Reuniting with my favourite little girl in the entire world
01.07.2016 - 15.07.2016 25 °C
As I left Mexico, I felt like I was riding an emotional rollercoaster instead of an airplane. I didn’t want to leave the magical land of amazing food, incredible friends, and endless adventures. But I had the best reason in the world waiting for me in Los Angeles – Grace!
From before I left New Zealand, and including the entire time of my travels to date, meeting the Sorenson’s in Los Angeles had always been my most long-term plan. It was the only thing that I knew for certain was going to happen throughout all of my time on the road, the only plan concrete enough that it wasn’t to change with the wind. I was nervous that perhaps things may not be the same – would she be too cool for me now? Would she be miffed that I had been gone for so long and hadn’t made it back even once for a visit?
Grace’s 10th birthday at Disneyland had been our plan to reunite and what we had both clung to when the skype calls and the messages we sent each other weren’t enough to bridge the two sides of the Pacific Ocean. And in an instant, there she was – at least 20 centimetres taller and running towards me with arms wide open and that same fairy bounce to her step that has been there all her life. Together again, bliss.
Jack was as gorgeous as ever. He had grown immensely as he no longer kept the little boy look about him and he had clearly grown up somewhat since our last adventure days. We all piled into the SUV driven by Wendy, a friend of Chris and Vanessa’s who we were doing a house swap with in San Diego. We hadn’t been in the car for 10 seconds before Chris complained there was ‘far too much noise and fun coming from the backseat’ to which we all roared with even more laughter and jokes headed right back in his direction. I remember now how happy I felt in that moment, nothing at all had changed between Grace and I despite the distance, the years apart, and the not always so consistent communication.
We spent the first night at the first (of three!) beautiful houses belonging to Wendy and Matt. Far too much wine was consumed, and I enjoyed playing around with Grace & Jack and all of the toys that belonged to the three kids who lived in the house; Keegan, Kylie and Kiera.
The next day we headed out to Disneyland where we checked into the Disneyland Resort for a few nights. Mickey’s face was everywhere and access to the park was right at our hotel’s doorstep. Of course, what we had not anticipated was the number of people would be in the park – peak season was something else! The lines were everywhere, and the timers indicated at least a 90-minute wait for everything. We were all hungry and tired, and three of us were hungover… Our first stop was to stuff our faces with greasy overpriced theme park food before battling the queues…
After a fuel stop, we were ready to go into full Disneyland mode – and at the kids request, Spacemountain was our first destination! I don’t know if either Jack or Grace had any idea that Spacemountain is an intense rollercoaster through a pitch black, out of space simulation. I do know that afterwards, Jack shrieked with glee how he had loved it yet kept his eyes closed the entire time!
We had three full days exploring both Disneyland and the neighbouring California Adventures, and thankfully due to our stay at the Disneyland Resort we had special access for an hour in the morning before the park opened to the public. This in turn gave us closer to about 4 hours each morning before the high crowds picked up, which was a perfect excuse to head back to the hotel for a drink and a splash in the pool!
Watching Grace with the princesses reminded me so much of my own birthday trip to Disneyland at 10 years old. Being there was my 4th time to the park, but forever etched in my mind was the trip when I was 10 because that was when everything shone brightly with that Disney sparkle. Back when I waited all day to meet Princess Jasmine and Aladdin – yet when the moment of truth came, I was so nervous I didn’t have any words. Watching Grace with the princesses was exactly the same, and it made my heart so happy for her, for me, and for my parents. Truly, through all the hype and cliché – there really is something so special about Disneyland!
One of the things that made our time with Mickey even cooler was that Grace and I had spent the best part of two years researching cool secrets about Disneyland and we had a list compiled of what we wanted to try and see. Some of the things were true – we found Walt’s apartment with the memory light glowing (when it isn’t glowing, his daughter is visiting the park), we found the golden apple that when rubbed makes the wicked witch come from her tower and cackle down at the people in line. We found that some things were not true – like a death certificate from the haunted mansion, much to Jack’s disappointment after we rode the ride 3 times before one of the kids built up the courage to ask for it! I really enjoyed how both Jack and Grace loves Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, and the Submarine ride most of all even though all three are amongst the tamest of the entire park – until it clicked, of course! They are the rides with the most “Disney magic!” There are no adrenaline seeking flips or twists, but instead the rider is transported to an alternative world; one where it is almost impossible for kids to know if it is real or not. So much that on our 5th ride through the haunted house Jack turned to me,
“Oh my god Katy, those ghosts are STILL dancing all of this time!”
After our trip to Disneyland we returned to the 1st house of the house swap where we stayed for a few nights more. I realised how close I was to Tijuana in Mexico and decided to train down to spend the night with my friends Brissa and Alain before returning to meet everyone at the 2nd house swap which was super close to the border. As soon as I crossed the border back into Mexico, my heart began to beat faster. The street noises were louder, everything just a little less shiny but in no way less colourful. The scents of lime and cilantro filled the air and that wonderful Mexican accented Spanish had me smiling broadly as I waited for Brissa to pick me up outside of immigration. I love the USA, my family live there. But Mexico is so special, and even the grungy border town of Tijuana had something to it that made me bounce a little more with every step. With a welcome sign, a big hug, and three michelads, there were two of my favourite Mexicans with their lovely mother – and off we went on a grand adventure!
We drove down the beautiful coast of Baja California and stared out across the Pacific Ocean from high on the cliff tops. We stopped for tacos at a family’s restaurant – and I had the BEST grilled prawn, chipotle and melted cheese taco of my life. If I hadn’t already eaten 3 other tacos and 2 tostadas I would have eaten 3 more of those prawn ones… sigh. Even the memory is making me hungry, which is ironic as I write this from a Mexican restaurant in Punta Cana which is slightly curbing the craving – but no one on earth makes tacos like they do in Mexico. Even the best Mexican chef in the world out of Mexico has nothing on a street stand in Mexico. It’s just the way of the taco life.
And we watched as the sun made it’s journey towards New Zealand from atop a beautiful cliff
I fell in love with the tables of vendors selling chilli coated candy and dried fruit – my friends bought bags for us to chomp on, and I have to say that chilli coated dried mango is exceptional.
That night, Brissa and I went out to karaoke where she sang her heart out, and I draped myself in traditional Mexican attire and admired the local beers, micheladas and tequilas.
The next day I went to buy a few souvenirs that I wanted from Mexico before we went to the border to meet Grace and Vanessa who were coming over for the day! But the markets didnt really sell anything at all like the markets in Chapala ... it was all chilli and cajeta as far as I could see !
Once we picked them up at the border, we took them on a small tour around Tijuana before having lunch at yet another delicious taco restaurant – where I know Vanessa fell in love with prawn tacos too.
I drank one last michelada as we made our way towards the border to cross back to the USA side… and we waited… and waited… and waited… in a line that felt like it was never going to go anywhere… If the tacos hadn’t have been so goddam incredible… that line was nearly not worth it. And it was heartbreaking to know how many people wait in that line every single day to cross over for work and then cross back each night. Time that could be spent working, or with family or friends, or doing yoga, or just having personal time – yet instead, hours of precious time is spent in a line chasing that non-existent American dream. And not just for one or two people, but instead for hundreds and hundreds.
We spent the next few days at house 2 of the three house swaps – and I know this was the personal favourite for all of the Kiwis. The house was perched on a cliff high over Playa Encinitas near to San Diego. A laidback surfer community that we had private access to the beach down a set of windy wooden steps laid into the cliff. The house reminded all of us very much of the Pauanui beach house, and we all felt instantly at home.
Chris was out surfing every moment he could – I tried but the water was far too cold for me and I couldn’t paddle in a wetsuit after learning to surf in the Caribbean. My toes and fingers went numb and I sadly realised I would never be able to surf in NZ either. Poor Billy. Hopefully he learns to love the wetsuit ....
Grace and I collected rocks which she believed were precious crystals she was going to sell to help feed all the hungry children in the world – I had never thought I could love that kid anymore, yet some how she can always find a way for that unconditional love to grow.
I think we were all more than content to spend the rest of our time at the beach house until – an enormous rotting dead whale floated all the way onto shore! Apparently, it had been resurfacing all over the west coast, and it picked our beach house to land in front of… It was such a fiasco – and the smell was horrific. The kids all ran out to look at it, and when the news truck came Grace was interviewed and we watched her on the 11pm news talking about how everyone should close their windows and doors because it stinks! It was absolutely hilarious, especially when Keegan started to spray air freshener around the house as he announced,
“I am febreezing the dead whale!”
Another thing that will forever be etched in my brain was the behind the scenes family trip to the pet cemetery – the workplace of Matt and Wendy who own the houses from the house swap. It really was a beautiful place, and I wish my cats Bob and Taco had such a nice resting place.
But what I will never ever forget is how we saw a small dead dog in the mortuary lying on a table. The furnaces were being heated … and all of a sudden there was no more dog on the table. The kids and I all clicked at the same time, just as a huge waft of weird smelling smoke came over us all and as we screamed, Chris teased us “We are all snorting dead dog right now!”
Our last few days were in house 3, which also sold while we were there, was in a little waterways type community. The house was huge and only had very minimal furnishing (staged to sell) so Grace loved having a dancing room, and Jack could build his lego in peace. The house had a heated swimming pool as well as the water way in front of the house. The sea mat was rolled out, and didn’t get put away; a long thick piece of foam that holds a lot of weight so you can run and jump and play on top of the water. Jack learned how to do his very first backflip off the sea mat and then him and Grace were ‘backflip buddies’ for the rest of the day.
We went for a ride on the duffy boat to dinner at a Japanese restaurant, marveling at the beautiful houses build alongside the waterways canal.
We spent a day at Hollywood, eating at hard rock cafe and stopping to see the stars on the sidewalk.
I enjoyed my after-kid-bed-time with Chris and Vanessa as much as always before. Late night wines and snacks, talks about the past and the present, and different goals for the future are always on topic between us, and I love being able to talk to such incredibly intelligent and accomplished people without ever fearing that they will laugh at my desires and wishes. It was just amazing to be all together again, and we each commented many times how it really felt as if no time had passed.
Leaving Grace was as impossible as it had been the first time. Many travellers I have met on the road have told me that it gets easier to part with loved ones the more often you do it. I call bullshit. I have spent my life traveling between my home in New Zealand and my family in the States. It never gets easier when it comes to the ones you love more than life itself. And leaving my princess hurt just as much the second time as it did the first. But I knew something she didn’t – in just 7 months, she would get a surprise knock on her door as I would be returning for Dommy’s wedding.
As our time together on the North American continent ended, I was grateful to the Sorenson’s for making Grace and my dreams and goals of Disneyland come true in the same way they have taught me for the last ten years to make my own dreams become reality. I remain endlessly grateful to Chris and Vanessa for not only having me to join them on their holiday and for making sure that our promise of Disneyland 2016 happened (and so beautifully), but I thank them so much for always allowing the relationship between Grace and I to flourish and grow. I thank them for their never-ending love and kindness, and for bringing me into their home and their lives with arms wide open, and for allowing me to be their wayward extra family member.