Posted by: HelenRortvedt | 19 December 2007

California debrief

I realize that I was a bit delinquent in my posting while in California, but my internet situation (“borrowed” wireless from the neighbors) didn’t allow for ease-of-posting. All in all, I had a great time in California. I stayed in a beautiful big house in downtown Santa Cruz with about 25 other volunteers. It was a tight squeeze, but a big happy family, so it was OK. The volunteers were predominantly European…Danes, Swedes, Dutch, Germans, Belgians, French. There were also notable contingents from South Korea and Japan. I was one of four Americans (one was ACE staff, and three of us were volunteers, two of whom left shortly after my arrival).
ACE (American Conservation Experience) is based in Flagstaff, Arizona and they have only recently expanded the program to California. Like many young, ambitious organizations, ACE California is experiencing some growing pains, and unfortunately a number of the projects we were expecting to do were canceled or rescheduled at the last minute, leaving us with a fair amount of free time on our hands. Now, don’t get me wrong, free time in California is not as bad as it sounds! šŸ™‚ OK, maybe it doesn’t sound bad at all! And it wasn’t. I filled my days with visits to National Parks, wandering around and exploring Santa Cruz, watching the sunset from the beach (10 minute walk from the house!) and yes, even a trip to Hawaii.
I was lucky enough to participate on two great projects, however. The first of which was at Pinnacles National Monument, where we were hiking 10+ miles each day and clearing the property fenceline of brush for fire prevention. The second project was with the Elkhorn Slough Foundation, a non-profit organization working to acquire and protect watershed land in central Monterrey Bay. We built a cow fence on one of their ranchland properties, did some trail work and cleared invasive species from another property.
While our work was rarely glamorous, we felt productive at the end of each day, and thoroughly enjoyed each others’ company as we cook community meals together and hung out around campfires, or in old barnhouses. The people I met were certainly the highlight of my time with ACE.

Here are a couple pictures from my last few days in Santa Cruz:

Sea lions love the Santa Cruz pier. They make their presence known by barking at all hours of the day and night.

Santa Cruz seagull and the boardwalk in the background. My last sunset in Santa Cruz.

The Natural Bridges. Santa Cruz.

My last few days in California, after all projects were complete and after I returned from Hawaii, I made my way up to San Francisco–a city I had “visited” a couple of times before, but had never really seen. Linda, from Germany, accompanied me and we had a grand old time. We couchsurfed in a beautiful old Victorian townhouse in the Mission Neighborhood of SF. We spent our days walking, walking and walking some more all over the city. From the towering skyscrapers of the Financial District, to the mom and pop shops of Chinatown. We wandered up Lombard Street (purportedly the world’s most curvy road) and down to the pier for a glimpse at Alcatraz, then out West along the harbor towards the Golden Gate Bridge. Our second day in SF brought us to Buenavista Park, Haight Ashbury, Golden Gate Park (which is actually nowhere near the Golden Gate Bridge), Baker Beach and finally along the NPS trail from Baker Beach to the Bridge itself. We covered a lot of territory in a short amount of time, but we had a great time doing so.Some pictures from SF:

Chinatown. Ghirardelli Square. Mmmmm, Chocolate…
San Francisco public art.
View of SF from the pier

Alcatraz at Sunset.
Gentrification is hitting the Mission hard. A once predominantly Mexican neighborhood, rent is now skyrocketing and development is in full swing. Some locals have had enough. “Enough already with the rich people and their condominiums.” Speaks for itself.
The Flower Conservatory in Golden Gate Park.
Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach.

I am back in Arlington for the holidays, and have begun the countdown. Six weeks from today, I’ll be boarding a plane bound for Bolivia, where a whole new adventure awaits. Feel free to check back here from time to time, as I plan to share my experiences with Peace Corps/Bolivia on this site.

Happy Holidays!



  1. Hey Helen,

    You forgot to mention how cool your Elkhorn Slough Foundation project sponsor was and mention all the glories of cattle fencing. lol

    Wow, Bolivia! What an adventure. Imagine all the people chained to their desks talking about how much they want, or wish, to travel. You go girl!

    -Ken Collins
    ESF land steward.

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