A normal semester of university at Usyd passes by rather quickly. On exchange it does so with rocket- speed. So here I am, finding myself staring at the remaining 5 weeks of semester, wondering where the rest of the 10 flew by.
Due to this fast pace of things, one has to have a clear idea of what they want to get back from the golden semester of exchange fairly soon along the journey. In my case, I had more or less two main goals.
When applying to the University of California, not only had I heard about the vast variety of natural beauty this state has to offer- ranging from the deserts and beaches to the city life, but I chose the Berkeley campus mainly for its academic reputation. So while these two goals- one of the explorer, one of the academic have been fairly challenging to satisfy simultaneously, they have shaped my entire exchange experience so far! Hence through this entry I hope to share some of my travels around California and the neighbouring states and especially highlight some marvels of nature that I have stumbled upon in the last two months.
Before the spring season hit California, I ventured out with my amazing new roommate and a few other friends to the most famous skiing location in the state- Lake Tahoe. Located at the border of California and Nevada, the clear freshwater lake is surrounded by snow capped mountains which are entirely covered in pine trees- making it the largest alpine lake in Northern America. Due to this natural beauty, the area is home to number of popular ski resorts which get taken over by water-activities in the summer season. Though having skied before in the Snowy mountains, the experience at Lake Tahoe was amazing for me- who had only been out in snow once before! Whether it was the incredible view of the lake when skiing down the slopes or driving around the lake admiring the much photographed Emerald Bay or the simple pleasure of making snowmen and snow-angels, it’s no surprise that Lake Tahoe remains one of my favourite destinations amongst all the travels.
Much contrary to the snow, a major area of California is occupied by the Mojave Desert; characterised by dry to rocky landscape, this landform boasts about the highest recorded temperatures in North America (a scorching 57 degrees Celcius in the Death Valley!) to the second lowest point in the world, 89 metres below sea level (!!) at the Badwater basin and the unique flora of the desert- the Joshua trees, just to mention a few. Having the urge to explore the various parts of California, it was obvious that this famous desert found itself on my check-list of “places to see”.
This opportunity of travel I received in the much awaited Spring Break. In reality, while this week off classes is equivalent to any old “mid-semester break”, it nonetheless appealed to all exchange students and having to get through 9 weeks of classes before the golden break, seemed too tortuous. But as mentioned earlier with the fast pace of semester, this wait was over long before we fathomed. And in I launched with my new international friends, signing up for a bus trip and then followed by a road trip throughout the state in what must have been over 3 days of travelling in total! Though all the travelling does sound tiring (which it was in all honesty) the amazing landscapes and cities I discovered were more than worth it!
Adding my own experience to the Mojave Desert, the Death Valley National Park offered some amazing views of the desert (as seen in the photo). There were enormous sand dunes shaped millions of years ago by the action of water and volcano lava, making unique coloured patterns across the dunes, like I had never seen before. The Joshua Tree National Park involved a number of hikes through the desert, which had all of us scrambling up and down big rock boulders (much more fun that it sounds!) and driving through the acres of Joshua trees that lie in the park-named so by the early settlers after the saint Joshua, as their branches always point up to the sky. The Keys Point lookout at the park offered a remarkable bird’s eye view of the entire valley, including the fault line that separates the North American plate from the Pacific!!
Having never been to any of the seven natural wonders of the world, visiting the Grand Canyon was truly one of the highlights of Spring Break! With 4000 feet high cliffs in the state of Arizona, the Colorado River flowing at the bottom of the canyon, there were various lookout points throughout the West Rim of the Canyon. But apart from the beauty of it all, the most striking feature of this natural wonder was simply the enormity of the place which left you feeling pretty insignificant in comparison to nature’s making.
It must be mentioned, however that here in California, the man-made constructs are not far behind than nature. Located in the middle of a barren Nevada state, the famous city of Las Vegas is a sheer example of this. The entire attraction of the place is centred in on a single street called “the Strip” which has a number of different types of Casinos lined up, each of them showcasing world famous shows and artists on a regular basis. Living in Vegas for two nights allowed us to walk around the Strip in the evening, when the city comes to life and explore some amazing interiors of the glamorous Casinos which are mostly themed after famous cities- such as New York- New York, Paris, Venetian, Caesar’s Palace and many more. Though being underage did limit the Vegas experience, it’s a city that can be well enjoyed by most. The cities of Los Angeles and San Diego, which were also on our itinerary had much less to offer in terms of their night life, but were typical models of most other cities in Australia.
Last but not the least, it must be mentioned that the much heard about Californian beaches didn’t quite compare to the amazing beaches we have in Australia. Its rather ironic that its taken me all this travelling to realise why the beaches in Australia attract flocks of people all year round.
The most incredible fact however is that the above locations make up for less than half of the National Parks that California has to offer! And so my explorations are bound to continue in the little remaining time I have. Though ongoing assignments, quizzes and not to mention the tense competition of Berkeley does dampen my exploring spirits, I’m still more than glad for having gotten this opportunity.
And so I guess I shall end this one with what has been one my favourite quotes on exchange- “It doesn’t happen every semester- so make the most of it!”