Those Places You Find in Your Own Backyard

by Ekua on April 27, 2013 in California,local discoveries

“Get ready to travel in your own country,” my friend says cheerfully as she opens the gate for me. “You can blog about this!”

Indeed, I step into a new world as I enter the yard. A collector’s world. There are several cars, some functioning, others clearly not. An old Mercedes has its hood propped up and the rusty engine inside makes me think that the hood has been open for a while. There are appliances and sheet metal and all sorts of unrecognizable stuff scattered around the large yard in a semi-organized fashion. Beyond the junk is a mini farm.

Inside the house, there’s a lot of clutter, but I am relieved to see that it’s not completely jampacked. There are quite a few chotskies, a wood-burning oven in the center of the living room, mismatched dining room furniture, and some requisite Bob Marley posters among other artwork on the walls. It’s the ultimate Central California Coast hippie homestead and there are no dull corners in here.

I am a little disoriented in this wacky house in the country, but I’m thrown right into the mix. I meet the eccentric landlord who built the house himself. He grew up in East Germany and Croatia. He is the kind of person who eschews most formalities and gets right into discussing all kinds of topics: city life versus country life, school lunches, his childhood in Croatia. He must have noticed me looking around the house with amused curiosity and he tells me that a lot of houses in Croatia are like this, full of sentimental knick-knacks and clutter.

My friend and her boyfriend make arepas, delicious little South American corn cakes which I imagine I’ll be eating a lot this summer on my travels. We go out to one of the patios in the back to have dinner as twilight dwindles. Another one of the of the roommates is barbecuing chicken by the light of a headlamp and he offers some to those of us who eat meat. Later as we are getting ready to head out, the landlord insists on giving us various kinds of chocolates. It’s a strange and overloaded house, but it’s also one of the most welcoming and generous spaces I’ve been in.

I ask my friend’s boyfriend how he found it, assuming this was not the kind of place you would see listed online. “Craigslist,” he replies, and I wonder what that listing would have looked like.

After dinner, we head back up Highway 1 to Santa Cruz for a hip hop show. I’ve never lived in Santa Cruz, but I’ve been going to shows and hanging out with friends there on and off for almost a decade, so it’s awash with a warm homey feeling every time I return. The crowd at the show is everything you would expect a Santa Cruz concert to be regardless of the music genre: skater and surfer types, university students, neo-hippies, and old school hippies who probably experienced the Summer of Love. We came to the show to dance, so that’s what we do until the music stops.

As we head back to countryside hippie homestead, my friend excitedly tells me that they have a bag of carrots and other vegetables to make a delicious breakfast with tomorrow. This amuses me as a bag of carrots is not something I usually associate with a tasty Sunday breakfast.

We get up in the late morning for coffee and a breakfast of carrots, broccoli and sweet potatoes cooked with garlic and topped with cheese and dash of hot sauce. It is surprisingly tasty. I’m not a huge meat eater, but I am not a vegetarian, so I often find that I am impressed with what people can do with vegetables after years of not eating meat.

When it’s time to go, I say my goodbyes to the household and take one last walk through the yard of clutter. I head away from the hippie house and the road that winds through hills becomes a farmland road that haphazardly curves through a flat expanse of crops and crosses over train tracks. Bright red strawberries that look ready to pick dot some of the fields. There are no other cars joining me on this stretch of road and there are just a few houses and clumps of RVs among the farms.

I stop for gas in Pajaro, a small town with a population of a little over 3,000 people who are 94% Latino. Inside the station, most customers are greeted immediately with Spanish and familiarity. Pajaro sounds like ranchera and cumbia and Spanish, and for my brief stop there, I feel like I am traveling in Mexico again.

I leave Pajaro and head north, reflecting on the past day which had unexpectedly been a charming exercise in cross-cultural exploration just a little under two hours south of home. As I merge onto Highway 1, I think to myself, “I should blog about this.”

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