I came across a lot of magnificent things when I was in America, and I thought I would put together a list of the top 5 most impactful, memorable and beautiful things I saw or experienced while there. This was a tough list to make, with a lot of contenders, but if you're thinking of traveling there soon, I think this is worth a little read.
1. Something Unexpected: The Night Sky in Complete Darkness
Being a Kuala Lumpur city girl, my nights growing up have been a medley of lights and traffic sounds. Even the few escapes I've had to my dad's hometown in Perak were with old suburban houses, mountain ranges and a ton of trees. So my first encounter with the night sky in an open desert truly and really took my breath away.
It was emotionally significant as well: we were in a rush, trying to chase the fast receding sunlight as it was our only source of light (aside from the car) for hundreds of miles and the idea being stuck in the middle of nowhere, quite literally, with no phone reception or other people made me really nervous. It was during this time of internal lamentations of the struggle and fear of driving through the desert that I bothered to look up, and in that instance every negative emotion vanished at the sight of the most beautiful night sky I have ever seen. And it is difficult to think of a location that will grant me a better view.
I've written about this before: without a single source of light pollution outside of the very occasional car, thousands of stars lit up the night sky. You know that saying "there are more stars in the Universe than there are grains of sand in all the beaches on this Earth." I believe it. What made it more surreal that due to the endless flat ground, it felt like the stars were wrapped around us, from horizon to horizon: a blanket of stars covered us in a dome.
It was also a metaphor that I have learned to be very true to this life: sometimes the times that we find are a true struggle, that we fear, are the times where we can miss some of the most beautiful things, if you don't take the time to look up.
2. Something Telling: Rolling Landscapes of Arizona and California
During our trip through the West Coast I drove (and I just calculated this so I'm a little stunned) over 4500KM from city to city in 12 days, spread across a month, not taking within-city driving into consideration. Looking at the numbers now that seems a little crazy for a single driver but at the time it didn't seem so bad. I guess I should thank the fact that I live so far away from my school that my daily 70km/day drives here in Malaysia trained me for the long-distance run.
Still, I am genuinely grateful for the experience because the things I witnessed while behind the wheel - how the Earth around us seemed to transform from one state to another, were genuinely unforgettable. We went from cities, to forests, to deserts and mountain ranges, through farming land and suburban neighbourhoods, to college towns and man-made cities. It was one very long, slow-moving, 48 hour movie that revealed the wondrous and breathtaking beauty that this Earth had to offer.
3. Something Natural: The Endless Grand Canyons
I've had the good fortune of coming to the Canyons twice now, once almost 10 years ago with my family. This time we went to a different viewing sight but the effect was just the same, except this time I had the maturity and understanding to truly appreciate it.
It isn't a place one forgets after seeing it, for it is just so regal and awe-inspiring. It is difficult to call it 'gorgeous' or 'pretty' because it isn't exactly so; it is miles of dry, hard rock: layered with ridges and lacking in vegetation. Unlike Yosemite, whose seasonal changes bring forth all sorts of life and dream-like wonderment, the Grand Canyon is stoic and solid in nature. But it is it's permanence and harshness that causes it to leave such an impact on me. I mean, you can see the Canyons from space! How crazy is that thought.
4. Something Sweet: The Performance on the Colorado River
Less about a location and a little more about the people: one of my fondest memories of the interesting individuals we met is when we were kayaking on the Colorado river through the city of Austin. That activity in itself was a treat on its own, to be able to see a lot of the city while casually paddling under the warm, luxurious sun. It was also reasonably tiring work, so it was nice to be doing some form of exercise other than walking.
It was towards the tail end of our kayak when a group of three boys dressed in Hawaiian shirts and fishermen's hats approached us in a canoe, telling us that they were recording a 'happiness' project for their college assignment and would like to do something nice for us. Intrigued, we said "yes". They then proceeded to serenade Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours" using a ukulele and some surprisingly good vocals.
Before the song was over, a fourth one started steering a paddleboat over with a bouquet of roses in his hands. He then proceeded to attempt to toss us the flowers only to fall over into the water. Out on the river, on that gorgeous afternoon with perfect skies in the middle of an unknown city, it felt like a scene out of a movie. I had never experienced such a feat by strangers before so it really did an emotional number on me: they were successful in making us very happy indeed.
They later explained that they had been going up and down the river for the last few days and were serenading/handing out beers to random strangers in order to spread some goodness around. It was such a sweet, funny and picture-perfect moment; pretty sure it's engraved into my memories forever.
5. Something Manmade: Casinos in Las Vegas
Last but not least, this one is a little different from the rest too, because I think it tells of both good and bad of humanity:
The good? Our ability to create. Vegas is like the most extravagant costume party to exist, but spanning across an entire city. Every lavish building has a theme and that theme can be taken so far as to have river channels going through the entire mall to look like Venice, or giant crystal chains illuminated by sensual pink light, dangling from point to point as to exude 'Victoria Secret'-sexy. They were open 24/7 and spared no expenses in dazzling and impressing their compatriots. We did our best to visit most of the casino/hotels that were there and it was like entering a different world each time. A real testament to architects and interior designers everywhere.
The bad? Pretty obviously, it was sad that all this effort and beauty serves the sole purpose of enticing people to come visit in order to gamble. A real gorgeous succubus for your wallet.