The self-appointed ‘best city in America’ has been kind to me, and I bid it farewell with a tinge of sadness. Further up the coast Dana Point awaits me, so leave I must.
As I take my first trip on the transportation that will form the backbone of my travels, Amtrak, I drink in my last glimpses of San Diego county and imagine the amount of water between here and the next closest neighbough to the West, China.
The sun peeps out from behind the clouds as if to tempt me to remain, and I take time to reflect on my five days in San Diego.
On arrival my brain was close to switching off completely and I was craving sleep. Simple tasks, like unpacking my toothbrush, took an age and felt unbearably difficult. 14 hours of dreamless face-down unconsciousness helped.
It was when I woke that I realised just how brown my hotel was. Every single thing in my room was a different shade of brown, the hallway is decorated in brown, the lobby is various shades of brown and to really take the brown biscuit, the entire outside of the hotel is painted brown. There’s also a pervasive smell throughout the entire place, that kind of damp smell washing left too long in the machine gets.
Despite these obvious downsides it’s my retreat, a place to hide from the world when those rushing waves of realisation wash over me: I’m here.
San Diego has a population of around 2 million. The sprawling city encompasses many districts with very different and distinct identities. Brown hotel is in the Gaslamp quarter. Named for its previous use of gas lamps (there are none remaining today, disappointingly), the area holds many hotels and restaurants. It seems that everyone in this area owns a tiny dog and runs vigorously for 23 hours per day (they’re stopping for their dogs to poop for the remaining hour). It’s an immaculately clean area – which defies the number of tourists and dogs.
Seaport Village is, as the name suggests, on the harbour. A 15 minute walk from Gaslamp, it has some cute shops and a nice small park right on the edge of the water. The cool breeze from the water and the large trees shading the grass make this the perfect place to doze in the sun and recoupperate from the stresses and strains of travel and dragging a bag the weight of a small car. There are a number of people set up with umbrellas and hand-drawn signs offering fortune telling. It crosses my mind that maybe day 1 of my trip is a good time to indulge in this make-believe, but the shady grass of the park is just too alluring.
Downtown unexpectedly received me as a visitor when my bank decided to stop my card for ‘suspicious behaviour’. An irritation that took a chunk out of my day which I could have spent doing something important, such as further recupperation in the shade.
The Old Town is mainly reconstructed buildings from the Victorian era when the town was beginning to take shape. The buildings are set out closely to the original layout around a central green. The respite from cars is welcome, but I didn’t find much to occupy me for more than an hour or so.
It was a slight wrench to leave my ‘retreat’, despite the colour and the slight smell, I’ve grown accustomed to it. Next stop: my first couch.
There’s always a slight nervous anticipation about meeting a couchsurfing host. I’m sure I’ll be safe, but will we get on? That’s the big unknown.
I have nothing to worry about, Melissa and Chapy are a lovely couple who welcome me warmly into their home in Pacific Beach. Pacific Beach fits with my pre-conceived stereotype of California, where people surf, bike, paddleboard, sail, skateboard and the like during the day, party at night, and manage to cram in a little soul cleansing at the local yoga or meditation center somewhere in-between. Bars and eateries are aplenty and the only worry in life is where to catch the best wave and which bar has the best happy hour. OK maybe I got a little carried away with the stereotype.
Chapy and Melissa live on a peninsula which juts out into Mission Bay. This means they can walk in two opposite directions from their apartment and both will lead them to golden sands and the sheltered bay which is a playground for locals and visitors alike.
I envy the beach-side lifestyle and drink it in while I can. The sun is hiding behind clouds on the days I’m with my hosts, but it doesn’t stop us taking to the water in their new inflatable boat. We notice as we hop out of the boat that the water is peppered with jellyfish and we make a dash for the safety of the shore. After all, I don’t want to have to ask my hosts to pee on me.
My five days in San Diego were wonderful, but it’s time to pack the heaviest bag in the world and head Northwards to see what Dana Point and then LA have in store for me.