Los Angeles, CA
Tony and I finally left the Bay Area on Wednesday morning, after we stopped to say good-bye to our sweetheart Rona at the Chronicle, and to all the sweethearts at the Travelers' Tales office. We were on the road by 11 a.m. and Tony was asleep in the car by 11:15. Sleep is still one of our biggest problems -- but both of us keep saying, "We will sleep in July." Right now we're just having too much fun.
The Monterey Aquarium PR department listened to me tell our story for about 15 seconds and said, "Please come in, and wear these VIP passes."
The aquarium is an amazing place, and Tony was impressed, as I always am, by the sea otters, the orange jellyfish, the towering forest of kelp, and the sharks, barracuda, and the rest of that horde of fish swimming around in the one huge tank. It was late in the day as we left Carmel, and we thought we'd look for a place to stay or camp down the coast, but when we came to the entrance to the Highland Inn, where my wife Rhonda has been on business occasions and has raved about, the taxicab made a sudden left turn up the hill, I went in with Tony's and my newspaper clippings, and the night manager was quite agreeable to giving us a big old suite for $155 (I've been hemorrhaging money, but it'll all sort itself out somewhere down the road -- fortunately I have a lot of experience, thought no expertise, with debt management). When Tony and I are telling this story years from now, we will have long forgotten the $155, but we will probably never forget the view of the ocean and the sound of the surf. We slept with the door to our patio open, and in the morning Tony asked me, "Did you hear the seals last night? Urrp! Urrp! Urrp!" I had not. Ear plugs.
We were driving down the Big Sur coast by 7 a.m. We stopped to gawk at Nepenthe Restaurant, high on a bluff some 500 (?) feet over the ocean, and then took a walk at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, up a gushing stream that bounced from pool to pool through a second-growth redwood stand. I notice that Tony is most at home in the forest -- the ocean doesn't impress him quite the way I thought it would. But whenever we get to a woods (and we've had three or four nice hikes together now) he goes into almost a trance. He loves the redwoods, and he is nimble. I don't consider myself a clumsy walker, but I am inept next to him. At Harbin, wearing my hiking boots, I was sliding occasionally on the steep slopes and loose rocks -- in his flip-flops Tony never missed a step, never slid an inch. In the redwood canyon he was a little wood nymph, jumping from stone to stone and over fallen logs.
We visited Hearst Castle, and stopped to have the taxi's air conditioner fixed in San Luis Obispo. I lay down and napped in the shade of a tree in a city park, using my daypack as a pillow, my cap pulled low over my eyes, and as I drifted off it seemed like 30 years had gone by in an instant. In the early 70s I used to nap at midday in city parks in the heat of the day while hitchhiking around the country.
The BBC called my cell phone in mid afternoon, and at Simi Valley we pulled over to the side of the road and did a radio interview for the show "The World Today." Afterwards, driving toward LA, we thought of all the things we should have said that we didn't. "Next time, I do better," Tony said. But he's doing just perfectly.
We arrived at Tony's cousin's house in Culver City around 8. Small place, bursting with people from Banaue and with love. This Filipino hospitality thing is great. I swear I've never been so comfortable. I feel like the stranger, the traveler in the foreign country here in LA. Tony knows everyone. The language is Tagalog (unless they lapse into Ifugao or Ilocano). We regaled them with stories (or rather Tony did, in Tagalog, but the phrases let me know what he's talking about: "Pilot airplane, Harbin Hot Springs, naked, BBC, San Francisco Chronicle, Christian Science Monitor, Filipino Ambassador in Washington DC....") The talk is so much of extended family, and how in America things are different. They say that here they know their neighbors mostly on a wave-hey-how-are-ya basis, whereas in the Philippines they know everything about everyone -- all of which has its pluses and minuses, of course.
I turned in around 1 a.m., awoke at 6:30. Tony was up until five yacking with his cousin Leo, and this morning he's dragging a bit, of course. We came over to the house of another cousin of Tony's from Banaue this morning and he has a computer and I said, "Ah, please..." and he said, "Well, of course...."
I can tell how much of an impact this trip is making on Tony, and on me, too. His relatives are positively astounded that he is here. It is virtually impossible to get a visa to America (they've all somehow accomplished it), but they all tell me that for a person like Tony, who they describe openly as one of the poorest people in Banaue ("from the very lowest people" I was told), it is simply undoable. They love our story. I will never ever ever regret a second or a cent of this. Before I start crying, I think I'll go back out and join the party.
This afternoon, Las Vegas. And maybe some sleep somewhere tonight.