Wednesday, July 15: This morning at 6:30 a.m., I leave my humble abode in Nanning, China, locking the keys inside. I feel a little strange leaving the place I’ve lived for the last year, knowing I will never see it again. Outside, a car arranged by the university is waiting to drive me to the airport. I get to the airport by about 7:30 and check in without incident at Shenzhen Airlines for my 9:40 flight.
Planes departing from Chinese airports are almost always late, but I don’t worry because I have a 3-hour and 20 minute layover in Beijing and I will check in to Air Canada at the same terminal where I arrive. Today, when I have a nice long layover, my plane surprisingly leaves Nanning on time. When I arrive in Beijing at 12:45 p.m., I pick up my bags from the baggage claim and make my way to Air Canada, where I must check my bags back in for the international flight. There is a long, slow-moving line at Air Canada, so I get a little antsy as the time seems to be going by rather quickly.
Then I hit the line for Customs/Immigration in International Departures. The lines are snaking queues with hundreds of people in them, and they’re barely moving. I stand in that line for well over an hour! By then I’m starting to get worried I will miss my plane in Beijing! After I finally make it through and send my bags and tennis shoes and every possession through security, I have about a half hour before we board.
When I arrive at the gate, I have time to sit for about 5 minutes before we start boarding at 3:35 p.m. I get in the line for Group 5, which is already about 30 people long. We board and are ready to take off on time; however, air traffic control tells the pilot we will have a 30-minute delay, which worries me as I only have a 1 1/2 hour layover in Vancouver.
I realize too late that I’m booked into a middle seat. They can’t change me to an aisle seat because the flight is fully booked. Misery! I sit between two Chinese boys, one of whom speaks both fluent English and Chinese. He’s from Los Angeles, but has spent his school years studying in China. He is going to stay with his parents in Los Angeles for a month before attending Berkeley in the fall. He’s a very bright 18-year-old kid who plans to do a double major in mechanical engineering and economics. He chats with me a long time about his plans and I’m very impressed. When he talks to the boy on the other side of me, they speak over me in Chinese. He says, “I hope you don’t mind us talking over you.” I say, half-jokingly, “I don’t mind but I’d rather you switch seats with me!” After several hours, he luckily takes me up on my request and gives me his aisle seat, which I’m very happy about, although even that is uncomfortable on a 10-hour and 20-minute flight.
When we arrive in Vancouver at noon, the Chinese boy and I take off together toward our flight bound to L.A. We come to a bottleneck where about 25 people are standing in a slow-moving line. First, an Air Canada attendant asks us to identify our bags on a TV screen. One of my bags is visible on the screen, but the other isn’t, so she tells me to go sit into a room until I can verify both my bags. I tell her we have a very short connection, but she doesn’t seem phased. The Chinese boy has to wait to identify his bags as well. When we finish, we are finally able to get into the slow-moving line, which has gotten longer while we’ve been held up. I tell one of the officials from the airline that we have a very short connection, but she says, “There’s nothing I can do about it. It’s U.S. Customs and I have nothing to do with that!” The line is moving slowly and the boy, who is about 3 people behind me, and I are commiserating about how we’re never going to make our flight. Suddenly he starts to go to the front of the line and I follow him. He says, “I called my mother and she told me not to talk to the officials. She says I should depend on the kindness of strangers.” He goes to the front of the line with his bag, and I (who can’t stand people who cut in line, and would never do it myself under ordinary circumstances), follow him. We beg the people at the front of the line to let us in so we won’t miss our flight. Luckily, they kindly allow us to pass, although the poor people behind them have no say in the matter.
When I get to U.S. Customs the officer asks me where I’m staying, and where I live. I tell him and then mention that we have a very short connection. He says, in that way that people in positions such as these like to flex their power, “You can’t rush me, lady. I will take as long as I need to take.” I say, “Fine!” Then he asks a few more questions and releases me. I won’t mention the name I call him to the Chinese boy when I’m out of earshot.
At that point we see our gate #83 is at the far end of a long hall, and over the loudspeaker, I hear my name among a list of names for “last call.” I panic: “That’s us! We need to run!” The boy and I go tearing through the airport, and barely manage to board the plane. The airline stewardesses close the door behind us and we take off as scheduled at 1:00 p.m.
I make it to LA right on time, by 4:00 p.m. My sister Stephanie is waiting to pick me up right after I pick up my bags, and we head directly to dinner at a cozy sushi place. We celebrate by drinking hot sake followed by cold Sapporo. I am happy to be with my sister on American soil after one of the longest days of my life. It’s still Wednesday, July 15 when I arrive in LA around 4:00 p.m., having left China at 6:30 a.m. that same morning. 🙂
During our dinner, and after a few sips of Sapporo and sake, Steph asks what I’d like to do next. I say I’d love to find my way to Morocco or Ecuador. She says, “Oh. I wouldn’t want you to go to Morocco. I wouldn’t want you to lose your head or anything like that.” I say, “Well, yes, I really would prefer not to lose my head. Of course. I don’t think it would be in my best interest.” For some reason, maybe it’s the sake and Sapporo, but we find this hilarious and have quite a laugh over this ridiculous conversation. 🙂
Thursday, July 16: We have quite a lazy day today, eating a healthy breakfast and lunch together, running out to Trader Joe’s, and watching movies and TV series. Stephanie gets me interested in the Danish political series Borgen, and we watch a coupe of episodes. After meeting her good friend Yvonne for more sushi, sake and Sapporo at another favorite sushi restaurant, we watch the The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which I’ve been dying to see. In my opinion, it isn’t nearly as good as the first one. 🙂
I really needed a day of rest!
Friday, July 17: This morning, my sister drives us to Oxnard where we’re to catch an Island Packers boat to Anacapa Island, one of the islands in the Channel Islands National Park. Yes, my British friends, we have our own Channel Islands here in the U.S. 🙂
We arrive in plenty of time for our 10:00 a.m. departure. When we left Steph’s house in Reseda, it was warm and sunny, but here on the coast it’s cloudy and very cool. I’m worried I’m going to be freezing on the boat. I have no jackets or sweaters as I sent all of those home from China in boxes, thinking it would be hot and desert-like in L.A.
We board the boat with about 50 other people and take off through the marina and into the channel.
Luckily the seas are calm this morning, as Steph is worried she will get seasick. I’m lucky that I don’t often get seasick; I’ve been on many boats in rough seas where people all around me are getting sick into plastic bags but I am just fine.
We pass a big oil rig.
According to Wikipedia, the Channel Islands of California are a chain of eight islands off the coast of southern California in the Pacific Ocean. Five of these islands are part of Channel Islands National Park. The Islands were first colonized by the Chumash and Tongva Native Americans 13,000 years ago, who were then displaced by European settlers who used the islands for fishing and agriculture. The U.S. military uses the islands as training grounds, weapons test sites, and as a strategic defensive location (Wikipedia: Channel Islands of California).
Below is my sister on the boat bound for Anacapa Island.
We see a lot of dolphins playfully following in the wake of the boat, but I don’t seem to have luck capturing any of them in photos.
Anacapa Island’s name is derived from the Chumash Native American Indian name Anypakh, meaning deception or mirage. The three islets of Anacapa look almost like a mirage in the morning fog. These islets (appropriately named East, Middle, and West Anacapa Islands) stretch out over five miles and are inaccessible from each other except by boat. They are about a quarter-mile wide and have a total land area of about one square mile (700 acres) (National Park Service: Anacapa Island).
As we approach the island, we can see the lighthouse and 40-foot-high Arch Rock, a symbol of Anacapa and Channel Islands National Park.
Our boat pulls up at a dock built into the side of a cliff and after disembarking, we must climb up several hundred steps to reach the top.
We are greeted immediately by some of the thousands of seagulls on the island.
According to the National Park Service, thousands of seabirds use Anacapa as a nesting area because of the relative lack of predators on the island. While the steep cliffs of West Anacapa are home to the largest breeding colony of endangered California brown pelicans, all the islets of Anacapa host the largest breeding colony of western gulls in the world. Western gulls begin their nesting efforts at the end of April, sometimes making their shallow nests just inches from island trails. Fluffy chicks hatch in May and June and fly away from the nest in July (National Park Service: Anacapa Island).
It’s a surreal experience walking through the squawking seagulls and their almost-full-grown grey fledglings. It’s incredibly noisy and pungent, especially in certain areas. I feel like we’re the aliens here in a bird world. Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds” comes to mind.
The mission revival style buildings on the island are part of the 1932 light station. They include the lighthouse, fog signal building, one of four original keeper’s quarters, a water tank building, and several other service buildings. One of the buildings is now the East Anacapa Visitor Center, which houses some informative exhibits, including the original lead-crystal Fresnel lens, which served as a beacon to ships until an automated light replaced it in 1990 (National Park Service: Anacapa Island).
We accompany a park guide on part of the two-mile figure-eight trail system to learn about the island’s native vegetation, wildlife, and cultural history. Apparently, the plants look drab and lifeless in summer but come alive with color in the winter. Vibrant red paintbrush, island morning-glory, and pale buckwheat add touches of color to the island’s palette.
Steph and I leave the ranger-led hike and venture out on the trail to Cathedral Cove.
Looking down on Cathedral Cove, we can see the kelp forests and sea lions on the beach and the rocks below.
We backtrack along the same trail where we pass by the ranger and her followers.
The strange tree sunflower, or coreopsis, blossoms in winter with bright yellow bouquets. You can see the dormant giant coreopsis below, topped with seagulls.
Stephanie and I stop at a picnic area near the figure-8 crossover on the trail and eat our Trader Joe’s lunch of lentil wraps and cherries. There are no services on the island, so everyone must bring their own food and water.
At the far western end of East Anacapa Island, we stand in the breeze at Inspiration Point, where we can see the other two islets stretching out into the Pacific. Waves have eroded the volcanic island, creating towering sea cliffs and sea caves, where California sea lions droop themselves over rocks, sunning themselves.
We’re glad that the fog has lifted and the sun has come out, but then we find it gets hot rather quickly. We’re both surprised that there are no trees on the island.
We continue walking back to the east, where we can see the old lighthouse. The lighthouse blares its foghorn every 20 seconds or so. The ranger has told us that we’re blocked from getting in near the lighthouse because its loud foghorn can hurt our eardrums.
When I decide to take a 360 degree video of the island, my sister throws in a little surprise at the end. I think the seagulls are rubbing off on her 🙂
We head back to the docking area to wait for the boat.
We board the boat at 3:30 p.m. and are back on our way back to Oxnard by 3:45.
Before we leave the island, we go by boat around the eastern end where we get a better view of Arch Rock.
The rocky shores are perfect resting and breeding areas for California sea lions and harbor seals. We can see them lounging on the rocks, but the light is so bad on this side of the island that I can’t get any decent pictures.
Finally we return to the marina in Oxnard. It has been a lovely yet strange and surreal day.
We end our day with beers and dinner at an outdoor cafe overlooking the marina. Steph gets a blackened snapper sandwich and I have Mahi Mahi tacos with mango salsa. I am so happy to be eating American food again! 🙂
We drive back to Reseda, about an hour’s drive, and relax in the evening, watching several more episodes of Borgen.
Saturday, July 18: The highlight of today is the cheese platter a la Stephanie. I love cheese, and I’ve missed it dearly while in China. This one has cherries, cheeses, chutney, watercress, smoked oysters, Japanese cucumbers and healthy crackers. It’s one of the highlights of American cuisine. 🙂
I’m so happy to be back in the USA!! 🙂