It’s week ten, and time to explore the good old US of Stateside. OK, so I’m cheating a little by renting a car for a spot of overlanding in California – LA to San Francisco road trip – but it’s really the only way to get around here. And I do catch one last train through the desert at sunset first.
It’s fair to say that Ciudad Juarez does not have the best reputation. A decade or so of narco wars saw the murder rate skyrocket as the city became one of the most dangerous in the world. After a crackdown, things have got a lot better since 2012 but it’s still not really a place I want to hang around.
Crossing the US border was always going to be tricky. With all the insane talk about ‘building a wall’ and migration being the political hot potato in the US election, I wasn’t really looking forward to it. Plus there’s always the lingering fear that might’ve accidentally bought a kilo of cocaine and stashed it in your bag. Even though you’re pretty damn sure you haven’t.
So, I was expecting the worse. After queuing in line for a couple of hours, when I reached the front the look on the immigration official’s face was not a good one. She looked like she’d never seen a British passport before (to be fair she probably almost exclusively deals in US and Mexican documents) and sent me to another vast office. This charmless space had about 40 counters and seemingly no officials.
After an hour or so in this Kafkaesque hellhole I was finally seen and stamped (my passport, not me personally) and told to join the back of the queue. What joy. They’ve sure got things sorted out here.
Finally crossing the border I find myself in El Paso. Its literally only a wire fence that separates the countries and cities but the difference between them is striking. Gone are the vibrant, noisy, dirty streets of Mexico and in its place is calm, ordered, clean and quiet Texas.
Everything works like it should, it’s neat, tidy and ever so slightly dull in comparison to where I’ve been. However, our hosts for the night in Casa River are extremely nice and their place comfortable, clean and with working plug sockets (it’s amazing how you can miss the little things).
Overlanding in California
From El Paso I catch the 17 hour Sunset Limited train through the deserts of New Mexico, Arizona and California to LA. It’s not like the trains I’m used to. The seats are huge and recline, and there’s even a glass walled observation car where you can lounge on sofas and stare out into countless miles of desert as you trundle along overlanding in California.
The tracks pass through classic American scenery – rocky bluffs, cacti, trailer parks and some pretty backwater kind of places. Benson, Arizona anyone? But, as the sun sets over the desert, it’s pretty magical.
LA to San Francisco road trip
Arriving in LA I stay in the hipster heaven of Melrose, explore the opulent streets of Beverly Hills and take a drive up into Laurel Canyon behind the Sunset Strip. This is where the rock stars used to live, with David Crosby, Jim Morrison, Frank Zappa and countless others all hanging out together. These days it’s a pretty upmarket suburb with amazing views out over the city below.
From LA I travel up the stunning California coast through Malibu to Big Sur along State Route 1. Huge mountains tumble down into the Pacific on what must be one of the world’s most beautiful roads – I certainly recommend an LA to San Francisco road trip overlanding in California.
Meet Mayor Dirty Harry
I stop off at the Henry Miller Memorial Library to pay my respects to a literary hero before arriving in Carmel, a beautiful and terrifyingly expensive beach community. Just to give you an idea of what this place is like, the mayor used to be a little known actor called Clint Eastwood.
From here I’m heading north towards San Francisco and the redwood forests of Northern California. Then it’s time to get active again on the trails of Yosemite as I carry on overlanding in California.