America the sweaty, spendy and thrifty

Hi y’all (obligatory southern greeting). Time for an update on what’s been occurring in these here parts…


My new besties

Without wanting to sound smug, my first week has comprised largely of lounging about, getting used to the bizarre new sensation of not having to rush anywhere… At once splendid and disconcerting. I’ve strolled leisurely to daily yoga classes, where the gloriously guileless instructor tells me to ‘show up for myself’ and ‘be present and accepting of my truth’ with the kind of wide-eyed earnestness that would be mistaken for sarcasm back in Britain. I’ve lounged by the apartment complex’s communal pool, never surpassing a lazy breast-stroke whenever the mood takes me to do any actual swimming. I’ve read and written and pondered and cooked yellow squash for dinner. Might as well say sod it and join the cast of the Real Housewives of Atlanta, would fit right in I’m sure… What a horrifying thought. Imagine the BOREDOM. Luxurious though it is, this little sojourn from Real Life must be, for me at least, entirely temporary.


Wandering between worlds. In other news, the temperature is sky-high, reaching around 32 most days (or 90°F according to local sources – celsius never caught on here, apparently), which necessitates darting between various air-conditioned interiors and spending as little time as possible outside in the merciless sunshine. Perhaps the climate is at least in part responsible for a marked contrast between inside and outside here in the south – one which I remember noticing in North Carolina, too. While walking through the neighbOrhood streets, or out alongside busier roads, I find it hard to shake an odd sense that I shouldn’t be there, somehow. There is practically no one around, and the humans I do come across are almost always seated behind the wheels of giant 4x4s (the human-to-car ratio being approx 1:1000 by my estimation). On the major roads, those who do venture out on foot are confronted with few pavements and convenient crossings, apparently this is not a city built for pedestrians. I also notice that fellow pedestrians are predominantly male POC. I smell social division.

Having picked my way across this strange No-Man’s Land in the blistering heat, I often continue my walk home through a nearby mall. A merciful wave of icy air greets me as I gaze up to the multiple floors of twinkling facades above immaculate displays of clothes, gadgets, cosmetics and products of every other description. These are intersperced with Starbucks, pretzel and macaroon stands, cupcake emporia (Sprinkles has even installed a ‘cupcake ATM’ into a side wall from which to withdraw sweet treats), artfully-placed indoor foliage and fountains, all of it stretching as far as the eye can see and populated with bag-laden shoppers, phone in one hand, grande iced green tea soya latte (or similar) in the other. Mostly white people too, incidentally. Such places and activities are not unique to here of course, but yet again, the US seems to have taken them to the extreme. For me, these malls are not so much shopping centres as entire villages, built to house the most STUFF possible, to provide the most superlative Shopping Experience to their visitors. Or at least, to act as a refuge from the sweltering nothingness outside. Without meaning to sound sanctimonious, feels like there’s a hell of nothingness inside these places, too.


Sweet Home Alabama (had to, didn’t I?). Chan and I decided to leave Hotlanta (as the city’s inhabitants have inventively dubbed it) behind for a weekend visit to her native state of Alabama, or ‘Alabama the Beautiful’, as the state slogan proudly announces. My initial impressions found in favour of this slogan; as soon as we were off the interstate and despite the relentless southern heat, the landscape was verdant, seemingly winning a war against human habitation in places. We sped past timber bungalows overgrown with kudzu, many complete with American flags, porches with rocking chairs and those classic mail boxes on posts at the ends of the driveways as per every American movie you’ve ever seen… We arrived in Amanda’s hometown of Weaver, and spent a fab few days en famille, wading through the heavily accented, lilting southern English to discover a delightfully warm and welcoming group of people.


America The Thrifty. For all the polished new products being churned out for sale at the aforementioned malls, it seems that if there’s one thing many Americans love more than new stuff, it’s old stuff. As Chan and I left the highway and headed down more local east-Alabamian roads, Amanda began to point out several roadside establishments offering all manner of second-hand wares, from tumbledown cabins given over to the reselling of damaged canned goods (the ‘Dented Can Store’) to giant thrift stores set up in industrial-looking warehouses (‘Center of Hope’ – a Christian organisation which pops a helpful pamphlet on how not to go to hell into your shopping bag when you pay). Yard sale signs also abounded (Amanda informs me that these are much more common and frequent than our sporadic car booties). Best of all, a leaflet at the state border welcome centER announced the Unclaimed Baggage Center as one of Alabama’s top attractions – yep, a huge marketplace where you can bag yourself a bargain at some hapless holiday-maker’s expense! GENIUS.

My impresson of this apparent fondness for rooting out a bargain was typified by Chan’s delightfully giggly mother, whose house was a veritable Aladdin’s cave of every kind of object you can imagine, collected through decades of careful yard-sale-combing… dolls, kitchen utensils, snow-globes, chairs, screens, cookbooks, lamps, mini electric fans (“Ah just picked this one up – ain’t it PRECIOUS?”)… Mama Chan had it all. By the time we left Alabama, we had visited two different thrift stores (three if you include sifting through Mama Chan’s latest finds) and had been saddled up with enough cast-off canned groceries to last until about 2050, as well as fresh yellow squash and patty pan, another member of the marrow family typically grown in the south. Gawd bless Mama Chan.

Although, as my dear sage friend Ruth reflected on our recent video call, this often unnoticed yet flourishing thrift-store culture may simply be the underbelly of consumerist culture here in the US; people are programmed to want more and more stuff, and finding it at a fraction of its original cost (albeit sometimes not quite in its original condition) may simply be a more affordable outlet for consumerist compulsions. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly heartened to see that under the pristine surface of the sparkling malls, accessible perhaps only to the wealthy, lies a layer of spend-thrifts, make-doers and menders, sniffing out alternative ways of getting what they need/want through more sustainable means. As someone who engages in the buying of new clothes only under sufferance, I appreciate this. Consumerism remains at large, but consuming the already-consumed seems a good option to me for now.

Our final stop before returning across the border to Georgia was the DeSoto Caverns, a stunning, sprawling cave network with a colourful history as Native American hideout, small-scale gunpowder factory and illicit speak-easy during Prohibition. Blissfully cool down there too – I wore a light jumper and everything!

That’s all for now, poppets. More news from Hotlanta soon. If you’re reading from the UK: good luck with hosting the Supreme Moron for a few days – no doubt there are many over here that are glad of a break! I am following the protests from afar and am absolutely there in spirit. Leaving you with a few other pics from the week for your perusal 🙂 Off to do some more lazing about now.

Peace out fo now x x x x x x x x


Atlanta by night


Jiffy pop – stove popcorn!


Hard at work popping the jiffy pop




A British Phonebox in Lenox Park. Unsure why.


Harder than it looked! Extra stuff to do outside DeSoto Caverns


Waffle House. Southern institution. Glad I tried it. Might not again – greaSY.


(Delayed) Photo Udate: SFO – LA Road Trip

California: The Road Trip

Ello ello! I’m actually posting this from Quito, although I wrote most of it at LAX/on the LA – Panama flight. I’ve just got to get it posted before more stuff happens to write about!

I believe I left you in Monterey, after our SF and Yosemite adventures… man has it been hectic since then! The road trip from that point went as follows:

Monterey –> San Luis Obispo –> Santa Barbara –> Hollywood –> Santa Monica


Monterey and the SKYDIVE. Possibly The Event of the road trip. I have been wondering how best to capture in words the experience of chucking yourself out of a plane at 18,000 feet. Not an easy task. The prospect felt very far away and unreal until, after filling out various waivers, being fitted with harnesses and doing some basic training, we were all bundled into a light aircraft and strapped to our instructors. The reality of what I had signed myself up for dawned on me when I watched the guy in front of me in the plane – a veteran solo skydiver – as he hopped expertly out of the opening. Seeing his body fall away through the sky sent a bolt of fear straight through my body, which might have prevented me from following him had my instructor not started crab-walking me to the opening and pushing me out before I’d had much of a chance to consider my options.

At that point, the order of my thoughts went something like this:

“AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH” ….. “SH**********T” ….. “AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH” ….. “It is SO SO SO BEAUTIFUL” ….. “I am literally falling through the air, how mad is that?!?!” ….. “OH CRAP I’ve gone about a minute without breathing – BREATHE KATRINA BREATHE!!” ….. “I am ALIVE!!!!!” ….. “AHHHHHHHHH” ….. “Thank Christ we didn’t get this videoed – the wind is blowing the skin off my face” ….. “AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH” …..

Apart from the thoughts that I have been able to distinguish, I basically laughed hysterically all the way down. The parachute opened after what felt like about 10 seconds of free-fall but which was in fact 80 seconds, and my instructor then sent us swooping and gliding through the air for several minutes before landing us lightly on terra firma. The sense of freedom and pure exhilaration was unlike anything either Emily or I had previously experienced. We spent the rest of the day trying to put into words how we had felt, and even when the conversation moved on, it continued to be punctuated with sudden bursts of “… Mate, we actually jumped out of a plane today. HOW COOL was that though??” Utterly unforgettable.

San Luis Obispo and Pete’s Place. Airbnb did us proud here. We rocked up at Pete’s place a couple of hours late (Google Maps did us not so proud) and were met by an old-ish tanned bloke, who wandered down the driveway and, by way of greeting, offered us a cracker from the box he was holding. We accepted and he solemnly placed one into each of our palms before breaking into a huge smile, hugging us warmly and beckoning us up to the house. I use the word ‘house’ in a broad sense; Pete’s pad is quite unlike anything I have ever seen. It has sprung purely from his imagination and takes eclecticism to a whole new level (the pictures will probably illustrate this better than my writing can). We chatted about his ideas and his guests, although it would have been great to stay longer and find out more.

Pete's Place

Pete’s Place

One of Pete's creations

One of Pete’s creations

Hollywood. After calling in at Santa Barbara for lunch and eating our body weights in Mexican food, we rolled down the highway and onto Hollywood Boulevard. It was very much as I remember it: loud, bustling and peppered with Darth Vaders, Spidermen and Jack Sparrows (and now with the addition of Minions, Princess Elsas and selfie sticks). A bit mad really. But as soon as you accept that it’s all nuts and resolve to not take anything too seriously, it’s quite hilarious.

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara

The morning following our arrival, we jumped back in the car and made our way up to Griffith Observatory: the starting point for what would turn out to be a tough 4-hour hike in the punishing heat up to the Hollywood sign. Stunning views over LA, despite the heat and lack of drinking fountains to top up on water.


Later that evening, I embarrassingly let us walk down Sunset Boulevard for half an hour before realising that we were going in completely the wrong direction (ended up in East instead of West, whoops!) We called an Uber to take us back the other way, and ended up carpooling with a British couple who were heading to the Comedy Store, close to where we were headed. We decided to join them, only to find out when we got there that Sarah Silverman was in town and doing a set there that very night! She was bloody brilliant – I was crying with laughter. Some of the other acts were a bit more variable, but despite a few groans and cringes, the whole evening was brilliantly spontaneous.

Santa Monica flew by as I only had a day there, but was really glad of the fresher coastal air and the relaxed vibe wafting around the palm-lined streets. We took a walk down to Venice on my final evening, as the promenade there makes for some excellent people-watching. Having a chilled day also gave me a chance to prepare for the next major transition on this journey: pressing on ever further south to Ecuador!

Santa Monica at sunset

Santa Monica at sunset

I will round off this post by adding that I have just spent a lovely first day in Quito with an Australian couple I met at the hostel. I am still pretty tired after spending the whole of yesterday travelling and not sleeping too well the previous couple of nights.. but I have really enjoyed wandering down the cobbled streets to the basilica, cathedral and numerous little galleries today – Quito feels good and the people have been so incredibly friendly! So many smiles all round. Anyway, more Ecuador impressions coming soon to a laptop screen near YOU. Right now however, is nap time.

Big shout out to Emily for being such a smashing road trip buddy – we tore up that highway good and proper! I only wish WordPress would let me upload the spectacular videos we made outside of Santa Barbara (although perhaps the web isn’t quite ready for your singing ;)).

Love love love x x x x x

Photo update: San Francisco and Yosemite

Trains, Planes and Woodland Hikes: San Francisco and Yosemite

After several bonkers days of hopping along the West Coast, I am finally sitting comfortably in a hostel in Monterey, stomach full of scrummy fish tacos and ready to stuff a new post full of updates! We arrived here this afternoon following four days in San Francisco and two in Yosemite National Park – and not a dull moment to speak of! I should mention that this post will feature Miss Emily Kennewell as my guest blogger, who will no doubt be offering an alternative angle on the occurrences of the past week…

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The nuts and bolts of this week’s journey. I arrived in San Francisco around 18 hours after jumping aboard the Coast Starlight train back in Portland. I managed a few hours of sleep despite my neighbour Spencer’s seismic snoring (lovely bloke, terrible blocked-up nose), and then made my way by bus then BART (metro) to the airport in time for Emily’s arrival. We headed back to SF airport four days later to pick up the car (a Kia Soul that we’ve named Patty), and set off on a 5-hour drive in-land to Yosemite, stopping to raid Wallmart for cheap camping equipment on the way. Two days of glorious hiking, making campfires and not washing later, we were back in the car and on the road to Monterey… which just about brings us up to date! As usual, I’ll try to divide the post up logically for maximum digestibility..

The Kemps. I run the risk of repeating myself, but I cannot stress enough the extent to which warm, wonderful people have shaped my experiences during this trip. Emily and I spent our first two Californian nights with Leslie and Drew, Emma’s parents (Emma whom I was lucky enough to befriend in Portland), followed by two nights with her sister Kyle, in SF’s Mission District. The Kemp family are truly among the best people I have met: every adjective I choose to describe them doesn’t seem quite right somehow… seriously, I’ve rewritten this sentence about 50 times now. It’s getting silly. Leslie, Drew, Kyle: THANK YOU. Not just for the spectacular margaritas, Vietnamese dinner and comfy beds on which to rest our heads, but for being so thoughtful and open and kind. Love you guys 🙂

Emily says: What she said. Kemps you da bomb. Thanks for the ‘nosh’, Leslie.



WE FLEW A PLANE OVER THE BAY. One of the most unexpected and exhilarating experiences that either of us has had. Not long after arriving at Leslie and Drew’s Drew casually mentioned that he was a flying instructor, and asked if we’d liked to go up the following day! Obviously we bit his hand off. Drew was unfailingly patient and encouraging with both of us, and before long we were taking it in turns to steer the plane over the Bay Area. I am thinking back on it now and still not quite believing it; too much to take in almost. We are two lucky sods basically.

Emily says: IT WAS INCREDIBLE. Having to stop at the fuel station to fill up your plane before touching down for lunch at the golf course #firstworldproblems. I always used to say ‘flying a plane’ in answer to those awkward ‘tell us something you’ve always wanted to do’ questions at work networking events. Now I’m going to have to think of something else. Eff’s sake.

Alcatraz. As chilling and intriguing as I remember it. We caught the evening ferry over to the Rock and spend an eery evening learning about the convicts who spent their confinement staring out to sea, at San Francisco and pining for their lost freedom..

Emily says: No witty comment for this one – KB hit the nail on the noggin.

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Biking Golden Gate Park and the Presidio. This was SO. MUCH. FUN. Except for hills, of which SF has many, we discovered. The bike ride took us from the eastern tip of Golden Gate Park through to Ocean Beach, then up into the Presidio and past the unmissable Golden Gate Bridge, and finally right along the water’s edge to finish a Pier 39, where we gratefully slurped clam chowder and felt righteous and athletic.

Emily says: Hated every second of the cycling. Especially when I thought I was having a heart attack. Still got saddle sores. But despite bitching and moaning the whole way, the view was SO worth it.

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Yosemite. I feel this merits more than one paragraph somehow… but anyway. We arrived in the woodland idyll that is Yosemite and went about setting up camp. This was successful thanks in large part to Emily’s cave-womanly instincts: even cooked edible food on the camp fire! After a not entirely restful night in camp, I dragged Emily on a 6-mile hike towards Upper Yosemite Falls. The views of towering pines, sheer rock faces and intense blue sky left me quite speechless. Emily seemed similarly speechless, though perhaps for different reasons… Our second and final night in Yosemite consisted mostly of being taught how to make the perfect Smore (a toasted marshmallow and slab of chocolate sandwiched between two biscuits – quite the American education!) by three hilariously precocious kids from the neighbouring camp. Once they’d been shoo’d away to bed, Em and I sat by the fire playing cards and watching the millions of stars make their appearances above our heads. You know that bit in Pocahontas, when she is singing ‘Colours of the Wind’ and says that line about asking the wild cat why he grins? IT WAS EXACTLY LIKE THAT. 🙂

Emily says: Truly the most painful, torturous and greatest physical achievement of my life. Who knew that I could possibly hike a mountain in the sweltering heat? Thank God for Katrina “Slave-driver” Barnes for getting my arse up that lump of rock. P.s. The view was the same from the ground as it was from the top. #justsaying


Unexpected highlight: Leslie and Drew teaching us a classic Californian expression to be used when someone is stressing you out: “Dude, you are totally harshing my mellow”. I fully intend to make this take off in the UK. It is excellent.

Coming up in the next few days: The Sky-dive (Oh Christ alive), San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and LA! And more SF/Yosemite photos 🙂 Stay tuned.

Oodles and boodles of love 🙂 x x x

Portland Week #3: a final homage

I’m back at Amanda’s for a couple of days before hopping on a southbound train to San Francisco on Friday. Three weeks of wandering, wondering and marvelling are coming to an end, and I will leave this eccentric haven with a wistful sigh. The melodramatic side of my brain is now conjuring images of boarding the train in slow motion with Bittersweet Symphony blasting in the background… before I get too carried away, here is a round-up of the week’s goings-on:

Timbers Game. As the country’s soccer capital, it would have been wrong to have left without experiencing a bit of State-side footy here in Portland. I headed down to the stadium with Amanda, Mary and a group of others to watch the Portland Timbers take on the Houston Dynamos: a very watchable if slightly scrappy 2-2 draw (the Timbers were 2-0 down at half time, so the second half really was edge-of-your-seat stuff!). As I often find with football, however, my favourite part was watching the crowd… true to form, the Americans take cheering on their team to the next level (there are even ‘cheerleaders’ posted around the stands with their backs to the field, whose job is to lead the crowd’s cheers like orchestra conductors throughout the game). The below photo should hopefully give you some idea of the atmosphere. SO much fun.

When the Timbers scored, THIS happened

When the Timbers scored, THIS happened

Mt Hood. Saturday saw new-found kindred spirit, yoga buddy and generally excellent human being Mohan and I make our way around the Mt Hood loop. The beauty of the drive itself was countered slightly by a thick layer of smoke that had wafted in from inland forest fires which, coupled with the barrenness of the rain-starved landscape, made certain areas look like something out of Star Wars. First stop was the village of Hood River, where a paddle boarding competition was taking place (complete with hilarious commentator, random!). Next was Trillium Lake, a classic camping spot full of families setting up their BBQs, gazebos and inflatables (think of any American movie you’ve ever seen featuring a family vacation to a woodland lake). Mt Hood usually towers over the lake in the background, but due to the aforementioned smoke, it was barely visible! However, we did get up close and personal with the mountain when we made our last stop at Timberline Lodge. The Lodge plays host to hoards of skiers at almost any other time of year (there is usually snow on the mountain well into August apparently), but the dry conditions meant that we weren’t in for a whole lot of snow ourselves! Despite the smoke and atypical lack of greenery, it is hard for this area to not be beautiful in some way, and that added to the excellent company made for a fantastic day out.

Mohan and I at Mt Hood

Mohan and I at Mt Hood

The Coast. On Sunday, Amanda and I relived our Spanish road-tripping days (with her in the driving seat this time) as we made our way out to the Oregon Coast. We made our way to Ecola State Park (I know I know, I couldn’t stop calling it either ‘Ecoli’ or ‘Ebola’ either…), and were hit immediately by an enchanting, mystical view of sea mist hugging the rocks way into the distance. We hiked through coastal spruce forest (here was the lushness I had been craving!) out to Indian Beach, where we found mussels, starfish and a wee crab clinging to the rocks! This was followed by a stop at Cannon Beach, where we ate large amounts of ice cream and wandered across the sand to the famous Haystack Rock, watching the sunlight glistening on the water and setting the world to rights as we went.

Sea mist from Ecola viewpoint

Sea mist from Ecola viewpoint

I have also decided to do an ‘Unexpected highlight of the week’ mention in every post, for those special little moments that are not part of a fixed event or excursion, but which accumulate to make your experience of a place truly memorable. This week’s highlight is courtesy of the No. 4 bus driver who drove me between Division and Rose Quarter on Monday afternoon. As the doors swung open in front of me, the driver, a large lady with hair pulled back into a bun the same size as her head and finished off with a huge white flower, greeted me thus: “Well HELLO there, come awwn in!!! Girrrrrrrl where you stoppin’ today?? … AWESOME, got your ticket there? … Right on!!! Oooookay hold awwn folks, heeeere we go!!” Punctuation can only convey enthusiasm to a certain extent, so I hope my excessive use of it goes some way towards illustrating just how happy this lady seemed to be driving us all where we needed to go. And you know what? As she greeted each passenger with equal amounts of exuberance and cheer, every single person on that bus was grinning all the way across town. What a babe.

After casting my mind back over the past three weeks’ happenings, I realise how at home I have felt, here in this city of a thousand faces. Without wanting to make this sound too much like a gushing Oscars acceptance speech, my experience thus far has confirmed for me that impressive scenery is often an added bonus, and it is the people in any place that make or break your experience. The people I have met in Portland have been overwhelmingly generous, welcoming and engaging – Amanda, Emma (and the Belmont crew), Mohan, Tyson, Yvonne, Bob, awesome bus driver, life coach sushi lady, Firelight yogis, Sasha the lovely interpreter, guy who gave me a free cup of tea in case I was missing home: THANK YOU. My heart is already a little heavy at the thought of moving on, but I am consoled somewhat by the prospect of the Californian shenanigans just around the corner… Pastures new: I’m on my way!

More photos to follow.

Love and light to everybody, as ever 🙂

K x x x