I spent five days in Los Angeles to attend a work conference called NAFSA. It’s a conference where professionals from all over the world gather to learn about best practices in international education, discuss partnerships, and form new agreements between universities. As someone who loves the study abroad experience, this was a chance for me to learn more about opportunities for students at Ole Miss.
With a handful of delays, I flew from St. Louis to Los Angeles with clear skies. I stared in wonder as I saw the Rocky Mountains and Mojave Desert below. I had never seen snow capped mountains before.
On Memorial Day, I convinced my co-worker, Brad, to hike through the Hollywood Hills with me. I had done a bit of research before our hike and was confident that I could get us pretty close to the famous Hollywood Sign. We walked from our hotel in Hollywood to Griffith Park where we followed the crowd and began a steep upward climb. We soon realized that we were not on the path to the sign, but a path through the neighboring hills. If you look really closely (I mean really closely), you can see the sign in the distance.
We walked back down the hill in pursuit of the path that would actually get us close to the Hollywood Sign; this next path had signs assuring us that we were on our way. We walked uphill before finally coming to a clearing where we were shocked at how far we still were from the sign. With little remaining water, I called it quits and we headed back to the hotel. We still had some stunning views, though.
Most of our evenings at the conference were filled with events where we mingled, ate, and drank with our international partners. Each night, we were running from one event to the next across downtown Los Angeles. The venues in LA were exactly what I thought they’d be: glamorous, cozy, and well catered.
Before I left for California, I had made a list of a few things I wanted to see, do, and eat in Los Angeles. One of the items on my list was to eat a sushi burrito. On a short lunch break, Brad and I walked to a place called Okipoki in downtown Los Angeles. On our way, we passed a film crew outside of a hotel and saw Stirling K. Brown, an actor from the NBC show This Is Us. When we arrived at Okipoki, I ordered a “Crabulous” sushi burrito and regretted not saying anything to the actor. The sushi burrito was satisfying, but I expected more flavors. Another item on my list was to try In-N-Out Burger; I had fries and a chocolate shake (the perfect late night meal).
On my last evening in California, I decided to go out to the Santa Monica beach and pier. I rode the metro all the way to Santa Monica. I could smell the salty ocean as I walked past tourist shops toward the pier. The beach was clean, the ocean water folding over into waves, and children braving the cold water for a taste of early summer. I stopped at Scoops Ice Cream and ordered a Cookie Monster waffle cone. I walked through the sand and found myself a spot to watch the sun set beside the mountains.
The truth about travel is that it is almost never as glamorous as it may seem. At this particular moment, my phone had 10% of battery and I had to catch an Uber before my phone died. I didn’t spend a whole lot of time on the beach or the pier. While walking back toward the curb to request a ride, I caught the sunset and said goodbye to California.
Los Angeles is interesting because it has all the characteristics of a huge, thriving city but is lined with mountains and beaches. It’s natural landscape runs parallel to the largest film industry in the world. Perhaps what makes it so attractive is that it offers such a variety of restaurants, museums, culture, architecture, exercise, and shopping.
Sometimes, traveling is going back to my hotel when I’m exhausted even though I know I may never visit this city again. It’s a constantly dying cellphone, hotel coffee, and lukewarm pizza for breakfast. Traveling is eating whatever I want because I make up for it with the miles I walk. Traveling is waiting for buses and trying not to look like a tourist while Siri is saying when to turn left.
These five days in California made me realize how little I get out of the house when I am home; I’m pretty content sitting on the couch watching Netflix with Steve. Travel is important to me because it forces me out of my routine, refreshes my perspective, and reminds me of the things I take for granted at home: wifi, my coffee creamer, my vehicle, familiarity, and predictable prices. Traveling provides me the experience of another city, jealousy of their better weather, and an appreciation for my small town.
Thank you, Los Angeles. You were unpredictable, overwhelming, and showed me how hard hiking can be.