Re-entry: Touch-down in the U.S.A after one year

by Betsy Herbert

I flew back to the U.S.A. from Belize on Easter Sunday. Returning home to Santa Cruz, California after a year traveling around the world was at first a rush. From the air, the Santa Cruz Mountains were bright green and as I drove my rental car from San Jose to Santa Cruz, I saw that Lexington Reservoir was full. El Nino had indeed been good to us during this fifth year of drought!

Once back in Santa Cruz, one of the first places I walked was along the coast at Wilder Ranch State Park.

Once back in Santa Cruz, one of the first places I walked was along the coast at Wilder Ranch State Park.

The next day, I had a wonderful visit with my 95 year-old mother, who thankfully still recognized me and was overjoyed to see me, as I her. True to form, she had saved all the postcards I had sent her from around the world!

Unexpected grief. Then I was disheartened to hear that my dear friend Rob Menzies was in intensive care after a short illness. He died only a week later. Please read my 6/13/16 Santa Cruz Sentinel column dedicated to Rob posted on this website at:

http://www.betsyherbert.com/newsarticles-blog/

Couch-surfing. I had to wait a couple of weeks for my tenants to move out, before I could get back into my house. Ah, but friends again to the rescue! Alix, who was working in San Francisco, was glad to have me house-sit for the first week. She lives only a block away from Dharma's, so I could ease back into some super healthy eating without having to re-learn how to cook right away.

The next week, I stayed with Kevin and Mary Jo, who were soon to be off to Barcelona for three months. We had fun talking about their plans and my recent experiences in Spain. They live in the redwood forest. I loved spending time surrounded by trees, birds, and the sound of a running creek. . . all part of Santa Cruz that is dear to my heart!

Not so dear to my heart is the homeless situation in Santa Cruz. Did I just forget how bad it was or has it worsened in the last year? It's especially noticeable when, during the morning rush hour, all the BMWs and other commuter cars at the stop light at the intersection of River St. and Highway 1, as homeless people cross the highway from the shelter, some shoe-less and toothless, with their shopping carts. It just seems wrong for people to be living like this in the world's richest country. And I say this after spending time on the streets of New Delhi, Kolkata, and some of the other poverty centers of the world.

Buying a car. My first big task was to buy a car. I had sold my 2008 Subaru before I left. While on the road for a year, I had considered buying an electric car when I returned, but since I wanted to install a solar system on my rooftop first, I decided to go with a late-model small car with good gas mileage. Oh, and I wanted a sports car (I'm retired!). A Google search for the most fuel-efficient sports came up with, surprise, Tesla. . . which I already knew was priced way out of my market. So, moving down the list to number two, I found the Mazda MX5, at approximately 1/4 of the price of a Tesla.

After shopping on-line for about a week, I found my little black 2012 Mazda MX5 with a retractable hard-top. It would get me 36 mpg and it was a true sports car. I decided that I would need to acquaint myself soon with Zipcars, as the MX5 is a true two-seater. Not much good for group travel or hauling anything more than a few bags of groceries.

My Mazda MX5, which is apparently the second-most fuel efficient sports car on the market, after the Tesla. The MX5 is not hybrid or a plug-in, but it does get 36 mpg, and it's way cheaper than a Tesla. I thought I'd keep this until I can afford a Tesla or something else along those lines.

My Mazda MX5, which is apparently the second-most fuel efficient sports car on the market, after the Tesla. The MX5 is not hybrid or a plug-in, but it does get 36 mpg, and it's way cheaper than a Tesla. I thought I'd keep this until I can afford a Tesla or something else along those lines.

Behind the wheel again.  I had driven only the occasional rental car during my travels, so I knew that driving in California would take some readjustment. I just wasn't prepared for the level of insanity and vindictiveness out there on California highways. I've seen some stunts in the past two months of driving here that rival the fear and loathing of driving in third world countries. Probably the worst one happened while I was heading north in non-rush hour traffic on Highway 17. I was in the fast lane going slightly over the speed limit, when a huge SUV pulled up within inches of my back bumper. I couldn't move because there was a car immediately to my right in the slow lane and another one in front of me. So the SUV driver squeezes in between my car and the car in the slow lane, pushing me almost into the guard rail, and passes me between the lanes. Was this guy influenced by the mouth of Donald Trump? I wonder what kind of impact Trump's persona has had on traffic fatalities.

Moving back in. It was time to move into my house. I had scheduled movers to unload my 10' x 15' storage unit and move all of my stuff back into my house. It pays to shop around! I probably saved $750 by making a few phone calls. Luckily my tenants left the house in pretty good shape, though it's a financial shock to have to immediately deal with a year's deferred maintenance. . . a new water heater, new filters on everything from the water purifier to the furnace, touch up painting and floors refinishing. My garden was a disaster! Many plants had died and others were monstrously overgrown. I had my work cut out...

The joy of home. Now, that I'm settled, I am immensely enjoying being back in my home. I was never super homesick when I was away, but God it feels good to be back! I love the peace and quiet, and not having to rush to airports and hotels.

I'm back to gardening again. I had fun refurbishing my bird feeders and I hope the hummers soon discover them. One surprise was finding a monarch butterfly emerging from its green chrysalis, which was hanging on a star jasmine vine in my backyard. Flapping its wings slowly to get its circulation going, the monarch would soon take its first flight. The last time I had seen this rite of spring was during my childhood. A few days later I saw another newly emerged monarch, but this one had a deformed wing and was never able to fly. I wondered what the cause was.

This monarch butterfly emerged from its chrysalis attached to a plant in my backyard, but it had a deformed wing and was never able to fly.

This monarch butterfly emerged from its chrysalis attached to a plant in my backyard, but it had a deformed wing and was never able to fly.

Getting in shape. Being on the road for a year is hard on your fitness routine. I had worked out like a mad woman for six months before starting my trip. I wanted to be as fit as possible to increase my endurance.

But once in travel mode, I had no real fitness routine other than schlepping bags, walking some 10 miles a day, and once in while, swimming laps in hotel pools. This level of activity kept me in good enough shape for occasional high intensity activities like sea-kayaking, horseback riding, river-rafting, bicycling, trekking, zip-lining, and snorkeling.

The first week I was back in Santa Cruz, I went back to my gym and signed up with a personal trainer. I've been working out 5 days a week now for more than two months, and I'm just starting to feel fit again.

Cooking. I only gained five pounds on my trip, not bad considering the plethora of different local dishes I sampled and cocktails I downed in 36 countries over the past year. I was surprised by how hard it was to get back into preparing my own food. I had become accustomed to an endless stream of surprisingly good breakfast buffets, restaurant and street food around the world. After a week back home, eating at Dharma's and the Santa Cruz Diner, I realized that I could no longer afford the luxury of routinely eating in restaurants. it was time to re-learn how to cook. Luckily, my friend Sue, a gourmet vegan cook, came down for a few days and worked her magic as I observed and enjoyed. I'm now back to cooking for myself except for the occasional night out.

Checking it out. I made sure to have a complete physical when I returned and I was very happy to get a clean bill of health. Luckily, I didn't get sick on my trip, except for a couple of short bouts of intestinal upset. The only time I needed to see a doctor was to get some prescriptions refilled. I did however, have my teeth cleaned and a cavity filled in Thailand at about one quarter of what it would cost here.

Re-connecting. It's been great fun re-connecting with folks back in Santa Cruz, especially taking my favorite hikes in Wilder Ranch, the Pogonip, West Cliff Drive and Big Basin. I'm still catching up in terms of environmental issues in Santa Cruz. I'm impressed with all the work done by the Valley Women's Club in helping to stem the outrageous native tree cutting by PG&E!

New perspectives. My focus now is writing a book about my year-long trip around the world. I look forward to sharing many new perspectives I've gained during my travels. I'll continue to blog about my trip. I find that looking back at the end of the trip helps to make sense out of it all.
Until next time.