The Benefits of Couchsurfing
It is nearly impossible to develop a personal opinion about the cultural identity of a country without coming into closer contact with the locals. On this account, it was clear for me from the beginning that I would set out on a couchsurfing adventure once again. Deep inside I hoped that there was far more to discover in the land of unlimited possibilities than those things I have already known from the media. Those of you who have been following my blog recently, probably know that I have already had the honor to surf across Morocco, but also to host people in my hometown. However, this time, I would go on an expedition in a foreign country for the first time alone.
Sometimes, I take pleasure in the uncertainty not knowing what to expect. It has something fascinating, something challenging. As I have noticed during my time in California, traveling alone can have great benefits. Independence and heightened receptiveness towards the culture are besides the enduring joy of exploration undoubtedly a part of it.
This time, I just planned to meet with some locals through Couchsurfing.
Since I already had an accomodation in Fountain Valley, I was “merely” looking forward to some meetings with locals. I was hoping to get a deepened insight behind the superficial, media based facade of the Californian lifestyle. That means to experience more about the local occurrences and to obtain information that can usually not be found in a guidebook. Above all, I wanted to meet people from a different culture who would become finally a meaningful part of the memories of my time in California. Interpersonal relationships of a positive kind can often transfer even the most trivial locations into one of the most beautifiul places in the world. They build up deep connections to certain places and leave them back under a charm.
The Magical Attraction of Huntington Beach
Altogether, it were five couchsurfers that I met during my stay in California. Except for Matthias, who has already been travelling for a longer time in the States and who comes originally from a region near Munich, the others had their residence near Huntington Beach.
Meeting Isaiah & Karryn
Isaiah grew up in different parts of the USA and is half Korean, half American. He was in the end the person with whom I spent most of my time in the States. Toward afternoon, he picked me up in Fountain Valley and we drove to Huntington Beach, the renowned Surf City, where many prominent surfers and skateboarders have their home. Meanwhile, it has been four or even five years since I was the last time at the beach. As a child, I have always dreamed of living at the beach and to make long walks under the sun every day.
In the urban center of Huntington Beach one can find a lot of pubs, restaurants, surf shops and clubs. Before we settle on the beach, Isaiah and I provide ourselves at a small kiosk with cold beer. Since there is a strict drinking ban especially at the beach, I feel like a petty criminal when we are leaving the store with two heavy packed bags. Though, inconspicuous behavior is for us a foreign word today, and with a healthy appetite for a small portion of illegalities, we make ourselves comfortable at the next best meadow near to the sea.
Isaiah is both a very sociable and smart person. It is really fun to have conversations with him about all kinds of topics or just to sit there looking at the sea while burying our feet in the grainy sand. Sometime Karryn, another couchsurfer joins up with us. She actually comes from Columbia and has not been living for too long at Huntington Beach. Karryn has already seen a lot of the world; the wanderlust grips me as she tells us about her travels. Unfortunately, she has to leave us very soon because she is planning a party for her boyfriend, but is inviting us to her Jacuzzi for the evening.
Somehow, Isaiah and I have not made it to go to Karryn, although we would have loved to accept the invitation. After three evenings that I spent with Isaiah in Huntington Beach, we gradually got the feeling that the sea had a magical attraction to us. It was incredibly calming to sit at the beach, letting our thoughts run free – and sometimes not having to think at all. Each of the moments complied perfectly with my ideal conception of life how it should be more often.
The more time I spent at the beach, the less I felt drawn to go back to the metropolis in which one is surrounded by an unbearable daily rush. Therefore, I try to capture the memories with all my might and hope that they will not slip away from me one day. Sometimes, we stayed so long at the beach until the coast guards made their rounds in order to dislodge the last nightly visitors from the beach. Nevertheless, they have never caught us.
Maybe it sounds odd, but whenever I hear the terms “Bratwurst” or “schaiiiß Polizei”, I have to think about Courtney. This circumstance is perhaps due to our conversation on the drive home in the car when Courtney threw around with German vocabularies he learned from his Munich friends during the last Oktoberfest. Courtney works as a coastguard and is on duty in many places of California, where he often must work night shifts on boats. Nevertheless, his job seems to be quite varied as he always gets to see new environments, and also saves a life every now and then. ;)
We decide to have dinner in a burger bar at Huntington Beach tonight. Since I acquired a taste for Californian Burger, I never want to eat Mc Donald’s burger again. Especially the In-N-Out burger chain is quite popular in California where you definitely have to stop by when an opportunity arises.
After dinner we meet with Karryn and her boyfriend again. Since we did not have much time to talk the last time, I am even more delighted to see her again today. Together we are walking down to the beach and tell us about our funny travel stories until it gets dark.
One Night in Beverly Hills
Hollywood and Beverly Hills definitely belong to one of the many must-see-places in California wherefore my expectations towards these cities were quite high. But after all, I would not necessarily go back to those places. What I missed was the cheerful tingly feeling in my stomach while walking through the boulevards and the refreshing euphoria when discovering something extraordinary. Instead, I experienced, especially in Hollywood the feeling of a redundant hype and many annoying tourist decoys.
Nevertheless, I could see my cousin Richard after a longer time again, who has been living as a child in Germany and then moved to California after the divorce of his parents. I can barely remember the last Christmas when the whole family was together. On this account, the visit in Beverly Hills had something beautiful about it because I also got to know his lovely girlfriend Jocelyn and his cousin Huy.
Finally, it was my idea to drive to Beverly Hills. On the one hand, I wanted to see that prominent place with my own eyes, on the other hand, I arranged a meeting with Matthias, a couchsurfer living about two hours from Munich and his host Oz who lives in downtown Los Angeles.
Beverly Hills stands out notoriously for its high level of wealth. Everywhere one catches sight of luxury property and mansions whose property value must exceed the one million mark. This calm region is certainly beautiful to look at – for an “ordinary” tourist with average income, however, it does not offer much in my view. Nevertheless, the allure to make a trip to Beverly Hills lies probably exactly in this “experience” to admire the estates of numerous prominents, and to feel oneself as part of this affluent lifeworld for some moments.
Our meeting point is a burger-cocktail bar. Considering that we are located in one of the richest regions of the Los Angeles County, the beverages and food are fairly affordable. After some drinks, Matthias and Oz join us – they are very warm-hearted and humorous people. Matthias tells me that he has already been travelling in North America for a few months and before that he worked on a ranch in Texas. In his leisure he works from time to time as a model. I believe that after the long time he spent in America, he gradually misses his hometown.
Everything, that has literally surprised me positively in California – particularly the outgoingness, openness and seemingly warmth of the people that I was missing so often in Germany – unfortunately proved to be within the interpersonal relationships for Matthias sometimes nothing else than affectation and hypocrisy. The crazy thing is that I can relate to his thoughts quite well, paradoxically, although I have only spent a few days in California so far. The things that he broached on really made me ponder over the last days: currently, the Californian mentality and the whole lifestyle appeared almost unblemished to me, like a precision-ground diamond in its most flawless shape. Yet, I am asking myself subconsciously, whether I would still feel this way after two or even three months in California.
Often, travellers overlook full of euphoria for the unexplored the rough edges of the seemingly smooth surface which are being kept as a secret deep inside the culture, hoping to stay undiscovered. One would like to preserve the outer facade, the brilliancy until it slowly, but noticeably fades away. In the end, the only thing that remains is a rough surface whose existence would rather be unkown in order to treasure the perambulated land in good memories and to protect it with all one’s might. Albeit one knows that no country, no culture is perfect – anyway this would be disillusioning.
Unfortunately, pleasant evening come to an end way too fast. At 11 pm, we head for home because Huy has to work the next morning and still has to drive to Las Vegas. However, there is still enough time for a small excursion to the Milk Bar in Beverly Hills which is famous for its delicious ice-cream, coffee and cake. The long line in front of the entrance speaks for itself, and I feel a little bit as if I was waiting in front of a Hollister store – which is definitely no bonus point for the café.
Saying Farewell: Last Day at Newport Beach
Sometimes, one only realizes how beautiful it was when the heart struggles by all available means against the forthcoming. Attempts to escape from it are without exception inefficient because the present cannot be captured – apart from in the memories. The time is always faster than oneself and makes even the most wonderful moments fade away. But sometimes, bygone images appear in some short moments before the inner eye – and once one has captured them, they lead to a gentle smile about what we have experienced and seen.
Eagerly, I am waiting in the living room for the last couchsurfer meeting with Jack. On television, they are currently airing the World cup match between Germany and Algeria, when it rings at the door. Jack was recently for a few weeks in Brazil to see the World Cup match between Germany and the USA, but also to travel around. He just came back from his trip last night.
Somehow, I feel very comfortable immediately in his presence as soon as he enters the door and introduces himself to my father. It is easy to have conversations with him because he is very cheerful, uncomplicated and lively. Thus, we are getting into entertaining conversations during our car ride to Newport Beach. I come to know that Jack works as a physics teacher at a high school and sacrifices his spare time mostly for creating curricula and marking exam papers – still, he seems to be quite lucky with his profession despite all the efforts. By all means, his priority does not only lie in the exercise to bring his pupils closer to the laws of physics. Rather, his focus lies more in the promotion of personality development and self-improvement, as well as in supporting his students to realize their life plans.
I find his attitude very beautiful as I believe that there is often lacking a basic foundation of trust between students and teachers in many education systems which might have indeed negative effects on the quality of teaching. Nowadays, strict curricula that should be studied in a very short time determine the teaching procedure. Consequently, they impart students compulsion instead of motivation to learn. I think that Jack is a great teacher who leaves his students sufficient space to act autonomously in order to become later on self-reliant individuals.
Probably, it was our best decision to make a stop at the beach bar “The District Lounge”. On the one hand, I have the pleasure to get a taste for the presumable most delicious American beer. “Highrise” is the name of the beverage and despite its 10%, it tastes simply excellent – even better than some German beer I have drunk before. On the other hand, I get to know the charming barkeeper Renee with whom we get involved in funny conversations. I promise her to come back next year in order to throw a jacuzzi party with her.
Full of boldness I throw my bag into the sand and toddle with Jack to the sea in order to shoot some souvenir photos. In my enthusiastic moment it certainly did not come to my mind that the sea would probably not have any consideration for my short unawareness. We have scarcely taken the first pictures, when I am forced to watch how a giant wave floods my bag where there are still my camera and mobile inside. After all, for the fun that we had, it was nearly worth it. Today I do not care much about anything. I want to witness for the last time the feeling of independence and freedom, dance under the stars and only just live. Unrestricted, passionate and impulsive.
It feels incredible surreal when I stand for the last time with Jack at Huntington Beach waiting for Isaiah. All the people I spent my time with the last days, made Huntington Beach to a more beautiful, very special place to me.
To our place, packed full of unique memories of the time in California, a place where I would undoubtedly return. With no wasted thought about the tomorrow’s hangover, I drink with the others on my time in California, and feel featherweight when we are walking half-drunk to the beach. For quite some time, the childish exuberance returns and thousand images are crossing my mind, are taking control over my body just to leave me speechless in the end.
There is my father with his friends whom I have never experienced that lucky; Renee, the sweet barkeeper who smiles seductively at Jack and me; Isaiah and me how we sit at the beach and sing along to “Friday I’m in Love”; and then I see my cousin, Jocelyn, Huy and me driving down the Highways of Los Angeles to our favourite songs. My heart beats faster, when I all of a sudden realize that my small childhood dream has been coming true.
Now, there was lying a small fairy dust above the place that I loved so much. For the last time, I bury my feet into the golden brown sand and quitely say goodbye to Huntington Beach – with the knowledge that I will come back soon.