California Dreaming – Back to the USA
Part 1: Hopping House Sits in Northern California
After 18 months outside the US, it was time for a brief return. Leaving Thailand when my six months of visas were up, and with the first draft of my book manuscript completed, I made a sweep through California to renew my passport, and more importantly, to see family and friends. Keeping with my backpacker’s budget, this included house and pet sitting, a cobbling together of places to stay. Opportunities arose and disappeared per usual on this journey, more chances for a planner like me to keep practicing letting go.
Through an amazing synchronicity, an American woman I met via Facebook, a fellow house and pet sitter, offered up a California cat sitting job she had to turn down due to a prior commitment. My first stop for 10 weeks was set in the city of Sacramento, caring for Cinco, a 15-year-old cat. Easy – just feed him, clean out his litter box, and keep him alive until his owners come home. That was before I knew about the cockroach invasion, or the neighborhood gunfight, but that’s another story.
Sacramento is California’s capitol, and it’s worth a stroll through the Old Town near the dome to learn a bit about American history – about the gold rush and stage coaches and the Wild Wild West. (It’s still a bit wild!)
The highlight for me was seeing my daughters after almost two years on the road (one of the downsides of being a nomad on a limited budget is being far away from loved ones). My Michigan daughter was visiting my Los Angeles daughter and they took the coastal train up to visit me! It was a much too brief, but wonderful reunion, including a hike in the Auburn hills.
Sacramento reminded me of what it’s like to live in American suburbs, taking daytime walks in neighborhoods virtually abandoned by people off hiding in cubicles at work, a stark contrast to the streets in places like Thailand that are bustling with people no matter what time of day. Empty yards of manicured grass led me to a lush rose-scented garden surrounding the local library, and grocery stores loaded with all of my favorite (and much-missed) foods. Reverse culture-shock set in – people who spoke English, signs and labels I could read, and driving a car once again – the homeowner’s giant old SUV.
Several dear friends came to town, too many to name, and it was such a delight to reconnect after being out of the country for so long. When my friend Beth came from Michigan, we got to check out Lake Tahoe for a couple of days. Tahoe has some of the most stunning scenery in California, in fact in the entire US. Take a spin around the whole lake in a day and you’ll see fabulous lookouts like these…
My plan was to end up in Napa, a town I’d lived in for several years, and then a housesitting stint in Redwood City, but those opportunities vanished like coastal fog. It’s a little unnerving not knowing where I’m going next, but when I can stop stressing and let curiosity overtake fear, something interesting always comes up. This time it included a pet sit in a luxury condo in San Francisco and another in an apartment with a view in Tiburon, across the bay. San Francisco is one of my favorite cities, and my lively charge Loki kept me very busy hiking its famously steep hills.
Luckily I had a few hours each afternoon between dog walks to explore on my own, places like the famous Fisherman’s Wharf, with barking seals, scents of sour dough bread baking, and tastes of Ghirardelli chocolate…
and bustling Chinatown full of colorful shops displaying all manner of scarves, shoes and jewelry.
San Francisco is also home to some of California’s best museums – SFMOMA, the De Young and Legion of Honor art museums, and the fascinating Californian Academy of Sciences, where you can view the stars in the planetarium, walk through a tunnel of sea creatures, and feel what it’s like to be in a building during an earthquake!
There’s Haight Ashbury, full of tie-dye, and fashionable Union Square.
In San Francisco, even getting around can be fun, sounds of street cars clanging and clacking up and down the rails.
Along with a daily dose of that gorgeous red bridge, I felt at home in California once again.
Across the Golden Gate lies Sausalito and the tiny town of Tiburon, my next stop, for the care of a small pup and the real boss of the place, a cat. In a one-bedroom apartment high up on a hill, I enjoyed the most spectacular scenes of the bay, in exchange for hanging out with Bea and Mowgli. One thing house sitting allows besides free accommodations is a chance to see how it feels to live in an amazing variety of places. And with kitchens, a chance to save money by cooking at “home.” Even though it’s not my own place, I’ve learned to get outside my comfort zone and make home where I hang my hat.
Life in Tiburon was slow, filled with dog walks, writing, visits from more friends, and deckside dining, both at seaside and on the apartment’s sky-high deck…
The views were mesmerizing in the daytime, at sunset, and with glittering gold dust scattered across the horizon at night. It was hard to close my eyes at the end of the day as I didn’t want to miss a moment of such beautiful sights!
Angel Island State Park is a short ferry ride away, so I was able to hop over for a day hike. It’s not only a lovely place for a nature fix, but it’s also full of history about the Asian immigrant experience. Sometimes called “the Ellis Island of the West,” it was a detention point for immigrants from China, Japan and India, among other countries. You can tour some of the original buildings.
Soon enough, my house sits ended, and with new passport in hand, good for ten more years, I booked a Megabus down to LA. For the budget-minded traveler, avoiding flights running over $200 one way from San Francisco to Los Angeles, Megabus is a great alternative ($26 to $46, depending on date and time). True, an overnight ride for 8 hours on a sold-out double-decker bus isn’t the most comfortable way to travel, but with more time than money, it’s part of this nomad’s life. And you meet the most interesting people! Next stop, a peek at LA and a tour of the beaches in SoCal…