With every available inch of the car crammed with stuff we headed South on the I5, bound for Roseburg, 4 hours away, where we would spend the night with Marco’s cousin Brad, wife Kristy and kids Malaeni and Garrett. We knew it would be a mind bender as we hadn’t seen each others kids in 9 years. Brad & Kristy hadn’t changed at all but the kids had grown into whole new people…Malaeni, talkative & expressive dressed for the homecoming dance that night in a gorgeous blue halterneck and graffitied blue converse sneakers. She still has the same big beautiful eyes I remember as a baby. Garrett at 15, going through his uncertain stage, quiet and friendly but taking it all in. We ordered Chinese for dinner, shared it with Kristy’s lovely parents who now live with them and hit the sack for an early night and an early start.
Next stop was to be Willows, a small speck on the I5 which I had chosen only because it was the midway point between Roseburg and Yosemite. Five hours to Willows and then 5 the next day would see us into Yosemite.
We bunked at the Willows Motel 6 for the night which was luckily right next door to a great family run, very authentic Mexican restaurant. The weather had warmed considerably and we had now switched out of our warm Portland gear and back into our California shorts and singlets. Of course Marco had never swapped his shorts and T-shirts being immuned to the changes of weather.
Continuing South the next day we passed miles and miles of farmlands and fruit orchards. This was the heartland of California’s agricultural belt, suppling food for millions. Semi trailers roared past, filled to overflowing with ripe Roma tomatoes ready to be made into sauce. Dilapidated farmhouses appeared sporadically, yards filled with ancient relics; old tractors, rundown cars and parts, bathtubs, discarded campers, junkyards of every possible treasure.
We stopped at Madera for camping supplies and I felt transported into another world. The supermarket was huge, laden with fresh, luscious produce and unmistakeably Latino. Most of the farming communities are Hispanic and we were surrounded by every conceivable chile and tortilla, sopes and quesos oaxaquenos ( our favourite cheese from Oaxaca).
We stocked up ( trying to be sensible) and headed West to Yosemite, out of the flatlands and into the hill country, barren and dotted with boulders. Slowly up into the Sierras we overlooked striking canyons and gorges until once again we were amongst the Pines. At the entry to the National Park we stopped to check our reservations and get directions. Marco spoke to a man in his sixties who was resting beside his bicycle. He had taken 2 days to reach this point from Sacramento and would probably take another 2 days to reach his destination of Tualime Valley. I shook my head, thinking about the road we had just come up and tried to imagine doing it on a bike..inconceivable!
Yosemite is beyond words. As we rounded a corner and got a glimpse into the valley it took our breathe away and like everyone else we had to pull off the road to take some photos.
We drove down into the valley until we reached our camping site at Upper Pines. Checking in we carefully read the multiple signs instructing us how to stay safe and keep the bears away.
At each campsite there was a sturdy metal bear locker equipped with an ingenious closing device that the bears had not yet managed to figure out. All food and anything with a scent (hmm does that mean us? ) Had to be securely stowed away each night. Beside a photo of a car with its back door mangled and half ripped off was the warning not to leave anything in the car ( even crumbs) as this would encourage the bears to try and get into the vehicle. Santana decided she had serious bear phobia and all of us tried to limit our fluid intake so we wouldn’t have to leave the safety of our little tent to pee in the night. As it turned out I spent half the night awake and needing to go, aware of every little twig and stone beneath my sleeping bag, until finally around 4am I had to get up the courage to get out of the tent and find a tree..there was no way I was walking all the way to the toilets The girls were up soon after and sprinted together up to the bathrooms and back.
Awake and thankfully alive we planned our day our breakfast. Around 10 we hopped onto one of the free buses that circle the valley floor every few minutes and rode to one stop to begin the hike up to Vernal Falls. The walk began nicely, meandering through the shady overhang beside a bubbling creek but soon began to climb. Marco and Santana forged ahead and Sienna and I plodded on feeling the breathlessness that a change in altitude always brings. I kept encouraging her to keep going but at every steep descent she was getting more and more upset. We stopped for another rest and I called to Marco to come back and give her a puff of ventolin. By the time he arrived she was in tears, beside herself. She described her head pounding and her throat closing which had me worrying as well. We rested a while and a kind Indian woman who was also taking her time gave her gentle advice; “Breath slowly, look at the beauty around you, just take your time…..” she told Marco she was taking it slowly too as she only had one lung. I think this made Sienna feel a little better and she agreed to keep going after we rested for a while. About another 15 minutes along a tall Indian man came walking towards us from the direction of the falls. “ My wife sent me back to tell you its just around the corner…keep going..you can make it” he encouraged Sienna. Around the corner and there we were at the footbridge at the base of the falls with a perfect view up. The Indian woman was there with her 2 daughters sitting on a rock sketching..turns out she was an artist as well. I took Sienna over and we thanked her for her kindness. Marco and Santana continued for the second part of the hike which took them up to the top of the falls but Sienna and I decided that leisurely stroll downhill was in order.
Over the course of two days we visited many of the sights. Possibly most amazing was watching the climbers at El Capitan, tiny specks way up there on sheer, almost vertical cliffs, working their way slowly towards the top. One has to be a little insane to actually attempt such a thing, although our friends Rick and Darryl probably wouldn’t agree, partial as they are to hanging precariously off the sides of Point Perpindicular back home in Jervis Bay.
Begrudgingly we left Yosemite after 2 days wishing we had allocated more time bu excited to get to Fresno to visit Nikki, my crazy(in a good way ) Internet friend that I had met through My Space almost 2 years before. A prolific blogger, Nikki spills the beans on almost every aspect of her life, good and bad…open hearted ( in both a spiritual and literal sense having been through 2 open heart surgeries in her young life) we were all looking forward to meeting Aunt Nik and her cubs Makena & Jake. Fresno is not usually a destination of choice in a travel itinerary and so far everyone we had outlined our plans to had looked at us strangely when we got to that part; “Fresno? Why on Earth are you going to Fresno? It’s the armpit of California ”
“We’re going to meet Nik ”
Fresno is a flat, sprawled out city of 3 million. Our first impression was that the main industry must be health. Everywhere we looked there were hospitals and dentists, Gastro specialists and allergy centres, orthodontists and periodontists…every conceivable specialist.
Nik came out to greet us and burst into tears, her tiny frame giving me one giant bear hug. It has been a tough few months for her and hopefully our stay was a bit of a cheer up for her. We walked to dinner at a local Italian restaurant, sat by the pool for some girl time, hung out with the kids and generally chilled out together….Marco got to wrestle with 5 year old Jake the Quake (the girls wanted us to adopt a little boy for him when they saw how much fun he could have.
We said goodbye to Nik with promises to meet up somewhere in january and began the next leg of the trip to Ventura to visit the Farrys again.