Date: 16 June.
Location: driving down the freeway in the hot, hot sun from Palm Desert to LA.
Notable sightings: a roadrunner, the Empire Polo Club – home to the Coachella Music Festival, a zombie town.
I’ve mentally divided my whole trip into three phases. Phase 1: India, “Alex and the Land of a Billion Heavens and Hells”. Phase 2: Girls’ Road Trip, “Bunky, Tassels and the Great White Monster Enjoy Southern Hospitality”. Phase 3: Family time in California. Tagline yet to be determined.
I’d now like to introduce you to the slice of my extended family who have flown down from their native Calgary, Canada to hang out for the weekend at their new PD holiday house. My uncle, my dad’s brother, is a loud and personable engineer in high level management who approaches every aspect of life — holidays, making dinner, board games — with the full might of both his engineering degree and myriad management courses. You can hear the gears clicking over in his head when you suggest you might just do a hike before breakfast: proposed trail assessed on the basis of both of aesthetics and altheticism required, ETD, ETA, supplies required, transport to and from. It must be exhausting. He’s a social creature, very much prides himself in being the alpha male in the family wolf pack and has a irrepressible love for dad jokes which he’s passed on to his middle son — let’s call that son the Cub. The Cub is approximately my age and the ultimate guy’s guy. He likes to drink, sleep, watch / play sport, bartend and crack (terrible) jokes. He’s also recently married (honestly, shocking everyone) to a young gypsy free spirit who’s very much got her work cut out for her in keeping him on the straight and narrow. Finally, there’s eldest son, a tall and wiry and awkward thirtysomething. Let’s call him Badger for now. Relations between Papa Bear, the Cub, the Vixen and the Badger are notably tense as each of them tries to work out who’s who in the zoo and how the recent wedding affects the pecking order. In this jungle book I suppose I’m the Flamingo: cute and harmless and on no one’s team.
This is my first time in Southern California outside of the exquisitely fake haven that is Orange County. This particular area used to be part of Mexico. Seems it didn’t get the memo that it no longer is. Houses are low, sandy haciendas with desert landscaping, guest houses are ‘casitas’, Spanish seems more widely spoken than English, excellent tortillarias and taco joints abound. You can build your own margarita any time of day — which can be an excellent method for recovering from a tough morning hike.
On Friday night the zoo agreed to tackle the Painted Canyon and Ladder Canyon hike the next day, starting at 7am to attempt to avoid the heat.
I’m aware I whined a little about Bunky & Tassels Standard Time (being Alex Mean Time + 1 hour), but I’ve discovered — much to my chagrin — that Family Pacific Time is at least an hour behind even that. We departed the house around 8:45am, with my uncle jollily declaring that we we were ‘making good time’. Optimistic.
The canyon hike itself was an amazing 8km adventure through rocky crevices, up strategically placed ladders and across sandy cliffs, with a spectacular view of the valley below. Unfortunately, about two hours in, our water supply that had seemed so heavy and abundant at the start of the walk dried up, the sun ceased kissing our flesh and started to bite and we trudged into silence. I highly reccomend the hike, but not around midday in 107 degrees. Sweaty and bedraggled, we refuelled with lunch (Mexican, obviously) then toured the shores of the Salton Sea. The ‘sea’ is a salted lake that, as it evaporates, grows saltier and saltier each year. Bombay Beach is a failed lakeside development on its shores. Something horrendous seems to have wiped out the majority of the buildings in the community and the remaining 230 residents fly pirate flags and eke out a lonely, gritty existence eating tilapia from the lake and fending off fatalistic graffiti artists. ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ is scrawled in red across one house, ‘Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter’ on another. It’s beautifully depressing.
Last night the whole zoo played Taboo, the game in which you describe words to your team members but without using certain ‘taboo’ words. For example, describe ‘snore’ without using sleep, bed, noise, night or mouth. After a few wines (read: the boys had played golf so the Vixen and I had been drinking since lunch, it’s what you do in PD on a Sunday and the happy hours are a true delight) it was interesting. In response to the clue ‘women worry about them’, I suggested ‘legs, butt, thighs, waist, weight, tummy, makeup, camel toe,’ all before Vixen could add ‘around the eyes!’ and ‘wrinkles’ was guessed. Awkward.
The clue ‘they judge you’ received the enthusiastic response ‘family!’ (actual answer: ‘jury’). Freud would love us.
Then we went out to dinner. Mexican, obviously.