After a whirlwind week back in Blighty, we found ourselves back at Gatwick for a flight to Los Angeles. From LA we would be heading south into Mexico and beyond into Latin America, speaking only Spanish once we crossed the border into Mexico.
There was an exciting but daunting six months ahead of us. No more English, no more flying and two continents laid out ahead of us. Before that though, a straight forward couple of days in the US to ease us back in. Or so we thought!
At check in, we were informed that to enter the US, we would need proof of our booking to leave the states. We explained our intention to head into Mexico overland and were told to book a bus to show that was what we were doing. Not a problem, I booked a bus from LA to Tijuana on my phone standing at the check in desk for about £15 each. Crisis averted.
Later, we arrived at the gate to be told that the regulations actually required us to be leaving the USA, Canada, Mexico, Caribbean area all together, due to visa agreements between these countries. Without this, we would not be able to board the flight. I could find no mention of this anywhere on line, but the gate staff were insistent that these were the regulations.
Time was running out before the flight left, so we ended up buying fully refundable flights home at the end of November, just to clear immigration. We hadn’t even left home and it felt like we were a grand over budget!
The route into LA offered some great views of the varied landscape the States had to offer, as well as an aerial view of Las Vegas and our first glimpse of the Hollywood sign ahead of landing at LAX.
We cleared immigration with zero fuss and weren’t even asked about our flights out of the US!
We took an Uber from LAX to our hotel in Korea town. I gazed out the window excitedly, doing my best to soak it all in through my jet lagged haze. We had crossed 15 time zones in a week and it was starting to take its toll. Dinner plans were scrapped and we went straight to bed. We were asleep the moment our heads hit the pillow.
Refreshed, I searched online for a typical koreatown breakfast and found a place specialising in Gamjatang, a hearty Korean pork neck soup. I ordered the house specialty, whilst Kim ordered a Bibimbap, a dish of rice and assorted vegetable dishes. Both portions were ridiculously large, there was almost no chance of us finishing them. And then the side dishes came! A total of 8 seperate side dishes were brought to the table, an assortment of pickles, kimchi, vegetables and sauces were added to the already groaning table. Faced with this mountain of food, we were glad we had skipped dinner the night before!
Luckily, when faced with such a mountain of food, it was all delicious. Given the hearty nature of the soup/stew, it was also surprisingly light once combined with the pickles. Extracting mouthfuls of slow cooked pork from the bones was quite an intricate process with chop sticks, but the payoff was worth it, particularly when the pork was dipped in the mustardy dipping sauce.
The couple running the restaurant were very friendly and showed Kim how to mix her bibimbap and season the accompanying soup at the table. It took quite a considerable effort on our part to keep the side dishes down to 8, we were offered plenty more!
Kim got nowhere near finishing her Bibimbap, but I got much closer to finishing my Gamjatang than I thought I might. Either way, there was a lot of food left when we were done. It was in no way a reflection on how much we had enjoyed it.
After breakfast, we took the metro over to Hollywood. I hadn’t expected to like it much and that was exactly how it panned out. Imagine oxford street in 30 degrees and you would be somewhere close. We saw the walk of fame and got a good view of the infamous sign, but it didn’t seem like we were going to get much more out of the experience. We walked along Hollywood Boulevard and back along Sunset Boulevard, then quickly moved on. We were glad we had seen it, but it wasn’t really our vibe.
That evening, we had tickets to see the LA Lakers versus the Toronto Raptors at the staples centre. We spent the rest of he afternoon in a bar nearby soaking up the pre-game atmosphere, sampling some local brews and watching some of the World Series on the TV. LA dodgers were playing the Houston Astros, so there was plenty of local interest. We were getting quite into the baseball, but had to leave to go and watch the basketball.
After a frenetic start, the basketball soon settled into a rhythm with the Lakers steaming to what looked like an assured home victory. At one point in the second quarter, they had built themselves a 17 point lead. At that point, even the most ardent Raptors fans would have struggled to predict the comfortable away win of 92-101 by the final buzzer. All in all, not a great day for LA sports teams, as the Dodgers also lost their World Series game to go 2-1 down in the best of 7 series.
Having spent all afternoon on 6-7% IPAs, I was feeling slightly worse for wear the next morning. It was time to call on an Angelinos hangover staple, the breakfast burrito. Luckily, despite being in Koreatown, around half the population is Hispanic, so there was no shortage of breakfast burrito options. I had been eyeing up a taco place since the first morning, so this seemed like a perfect opportunity to visit. It seemed like I had chosen well, when a regular started waxing lyrical about how good it would be when the server handed me my order. And it really was good; chorizo, eggs, potato, onions and cheese inside a flaky flour tortilla, served with two perfect salsas. With something that hearty I could feel my hangover going already!
After breakfast, we took the metro out to Santa Monica, for a day on the coast. The train took forever to get out of the city centre, but there was plenty of people watching to be done in the meantime. With both Comicon and a festival on locally there were plenty of costumes to be admired and aside from a headache that was probably my hangover rearing it’s head, it was a pretty enjoyable journey.
When we arrived in Santa Monica, it became apparent that our people watching had barely even begun. On Santa Monica pier, we struggled to take it all in. There was a woman dancing like nobody was watching in her bikini to a busker playing an acoustic set that really didn’t warrant dancing. We would see her again later doing the exact same thing with another busker (she still hadn’t found anyone to join her). She also hadn’t found any clothes to put on… everyone else was fully dressed. Another woman was dressed as an astronaut and posing for photos with tourists, whilst a surprisingly large number of stalls offered to paint your name on a grain of rice. Who doesn’t need that in their life?!
After a pleasant stroll along the pier, taking in views of the Pacific Ocean and planning further adventures (well, it is the end of Route 66), we began walking towards Venice Beach. As we did, we were passed by a guy on an electric scooter wearing a cape. This should have been a warning for what was to come…
Were I to document all the weirdness that we witnessed in Venice Beach, this blog would grow so large that it would crash the internet. What follows is a little taste of the madness:
• A sign that simply read “F**K NORTH KOREA”
• A guy skateboarding whilst holding his (rather large) dog like a baby
• A stall singing the virtues of Hemp
• Multiple medical marijuana shops
• A guy in a turban on roller skates playing an electric guitar
However, the piece de resistance was a guy dressed as a ninja, with a sword hanging off his rucksack who stormed into the muscle beach gym area on a bright orange bike, bowed to another guy then proceeded to do handstands off the top of one of the machines still with his sword hanging off his back.
When all of that is added to the bizarre mix of expensive beach side housing, a huge homeless community and an equally huge (and largely overlapping) artistic community, it made for an unforgettable day out.