The usual apprehensive of solo travel set in the days leading up to my flying to the States. I had taken some annual leave from work and the time frame worked out such that I had two weeks spare with no immediate plans. Given that I had already booked return flights to the states and it was fairly far to go I decided to try and explore as much of it as possible, in comes Couchsurfing.
In 2008 when I discovered couchsurfing and loved the concept so much I immediately jumped on board. For those that don’t know it – Couchsurfing is a website that connects strangers around the world by letting people sleep for free on their couch. Since discovering it, I both hosted and surfed enough times to trust the system and highly recommend it. Some of my most memorable travel experiences have been through the people who I have met.
That’s how I met Cesar. I was trawling the “travelling companion” community when his road trip plan came up. I was also planning a road trip, but a much more modest one from Portland down to San Francisco. He was keen to do the old Route 66, and as I had often thought about doing that I jumped on board. In the following weeks my spare time was dedicated to planning our route.
I landed in LA at 6:30am – after a long 12.5 hrour flight with very minimal sleep I was lucky enough to have bumped into an old high school friend on the plane. We decided to have a classic “American breakfast” together, and he kindly offered to drive me to the West Hollywood Hertz, where I would meet Cesar and start my road trip.
Cesar is 25, Spanish and one of the most friendliest and talkative persons I have ever met. This meant that we got along very well, despite the sometimes mildly strained language barrier.
Day 1 – and we were off! In our upgraded black Jeep we headed out of congested Los Angeles and out west to Joshua Tree National Park. I had heard so much about Joshua Tree, I had this image of hippies, nature lovers and pot smokers. I was not disappointed. When we saw our first Joshua Tree I shrieked in delight “Ces, that’s what they look like!” I pointed and yelled.
Unfortunately, as we were driving through on a late Saturday afternoon, we had no hope of getting a spot to camp, which is what one MUST do in Joshua Tree. We went on a few short trail hikes and then headed out to TwentyNine Palms to meet our first Couchsurfing Host – David.
The GPS instructed us to drive down this unmarked sand road, luckily, with all that previous “experience” (not really) of sand driving I totally nailed it. As the sun was setting we slowly realised we couldn’t find David’s house. We saw houses in the distance but as we drove past they were abandoned and ghostly. Soon we saw parts of furniture sprawled out on the road in front of us, and then a mattress, and then signed of a high pressure pipeline and abandoned RVs. I started freaking out “Ces, this is where people get raped and murdered!” I looked at him… we decided to try to call David before it got any darker.
Out of no where a big blue truck pulled up behind us and started flashing it’s headlights. A man with a gigantic beard jumped out and motioned to us…. “Are you Jade?” he yelled? “Yes! Are you David?” I responded. “Sure am!” Whew – we found him!
David lived in his own little self standing condo on a 5 acre property, and that evening he cooked us a meal of gigantic ribs (for Ces) and delicious salad, asparagus and beans (for me). He turned out to be one of the friendliest guys I had ever met, and completely generous having hosted some 50 surfers before us. His friends were chatty, and we spent the night talking about the usual “free spirited” stuff,: renewable energy, gazillinaires dying one day, Reiki energy healing, and desert tortoises. Later that night, everyone jumped into David’s solar powered hot tub whilst I snuck outside of enjoy the stars on a clear desert night and tuck myself into bed with all my jet lag.
The next day, after a late start as David showed us his medicinal “herb” garden, we were off. It would be a short drive to Nipton, our accommodation for the night. We got “gas” (loving the American terminology here) and headed to Kelos Dunes. The scenary was simply spectacular as we entered the Mojave Reserve. It truly was an alien-like desert, and a beautiful one at that, with little shrubs of catus like plants populating the landscape. Everything about all the towns we’d seen on the way and this drive was so American! The tiny off the road houses, some of them abandoned, to the long endless roads where you could see the horizon. We stopped and jumped out of the car several times to take photos and enjoy the view.
We saw glimpses of the Sierra Nevada range which were breaktaking. We got to Kelso dunes and ambitiously started to do a long hike to the peaks, the dunes themselves were beautiful, but as we started hiking we realised it got way too hot and turned back. Kelso “town” itself consisted of a refurbished train station, so we decided to have a quick lunch there and drive on to do a hike to see a few more Joshua trees before settling into the “town” of Nipton for the night.
Nipton – what an interesting little place. The population of Nipton is probably around 6 people, we saw the shopkeeper/hotel receptionist, the couple that ran the café and there was also Brenda who replied to my emails. So maybe the population was around 4. Including guests, and we met all of them, Nipton probably had a peak population of 10 that night.
We got one of the eco-cabins outside, they were a spacious tent with a wood fired oven inside (completely necessary as it was freezing cold in the desert at night), it was just super cosy and cute. The only problem is, without walls we could hear the sound of the trains running next to the tracks all night with their horns. And the desert wind, was basically singing a concert that night as well.