travelogue: San Diego, CA

“I must be a mermaid, Rango. I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.”
– Anaïs Nin

San Diego seems to be just the embodiment of the California cliché: arriving at the airport and leaving the Arrivals terminal, one immediately comes across an infinity of palm trees that stretch quite far towards the horizon until they reach the Pacific shore. This might be an exaggeration – granted, I am given to such dramatic flourishes – but there’s nothing else that screams “California dreamin'” quite like the spread out fields (if they may so be called) of palm trees, while the sun is shining on a clearn blue sky.

San Diego presented itself to me just like this – a beautiful and warm sunset over the Pacific ocean, which I watched from the bus on my way downtown from the airport to my hostel. The start of what ended up being a (much needed) weekend of lonesomeness, of wandering, of soaking up on some sunshine and sea water, of taking off my shoes and letting them sink in the sand; a week after I had arrived back to the US after an incredibly busy fortnight back in Lisbon and three complicated days of international travel, I had just left another airplane and had arrived to a city where I hoped to pick up on some extra strength for the upcoming Winter quarter at Stanford.

If you were to ask me about what I would recommend in San Diego, I would probably – and most obviously have to – recommend the ocean. If one does not, for any reason, dive into the Pacific while in San Diego, then one should not have even traveled to San Diego in the first place. Granted, this may be a drastic statement. Sometimes the weather just might not end up being favourable to such adventures, but my first full day there – this was Saturday, January 13th -, the temperature leveled out at 27 degrees Celsius (or 80 Fahrenheit – as annoying as Europeans may find the constant shifting between the temperature and other scales, one ends up getting used to it). In January. And with that, there was nothing else that made more sense that getting my photosynthesis started while laying on the sand and listening to some Beirut on my headphones.

So, after being advised by a friend on a possible day trip, I decided to take the ferry from San Diego to Coronado Island – a little stretch of land that is also accessible by a bridge (though the ferry trip is much, much nicer). Coronado Island in itself is nothing special – a privileged little beach refuge like many others in the US and in the rest of the world, with mansions and little cottages populating large concrete avenues that lead from one margin of the island (where the Ferry dock is) to the other (where the Coronado Beach is). I stretched my legs over these avenues for a half-an-hour walk towards the Coronado Beach – my destination for the day.

Hopefully, when you do travel to San Diego, you’ll be a better trip planner than I am and bring a beach towel with you and your flip flops as well. In my innocence I had left all of these back home – so much for quickly packing your bag in the half-hour before you have to leave for the airport, I guess? -. I haggled with a lady at a shop for a cheap beach towel that ended up costing me a mere 5 bucks, I sneaked into a hotel to use a public restroom, quickly managed to put on a worn-out bikini under my t-shirt and jeans), rolled the legs of the jeans up and walked out the hotel barefoot, with my worn out sneakers in my hands. The moment my feet touched the sand felt almost like happiness (whatever the hell that is) and the sense that all the things I already had to do and think about – for school, for work, for back home – didn’t really matter. All that mattered was being there right that moment, and savouring it as much as possible.

There is very little that tires me out and makes me as happy as a day (or afternoon) at the beach. It was as if my body was craving for it – for that sense of fulfillment, of exhaustion yet satisfaction that you feel when silently driving or returning home after a long fun day doing something you truly love. I sat down on the sand with a book and my camera but I couldn’t resist the temptation of diving for long – I eventually ran into the water and dived head in as I hadn’t done in plenty of years. The rest of the afternoon was spent alternating between laying on the sand and diving in the ocean, and I was finally back to those happy days as I child when the beach would be the perfect playground and one of the few places where I truly felt absolutely shackle-free.

I was fortunate enough to spend a good portion of my childhood on family vacations by the ocean. For that, I can only thank my parents. I learned to admire and respect the ocean from a tender age, and I had missed it, even just being near it.

When I walked back home that day, I felt happier than I had in months.

The chubby and ugly feet of yours truly delighted to step into the Pacific Ocean for the first time in 2018
The not-so-chatty lady in red
There are only so few original ways one can photograph a sunset. This is for sure not one of those.

And, of course, the sea lions, spread out on the shores and rocks of La Jolla (a small village about 40 minutes – by bus – north of San Diego), the touristic attraction of excellence but nevertheless quite a sight. Taking over this landscape that man attempted to build around of but was always unable to control. There is something quite beautiful when you see Nature and its usual ways and rituals continue taking its course even when the human world is constantly shifting, working around Nature, trying to make it bend to human will. We’ll never succeed in it – somehow, and thankfully, Nature always wins.

Sea lions soaking up on some sun

(Detour: I get annoyed at the fact that Anaïs Nin’s quotes have become objects of consumption and of cheap bric-a-brac that you can buy online for a couple of dollars. Have any of these people ever read any of her books?)

This isn’t a post as well thought-out as previous ones, but at least it maintains its honesty. Sometimes you’re not looking to know  place but mostly to feel it, to engage with it without looking for anything else, without trying to make sense of every place and every step and every opportunity. In all entries I talk about this search for America and for an understanding of this place where I am, but San Diego was finally not just about that ongoing (and tiresome, and annoying, and repetitive, and strange – according to my fellow Americans) seach. What San Diego gave me was mostly some peace of mind, however briefly, and a much-needed opportunity to get back in touch with that side of me that had long been missing: the side which appreciates being alone, unoccupied, with a free mind and an open spirit and, most importantly, with a body covered in sea salt and sand.

The Pacific Ocean cleansed my body and soul.

– Inês

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