California’s tantalising ways

I left San Francisco early. Avoiding traffic and in anticipation to drive along Interstate 1 that tightly follows the West Coast, I said goodbye to a city that devours the single narrative of American culture I had been confronted with since arriving in the US almost a month ago.

It didn’t take long before I caught sight of the Pacific Ocean; roaring far below me as the prospects of ‘Gloom June’ was beginning to fade out.

The hundreds of surfers that greeted me as I pit-stopped in Pacifica held no attention to June’s caprices. But for me, this meant that my anticipated drive along some of the most magnificent beaches and sheer drops at the corner of my right eye were playing hide and seek under the threatening misty skies and bleak sensation of the blaring sun attempting to break through the clouds. This set the atmosphere for the next two days.

Stopping off for strawberries, a self-picking practice with the old school payment by donation – there was no one serving at the farm counter – I eventually drove through thousands of fields planted with all types of fruits and vegetables, along with vineyards and scattered wineries.

I was taken aback by the agricultural practices on location, yet considering that California produces half of the nation’s production in fruit, vegetables and nuts, I nodded in awe.

By the time I had reached Santa Monica Bay, the Mediterranean in me had re-emerged.

My flip-flops made me local, the palm trees pleased the eye, bougainvilleas made me smile.

It was only when I accidentally stumbled on a beach literally packed with elephant seals, on a beach known as Piedras Blancas, that I was reminded that I was nowhere near the Mediterranean Sea.
I was encountering the Pacific Ocean for the first time, and although reminiscent of the roaring trends of the North Sea where I was brought up, the warm climate obviously attracted species very much foreign to me.

The seal sounds, resembling toilets being unclogged, had me giggle at their change of fortune when they ceased to be hunted in the early 20th century for oil from their blubber when the development of kerosene and refined petroleum left them with no commercial value.
The glass of local white wine in a small winery in a locale resembling the ‘Little House on the Prairie’, come to think of it, was a good choice to prepare me for the transition I was about to encounter; Santa Barbara, and further along, Los Angeles.

The palm tree promenade of Santa Barbara presented dudes playing Frisbee on the golden sandy beach that extends from Santa Barbara harbour; overflowing with sailing boats and yachts.

I encountered joggers, passersby holding golf clubs, people cycling bicycles with wide-angled handlebars, along with the classic ‘Baywatch’ towers hovering in the background.

As stereotypical as this may all sound, it was my meeting with a group of young Mexicans bingeing on local Mexican beer that took me back into California’s history; we were actually sitting on what once was Mexico.

As much as I can come face-to-face with consequences of war, division, political interests, loss… the reality I was facing was that there was no animosity towards their ‘turf’ having been bought out.
What was important was that their visits to Mexico where obviously an accountable breakaway that indeed held emotional roots for them, but no prospects for the future.

But then again, on the road, I’ve encountered few individuals who would break the status quo.

LA was a sweet encounter. LA is where I met friends, where I talked about my journey so far and what I anticipated to come and filled them in with the news of our friends back home (Cyprus).
It’s where I contemplated how small the world is, and how coincidental it can also be.

And then, the desert. Hours of driving in the desert; accompanied by old pop songs fittingly suiting with where I was: ‘America’ blurted out ‘A horse with no name’: “After two days in the desert sun, my skin began to turn red, after three days in the desert fun, I was looking at a river bed.”

Then again Sammy Cahn’s ‘Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow’, tingled my fancy as I drove past exits to summits like Chiriaco that looked enticing from afar, yet the heat had already got too strong to even dare indulge in ascending anything. I had already stopped putting my feet up on the dashboard, as my arms on the door – everything was burning hot.

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About Melissa Hekkers

I am freelance journalist and author, who has frequently been featured in mainstream news outlets and other publications in Cyprus. Recently, I've been focusing on developing my writing, promoting my own books and teaching creative writing to children and adults. My most recent publication (2020) - Amir's Blue Elephant- pushes the boundaries of creative non-fiction, and recreates the moments that marked me the most, whilst volunteering in refugee camps in Lesvos, Greece, and during her ongoing involvement with the refugee community in Cyprus. In 2018 I published My Capre Greco Mandala which is the third in a series, an interactive colouring book about the biodiversity of the Cape Greco peninsula in Cyprus. My Akamas Mandala, the second in the series, is a colouring book inspired by the variety of endemic plants found on the Akamas Peninsula. In 2016, I published My Nicosia Mandala, the first of the above series, an innovative, interactive colouring book about the historic fortifications of the old town of Nicosia. I also focuses on silenced communities in Cyprus: I writes about migrants and refugees, both as a reporter and a features writer; I profile them and teach them creative writing skills. In 2007, soon after graduating with a Communications degree, I published my first children’s book in both English and Greek entitled Crocodile, which won the Cyprus State Illustration Award. In 2012, I launched my second children’s book Flying across Red Skies (in English and Greek), using an experimental approach to literature, for which I was nominated for the Cyprus State Literary award. My third, similarly well-received children’s book was Pupa (Greek and English), published in 2014. In between the last two books, I published my first free-verse poetry book entitled Come-forth. In 2019 she was contributing author to the anthology Nicosia Beyond Barriers: Voices from a Divided City, published by Saqi Books, London