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Around California in 20 Days!

Yes, unbeknown to me at this time my trip to see a penfriend in Santa Cruz had now turned into a crazy dash around California. There was much that I didn't see, or do, and much that I couldn't afford. My plan was, well, there was no plan; I knew I wanted to see this aquarium and 17-mile drive I'd been told about, so those were the first things on my agenda.

Monday

The journey to Monterey was more interesting than I had imagined it would be. We passed through several places and I got to see some more of the Californian countryside - a change from trees and desolate roads at least. Vast open fields and dusty hillsides, curious little clusters of farm buildings by the side of the road, and strangest of all - giant cut-out farmers! These things stood erect by the road side in fields, depicting farmers hard at work.

A choice - get off in town or by the ocean, I chose the ocean - I needed a change of scene after the cramped bus. We pulled into a lane by an Exxon gas station which apparently was also the local Greyhound station. I wandered over to the beach to be greeted by a wonderous and most welcome sight - somewhere other than Santa Cruz!

Here's the beach, and a painting I did later when I got home:

Monterey! Monterey Painting

As I made my way towards the town, my knee bothering me significantly, I sampled the delights of a MacDonalds with a cool refreshing drink. I had with me by this time a large brown paper bag with various goods, mainly food which I had bought in Santa Cruz to sustain myself. Among them was a large bag of brown energy bar things which were quite nice to eat, a giant jar of raspberry jam, bananas, a tub of set honey, bottled water, various leaflets, and items of clothing I thought I might need. I began to develop a habit of keeping my wallet in my trouser pocket along with loose dollar bills. My hand was never far away, always on guard duty.

For the rest of the day I took a look around the town of Monterey. A curious place, seemingly an amalgamation of several separate villages which had grown into small towns very close to one another. A map explains this better:

Monterey Map

On the left is Pacific Grove - golf ranges and a small town. Cannery Row (or New Monterey) is a regenerated industrial centre where seafood products were canned (hence Cannery Row - clever) and is also the home of Monterey Aquarium, it has many restaurants and tourist shops as well as the regular supermarkets and other essentials; the hostel is in what is known as New Monterey (just below Cannery Row). Then there is Old Monterey with Old Fishermans Wharf, the Exxon gas station (marked on in biro) and many curious little shops. There were even a few traditional British pubs - signs from the London Underground amused me, good cider too! Big Sur (to the South) was reputedly a major attraction of the area but required a car (!) or special bus trip to see it, since I had neither I didn't get to see it. From what I can gather it was majestic looking rocks with the ocean crashing against them, often seen in films based in California where someone drives down Highway 1, a long and twisty road around the coastline, which is quite dangerous too by the sound of it.

Pebble Beach - well anyone who has heard of golf must sometime have seen or heard of Pebble Beach. It's where all the big names go to practice and often play championship golf. Carmel is where Clint Eastwood made his home, and was mayor for a while. I only discovered this when I saw many pictures of him in a shop on Cannery Row, and I asked why there were so many.

A good deal of limping about later and I managed to make my way back to the hostel. That evening I met a Canadian guy who was passing through Monterey on his way to a computer show in LA, it was a welcome distraction from the otherwise dull evening and we had a night out on the town - we sampled the delights of one of the local restaurants and the nearest British pub.

I discovered from the hostel staff that I should have been collecting membership tokens for the American Youth Hostel Society, until you are a full member you pay a non-member fee per night (usually a couple of dollars more than the member fee) and you collect a sticker, when you have six stickers you become a full member; as I had already stayed in Santa Cruz hostel for around four nights I was well on my way to full membership, but for some reason I didn't have these stickers on my card, I can only assume that the guys at HI Santa Cruz had explained it all to me but I was too dozey to notice! No matter, the kind lady in Monterey gave me four stickers straight away, and one for that night as well. The hostel was nice, but at this time of year very quiet. I noticed the pictures on the wall done by local school kids - all about saving water. I hadn't realised until then that California was in a constant state of drought, or what in the UK would be considered drought conditions anyway. I was given two tokens per night for the shower - three minutes each - so that night I took the quickest shower I'd ever had! I wondered if I'd ever get to have a hot bath to soothe my aching knee.

Tuesday

Monterey Map The next morning I wasn't sure about what I should do, and was just examining the local events board when the Canadian guy came rushing in and said "Hey, you want to go see some whales?" and that was that! We rushed off in his car down to the wharf and just made the whale watching boat. It was on this boat that I met three charming female students who were at the local university (not much more than a few huts), on account of us all having the guts to stand at the front of the boat through all the swells and waves; you really had to hang on the whole time because of the swell, and although the sun was shining the railing of the boat remained cold so the hands took a bit of stick. This didn't matter though, the sighting of several whale pods and the close proximity of some made it one of the best whale watching tours I will ever go on.

Me on the Whale Watching Boat Japanese Students

In the picture to the left you can see I have my coat sleeve between my hand and the railing, and it was so windy out on the ocean I couldn't wear my floppy Santa Cruz hat! Sun glasses were essential though, it was very bright sunshine and they also stopped the wind and spray from getting in the eyes. My new friends were great, they pointed out places on the coastline and told me some of the history too. Apparently it was one of the clearest days they'd had all year. My brag is that I spotted some distant whales and jumped around in front of the boat captain pointing to them, this was the biggest pod of whales we saw, perhaps 10 whales in total! There were about 8 separate pods that we spotted that day, every one just as exciting to behold as the last.

After the cruise the five of us (three students, myself, and the Canadian guy whose name I still can't remember) sat down to lunch in one of the many fine seafood restaurants on Old Fishermans Wharf, and we were joined by another Japanese girl who was a friend of the students. I had sand hoppers which are little white fish, two of the girls had clam chowder which is like a soup; I was told it's very nice but I'm not a great fan of shell fish.

I was advised to go on the 17-mile drive, and definitely to see the aquarium. Although by this time it was past 4pm and I decided I'd had quite enough for the day, I retired to the hostel.

Wednesday

17 Mile Drive - Pebble Beach Another day, only this time I had a plan. I enquired at the hostel desk and discovered that hostel guests got a discount from one of the cycle hire shops - Adventures by the Sea; there was nothing for it but to hire a bike and do the 17-mile drive, I had no idea what it would be like but I hoped to be back before dark as the bike had no lights. Shortly after setting off I came across a lady cycling along the same route as me, a few minutes later I had a riding partner for the day. As it turned out her husband was playing in a golf tournament on one of the many courses, she had to amuse herself for a few days so was no doubt glad of the company. Along we cycled, I took a picture of a beach and then realised that I'd forgotten to bring a spare film for my camera! This was a bit of a disaster as it meant very few pictures of this reputedly beautiful route. I managed to take two, at least.

17 Mile Drive These pictures show quite accurately what the route was like - for half of the way it was ocean on the right and golf courses on the left, then it went inland for a while through the cool shade provided by pine trees. The maps we had of the cycle route stated that we turned off at a point West of Pebble Beach, but we decided it looked like more fun to continue South, the road became narrower and there were many large vehicles passing quite close by but we struggled on anyway. We stopped for lunch in Pebble Beach; this place was built for rich golfers - the local shop had more wine than anything else as well as high society snack food and cigars. Some of the houses we passed were quite astounding too, large pink stone houses on the hillsides, many with keypad-locked automatic gates. A famous landmark of the area is Lone Cypress which is, not surprisingly, a lone cypress tree clinging on to a rock jutting out from the cliff. Referring to the map above, the 17-mile drive goes from Cannery Row along the coast until Pebble Beach, where we decided to walk through Carmel and then ride up along Highway 1 - unfortunately we couldn't find the cycle track which I'd been told of so we had to walk along the side of the road; it was pretty scary but it was only for about a mile so we were soon on the cycle track again and made it into Monterey safely (through the multiple-lane traffic system, and for me on the wrong side of the road, I might add!)

It was still fairly early in the afternoon by this time - we'd made good time so there was a chance to see the aquarium before it closed. This was one of the best experiences of the whole trip, so many different exotic fish and other marine wildlife! For the protection of these creatures no cameras with a flash were allowed and as most of it was inside I couldn't take any pictures. Among my favourite exhibits were the sea otters, the huge water tank which contained big tuna fish, giant turtles, and all manner of other sea creatures, the sea horses (including dragon sea horses!), and not forgetting the tranquility of the blue round jellyfish room - it's mainly visual and something you really have to see for yourself. I hastened to the gift shop before it all closed for the evening, I had just enough time to buy a postcard and souvenir.

Thursday

Thursday Morning in the hostel - I collected my belongings and hopped on a bus to the local greyhound station - the old Exxon gas station again. A greyhound bus shortly pulled up and was about to leave, there was a little confusion but it turned out that this and the bus I wanted were both running a little late, luckily the bus driver did his job correctly and noticed my ticket was not for his bus. No time to get anything for dinner, I had heard of a fantastic farmers market where I was heading so hoped to get something to eat there, and I needed to get on that bus to San Luis Obispo!