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John Wayne Territory

37°0' 15" N 110°10' 25" W Monument Valley

Nov 24, 2014  –  by Maeva

We arrived in the Monument Valley area at night time, only perceiving dark shapes in the horizon. We picked the closest campground in Gouldings in order to catch Monument Valley at sunrise. Waking up at 6 was really hard. As we drove out of Gouldings, Steph suddenly screamed and pulled at the side of the road by a trailer that read “Breakfast Burritos”. Of course! Honestly, it was probably the BEST breakfast of the trip: a HUGE burrito of thick tortilla filled with a potato omelet, two eggs and bacon. Plus spicy sauce for the crazy ones (=Steph.)

Steph and crazy huge burrito
Steph and crazy huge burrito
Maeva and huge breakfast burrito
Maeva and huge breakfast burrito

We then arrived at the visitor centre of Monument Valley and accepted the fee of $20 to drive through the monuments. After all, we weren’t going to be here everyday! We took the dirt road that loops around the famous rock formations immersing ourselves in the Western feeling of the park. Driving through the orange colours of the desert under a warm sun completely immersed us in the Western environment. But something was missing. As soon as we spotted horses by the side of the road, we knew what it was. If we were going to play our own John Wayne movie, we had to gallop through the valley! We therefore agreed to go on a little horse riding tour with one of the locals. It was so much fun to move through the valley on horses and even though it had been a while since we’d done it, Steph and I picked it up quickly! Plus, he got the white horse named Mustang, it helped a lot. He would gallop in front and yell “Yihaaaa!” Our guide was also very nice, though his thing was to gallop sideways and lose his hat every time – we would find out later why.

Monument Valley
Monument Valley
Horseriding in Monument Valley
Horseriding in Monument Valley
Maeva on horse in Monument Valley
Maeva on horse in Monument Valley
Maeva and Steph horseback riding in Monument Valley
Maeva and Steph horseback riding in Monument Valley
Steph on horse in Monument Valley
Steph on horse in Monument Valley
Monument valley horse ride
Monument valley horse ride

As we got back to the ranch, he and his friend asked if we could give them a ride as we had to go to the visitor centre to the ATM to be able to pay them for the ride. We explained that we only had 2 seats in front as it was a bed behind. But they were done with their day of work as it was veterans day and they were going to have to leave anyway. So they both got in the front next to Steph (picture two big guys on the passenger’s seat) while I sat on the bed at the back. Now this was a pretty insane couple of minutes to the visitor centre, and when we realized both were completely drunk! They would ask: “So where are you from?” and a minute later ask it again. I was at the back and they kept on moving, I was wondering what the hell they were doing. In all honesty I was a little worried! As we stepped out of the car at the visitor centre, Steph told me they were trying to “discreetly” pass each other a huge bottle of beer. Riiiiight. After Steph had to drive to Gouldings and back to an ATM since both of the ones at the Visitor Centre were out of service (wtf?), he payed them while they attempted to negotiate between themselves who would get what percentage. After a good laugh about it, we went back down the dirt road to take some touristy pictures of the three famous monuments before heading out.

Three famous monuments of Monument Valley
Three famous monuments of Monument Valley
Steph and Maeva selfie in Monument Valley
Steph and Maeva selfie in Monument Valley
Maeva channelling Janis Joplin in Monument Valley
Maeva channelling Janis Joplin in Monument Valley

Monument Valley was definitely one of the top stops on our trip, both for the amazing views as for the crazy experience. And to finish it beautifully, as we drove on the scenic road with the skyline of the rock formations at the back, we stopped to longboard down the empty and incredible road. PERFECT!

Steph longboarding on scenic road in Monument Valley
Steph longboarding on scenic road in Monument Valley
Maeva longboarding on scenic road in Monument Valley
Maeva longboarding on scenic road in Monument Valley

Cruise in Santa Cruz

36°58' 27" N 122°1' 51" W Santa Cruz

Oct 21, 2014  –  by Maeva

If you feel like escaping the craziness and the business of the city, a good way to do it is to drive from San Francisco to Santa Cruz. Not so far yet so different. Santa Cruz brought us back to the life of chill and sun that is so unique to California. Our stop in SF did bring some upgrades though: I got blonder, Steph got a brand new backpack (first in like 7 years, so yes it’s a pretty big step.)

Maeva waking up in Santa Cruz
Maeva waking up in Santa Cruz
Steph shows off new backpack
Steph shows off new backpack

We spent the first few days chilling around town, discovering the surfer vibe that makes this spot so famous. A drive along the water through a few residential areas gives a pretty good idea of the Santa Cruz lifestyle: long hair, blonde hair, boards, all kinds of boards, bikes, longboards, pick up vans, wetsuits, nose rings… You get the picture. As Steph was still recovering from his little foot injury, we spent the first two days longboarding and watching the locals catch some waves on two famous spots: Steamer Lane and Pleasure Point. We strolled through the streets and treated ourselves – of course – to some delicious home made ice cream from Penny Icecreamery. Having caught the longboard bug, I completely fell in love with a wooden longboard in a Santa Cruz skate shop and just couldn’t resist. So we spent a couple hours in longboard sessions with Steph teaching me some moves. We’ll be showing you when it’s not too embarrassing.

Surfers and pelicans in Pleasure Point
Surfers and pelicans in Pleasure Point
Maeva and ice cream in Santa cruz
Maeva and ice cream in Santa cruz
Steamer Lane surf spot
Steamer Lane surf spot
Awesome RV Van in Santa Cruz
Awesome RV Van in Santa Cruz

One of the most amazing things about Santa Cruz is that it felt like an open air aquarium. Just stand and watch the surfers for a little bit and you will spot a whale jumping in the background, dolphins chasing each other, sea otters getting cozy with the paddle boarders, seals taking a swim, pelicans flying in a perfect line above the water… The first day we thought we were lucky to see all these animals. The second day we thought we were realllllllly lucky. The third we realized that this was life here: wilderness, hippiness and salt water. Luckily, we never spotted any dangerous looking fin. Although Steph did get startled more than once when shapes and fins emerged out of the water a few meters away from him as he was paddling on his surfboard.

Whale in Santa Cruz
Whale in Santa Cruz
Surfers in Santa cruz
Surfers in Santa cruz
Steph surfing in Santa Cruz
Steph surfing in Santa Cruz
Dolphin in Santa Cruz
Dolphin in Santa Cruz
Surfers and dolphin in Pleasure Point
Surfers and dolphin in Pleasure Point

As we stayed in Santa Cruz for a little while, we picked a cheap and old campground called Bobs Pine Grove Campground – which was great! It was quite empty due to the season, but that didn’t prevent us from meeting fellow travellers. Our campsite neighbour Daniel invited us to share some bacon and tortillas around a few beers with another traveler, a guy from New York just hitchhiking around California. We also met a really interesting man in his 60’s touring the U.S. with his two dogs in quite the setup: an electrical bike, a little shack for the dogs, a tent… And ‘touring the U.S.’ is a bit of an understatement. Because he’s been travelling for 2.5 years and has been in 32 states (!!!) How’s that for a road trip?!

Maeva brushing teeth at Santa Cruz Campground
Maeva brushing teeth at Santa Cruz Campground

A fun activity was also the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, one of California’s oldest amusement parks (founded in 1907!) We picked the thriller rides and did them all in row. The highlight? Definitely the signature ride of the park: the Giant Dipper, a historic wooden roller coaster that has become a landmark for the city. And if you’re used to the super high tech recent roller coasters, the sensations on this very old school structure as well as the noises it makes in the twists and turns are quite something!

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

But let’s talk about surf again. Surf is such a fascinating sport and for so many different reasons. The challenge, the force of nature, the visual appeal, to thrill of catching a wave… We headed for the surf museum to get a glimpse of the surf origins in this iconic spot. It’s a tiny house that walks us through old newspaper articles and photographs of surfers and their evolution over the past years. One of them was a gentleman called Jack O’Neill, founder of the world famous O’Neill brand and inventor of the wetsuit.

Surf museum of Santa Cruz
Surf museum of Santa Cruz

We finished off our stay with a huge ten foot swell on a Sunday. Such an impressive sequence of waves took the stage at Steamer Lane and hundreds of surfers jumped in the water to test them out. Steph was one of them, while I stayed on the safer side, camera in hand. It was quite the show to witness, with lots of experienced and fearless surfers. Though the locals tended to be a little on edge (“Get out of my way! Mine! Mine! Mine! F*** off, it’s my wave!), we were reminded again why surf is so compelling.

Huge waves for surfing in Steamer Lane
Huge waves for surfing in Steamer Lane
Surfer jumping in the water in Steamer Lane
Surfer jumping in the water in Steamer Lane
Surfers riding big waves in Steamer Lane
Surfers riding big waves in Steamer Lane
Lots of surfers on a wave and a drone over them
Lots of surfers on a wave and a drone over them
Epic surfing in Steamer Lane
Epic surfing in Steamer Lane