Making my way from the tip of Africa to Santa Fe, New Mexico was a crazy whirling dervish of an experience, but when I finally arrived, seeing an endless blue sky stretch beyond the desert horizon brought me sublime peace.
The calm that pervades the capital city of New Mexico is palpable, and a bit of a shock for a person fresh from the rat race of the city, cars, and urban angst. Santa Fe — or Holy Faith in Spanish — is a place of both spiritual and creative pilgrimage, given its deep roots in Native American culture and the undisturbed peace of the Navajo desert. The crisp air, the unclouded sun, the vast plains — in a place of such stillness you are simply connected; even your thoughts have an expansiveness that inner-city living just does not allow.
It was serendipitous that this journey came at a time when I had many questions and very few answers. Life, love, work, purpose — the endlessly spinning wheel — were all demanding some attention. Pseudo-isolation turned out to be the perfect antidote to my restless mind. My home for the moment was the sprawling, 72ha Spanish Pueblo-style ranch Rancho Alegre, and the minute I checked in any remaining resistance towards the desert and its soothing charms was vanquished. There is an unusual, eerie beauty to New Mexico: it has the kind of allure that transfixes the viewer, while minutes turn fluidly into hours, and hours into unbroken days.
I quickly became attuned to the spirit of the place, and realised why this parched expanse has long captivated seekers, such as artist Georgia O’Keeffe and historian and costume designer Cathy A Smith, whose anecdotes on the rich Native American history transfixed me. Sitting and staring outwards as the vista, the buildings and mountains danced in a play of ochre and terracotta, and I found myself at total ease.
But all good things must come to an end. And, setting off on the famed Route 66, next stop Viva Las Vegas, brought an abrupt interruption to the meditative perfection of days past. The Navajo desert, undulating and morphing before my eyes, is like a mother’s lullaby, dissolving into the sweetest calm. Although Vegas is the antithesis of restful Santa Fe, it makes up for this with its utterly exuberant sensory assault: from miles away the lights alone herald the approach of the city in all its ostentation.
I lived out my Vegas fantasy from a plush room overlooking the 24-hour carnival that is The Strip. The iconic Mandarin Oriental provides the best views of the sprawling surrounds and is well worth the charge of a Negroni, or two, as it provides a sanctuary in the insanity. Las Vegas is a bizarre desert town, curious in its unashamed hedonism. Unlike visitors to Santa Fe, Sin City attracts those with a need for more worldly pleasures. The contrast was stark, and the following day I made a beeline straight through the Mojave Desert en route to the next oasis, Palm Springs. Hotfooting it back into the wilderness could not have come a moment too soon, nor could I have been any happier to quickly shake off the tawdry build-up of the last day’s ventures. What happens in Vegas is more than welcome to stay in Vegas!
Winding through the seared scene that is the Mojave is hypnotising, and at the end of this road is picture-postcard Palm Springs, California, home of #ThatPinkDoor, a design-lover’s paradise, with at least three sun loungers per inhabitant.
Some travellers with a yen for a thriving scene might be left wanting more but, given my need to turn off and tune in, I felt right at home. The quaint little city is slow-paced and outrageously sunny, even in winter, and it was the perfect bon-bon to whet my palate. Leaving The Springs was sweet sorrow, but with oh-so-mellow Venice beckoning, it was time to move on.
Venice, Los Angeles is like stepping into your soul: it’s a haven for artists, healing and health, surf and sun; your true currency in this particular nook of LA is exactly how chilled you are. In this west coast, Bohemian fantasy land, alternative everything is in. Almond, soya, oat, hemp, quinoa — and that’s just the milk. This creative hub for filmmakers, yogis, and everyone in between embodies good-time living, with a big dash of sincerity on the side. Needless to say I fell helplessly in love with all that is Venice, California.
In allowing myself to be swept along with the unpredictable current of this journey; having the changing landscape of the magnificent plains mirror my thoughts; finding that in the quietness of the desert I was truly able to hear — without knowing what I was looking for I had, somehow, found it.