USA & Mexico Part 1

This whole trip happened because of a very special event: the 25th Anniversary Bash for the Ultima Dragons, the internet fan club devoted to the Ultima role-playing game series whose member I’ve been for close to 20 years. I travelled to Vietnam last year and I didn’t anticipate another trip overseas so soon after, but when I heard that a celebration was to be held in Anaheim, I decided almost instantly that I wanted to come. Flying to USA and back again from Australia is quite an ordeal, so to make the most of it I also tacked on an organised trip to Mexico; I’ve never been to Central or South America so I thought I’d start with USA’s closest neighbour.

The Anniversary Bash was one of the most memorable and incredible things I’ve been to in my life and I’m so happy I made it. I had so much fun hanging around with the fellow Dragons, most of whom I met face-to-face for the first time, and celebrating our passion for all things Ultima. It felt surreal, having a long-time hobby that you couldn’t really talk about to anyone in real life, and then be surrounded by people who totally get it and are happy to discuss the most obscure Ultima things.

Another part of the fun was visiting Disneyland and California Adventure theme parks. Because of my acute motion sickness I could only watch other people scream in terror as they spun and plunged on their rides, but even walking around the parks was good fun. Disneyland changed a lot since I’ve been there last, and of course Star Wars stuff is now everywhere. Why they kept the It’s a Small World ride is anyone’s guess, I still have nightmares about it 16 years on.

I also had a few days to myself in LA, which I spent in a relaxed manner without cramming in much sightseeing. The one exception was a very busy organised day trip to see the countryside (very lush and green at this time of year), and visit Santa Barbara, Solvang and Hearst Castle. Other than myself there were only two other passengers, and our guide had a huge wealth of knowledge about LA and California. I got a taste of the everyday LA traffic, which is frankly insane.

Solvang is a touristy but cute-as-a-button town originally settled by the Danish, with the quaint architecture and a bakery on every corner (I had a Danish, naturally). Hearst Castle is the former estate of William Randolph Hearst, whose life story was the main inspiration for Citizen Kane, and is basically a testament to what millions of dollars can buy. Our excellent guide there had an amusing habit of referring to Hearst in a present tense. After the castle, we made an unscheduled stop at the beach where elephant seals hang around after the mating season, which was very cool.

While in LA, I stumbled on a unique museum called the Museum of Broken Relationships, which was too weird not to investigate. It turned out to be a pretty moving experience – it exhibited personal items donated by the people from around the world, accompanied by a story about a broken relationship. Mostly romantic ones, but also familial, friendships, breaking away from their religion, all laid out in a clean and elegant space completely at odds with the trashy Hollywood Boulevard. I could have done without a collection of pubic hair and navel lint, but having the objects next to the stories really made the memories feel more tangible.

The Broad art museum in Downtown LA was worth spending 45 minutes in a queue for, and had an excellent collection of mostly American contemporary art – Cindy Sherman, Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein.

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