Why go straight when a (rather long) detour can be taken? Or, what on earth was I doing in the USA, vol 1.
(original posts from July 5th, 2019, and June 26th, 2020)
Time to go back... To some thoughts that whirled in my head before I packed my backpack and stepped onto the plane on June 21st, 2019. A little "warning" as well - if you come across a certain sense of being dramatic - then for me, this was a big deal! In addition, my rising sign is Leo ;) Meow!
I had felt for a while, perhaps even a year before I made any serious plans, that I simply have to go abroad. Away. Anywhere. All of the people who at that time were still around me, probably knew about it. I felt no resonance with Estonia anymore, the doors seemed to only close in front of me, one after another, and no new ones seemed to want to open. I felt like a foreign body in my own home country, confused, and felt my back against the wall more and more, no way forward and no will to go back. Old acquaintances disappeared, old friends disappeared, or I had lost the ability to connect with them. I wanted away, I literally felt the need to go. Not knowing where, or for how long. Inner voice? But of course. What else can motivate such decisions, and what is "worse", whose nature is the cause of delaying those decisions that you know, in your heart, to be the right ones. Confusing? For me as well. But right nonetheless.
Anyway, by the spring of 2019 I had finally made the decision to leave Estonia behind for a time and to go to Asia. It was mostly Japan that strongly called to me, for a long time already. But Japan had always been this sort of... unreachable, mysterious-peculiar country that only Japanophiles get to visit, or those that are extremely lucky. Land of the rising sun. Land of dreams. Country, where everything is just so distinct. Actually, the thing is that dreams can come true really easily if you only believe! And, of course, manifest :) Only thing I'm going to say here is that it is rare for the whole apartment sale process to only last for 2 weeks... Before the deal was made, I didn't even have plane tickets, I just knew that if I had to go, the universe will find a way. And it did. Of course it did! I mean, I knew I was going :) (a little tip for manifesting - don't hope, but KNOW!) I moved my things and cleaned my old apartment until the last second, and without closing my eyes for even a moment to sleep, I let the taxi drive me from the door of the place I called home to the airport in the early hours of the day. With a 10 kg backpack. A long flight (1h + 10h) was ahead of me, there will be time for sleep.
Destination Oakland, California. Merely across the bridge from San Francisco where I actually meant to go. But even that was only a pre-destination to another nearby city.
But wait, what happened to Asia?
Yes, I did really talk about Japan. But there are times in life when you have to think - when I'm already making this stretch then what's not to stretch it a little bit further. A group of people who I had met through mutual interest around half a year before via a Facebook group, had invited me to Los Angeles for a week where on the 25th of June, 2019, the fans of Michael Jackson "celebrated" the 10th anniversary of his passing. During his concert in Estonia in 1997, me and my sister were huge fans of MJ, and although life led me to other kinds of music for years after that, then for some reason 2018-2019 was the time when I was called to return to Michael's music and the essence of his work and whole being in deeper ways. Maybe it was the manifestation of my childhood dreams coming to life, maybe for other reasons - such as bringing me back to drawing! Now, in times of internet, there was an immense amount of new information and new music; my new friends were hardcore (and lifetime) fans and I was happy to get a chance to meet them in real life and spend some time together. I know, it sounds like a pink fluffy teenage fantasy, although we were all adults and some have children and even grandchildren! But we have to use the opportunities life brings us, especially when intuition comes to play, and you feel like you've been led by greater forces.
Detour in a detour, in other words - crabmoves on every level.
Deciding to take full advantage of my detour, it wasn't the city of angels that was to be my first ever stop in the United States. As it was also my birthday around that time, I thought why not to go a few days earlier and look around somewhere nearby - to get a broader experience of the continent I had not yet even set foot onto. I even considered New York which I've always wanted to visit but after checking the map my eyes stopped on a city much more closeby that had always held a special place for me - San Francisco. I may have remembered that former hippie-town especially also because years back I had done one of those immensely popular Facebook tests, something like "What's the best city for you to live in?" My result was San Francisco and for some reason, it always stayed there at the back of my mind. I remember the main argument in support of my result being the perfect weather conditions - not too hot, not too cold. I was also reminded of the famous rollercoaster-like up-and-down streets flowing through the city. Perfect, let's go! I bought the ticket to Oakland that is just across the bridge from San Francisco - it was much cheaper and, as a newborn backpacker with a certain budget, I was trying to save where I could. It was only later that I read that Oakland was a rather criminal area, caution advised :) Too late, already had my ticket!
A brief moment in Oakland
The flight departing from Stockholm took 10 hours and 35 minutes. After crossing the Atlantic ocean, I saw a landscape from the window which I had never seen before with my own eyes. Completely different colours, mountains, even a volcano (I checked the map later, Mount Shasta, I think?). I remember that there was a man from Russia sitting next to me, we had a small conversation and he kindly allowed me to reach over him to goggle out the window. At some point he offered to change seats with me :D He obviously saw how my eyes were about to pop out and my excitement levels were sky high. That was very kind of him, he flew to visit his daughter, if I remember correctly.
I had heard stories about the passport checkpoint that it might take hours, and that they can stop you from entering the country on a whim if they don't like something or decide something is out of place, even if you have all your paperwork in order. Random questionings, taking people to side. I had that paper I filled in on the internet for permission, ESTA? No visa was necessary. But still, I was rather nervous, the rules were so strict on the US border, maybe something goes wrong, etc. That's not something a EU citizen has to worry about when traveling inside EU, and it was my first trip outside of that (there was that time I went to Russia but that's just across the border, can even walk home if you really have to).
Of course, everything was just fine and it all went smoothly. Sure, I had to wait but that's normal. When I finally walked out of the airport and saw the mountains in the distance and the palm trees... It started to reach my conscious mind slowly that I had made it! I'm literally standing on a different continent. In America. Carrying only a 10kg backpack and a smile that's trying to reach my ears. The child in me was clapping her hands out of pure joy and excitement, it felt unbelievably good!
Arriving to a new continent. Oakland
All I had to do now was to figure out where I was and where I had to go. I had to locate that bridge that would have taken me to San Francisco (I had checked the map before, and planned to walk over it); I also wanted to see a certain wooden cathedral whose architecture stood out to me (The Cathedral of Christ the Light). I set the cathedral as my first destination and just started walking towards it, taking everything in that I saw. I had downloaded the Google Maps area maps onto my phone before and I happily began my journey. Hereby, I have to mention a rather comical (at least later) blonde moment for me - at that point in time, for some reason I thought that using the GPS requires data activation on phone and therefore internet that I didn't have - therefore, I didn't know to use GPS tracking until Japan!) The cathedral was not far, I found it quite easily, but as a sermon was held there at the time, I did not want to cause a disturbance even to just walk around to admire the place. It was indeed beautiful, something completely different from what I had been used to associating with Christian architecture. Wooden church in a new modern form, full of light and airiness. You would never guess, standing outside of the building, of what beauty was held inside.
The Cathedral of Christ the Light
After seeing the cathedral I set out to determine how to cross the water. On the map I saw one large bridge and then a bunch of ferry routes. As I did not have local internet and I had to leave Wi-Fi at the airport behind, I could only put my faith into my downloaded map. I guess it's not a bad habit to have to do some detailed research before going somewhere but I much prefer to explore when I'm there, even when it may take a lot more time to figure some things out. I find it much more exciting, and you can always ask someone, as long as you speak the language, when you're really in trouble. Of course, take all guidance with a grain of salt, I remember a time in Paris where an American lady asked if I needed help getting somewhere (I didn't really, but I did have my nose buried in my paper map, so I did agree out of politeness and perhaps she did know a better way?), and... she pointed me to a completely opposite direction to where I was trying to go to! I don't know whether I misunderstood her, or if she was just in a fun mood and played a trick on me, or simply overestimated her knowledge of the city, but I found myself in a completely random location and nowhere near what I had in mind.
This time I couldn't figure out whether I am able to walk across that bridge shown on the map or not. I was at a loss and confused, until I saw a group of police officers standing next to a bus stop. I figured, they should know! And I did ask them. Their level of politeness and manners was astonishing! So friendly and patient, they generously explained that the only way to cross that bridge was by some form of transportation, either by bus, metro, or taxi. Ehh... I was surprised, and did ask (more than once) that was it absolutely for sure there was no way to cross the bridge on foot :D But no, apparently there wasn't. Nothing else to do but to get the ticket and buy my ride over. No skimping! At this point I don't even remember if I took the metro or bus. Zero memory also on where was it I found myself on San Francisco side. Did I even sleep on the plane...?
Some clicks from my route
For the first time in my life, I had booked a bed in a shared room in a hostel. Those few times I had traveled in Europe, I had always tried to find a private room, no matter how small, but hostels seemed to be the only reasonably priced accommodation in this city. It was one of those moments where I finally just shrugged and did it - so be it! 4-bed room for girls. And it wasn't bad at all! :) They even had breakfast included in the price, which meant I didn't have to go food hunting first thing on the morning of my birthday. I reached the hostel already in the dark, around 8 in the evening, perhaps this is why I don't remember many details, I was exhausted and on autopilot. Practically no sleep, plus time difference. Funny, I actually went back in time. Lived through the same time of day than I did on the plane. Jetlag.
The hostel, called the Green Tortoise, was situated in Chinatown. One of the few things I do remember, I did go out later in the evening to see the full moon? Just around the corner. The nights are pretty chilly there, couldn't stay out for long without proper clothing. Estonia had been unusually warm at that time, even at night time - I had packed and cleaned throughout the night just before my departure. I remember taking out the garbage a few times, didn't even need long sleeves (or short ones)... In San Francisco, there's always wind from the sea and 15 degrees at nighttime is expected. My first souvenir of the trip happened to be a small $5 padlock that could be purchased from the hostel if you didn't carry one with you - to keep your luggage locked in the room. I still have that padlock, and I was able to use it for the same purpose later on. Green Tortoise was not my last hostel by far, I got a really positive experience from there - not particularly that staying there was super amazing but more in terms of being comfortable booking hostels in the future, also that the people are great and friendly there, and that you're able to meet other travelers. As I was dead tired though, I did not have long conversations with anyone at that time.