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This summer I accompanied my mother-in-law on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster trip to Orange County in the US. I had been once before for a two night visit to her aunt and uncle who lived in Mission Viejo. It was with some sadness then, that we returned with the purpose to put them both to rest. At 92 and 80 they had led an adventurous life filled with trips all over the world, from exploring Mexican pyramids and to the Grand Canyon and back. They had filled their home with the result of 20 odd years of ceramic studies and had a veritable library of books and photos. Gaca survived his wife by only six months and it was so difficult to pack away a life time of collectables and personal knickknacks. We went through everything and I was fascinated by all the ceramic work and many books. Both of them had been avid potters, and as I browsed through the pages of their Raku books and Japanese inspired ceramic notes, they came back to life. I’m not quite sure how my mother-in-law coped so well as she had kept up a a personal correspondence with them for over 50 years. Writing to each other first on paper and then as the years passed on email and text message.

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The difficulty of our job, as such, finding people to help clear the house and meeting with estate agents and lawyers and a whole host of cleaning and boxing, rather detracted from our exploration of the OC itself.

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A world away from Barcelona, the landscape is more reminiscent of Johannesburg. But being almost 2 hours by bazillion lane high way from Los Angeles, we certainly felt out of it. We struggled to find restaurants and our forays into Laguna Beach and it’s surrounds were not as relaxed as they could have been.

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The landscape swirled down from hazy mountains in the distance to scrubby Hill lands and finally crashed into the ocean which pounded back with swells that rolled you up the beach and filled your swimsuit with sand and kelp. The shore line skittering birds running long legged and laughing at us.

The names of things reminded me of Nancy Drew novels; Lovers cove, and Crystal cove. But best of all was the wildlife. Where Barcelona has culture and a walk down the street is a 2000 year old history lesson, the California coastline wins for it’s birds and sea life. We spotted pelicans galore and sealions in the Dana point harbor. On a day trip out to Catalina island we saw grey whales and all sorts of birds skimming the waterline.

We struggled to get used to the strip mall way of life and finding healthy restaurants in our surrounding neighbourhood was tricky! Everywhere there were burger kings, taco bells and starbucks. Eventually we gave up and just shopped at the wholefoods and made home cooked meals. I’m guessing that driving half an hour to a restaurant is nothing for the locals, but after a long day of decision making and packing it was the last thing we wanted to do.

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Finally after many tears and ups and downs, we realized that we had accomplished most of the tasks we needed to in finalizing the estate, and decided we needed a break.

So we booked a trip to the island and set out at the crack of dawn to catch the early morning ferry to Catalina. Pulling into the port in Avalon the main town on the island we were met with a very pretty view that almost looked moviesetesque. Tiny clap board holiday cottages filled the streets and huge American flags fluttered over left out benches and deck chairs surrounding the permanent holiday street barbecues. Holiday makers leaned out of window sills and each doorway was a nod to summer time Americana. Kids toys and beach towels, a propped up lilo. The famed golf carts of the island lined the pavements and larger mansions created a curious backdrop as they clung to the steep cliff walls surrounding the little town.
We checked off the ubiquitous travel sights, by walking to the casino and back before renting some snorkel gear and heading out beyond the village to the famed snorkelling cove.

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What a fantastic way to wind up a rather stressful trip.

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The water was clear as an LA reality TV show swimming pool. Kelp twisted up from the rocks as massive cod and the sunset orange Garibaldi fish darted and dived. We thoroughly enjoyed a relaxing afternoon swimming but all too soon it was time to head back to the ferry for the trip back to Dana point.

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Our spirits much lightened we were able to get all the business parts of our trip concluded satisfactorily. Boxes were shipped off to South Africa and I was treated to a quick weekend in San Francisco to visit my very good friend.

Finally we drove the 2 hours back to LAX and flew back to Europe. Then it was a few days before I left to South Africa…