“If you look at the ocean long enough, you’ll see dolphins,” Courtney said. Sounds like a metaphor for something. I’m not sure what yet.

I was really relieved to arrive in California. I was really happy to see my friend Ann-Marie waiting for me as my bus pulled in to Santa Rosa. Eugene and the long train had been a bit of a low day for me, so seeing a friendly face in a friendly place was welcome.

Last time we had seen each other, Ann-Marie and I were travelling alone together on the Kenyan coast after having met on a two-week Intrepid camping safari. She had warned me that camping and shitty hotels that smelled of donkey and mildew were slightly out of her comfort zone, but you would never have known it by the way she negotiated narrow streets and local internet cafes.

Now I got to hang out in her regular life. And it’s a life I could get used to, especially with her skillfully using her contacts in the wineries to get us some pretty nifty experiences.

Wine pairing at Seghesio winery. Scallops and meatballs and squid and lamb (but they had fancy names). And 5 tastes (um, glasses) of wine.

I might still be one to choose my wine according to the label’s design (under $12, obviously), but I now know what really good cabarnet tastes like (and venom and grenache and zinfandel and sauvignon and pinot). And I have learned that Sideways gave Merlot a bad name for no reason, but managed to damage the poor grape’s reputation.

Ann-Marie extracting coconut milk from a coconut in Lamu, Kenya

Getting the coconut milk ready for the coconut rice, à l’américaine.

Santa Rosa was all wine and friends and beautiful scenery (though yes, the hills were brown and sometimes black if they happened to have just gone up in flames. I’m talkin’ about you, Marin!)

We spent some time in San Francisco, despite the traffic and fog that never quite lifted.

San Francisco has very tall buildings.

We were treated by the lovely new theatre company to VIP tickets to Broadway Under the Stars, where, in the middle of a moving rendition of Memories, a shooting star crossed the sky over the stage. When I say “shooting star,” I mean a ball of fire. I mean a comet. I mean I thought it might be a special effect or a flare. But it was just a huge, close, amazing shooting star and everyone went wild.


From Santa Rosa, I managed to take a couple of busses to Menlo Park, a hopping metropolis next to Stanford. I was just joking about it being a hopping metropolis. For instance, I saw an owl flying in the street as I walked to my friend’s apartment.

It’s unbelievable how much your time in a place reflects the personality of the people you’re staying with. My time with Myriam and Fred was yoga and windswept beaches and a slice of campus life.

From Rosa to Barbara (Santa-wise), I was suddenly surrounded by orange trees and the lullaby of cicadas. So maybe our picnic and drink on the beach turned into a warm drink sheltered in a beach-side restaurant- it was windy and cold- but we also got our day burning on the beach, avoiding crazed dogs and kids just asking for spinal injuries as they dove in the drying river.

There is something special about eating a fig stolen straight off a tree from a museum’s garden in Ojai, where they have outdoor bookshops because it never rains.

Fruit in Santa Barbara.

I didn’t want to leave Santa Barbara. Mainly, it’s hard leaving amazing people and perfect fruit, but I was a bit/a lot nervous about Los Angeles. The size of it, its cars, its $18 smoothies (which I never got, in the end- spoiler?).

But turns out L.A. trusts its people. No one checked my metro ticket- I bought one and then didn’t have to do anything with it, which was confusing. It was also confusing that it was only $1.50 (a day pass for busses and the subway are $5). I found my friend’s house (thank you Google maps), but the serious lack of streetlights didn’t help. I guess it’s true that no one walks in L.A. …

It was hot, my friend worked real Hollywood hours (seriously not as glam as you’d imagine), and the sprawl of the city was insane.

View from Leah’s office.

But I saw the “Oh my god, I love Josh” fountain, and hung out across the street from this memorable liquor store:

I love Clueless.

[I am writing this from New Zealand, where the internet is inanely expensive and wifi isn’t so common. So please forgive the lack of posts/photos/sense!]