We arrived in balmy Santa Barbara early evening under a cloak of star studded darkness. The nice lady in the SatNav box led us expertly to the door of our second couchsurfing hosts, Mark and Jen. There's always a moment of nervous anticipation as you stand on the doorstep of complete strangers waiting for them to open it up and welcome you in... imagine if they open the door and take one look at you and say 'maybe not' or what if they are completely psychotic, or even worse, they have a collection of old china dolls in a room full of ticking clocks and clown masks... and you have to sleep in it. (Mr B just broke into a cold sweat). Well thankfully that hasn't happened to us yet and everyone we have stayed with and everyone we have hosted has been really lovely and all very different.
So Jen and Mark's place was a south Cal version of a Mexican adobe, a one storey bungalow with a driveway and a back yard and lots of cactii and interesting but dangerous looking plants in the well tended front garden. Very nice. We were welcomed in by Jen and their two beautiful little twin girls who we never got a photo of :-( and then Mark arrived home from work and we all had a jolly laugh and a refreshing beer from a Santa Barbara microbrewery. Mark told us that the US is now full of great microbreweries which challenge the assumption that all US beer is mostly pig swill. We agree. Mark also collects Mexican Day of the Dead things.
We soon realised that this was going to be a very comfortable couch surfing experience. The main house (yes I said main house) was really nice, wooden floors, loads of interesting things to look at, books, music and then we were shown to our guest suite, a converted room next to the garage, complete with double bed, throws, a TV, a laptop, a shower-room, heater and more interesting books (Mr B read a big Gary Larson comic book on the loo for the duration of our stay here).
After another beer and a glass of wine with Mark and Jen we headed out for dinner at a Vietnamese place round the corner called Saigon In and Out, which sounds like a title for an interesting movie. Fairly cheap, around $25 for a starter and two main courses, which were delicious and highly spiced with tongue tingling chilli.
Despite appearances these are spring rolls - not the MSG laden deep fried kind we are used to but a cold, fresh explosion of tiger prawns, shredded carrot and lettuce, coriander and lime juice wrapped in a delicate leaf of moist rice paper, served with a moorish peanut sauce. They were really good.
After our spicy and delicious main course we wandered home and sat with Mark and Jen, had another glass of wine and got the USA map out and talked about Santa Barbara, the weather, routes and roadtrips and travelling... then we all yawned a lot and we said good night to our gracious hosts. Off to bed.
Zzzzzzzzzzz. We woke up around 8am and headed into the kitchen to say hello to Jen who had made us a pot of coffee. Scoffed down a bowl of Quaker Oatmeal with cinnamon and apples, which we forgot to photograph. Jen kindly offered us their spare beach cruiser bikes so Mr B got busy giving them a service, well he pumped up the tryres. And off we went to explore Santa Barbara on four wheels.
Did we mention that the temperature was over 20 degrees C?
Brace yourself for another great nature photo:
There are several pelicans chilling out on the lagoon, can you see them?
Somehow we managed not to take many photos in Santa Barbara, the bikes were too fun. I was wearing red stilletoes and these are not known for being sensible footwear for a bike that you have to back pedal in order to brake, before scraping your feet along the ground in order to bring it to a complete standstill. We rode around and checked out some nice looking buildings including Old Mission and some downtown area buildings.
We took the bikes onto the pier and parked up. There was a sign at the entrance saying 'No high heels' heels'. Oh well, Mrs B kept her weight on the balls of her foot so that her heels didn't get caught in the gaps between the wooden planks, she's well practised at these things. We fended off the boisterous seagulls and greedy pigeons, watched the Pelicans flying low over the water and sniffed out lunch on the pier from the take out hatch at Santa Barbara Shellfish Co. We settled down on a bench table to a cup of lobster bisque and a really seriously stuffed and succulent crab sandwich. All of which tasted even better thanks to the sea air, the view, the warm sun and the company.
...and I forgot about the huge onion ring, that was good too.
We also got a little lost in several fascinating junk shops. For a start they are all huge and labyrinthian with all the good stuff jumbled up with all the utter toss (the latter often being the more fascinating and informative of a culture). These are like ramshackle museums of the everyday detritus of life.
Santa Barbara is quite small, very affluent, laid back, pretty and very fit. Everyone was slim. Lots of people jogging, jogging with dogs, jogging with buggies, jogging with lovers, jogging with parents, mainly jogging... perhaps a little cycling, rollerblading or skating as well. Because we thought you might actually want to see what Santa Barbara is like rather than just seeing what we ate, here are some pictures we didn't take - each picture is a direct link to the website of origin.
And here is our offering:
A banana and blueberry waffle with ice cream and a coffee at Jitters Coffee on State Street (where most of the shops, cafes, cinema etc can be found)
and a blurry vintage shop called Cominichis - check it out on street view on Google Maps, 434 E Cota St Santa Barbara... just because you can. It was huge and Mrs B bought a red 60s coat. She definitely needed another coat. We thought we had better take a photo before it got dark. Useless.
We cycled back home through the rush hour traffic, with no lights. It was a little hairy. Got back to our cosy abode and Mr B did some important internet stuff while Mrs B walked to the local supermarket, thankfully not a huge megastore, just a normal size local store, lots of exotic fruits and mexican food, piled high, cheap and busy. Mrs B stocked up on items for the road trip - food and water, wet wipes (very handy) and stuff that Americans call butter.
Mrs B sat with Mark and Jen in the main house chewing the cud and getting tips for the roadtrip. We forgot to photograph dinner, which was two over priced organic pizzas from the supermarket, which were the only thing Mr B could find when he realised he couldn't pay with card at the Mexican take away.
Food over we all settled in to watch 500 Days of Summer, a US inde movie, staring Zoey Deschanel and the kid from 3rd Rock from the Sun, but grown up, as he should be. It was a love story with a real ending and a quirky narrative structure - this sounds lame, but it was good, mildly funny and completely inoffensive, we weren't bored and the soundtrack stimulated an enthusiastic conversation about late 80s UK indie music and early 90s American indie rock. Mark got his guitar out and tried to work out how to play Here Comes Your Man by The Pixies. Which coincidentally was the song that we were singing as we drove into Santa Barbara the previous evening.
Because we had decided to do the mammoth drive to Grand Canyon in one day, we had an early start in the morning. So we did a group photo and said good bye to Jen as she would be sound asleep when we left at 6am, then we stumbled off to our bed in the back.
Tomorrow the serious driving will begin.