The final destination on our road trip is the Grand Canyon. We arrive a few hours before sunset. We walk up to the southern rim and there it is, for real, no longer just an image on a screen or in a film. It is quite surreal, and incredibly immense. I walk for ages around the edge and only seem to get tiny fraction of the way around. Stopping to take photos on the way, along with many Asian tourists and their ‘selfie sticks’, I chat to an elderly couple from Canada who are seeing the Canyon for the first time. At one of the viewpoints I realise how hard it is to judge scale from up here. There are trees below which look like tiny specks from here. To my left a little way down I see a figure in a blue hoody sitting on the edge of the rock. That looks more like the viewpoint I would like, rather than stood here at the railing surrounded by so many tourists. Later on, further round I see the blue hoody wearer and we strike up a conversation. His name is Coleman. He has driven here all the way from Southern Carolina and is headed for LA where he is relocating, after 2 years in New York and 3 in Israel. It really is fascinating to hear other people’s travel tales. I find it really inspiring. His next trip will be East Africa. I would love to visit Africa one day too, but think India and New Zealand will be first.
I watch the colours of the canyon get even warmer, the red earth glowing in the sunset light. I am content as I walk alone, as I lost Emma and Sohel earlier on, and I am enjoying the experience of being at such a natural wonder. The crowds thin out as it gets dark. I head back to the car to wait for them. They are not there so I leave a note on the windscreen, having left my phone in the car. I walk around and come back to the car but they are not yet returned. I see a van opposite with the side door open and five women milling about chatting together and beginning to cook. After listening to them converse for a few minutes I decide to approach them as they seem like kindred hippy spirits. They welcome me into the van straight away to keep warm and I offer to help. Within minutes I am chopping garlic on a chopping board across my knee and drinking wine from the bottle. I even sing along with They are all headed for Mexico. It is lovely to see women travelling together like this. I even learn a new rainbow song, singing along with one of the women as she plays her ukulele. Another woman, Victoria, has her camera set up on a tripod taking long exposures of the ever-so-starry sky. I have intended to do this for years and we both discuss excitedly images we have seen of star trails and I tell her of pinhole photographer Dominique Stroobant who made insanely long exposures of 6 months, from winter to summer solstice. Emma and Sohel return and we are all invited to eat dinner – aubergine fritters and pasta tomato sauce – which is worth waiting for.
Checking in at Blue Angel lodge, which has a real fire in the reception hall, I am surprised to find that the manager is from Liverpool. Huyton to be precise. How random. It is bizarre hearing her Americanised accent which sounds increasingly more scattered with scouse the more I talk with her.
We wake to discover a thick fog has descended. We walk back to the Canyon and it is full of fog. Apparently this is quite a rare occurrence, only happening once or twice a year. There are tourists who arrived today who are disappointed as they cannot see the canyon, so we are definitely lucky to see both. Later on the fog clears and we hike down one of the two trails a short way into the canyon, passing an elderly couple of hikers who are on their way back up. It is great to see people still so active at their age. I can only hope I have a fraction of their energy when I am that age. Despite walking a total of three hours, we are only a short way down, as the path has to zig zag because the drop is so steep. It feels very special to be walking here. In the warmer season people are advised to be very cautious while hiking down here, as the lower one goes, the hotter it gets, and many people suffer heat exhaustion each year. Today the weather is cool though, which we are glad of when we are hiking back up. The sun is going down as we ascend, and by the time we reach the top it is quire dark. We are most certainly the last people in the Grand Canyon today.
The next morning, after I eat a small mountain of multigrain blueberry pancakes and syrup, we leave the Grand Canyon to return to California. Sohel suggests we stop in LA for the night to visit his Aunt and Grandma, to eat with them and stay the night before heading onto Santa Cruz for Emma’s painting gig the next day. It is windy when we leave and gets increasingly more stormy and wet as we progress. I see tumbleweeds blowing across the road for the first time ever. I can only recall seeing them in cartoons or in films before. There is one which rolls across a gas station we stop at which is almost the height of the car!
At a rest stop off the freeway I notice a handwritten notice and stop to read it. It is from an old guy in his seventies who is parked up in his chevy which he has been living out of for almost a year. It is a plea for help, coming up to Christmas time, he is alone and has no family and states that he would be grateful of any help offered. I see his vehicle and there is a truck driver talking to him through the window. I retrn to the car and tell emma and she immediately says she’ll give him one of her pictures which is of a heart. We go over and chat to him a while. He is friendly, if a little sad. I wonder what has happened in his life for him to end up here. He tells us how kind we are and says we are very welcome in America. He suggests we go and visit London Bridge from the next turn off. Crazy as this sounds at first, it starts to make sense as he tells us the story of how it was dismantled and shipped here and rebuilt over the Colorado river. This sounds vaguely familiar, and, sure enough, we pass a sign for London Bridge at the next exit, though we continue straight as we are hoping to get to LA for dinnertime.
We approach LA at rush hour. I am thankful to not be at the wheel. It is almost as insane as driving into Vegas. There is one lane on the far left of the freeway reserved for car pools only, meaning that only cars containing one or more passengers may drive in it. We are glad to be able to make use of this, with no cars cutting in and out, but are sad to see how many lonely drivers there are in near-empty cars.
Sohel’s Aunt, who is Persian, living in Germany and visiting her mother, Sohel’s Grandma, in LA greets us as we pull up in front of the apartment building, which is occupied only by Persians. We are made to feel so very welcome and offered tea and persian biscuits. The dinner is delicious and even adjusted to suit our non-carnivorous preferences. We are spoilt rotten, and even offered the tiny apartment to sleep in while the Aunt and Grandma go to sleep nearby at a cousin’s place. Such incredible hospitality. One of the joys of travelling is the unexpected people you meet and the situations you find yourself in which one just cannot plan for. The random and wonderful experiences which I have been blessed with through travelling are some of my fondest memories. I also believe that such experiences can also occur in our familiar daily routine, in our local surroundings, so long as we remain open. Speaking to people instead of remaining closed off; taking a different route to work instead of doing the same old journey; listening to that impulse or gut feeling about something and following it. It is amazing to be able to come to visit such natural wonders and meet people from all over, but we must remember we can find special moments and people right were we are too, so long as we open up to it.