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California Archives - A Familia Adventure

Be Still My Beating Heart

By | Our Travels, Parks | No Comments

I was in two minds as to whether I wanted to write this post. Sometimes things can resonate on such an intimate level, that you want to keep them secret, hidden away from the rest of the world. That’s how I felt when I arrived at Redwood National Park. I didn’t even have to set a foot on the lush, earthy mulch to know that that was a place I would happily get lost in. A place my soul at once wanted to stake a flag in and reserve as a serene retreat for me, and me alone. Ok, I would take people there, sometimes, but only if their hearts wanted to burst from their chests and break into song, knowing there is possibly no more beautiful place on this earth! I know I have often on our travels, gushed over how beautiful a place is, how incredible the National Parks are, and how they make you feel closer to the ethereal, while at the same time making you feel so tiny and insignificant. While I stand by all I have previously written, no place captured my soul more than this magnificent forest. Firstly, it was green. Not just any old green, but the bright ‘heavens pouring golden light between the thunderclouds after a storm’ kind of green. The foliage looks iridescent and you can smell the earth and the dew and the trees. It was lush and moss covered, and had the most beautiful delicate ferns covering the forest floor. Although forests can often make you feel closed in, the epic height of the trees raised the canopy to an extent that, although surrounded entirely by glorious vegetation, you don’t have that feeling of restriction and limited view. I have always loved Knysna forest for similar reasons… this forest is Knysna on steroids! If I could bring anything back from the States with me, it would be a little corner of the Redwood National Park. It was without a doubt, one of my favourite places of this trip, in fact, any trip.


Thinking with hindsight why this National Park was so much more enjoyable than all the others, I would say a large part is due to it being significantly less touristy. It is common knowledge that the tallest tree in the world is in the park, but it is not listed – about the smartest thing the Americans could have done. There is no ‘have to see’ spot. No tarred paths through the trees. No throngs of tourists. There is just incredible forest… and quiet. Plenty of it – when the children weren’t squealing with delight while throwing themselves and their bikes down the nearest forest path that is!

In the time between San Francisco and the Redwoods, we spent 2 days enduring Napa Valley. It is torment sitting in a place almost like the wine lands of home, but not quite as beautiful, and yet about 4 times as expensive! I’m not sure what we were expecting, but this didn’t blow our socks off. It could have been the budget wine tasting, or the winter fields, but I think it had more to do with our being spoilt in Cape Town – with what we have right on our door step. We Capetonians live with our bums in the butter (and our noses in the vineyard). Napa has world-class restaurants and boutique shops but unless you go there with a rather large and lavish cheque book, I’m not sure it’s worth it.

We did a whole lot of bad planning on our way up to the Redwoods, and for the first time on our trip… we ran out of petrol. (Truthfully, it was very nearly our second. In Mexico we almost ran out in the middle of nowhere, so we were thankful it was the US and not there!) We were saved by lovely country folk more than happy to cart us around to the nearest gas station, and what could have been a disaster turned out to be a lovely morning in the country, shooting the breeze with locals and hearing their stories.


I have often wondered how boundaries between States were decided on, but after now driving through 23 of them, you can often notice a sudden change in scenery or vegetation. Frequently an accent change goes hand in hand with it. There is no doubt that people are different too. Although we enjoyed California, we found ourselves relieved to be through it. The American belief that they have everything bigger and better, has its headquarters in California. We found people to be a whole lot less friendly, with their heads wedged more firmly up their own backsides. No disrespect (we have some very good friends who are from California). It is a beautiful State, no doubt, but there definitely seems to be a vibe that they are somehow better than everyone else. Of course this could just be their dislike of us Africans sauntering about insulting their drought, while simultaneously lapping up their good weather. While I would dare say that the mid-upper West Coast has been my favourite area in the States thus far, not having at least one hefty hound, and being a straight married couple with 2 children, did not count in our favour.

Obviously, California was not all bad (I hope that’s not the impression I’ve given). We spent just over a month in the State and it certainly has a bit of everything going for it. Redwood National Park, you most certainly stole my heart though. After a hike (bike in the kids case) through the forest, I wished we had hurried through the first part and spent a bit more time here. The kids l.o.v.e.d it! The paths through the forest are perfect for mountainbiking, and Shaun and I found ourselves wishing yet again, that we had bikes with us. Had we known this winter would be so mild and devoid of snow, we would have without a doubt made a plan to cart our bikes around with us too – we have missed them! We can’t believe it’s the end of Jan and we have yet to see snow falling. We have stood in it, played in it, lay in it, skied in it, but still never seen it fall, not more than a few flakes anyway.

A very busy month it has been, and it is clearly taking its toll, a very dear friend said to me the other day that she has never seen me looking so tired. That is saying a lot when I have had 2 children a year apart! So next on the travel agenda is ‘Get more sleep’! So with that, I bid you all farewell, so I can try and sneak in a few hours before tomorrow’s adventure. XOXO

Standing in front of a Giant Redwood in Sequoia National Park

General Sherman… Sir!

By | Hikes, Our Travels, Parks | No Comments

I’ve always found the thought of saluting someone rather peculiar. It is not something I have ever done, nor something I intended doing. As both my father and Shaun can attest, men pulling rank just doesn’t sit well with me (although to be fair I don’t think Shaun would try). Then I stood before the General. So majestic, so stately, that I almost couldn’t help myself! My meager 31 years did nothing against his near 3 000, I practically felt a curtsy coming on.
Standing in a forest full of trees this size can really put your life in perspective. There is no doubt you see things differently, maybe not forever, but certainly while you are standing there. The world seems different, enchanted and full of magic. I almost expected to see fairies nestling amongst the fallen branches and frogs singing “We All Stand Together” in chorus. It’s like stepping into a different world, one in which we are so tiny and insignificant, nature shows you how resplendent and grandiose it can be when it feels like it.
The whole of Sequoia National Park, from the incredible Giant Forest and Moro Rock, to the heartbreakingly large tree stumps that could make you cry just imagining someone benumbed enough to cut them down, scream with magnificence.


Yosemite National Park is no exception. Although lacking the girth and height of Sequoia’s trees, it most certainly leaves you floored with its astonishing natural display. We were lucky enough to hike on both days we were there, we seem to be dragging warm African temperatures around with us, and this meant that the normally snow covered National Parks were little more than mildly icy with sporadic patches of dirty white snow. Screaming in unison with the National Parks, were Lincoln and Lola, although less with magnificence and more with delight. So happy were they to be allowed back on their bikes after 3 weeks in the snow, that anyone within a 2 km radius would have known the kids were on their bikes, and thrilled about it! We naughtily disobeyed ranger rules in favour of our sanity and let the children maraud down the almost empty tar track to one of the waterfalls, where we then took them bouldering up the riverbed to the waterfalls. Shaun loves to climb; I prefer to hop around anything I have to climb. Shaun loves to teach the children to climb; I prefer to rock myself quietly in a corner while he does it. My feet sweat, my heart thumps, and every time one of them stands up straight I yell at them to sit down. It is just better if I follow at a distance, and yes, let Shaun be a Dad. I feel like mothers are not welcome when their paranoia and needless hovering is more likely to get their children hurt than simply not being there. So this allowed me the opportunity to hang back and take some pics, the far less painful option.

The following day’s hike was up a somewhat steeper mountain. Great day, great mountain, not so great Lincoln. He decided this was the day to be grumpy and refuse to walk (ok, he’s only 3 I know, but really, of all days?!) so into the backpack he went. Roughly 6km’s, largely made up of tar path and stairs, alerts you to how America does things differently. If that trail were in South Africa, it would undoubtedly be dirt trail with markers pointing the way. Being in such incredible natural surroundings, yet having to walk on such a man made trail really detracts from the hike. It feels like it would be more authentic if you had to rough if up a little, rather than be constantly reminded of how many people had been there before you. It did lead up to an astonishingly high waterfall and no help would have made this one tough baby to climb, but a bit of natural trail wouldn’t have hurt either. There was Lincoln’s blood (he’s always falling) our sweat and Lola’s tears (she tried to climb the railing and someone other than us grabbed her – she doesn’t take kindly to strangers touching her). It was a great hike but man were we exhausted parents when we got to the bottom.

It was sad we didn’t have time to hike through the Giant Forest too and spend days lost in it’s size and fairy-tale ecosphere, but with time marching swiftly along we had to drag ourselves down possibly the twistiest road known to man, and into the dustbowl know as California.


The California dustbowl Jan 2014


Saying California is in the middle of a drought would be the understatement of the year. We were gob smacked! I had it in my head that it would be green, lush, full of farms and chirping birds, land of milk and honey if you will. Granted it is the middle of winter, but ‘milk and honey’ notions aside, nothing could have prepared us for the barren land that awaited us. There were warnings on TV about the unhealthy air conditions, and as we descended into middle California we understood why.

Hundreds of kilometers of dry, desolate farms, windswept land you can see hadn’t been farmed or used for anything other than walking cattle across in years. Cattle ranches disturbing enough to make me consider becoming a vegetarian – almost, and then plane old nothing – just hills of dust. It was more than a relief to crest the rise that eventually gave way to dry vineyards, and finally the Californian coastline. Shaun and I had bets on as to who would see the sea first, it felt like we had been away from it for months, not weeks, and as we climbed out the car Lola smiled and said; “It smells like home”. It sure did. Man did that bring a tear to my eye. 12 500 km’s later and we were being rewarded with a beautiful reminder of home. It really was special – thank you California. xxx


Our trip to date. October 2013 – January 2014