Bud Lewis, Carlsbad.

My certificate of recognition, from the mayor of Carlsbad.

I actually have it on paper that I’m an American hero. Signed by the mayor of Carlsbad, California. I don’t think it’s really deserved though. But it’s a nice little memory from my first trip to California 17 years ago.

Back in 2003, I visited the United States for the first time. I was cycling from Cannon Beach in Oregon, to Ensenada in Mexico. It was a really fantastic trip, where I made several stops along the way to spend time visiting American and Mexican friends.

Cycling California coast

Cycling the California coastline

My trip was interrupted in San Diego.

As I was almost done with the cycling trip, I paused for some days though. While I was in San Diego, I woke up one morning to what I thought was heavy fog. As I walked out of my hostel room at the Ocean Beach hostel, I realised that this was not fog. It was ash from a massive wildfire, just outside San Diego. I could barely see the sun, when I was standing at Ocean Beach. Even at 12 noon. We were not in any danger at Ocean Beach, where I was staying. But it was not possible for me to cycle out of the city, as the roads were closed. The air quality was so poor, due to the ash, that it was posing a danger to my health, if I was cycling around the area.


San Diego wildfires.

The San Diego wildfires.

The first couple of days that it lasted, I was happily drinking beer and playing cards at the hotel. The Ocean Beach International Hostel is probably my favourite hostel in all California. Not a bad place to get stuck for a few days.

OBI hostel

I loved the Ocean Beach international hostel.

After a couple of days, me and a few of the backpackers staying there started to talk about whether we could help the community in some way. So we walked up to the rescue center at Balboa Park and asked if we could be of any help. The Red Cross volunteers were a little surprised to see a group of foreign tourists coming to offer their help. But they were very welcoming and took us to a meeting room where they gave us a little speech about how we could help.


Some of the other volunteers from the hostel.

After a crash course, we helped deliver some water bottles to people who stayed at the rescue center. Either cause they lost their home, or lived in an area that was too close to the fires to be safe.

To be quite honest, we did not do that much work. But the San Diego citizens thanked us a lot for making the effort to come and offering help. One of the guys at the center told me that a lot of the volunteer work in these situations is not really needed. But it raises community spirit and reminds people that they are not alone in times of crisis.

After doing our little deed, we went back to the hostel. I still had to wait for a few days, before the air was clean enough. and then one day, a guy called William, whom I knew from Carlsbad, sent me an email. He told me that they had organised a party in my honor in Encinitas, at a place called the artists colony. So I cycled up to Encinitas. I was met by William that I knew. He was a librarian at the Cardiff by Sea library. I had gotten to know William through a travel website called Virtualtourist. Carlsbad, Encinitas and Cardiff by Sea are 3 smaller towns right next to each other, by the way. He had set up a pretty big party in my honor. All the artists from the artists colony were there, plus many other people. And I was given an official diploma of recognition, by the Carlsbad mayor Bud Lewis, Stating that I was an American Hero, for having helped out at the forest fires. William had found some old viking costume in the basement of the library. They dressed me up in that for a group photo, where I was standing looking rather silly. But we all had a good laugh about it. And I guess that this is what counts in the end :-). Some journalists were also there to interview me. So I ended up too in a couple of local south California newspapers as well, who also claimed I was an American hero.

artists colony encenitas.

Pretending to be an American hero, while dressed up like a viking at the artists colony in Encenitas 🙂

All because I took a little walk up to Balboa Park to volunteer one morning.

1 Comment

  1. What a great story, and yet another reason to be grateful to VT!

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