite the little musical community here in the town of no rules. 'The slabs' have actually become a bit of a hot spot for LA city dwellers on Saturday nights. They often take the drive stay for one night (2hrs - east into the desert.) and leave the next morning for the drive home.

Today we hid away from the sunshine, playing Yahtzee and reading the food section of the NY times. later on, it's time to head to town for water a necessity here. and on the way stopped in for a shower at the spring. Now the shower, how do I explain. It's like a cement hole in the ground with a culvert cascading down into it. You climb down the makeshift ladder, inside the dark hole for your hot spring shower. It is a weird sensation or really creepy and really relaxing. Perfectly toasty hot-spring shower, while trying not to think about the spiders and other desert creatures living down in there. If you can get past the algae, and the overall weirdness of the whole thing it's actually quite nice.

Today we went to find a now space in the slabs, further away from the 'theiving meth heads' as our fellow blue 71 bus owner Bill tells us. we found a nice little spot and a slab of our own actually. It's raised up from the ground so you can't drive up on it. but it has a set of steps, and a little rock garden courtesy of the past occupant.

It's quite empty here in the slabs, the past few weeks have said goodbye to the snowbirds and many others as the heat of the summer has started to roll in. I've been told that in the summer as temperatures rise well into the 100's (128 degrees at times) the only people left in the slabs are the druggies, and those who can't leave for whatever reason. For now, it's toasty, but manageable. and there's still many people around for a few more weeks. I'm told that the winter will bring the return of the citizens of Slab City and that New Years Eve is the night to be here in the winter - It's the party of all parties.

At night there are flashes of light in the distance. Slab City, is neighbored by a military testing range. They drop flares at the base of the chocolate mountains which are close by. The flares were bright light a lightening strike only they lasted 30 seconds long. We are told that the US military is testing all sorts of artillery here and sometimes the windows in the RVs shake. I hope that we're going before any of that happens.

Just outside of slab city is Salvation Mountain, it is this giant man-made mountain out of straw bales, dirt, and copious amounts of paint. There is paint all over the ground around the main mountain which is solid, but there are also lots of other tunnels and rooms and other wacky things. It was kind of disturbing walking around inside we took a quick spin - but God only knows the structural integrity of the straw mountain so we got our pretty quick. The guy who has spent his life working on it wasn't home but we snapped a shot of his little home and outdoor living room.

Slab City - the one and only

Written: Saturday, April 5th, 2008 - Niland, CA (a.k.a Gateway to Slab City)

We rolled into Niland last night just as it was getting dark. The town had such an erie feeling that we decided to put off trying to find slab city until the morning. Today, we have awoke to find that the daylight has done little for this town's eerie feel except to highlight the cluster of stores that line the highway. The 99 cent store for rent, little grocery store, with the toothless woman in peachy pink lipstick and the taco shop, open at 8am.

"Take a right past the 2nd store, cross two sets of tracks, pass the 3 old fuel tanks and salvation mountain on your right, then you're there" says the old hippy in a 71' hard top we met last night in town. He's been living in a van since 79'. He's surprisingly helpful and definitely chill. He came to the slabs 2mts ago for a visit and never got around to leaving. I secretly think he was a deserter from the Vietnam War.

"The Slabs" or Slab City is an old WW II Military base that has long since been demolished only the slabs remain. It's this huge gathering of RV's in the middle of the desert and you can find all sorts here from snowbirds, to druggies, to year-round residents and casual tourists like us, If you're interested you can read more about it here

We found it just as he said. However, what I didn't expect to find was a slab city community message board, homemade street signs, 2 stages for live music and late night parties, a library, a christian centre, a solar panel store and many other small 'clubs' like the oasis club. There are even districts there is 'The Lows" - popular to diesel pushers and snow birds or the "Main Drag" frequented by the lifers. There are old school buses transformed into permanent homes, quaint little cactus gardens, picket fences and and trellised entryways.

There is even a local 'hot spot' where a you'll find a natural hot spring courtesy of mother earth which as we found out later that night makes to the perfect hot bath just after the hot sun goes down. If a bath isn't your thing, you can go to 'The shower" a little further downstream.

Tonight we're going to get a feel for the city of the slabs, because it's Saturday night, and Saturday night is music night at the Range - the preferred stage of the two according to the locals. People come from as far as L.A. to party in the Slabs. The range is on one of the larger slabs, with a big old white bus as it's backdrop it has the feeling of an outdoor festival stage meets backyard mechanic. There are car parts, old hubcaps and car seats set neatly around the slab.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Fever in the Desert

Written: Thursday, April 3rd, 2008 - El Centro, CA

It looks like were are driving through some kids sandbox. We're passing through the Sonoran desert onroute to Slab City. The climate is so much warmer here than on the coast. Yesterday we spent the entire day at Ocean Beach north of San Diego. Geoff's really sick and we ended up spending the entire day in the van. We just hung out playing guitar and listening to music and that when we discovered the best game ever that would occupy the next three hours. We were playing this game where one of us puts on the ipod with headphones and the volume turned way up. you randomly select a song, then you have to sing the song until the other person guesses which song it it. sounds easy but it isn't really, and it's the funniest thing ever, especially when you venture into the hip-hip genre. That was yesterday's sick day, but today the fever is getting worse, and the desert heat isn't helping, poor Geoff is just getting sicker and sicker
We had to get the help of a reddy ice block to help bring down the fever. It's so hot - crappy weather for a fever.

In search of the 3 Amigos

Written: Monday, March 31st, 2008 - Tijuana, Mexico

Today marks the most southern part of our journey. From this day onwards, we will be heading north.

Tijuana is a total border town. We were advised by many people that it is not the best representation of what Mexico has to offer and is actually quite unsafe. However, we had come so far and we couldn't resist popping over for a quick burrito. We did decide that it'd be best to leave the bus behind and travel to TJ on foot.

The border crossing experience was was kind of funny because there are no directions or signs pointing to tell you where to go. We parked the bus and just started following the crowds of people all moving in the same direction (when in doubt be a follower). We walked for awhile, up stairways, through cross walks over the street down some more then finally through this large ominous metal turnstile. We passed through the turnstile and then Volia' - Welcome to Mexico - I hope you want to be here cuz there's no way back now. While the whole experience was really bizarre the weirdest of all was that there were no customs! They don't care, you want to go to Mexico? well go right on ahead, help yourself.

The problem comes when you would like to go back to the U.S. The massive wall that stretches out for miles complete with surveillance pretty much lets you know how unwelcome you are.

The whole experience was overwhelming to say the least. We had this little map and were trying to find a little restaurant to have lunch. It seemed like us along with 10 others were the only white people in TJ that day and thus the haggling was pretty aggressive. We walked past countless drug stores tucked into the walls, no doors, and people inside wearing lab coats offering discounted prescription drugs, the usual gift stores, restaurants, and kids selling chicklets. Some people were even offering a shot of tequila if you just came inside to look around. I remember my mom telling me about strangers, cars and candy - but this is new territory. The strangest of all were the poor little donkeys on the corners. They wore sombreros and were painted in zebra stripes. They just stood there with this "i hate my life" expression on their donkey faces. The idea is that you could pay to get your picture taken with the zebras. I'm sure it's a great hit with drunken male American teenager demographic.

The restaurant was like a little haven away from the chaos. a little place on a sunny balcony where we could sit un-noticed, and un-haggled for a little while. After a couple of beers and a plate of fajitas we were ready for the walk home because it was getting dark soon (Make sure you leave before it get's dark was the advice at the little tourism bureau) We bought a few tiles, some freshly fried churros (deep fried pasty with cinnamon and sugar - fatty goodness) and were on our way. The line up at the border was nuts. Hundreds of people on foot and in vehichles were lined up waiting to get let into the US. The vehicle traffic stretched further back than I could see, apparently traffic jams at the border are so common place that there are booths and shops set up along the street. There's actually a mini economy here based on the simple fact that there will always be a huge grumpy line up of idling cars in the hot sun, and these cars will be filled with people looking for a snow cone, churro or one last picture with the world's only zebra donkey.

So after some mild interrogation, breif frisking and a purse x ray we were back in the U.S of A before dark and ready to head North.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Crystal + Baby Koala = LOVE

Written Saturday, March 29th - Ocean Beach, CA

We visited the San Diego Zoo yesterday. I had no idea it would be so big! We sauntered in at 12:00pm, and were barely able to see it all. There was so much to see and sooo much walking. We did got to see the famous pandas! We had to wait in line for 10 minutes just to get into the exhibit. Once we were in there was all these rules like NO TALKING! and KEEP THE LINE MOVING! and DON'T TRY TO HUG THE PANDAS...Crystal! they were cool but were mostly sleeping, and a lady on a microphone talked about how they pick up all the leftover bamboo every day so they can tell how much they ate. The volume was turned down so low, the treble was off leaving only the low bass of the woman's voice so as not to disrupt the pandas. The whole experience was rather odd. but the Koalas, oh the Koalas. now they were my favourite of the day. they are like a cross between a baby and a teddy bear. Hello! who wouldn't want one. After seeing the Koalas I made Geoff come with me to the gift store just so I could pretend to hold one.

Now, If you ask me, I think that the Panda looks a lot like a little man dressed up in a bear suit...don't ya think?The End

Herb Garden

Written: Friday, March 28th - San Diego, CA

We were in a really steep area and Geoff was trying to parallel park the bus. This is a pretty difficult task due to the manual steering, let alone the added incline. That's why when he backed suddenly into the curb it was just enough to send the refrigerator sailing into the back of the bus. Unfortunately this was also the day I was supposed to empty the melted ice water dish sitting in there. There is water everywhere, but at least the fridge is OK! You were right Mom, we should have bolted that down.

Oh, I forgot to tell you all about our latest addition...A garden! a.k.a "our tasty little sink garden". We were only using the sink as a glorified bowl anyways, and we wanted to spruce up the place a little. Now we have Basil, Dill, Cilantro, and a tropical just to make the place feel homey. They are all doing well so far, and they don't seem to mind the constant jostling and infrequent light patterns. In return we get fresh herbs for cooking every day. It's perfect for us since buying fresh herbs is just impractical given our limited fridge space.

New Friends

We're leaving Seal Beach today - but only because we have to. We have mail waiting for us in San Diego. We both love it here and look forward to coming back. We've made some new friends here and have even run into some old ones (we ran into Glen from Huntington Beach at the grocery store - of all places!). It's so nice to be in a place where people recognize you. We've spent months being anonymous, slipping in and out of towns unnoticed. Here in Seal Beach not only do we have friends, but we even have visitors - and that's how we met Billy.

We first met Billy the classic way. He is the proud owner of an 81' westy, and in the VW world making friends with another VW owner is often initiated by the following conversation.

You usually drive up with the window down, and arm hanging out and say something like:

"Nice bus, what year is it?"
1974. yours?
"oh, it's an 81'"
nice. air-cooled?
"yup, last year they made the air-cooled"
oh really, dual carb?
"no fuel injection"

This is just basic chit-chat, now if there's a connection made rather than driving on you might delve a little deeper. You may talk about where you bought it, where you've taken it, some of the work you've done on it, the upholstery, camper gear, or even any modifications you may have made.

Then, if after this conversation if you've both sized up each other as good solid folks, you may choose to take the final step in your relationship as VW buddys. "The look in the engine". This may be initiated by asking "do you mind if I take a look?" If the owner agrees, then you're off. The two of you can now head on back to the bus to lift up the hatch, crouch down and talk shop. And there you have it - A VW match made in heaven.

We met Billy down at the Beach because he heads down there to check out the surf most days. We met again the next and had a beer together, and then we just kept bumping into each other all over town! It was so nice to have friends again, it was novel to have someone drop by with a few beers for a visit. Since we had no phone number, or address it was all up to chance whether you'd run into someone. It was nice that the van was able to become a little home in that way. We had dinner at Billy's house, met his beautiful wife Cheryl and there 'cute as a button' daughter Mackenzie. He cooked us a feast of king crab, prawns, and steak - what a cook! I think that if was the first time we had sat at a real table to eat in weeks or had been indoors for an extended period of time. Billy and Cheryl introduced us to their friends, took us in and made Seal Beach feel like a home away from home. They are one of the many reasons that Seal Beach is such a cool place.

We got told

Written: Wednesday, March 25th - Seal Beach, CA

While having our post surf rinse off at the outdoor showers this little kid started eyeing up Geoff's board. He was like "Woah, Dude, what happened to your board"

Now I suppose that I should jump in here with a little background information. Geoff bought the board from a swap meet the guy was asking for $20 or best offer, we got it for $15. This fact being hard to forget given that the previous owner wrote $20 obo in permanent black magic marker on the top of the board. Now I know that this makes us look terribly cool and all, but we also found out that the board is actually something special - a "Gordon & Smith" from the early 80s. All I know is that it too hard for a beginner to ride and looks like it went through hell and back again. Anyways, back to the story.

So, He was like "Woah, Dude, what happened to your board" and Geoff said that we bought it this way. Then the kid looked at us like a couple of newbs and said, "well, you should at least tape it up with duct tape so it won't catch water." Then he turned and walked off leaving us feeling a little stupid. Normally I'd be offended by getting condescending advice from a 7yr old. However, given the fact that we'd just spent the day getting tossed around like little rag dolls in the surf - I was thankful for the advice.

The waves were bigger today, and this only exaggerated all little things I'm already doing wrong. Perhaps it is time for a real lesson. Right now all that I know is that there is so much water up my nose that it drips out uncontrollably when I lean my head forward making this journal entry a soggy one.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Easter at Seal

Written: Thursday, March, 19th Seal Beach, CA

We found a 2nd surfboard on Craigslist and spent the rest of the day surfing. It was awesome, the waves were poor but it made it quite easy for us to get used to the whole surfing concept. We spent the evening taking in the night life in nearby Long Beach. We found an amazing acoustic folk trio playing on the street they were just like the Marc Atkinson Trio (another favorite of ours). Acoustic bass, lead guitar and rhythm guitar – really tight and polished. I wish that we could have stayed longer to listen but the rest of the night was calling. Here’s a link to their my space page. I suggest you check it out. They’re called the Long Beach Caravan Trio.

Written: Friday March, 20th (Good Friday) Seal Beach, CA

Too many surfers and not enough waves. Only caught about 2 waves today, one of which sent me flying straight into Geoff and knocked him a good one in the head. First with the nose of the board, then the fins for good measure. Later on in the day we came across a Spanish-Catholic church surrounded with crowds of people and asked a lady if there was a good Friday service. “Oh yes” she said “We’re acting out The Passion, we’re going to bring him (Jesus) out here, beat him up, crucify's gonna be fun” What we forgot to ask was whether of not the service was in English, (it wasn't). There were so many people gathered you couldn't find parking for blocks. Likely because the play was being acted out in the church parking lot. Hundreds of people lined the 'make-believe' streets of Jerusalem, while vendors sold glow sticks and churros (cinnamon pastry) on the church lawn. It began by leading Jesus up to Pontious Pilate, while the Roman Soldiers whipped Jesus. They were actually hitting him quite hard, and the whole thing was really long, and rather violent, and weird, kinda neat, but mostly weird. The whole thing was quite the scene, people on the streets were stopping to watch and news helicopters circled above.

Written: Sunday March, 22nd (Easter Sunday) Seal Beach, CA

We found ourselves at Damascus Church for Easter Sunday service. What a refreshing place! It was like being home at Royal City Church (our home church) for a day. The church is still quite young maybe 3ys old. They rent out space in the community centre for their services. Awesome worship, anointed preaching, and a very welcoming community. It’s nice to come to a church for the first time and leave having met at least 5 people and have had time to have significant conversations with most of them as well. It’s a nice change since lately we’ve been spending our time at a lot of churches where all they seem to care about it that you fill out the little info card and drop it in the collection box so they can count their attendance numbers.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Crystal loves Crystal Cove

Written: Saturday, March 15th – Huntington Beach, CA

Went to “The Sanctuary” for a Saturday evening service. It was a nice church but the pastor was way too slick for us. He was tres high fashion - the definition of cool. His profile in the Sunday bulletin features various pictures of him with photo-shoot quality. They highlight his skills as an ex-pro skater, his dashing good looks, great fashion sense and of course his beautiful wife. Again, is this a California thing?

Sunday, March 16th – Palm Sunday – Huntington Beach, CA

Since the Saturday evening service wasn’t quite what we were looking for we went in search of another Sunday morning. We found ourselves at the Sea Coast church upon the recommendation of Glen. It was by far our biggest church we have ever been to. The sermon was about the importance of not playing “the game” (the game being "keeping up with the Jones"). He spoke about how revolutions historically have been about TAKING power and how ultimately this will not get us anywhere except in another situation of power imbalance. He presented Jesus' teaching on GIVING power. A concept that in todays world is a bit… well… revolutionary, as much as when Jesus first suggested this idea to his Disciples.

Monday, March 17th , St. Patrick’s Day – Crystal Cove, CA

We went to Crystal Cove State Park today. Its free during weekdays - a benefit of traveling in the off season. It’s funny that you see a lot of sights saying “closed – off season”. In Canada, half the country would be out on a beautiful day like today. Here in California, however it’s too cold for locals. Walking along the beach we saw a pod of dolphins off shore! So exciting! Our long walk on the beach led us to the Crystal Cove cottages. These are old, abandoned homes from the 1920’s, old squatter cottages put together by beach bums and runaway C.E.O’s looking to escape from their busy lives. People have lived in these homes as a community up until 2001 when they were evicted to make way for a beach-front resort. People freaked out and protested. The compromise, was to instead restore the cottages to their former glory. Today you can rent them out for the night at a capped price of $150. It’s pretty fun to think of a community of people who ran away from it all to live on the beach. They gathered together for sunset cocktails, surfing, and beach parties.

Tuesday, March 18th San Clemente, CA

SO from now on we will be traveling down the coast highway. Passing through the beach towns along the way. The view is beautiful, I can’t seem to capture it’s grandeur in a photograph.