I’ve just arrived home from a superb two week spontaneous road trip covering an approximate distance of 6,578 kilometres, or 4,087 miles. Our adventure, which began in Kelowna (British Columbia), was a one way down to California (USA) through Washington and Oregon State, and then back up through Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, back into Washington State and then home to Kelowna. There were 3 of us; my son Daniel the rally driver, my granddaughter Samantha the curious traveller, and myself the old fashion navigator. (Where’s the paper maps and my reading glasses?). All this nonsense of GPS, WiFi and such small screens to manoeuvre around in stressful traffic situations at high speed, too daunting for Grannie Frannie whose brain runs more on African time!!!
It’s a whirl-wind trip, and the reason for this adventure, it’s spring break for my granddaughter Samantha, Daniel my son has 2 weeks holiday, I’m always game for a change of scenery. The one thing in common, we’re all looking for some sunshine and warmth. We’re still in the throes of winter here in BC, and down at the coast where I live it’s also the rainy season. So yea, if there is a car door open with a spare seat and it’s heading to sunnier and warmer climes, I’m happy to jump in.
We set off without any expectations, apart from warming up and enjoying some beach time. Being a spur of the moment adventure, no real plans are made, generally resulting in the best kind of adventure. It has been quite a few years since I have done a road trip down through the states, so my head space is open and ready for a new dawn.
Talk about a touch-down, take-off expedition, staying in places for either one, two or three nights maximum, thanks Motel 6 for accommodating us. So I find that trips like this open small port-holes allowing just a peak into different cultures; cultures being my primary interest, this is where my focus falls. What I have come away with are 3 motives that have influenced my first impressions of American life. I generalise of course, but this is what I’m left with.
Let’s start with what really charmed me, and that is the friendliness and helpfulness of most people I had contact with or observed. I am left with this feeling that in general Americans are extroverts. They seem to have no problem striking up conversations with anyone no matter where you are, in an elevator, a line-up, a bus. They seem very relaxed and comfortable talking to whoever is standing or sitting next to them. This was fun as I’m more of the shy type, but I’m happy to talk to strangers. So having someone break that ice is a pleasure. This allowed me to learn something of them, but I was also aware of feeling welcomed with a sense that there were genuinely interested in me, and appreciated me. A number of people were curious enough to ask me where I originally come from, my accent being a give away, which led them to ask more questions about my life in Africa. This is not a common occurrence that I encounter. I found this very refreshing as from my experience, once people know where I’m from, they tend to move the conversation to more comfortable ground for themselves shutting that door down.
It was a joy as well to see some of the much younger generation, who also had this openness to talk to anyone, but also having a sense of politeness. There seemed to be an awareness of helping, such as voluntarily taking a role to stand against the elevator door each time it stopped to keep it open allowing folk time enough to get in and out with or without baggage; in my world this awareness is generally unusual.
There is also a willingness and friendliness to go over and above to help you if you are lost. I took the bus while in Las Vegas as I wanted to find a second hand book shop, I had finished my book, and God forbid, I can’t live without a book! Well, I got pretty lost on this journey, so decided to walk into a busy garage and ask for help. The gentleman there had no idea where this bookshop is, so he went on his own expedition to find it. I ended up leaving there with google maps, a bus schedule, a sense of where I was, and where I had to get to, not to mention gratitude that someone who was busy took time out to help a loss soul. Yes I eventually found the book shop, thanks again to a very helpful bus driver, and where I also found an equally friendly, welcoming and helpful shop assistant. That was a fun adventure around Vegas in my search for my book. I got to see and experience a slightly broader picture of Vegas life and her people.
I would have to say that Utah, in particular the area we visited and stayed in Salt Lake City is where I really noticed a deeper energy of calm, respect and warm welcomes. I have no idea if any of this goes hand in hand with the Latter Day Saints influence on a community. I have no idea how large or how small that religious community is. I have no idea if there is any link between the two. I just know I was aware of this more peaceful energy, maybe that’s a better word to describe what I felt.
Why I connect it to the Latter Day Saints is because we had a very welcoming and warm reception from some of the sisters there that took us around their temple. I just made an assumption that somehow that energy has spilt out into the community.
As my title implies, “first impressions, the good, and the not so good”; I guess I will start with what shocked me most, and that was the homelessness. This is evident in whichever city we passed through, apart from down-town Salt Lake City. I didn’t see any homelessness or degradation in the area we visited. This doesn’t really say anything except I wasn’t aware of any homelessness.
Coming from Vancouver and her surrounding areas which are known for their homelessness crisis, one difference I noticed, there is a lot of very sick mentally ill people roaming the streets in these US cities. I understand that in the American tradition, the culture is for Americans to be free to make their own choices, and I respect that. I too came from that same tradition where individuals have that freedom to make their own decisions and choices.
Canada of course is not of that mindset, it is based more on a social structure where medical situations are generally taken care of. It’s not a perfect situation, but it does work to a degree. So because of this, mentally ill people are basically under the wings of the province and will be given some form of help. So that side of homelessness is not so evident on our streets.
My home Uganda is not a socialist country, therefore you’re on your own. This does result in homelessness and mental health crisis, but the difference being, family take care of family where there is family to help. So this helps to balance these stressful situations somewhat.
So yes, for me this is my biggest shock. Following on that, I was totally taken by surprise as to how expensive it is for a tourist to afford a holiday in this part of the US. California in particular is very expensive for accommodation, gas and to eat out in restaurants. Even the fast food is on par with British Columbia. The other states we passed through are not that much different either. I did a little grocery shopping in supermarkets and drug stores and the prices again I found on par to what we spend here in BC.
This is an eye opener as traditionally the US has been much cheaper than Canada. The trend for as far back as I’ve been in Canada has been for Canadians to drive across the border into the States and do their shopping and buy gas. I wonder if this trend still exists? It doesn’t help Canadians that our dollar is that much weaker than the American dollar, resulting in a very expensive holiday.
I wonder when this shift came to be, is it part of the 2008 financial crisis that happened? Or is it something to do with purchasing products made only in the US? I am confused over this, and I am assuming that the large homelessness crisis plays a role in this too.
Lets finish all this with the landscape and how beautiful I found it. I was amazed at how mountainous this part of America is, and how stunningly hypnotic her mountains are with their majestic and striking rock formations.
We had a very brief touch-down, take-off visit at the Grand Canyon, but even that left us with a sense of awe. With the magnitude and depth of the landscape, and the range of colours in the rocks, it was absolutely breathtaking and mind blowing at how it has come to be.
At the start of the journey, after crossing into the northern central part of Washington State, the countryside is very similar to BC’s Okanagan. It’s semi-desert, and rich with orchard farms. There is a gradual change to a richer vegetation as you travel south west passing through the beautiful Wentachee/Yakima valley area with her rolling hills and farmland.
It was interesting to see the large amounts of olive trees growing in California. I had no idea that it was such a large scale industry. California is famous for growing grapes and its wine production; we know this as we drink her wine in Canada. It’s also known for growing vegetables, which we also eat in Canada; I had no idea about the olives though!
Nevada/Arizona/Utah feels like the wild, wild west. There is mesmerising mountainous rock formations with stunning colours. I believe at one point we came across either the start or the finish of the Grand Canyon; not sure about this, it just had that feel and look to it.
There are vast stretches of scrub land that seem to be empty and go on for ever. It must be quite the site to pass through while the cacti are in bloom. It’s a harsh looking land though, and I’m sure full of rattle snakes!! We commented a number of times on the hardships encountered in those days long ago of horse and buggy crossing this landscape. It really brought awareness to that.
Utah/Idaho, the countryside gradually changed from barren harsh land to mountainous terrain. It’s a beautiful drive through and over the mountains down into Boise,Idaho passing through small quaint communities and villages. I wondered how far the nearest town or city is for people in these communities to travel too, as we passed through no major towns or cities on route.
Once back into Washington State and heading further north east than previously taken, the landscape was now rolling hills which rolled on for ever. These hills were either being ploughed or had been ploughed ready for farming. This must be an awesome site to see in full growth.
It’s obvious that some of these states have invested heavily in alternative energy sources. I would say we saw hundreds and hundreds of windmills, and some very large solar farms. This was of particular interest to Samantha as she has recently done a science project on alternative energies. So to actually see what this can look like was fascinating to her, as well as educational to us with her new knowledge to share.
Two weeks is not nearly enough time to get a clearer sense of an area, no matter such a large track of land. We’re warned about making assumptions, and I try to heed that advice. On the other hand, first impressions are a reality, and I have to say that I came away with a pocketful of emotions. A sense of wonder, fascination, respect, appreciation, gratitude, surprise and shock. It was an awesome trip with all “the good, and the not so good”. I’m excited for the next expedition to the States; Utah, Idaho is on the agenda where we will explore her majestic landscape.
Excuse my attempts at photography!! I’ts just my little Samsung phone snapping away in a moving car! Hope it gives you an idea though of what I’m trying to portray.
Oh, by the way, we never found any warmer weather. California was dealing with an unusual sky-river flowing over her and drenching everything. Nevada was cooler than normal; so we never brought out the tent and camping gear that we lugged around in hopes of camping on the beaches of California.
So until next time; I would love to hear any thoughts you may have. It would be interesting to hear if anyone has anything to share in relation to the rise in the cost of living in the States, or any other cultural interests you would like to share.
Ciao for now.