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Channel islands are a group of eight islands near the coast of Southern California. They have been on my wishlist for a while now so I was elated when I got invited to fill in a spot in a camping site on the Santa Cruz island.

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This was my first time camping and because I like visiting national parks, I assumed I would love it. Although it would be too rash to form an opinion after a night in a tent, I am pretty sure I am booking a hotel during my next visit to a national park.

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sea of bags, channel islands

sea of bags, channel islands

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The ferry taking you to channel islands leaves from Ventura and the one hour ride in the ferry was easily the best part of the trip. M clicked pretty pictures of schools of dolphins jumping and swimming around the boat, and a whale. Its fun to see wildlife in the zoo but the thrill of an unexpected sighting and the natural charm of untrained animals is something else.

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The island itself was rather arid. We did a couple of hikes and watched the sky turn to pink and then black.

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We watched beautiful stars in the night sky and I narrowed down a technique to make marshmallows spotty golden brown. Lot of people seemed to be kayaking and M and S were impressed with their first snorkeling experience on the next day.

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way back

wake

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Our trip was cut short by a day due to bad weather forecast and I narrowly escaped a night of tossing and turning in a sack. What I liked most about the island is the isolation. The idea of being able to cover all of it if we stayed long enough. And then do it in a different season. It was time to come back to civilization.

The thing about diaries.. is that they are full of you.. another you.. whom you don’t necessarily conform with anymore.

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Although just as you tend to be not too harsh on young ones, you can’t be too harsh on yourself from a few years back either.

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a place for contemplation

another place for contemplation

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I propped up my pillows, made a cup of soylent cocoa and opened my diary from six years ago.

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Many entries in the diary were totally hilarious. Some were inspiring. Many candid remarks and declarations I would cringe at today.

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I was tempted to change things here and there. You see, I have been through phases where I spelled ‘the’ as ‘da’ and ‘my’ as ‘ma’ which I do not find the need to revisit. But that wouldn’t be right now, would it? These pages are all that is left of how I was a few years ago.

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Here is an excerpt which I thought was fairly decent for an eighteen year old’s level of introspection.

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Letting Go

3-Jan-07

I was traveling by train, alone for the first time. Securing all the baggage by chains and hugging my laptop bag tucked under the thick blanket, I could think about nothing but my luggage. What if someone flees away with my stuff, breaking open the locks silently, effortlessly. What if someone snatches my backpack while I am asleep, curtains drawn, hands left loose dangling to the beat of the coach?

Nothing happened. All was safe.

When I reached IITM, my hard disk failed, gutting down all data on my two year old laptop.

Makes me wonder. How many things can we afford to hold on to, mentally and physically ? How does one become independent of all these things one ‘owns’ and apparently can’t imagine ones life without ?

Why is it so difficult to give away, let things go ?

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I guess you never get too old to answer some questions in life. Although I feel that now, there are more things which no one can take away from me. Knowledge, experience, the desire to be happy and trust of my loved ones to name a few.

I was initially skeptical about visiting Sequoia national park in November, not having heard of the existence of snow chains before I checked out their website and having the hunch for the poor snow plowing capability of sunshine wandie if it ever came to that. But with the experience of having spent a night in the car, and the inexperience with cold weather, I decided to go.

After breezing through pleasant sights of the blue ocean till Ventura, escaping the smoke clouds of Bakersfield, and missing the last opportunity to get cheap gas we were finally in Sequoia National Park.

 

The park displayed easily the most (only) beautiful fall colors I have ever seen. The shadier roads were lined with snow and the sunnier parts filled with colorful leaves. The park has five of the world’s largest trees. Having seen redwoods in Muir woods, Yosemite, Big Basin, in comparison, I wasn’t as mesmerized by the redwoods as I was planning to be. We visited the touristy loops and got lost on a dirt path which was kind of fun but not really. Google herself picked this one to instagram(?). Kind of smart.

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S loved her first snow sighting and was surprised that it wasn’t as cold as she expected it to be.

A visit to the crystal cave was interesting and we ended the day listening to stories of the inspiring John Muir.

 

 

We were driving in the direction of the Sherman tree when I noticed familiar blue and red lights in the side mirror. No siren.

Nice cop: Ma’am do you know why I stopped you today?

Me to myself: don’t I ever?

Me to nice cop: speeding? 

Nice cop: You skipped a stop sign.

 

In hindsight, I could have done without my confession. But nice cop gave me a warning and wished me a good day. And a good day it was. The northern part of the park along the King’s river was the most beautiful bit we saw. Turn off the music, roll down the windows and listen to the water stream. Bliss.

 

 

The cabins we were staying at were much more secluded than the camps in Yosemite. The food was less expensive. We finished the postcard writing routine and bought Janice Joplin forever stamps. We dropped off the letters at the cute little post office and met the happiest person working in usps I have ever known. Maybe living in the middle of the redwoods helps, maybe its just him.

 

 

I had to stop at Gilroy to get that garlic ice cream once and for all. I loved the ice cream (seriously, there is no way you won’t like it). The garlic wine, not so much.

 

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smooch time

 

Our time in Sequoia was quiet and relaxing thanks to the off-ish season. The interesting mix of snow and sunshine makes me want to go back again this time of the year.

Welcome to Portland airport where our most important connection is you.

the cute airport announcement said. Free wifi and an artist singing and playing guitar selling his CDs in the waiting area. I was pretty sure I was going to like this place. I was just surprised by how much I did eventually.

 

The first thing I notice about the city is that its beautiful. It manages to look elegant in spite of the fast pace and its just really green. The interesting art on the street slows you down if you are watching.

 

The public transport system might seem intimidating for someone coming from California (because we don’t have much of a system here) but one ride and you will get the hang of it. A bus driver I ask for help tells me about the transfers I have to take, makes me recite the entire trip and drops me off on the side of the road next to the transfer station. Compare this with (some) drivers in SB who close the doors in spite of seeing people running in front of them to catch the bus. See what I mean by happy place?

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The people are also very creative and amusing. Don’t miss out on the Saturday market (which I first mistook for a farmer’s market). The things local artists bring over to sell are pretty cool even if not always worth buying. This is also the perfect place to get all your hippie shopping done.

I see a ‘recycled’ skirt made out of an old worn out shirt in one of the stalls, with the collar and buttons still on, running across its length. I want to buy a dozen because they do look aged and cheap. But they cost around $70 due to their high hippiness quotient. Meanwhile, the food trucks sell ‘free range chicken’ meals for 8 dollars. The place definitely has a character.

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The Conference bit

Meanwhile I find the best single serve coffee I have had in a while in the hotel I’m staying at. Peet’s coffee pods, straight from California. A money settling session with bunch of Europeans leaves me (intentionally) with quite a few euros, pounds and francs.

The Italian says

 I’m sure someone is losing money in this, I just don’t know who..

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The magic in the hole

Not a big fan of donuts myself, I go to Voodoo donuts because that’s what you do when you visit Portland. The place looks worn out and intriguing. I see the longest line I have seen for donuts. I get donuts with names such as butterfingering and triple chocolate penetration, not bothered to read the flavors. They are actually quite nice (though arguably over-hyped), especially the ones filled with Bavarian cream.

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City of roses

I get to visit the Portland rose parade which has been happening  for over 100 years now. I’m beginning to love parades because they are great for local people watching. The most excited people watching the show aren’t children or tourists. Old nostalgic people seem to be having the most fun.

The Washington Park is a great change from the fast pace of the city. I see my dream house. In the middle of a wonderful city but surrounded by woods. Then I see bigger and more lavish dream houses.

The Rose Garden in the park is a must see. There is also a small Japanese garden next to the rose garden but I resist my overachiever urge and stick to the roses. And they are so lovely, you can spend all day strolling and seeing all the variations.

 

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The park has a free bus service. The buses run every twenty minutes but that’s fine because the place is beautiful! I don’t mind waiting in the middle of tall firs and chirping birds. I hear the bus before I see it. I have to get this one or wait another twenty minutes. I envy the dandelion seeds taking their sweet time floating through the park.

Seen in Washington Park. Question: What are these mesh bags filled with wood chips doing on the side of the road?

Seen in Washington Park. Question: What are these mesh bags filled with wood chips doing on the side of the road?

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The IKEA conundrum

I end up in IKEA accompanying my host. In the long wait at the home delivery station after the cash registers, I notice a bag of straws appear out of nowhere on the bench I’m sitting on. Already paid for, no one to claim. Should I leave it to IKEA to put it back for sale, let someone else have it, or take it myself? I really need straws. Not really, but I can figure it out. If you know me, you will know what I did.

stolen treasures

stolen treasures: lucky penny or shop lifting?

Then on the way back to the airport, I meet a half homeless full hippie woman on the MAX line who is telling me and anyone else who is listening about an iPad she found on the street which she isn’t planning to return. Some folks tell her about tracking systems on tablets which will link to her, trying to change her mind. But she won’t have it. And while I’m trying to take a picture of the street behind her, joking that I’m not taking her picture instead, she gets too paranoid and gets off early. Yeah, someone isn’t getting their forgotten iPad back. I feel a little better about my two dollar IKEA straws now.

Portland is a very pedestrian friendly place. Pedestrians don’t heed much to the road signs and cross roads whenever they feel like it. And just as I get used to this freedom its time to leave. Doing this in California will get you the most unfriendly stares.

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I guess the only annoying thing about the place is the slow free way traffic. If you want to pull your hair out diving behind a Prius going at fifty miles per hour in low traffic in the fast lane, this is the perfect place for it. Second is the smoking! You are sitting in the park admiring the roses and breathing in the fresh air when you sense that familiar stink and see a perfectly fine looking person smoking here too. Not in McDonald’s though.

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There are many more touristy things to do in the place. I found the Pittock Mansion quite interesting especially since I have been on this spree of visiting historic houses wherever I go. The Lan Su Chinese Garden is peaceful and cute. It complements the laid back pace of the city.  Usually an obsessive person, this city gently slowed me down and kept me curious at the same time. Every place I went to was great and the people just happy.

We land in SB on a cloudy day. I’m happy with the sense of familiarity I get when I come back home. Similar to the one I did walking in the brown tiled corridors of Sharav. SB is home.

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So its been a while since I blogged and I’m delighted to try out the new WordPress editor! Unlike most Google updates, I actually like this thing. It’s uncluttered with fewer and more useful tabs on the left, unlike its old self.

Moving to more topical issues, I have decided to check out some local coffee shops in the new place I’m at. The first stop is at Dana Street Roasting in Mountain View. This is a cute little coffee shop but a little too hippie for me and not in a good way. I pick a corner spot and find a treasure trove in the crack between the floor and the wall.

dana coffee roasters

lots of power outlets and free wifi etc

No gum stuck to the bottom of the table. Check.

Although I have decided to try a gooey drink (which I categorize as everything except plain coffee), they have some very good collection of coffees I might want to try out some day. I ask the owner if the almond latte has coffee. That’s how little I know about gooey drinks. He is a little surprised but goes on to explain, yes, it does indeed have coffee in it. After making the difficult choice between almond milk and almond syrup while discarding rice milk as being a real possibility, I finally get my latte, woohoo. And its really good (do remember that I have nothing much to compare it to).

 dana coffee roasters

The place also has an old coffee roasting machine. It would really do much better with air-conditioning instead. Other than that, the art is really so-so. The cookies and bars on the counter look questionable but that’s another area I have not ventured into. You could eat them and live for all I know.

dana coffee roasters

They also have a unisex bathroom so don’t miss this spot if you particularly fancy putting toilette seats down. What I definitely love is their choice of music. Good mix of indie and more indie. I’m coming back for sure because its so close to home.

I usually feel very sad when I am on my way home from a holiday. When I was little, me and little R would even sob a bit on the way back from Matheran (this touristy but really cute place near Mumbai), at the prospects of seeing our mom leave home every morning to go to work, again.

But the plus side of this vacation was that I was returning back to the bigger vacation that I was on. And the way back was long!

We visited Gettysburg in Pennsylvania which is an important place in civil war history. A visit to Hershey was disappointing and so was Millersburg in Ohio. But by this time, we were enjoying being on the road. Stopping for too long felt unnatural even. When we came back to (my) vacation, I wished the house had wheels so we could keep going ahead, maybe all the way back to California.

The end.

Richmond was warm and humid but beautiful and looked multiple times better from the comfort of M’s car. We walked along the canal near the James river and visited the Capitol.

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Our next stop was Washington DC which was a big shift from Virginia. It is grand and glamorous, but in a subdued way. Outside the Union Station, which in itself is beautiful, the rains had decided to stay for the day. Statues outside the supreme court were majestic, the Capitol right across the street.

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The library of congress was our first stop in Washington DC. The building looked stunning from the outside.

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The Library of Congress is more than a hundred years old and is built in the Italian Renaissance style. A guided tour focused on the architecture among other things. This place is a must see when in DC.

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The Smithsonian museums in the Mall are all lovely and we could barely see a few. We were almost half way through our trip and had one more day left in DC. to be continued.

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