Saturday, 17 November 2012

Monterey and the Big Sur

Elephant seals on Big Sur
It was hard to leave everybody this morning, particularly a bemused Lily, but it was time to go.  We drove about 130miles south to Monterey, and stayed for one night at the Holiday Inn, separated from the sea by two major roads, Highway 101, which runs all the way to Los Angeles, past where Andrew used to live, and Highway 1, which runs along the coast and Big Sur.  All the rooms we've stayed in have been excellent and good value.
After lunch at Bubba Gumps, we walked through the historic Canning Row, made famous by Steinbeck, where there was once a thriving sardine canning industry, until over-fishing and climate change caused its collapse.  The industrial warehouses have been restored and reused as shops, in a sympathetic way.  The world-famous Monterey Aquarium is housed in one of these old warehouses, and we spent a couple of hours wandering around it.  Really enjoyed the layout of the aquarium, with massive tanks showing kelp forests, the deep sea conditions and fish, the deep sea, with sharks, turtles, sun fish to name a few.  The tanks dedicated to seahorses and sea dragons, and jellyfish were fascinating.  Would definitely go back again, and would love to take Lily there, when she's a little bit older.  Great place.

Monterey near Aquarium
The following day, we set off on the famous Highway 1, the Big Sur.  Weather unfortunately dull and thick mist over the rugged coastline, which is quite common.  Though much quieter than height of season, November seems to be the month of road repairs!  Classic of reality not meeting expectation!  Scenically stunning but stark and wild.  A road for driving but not stopping, in that what you see is all there is!  But then, just when we were both feeling a bit deflated, the most interesting sight.  The coastline flattens out and looks particularly bleak, and then you see all these, what look like white rocks in the distance, on the beach.  Turns out these are colonies of elephant seals of the Piedras Blancas.  The seals live out at on the Pacific, and come ashore for a few months in the winter to breed and give birth, and then most leave by March.  More than 4500 pups were born here this year.  It was full of seals basking in the sunshine, swishing sand over their fat bodies with their flippers, to act like sunscreen.  Large bulls were fighting at the water's edge.  It was so unexpected to see a phenomenon that only happens in this particular spot at this time of year.  We stopped overnight at a Holiday Inn express, in San Luis Obispo, exactly half way between San Fran and Los Angeles.  Just expected it to be a fairly uninteresting staging post, but turns out to be a very characterful town, busy with young undergrads at CalPoly.  At a bar in town we got talking to Jim, who worked at the recycling plant, designed and made his own retro-style clothing, and had travelled to Ireland, and was visiting Scotland next year. He recommended a fabric shop about half an hours drive back north at Moora Bay, where he lives, so thought we'd call in tomorrow!

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