A good way to dip your feet into solo travel is a combo trip; one that mixes yummy personal alone time with that of family and friends. That’s how this trip set up. I would meet folks in Joshua Tree National Park, sandwiched between time flying solo.
First a cold morning shower on a warm desert morning -sunlight peers through wooden stall slats simultaneously warming skin cooled by the water. I feel most alive outside. Left Mecca Beach and drove south along the long white shoreline into California unknown. There’s not much out there. I had no intention to stop along the way – but welcome to solo travel. You can stop anywhere, anytime. Our job is to pay attention when the energies call. Road trippers speed straight through. Travelers see the world as a living map. Spend as much time as you want finding the secret keys. No one distracts you. No one needs more from you.
I buzzed passed a sign on the road, but travelers intuition made me turn around. What is that place? Journey is destination.
Sure enough – oh my. According to Wikipedia, Bombay Beach is the lowest community in the United States - 223 feet (68 m) below sea level. It was the desert party getaway for Hollywood playboys like Frank Sinatra, the Rat Pack and the Beach Boys. Years later, a degraded sea turned folks away, and it became a ghost town. Until recently that is, when Bombay Beach has started to rise from the ashes. “An influx of artists, intellectuals and hipsters have turned it into a bohemian playground.” -The Guardian.
There was too much buzz for a ghost town that morning. Something was happening. The only restaurant/bar in town was packed, the world famous Ski Inn. A live band was playing outback.
Question: Where do travelers go to find out the local scoop?
Answer: Classic traveler move: find local bar, order a drink, start asking questions.
“You got lucky,” says the guy on the stool next to me. “This weekend is Bombay Beach Biennale, (a Burning Man-esque festival) with international artists commissioned to exhibit. Exclusive but public. There’s no promotion. It only happens once every two years. Make sure you come back tonight.”
Ok now - what are the chances? This is the part of the story we start talking about solo travel magic, or marcher magic as it was called on The 1988 California State Peace Walk. Random fun opportunities and connections happen out there, totally in groove with you and your environment.
There was another live band playing at the American Legion on the far end of town - lots of casual folks having fun. Plenty of people to talk with too. Social kicks are important on solo trips. but get it when you want. A good opening line is, Hi, I’m new in town, are you from here? If they say Yes you say, Tell me about your town, what should I see and do? They’ll talk to you for hours.
Art installations (some live like Dtox-City below, where you are part of the art) were interspersed between discarded homes and abandoned trailers. Part junk yard, part art studio, it was hide-and-seek for the well-healed. Walk the flat streets cross town and over to the beach. Find surprises everywhere.
- climbing thingy with huge rotating disco balls and a swanky lounge uptop
- Detox City by artist Judyth Greenburgh
- A faux dig
Bombay Beach is a perfect example of a solo travel event, planned sometimes by your effort and other times pleasurably by surprise: varied entertainment that’s easy to feel comfortable doing alone: art sleuthing, outdoor music, lots of walking, biking, views, local restaurant/bar. Here's some of the beach art...
- photos by AT
Though the festival was a once-in-two-year opportunity, the town and beach remain open for exploring (free) anytime. Get food and drink at the Ski Inn, or the small grocer in town. If you travel in the area, always bring plenty of water. Fill your water bottles leaving a space at the top for expansion. Freeze and take along in your cooler for cold water all day.
After exploring Bombay Beach for hours, it was time to find camp.
And what a story that is.
-Photos by LSIC unless noted