Sunday, June 18, 2017

Starting Summer Off Right

School let out on the 9th, and I had two paid work days after that before I could officially go on Summer Mode. That wasn't too tough, however--showing up at work in my workout gear to get some serious planning done isn't a hardship, really.

With those days out of the way, I was ready for a mini-adventure to start off my vacation right, so I got up super-early on Wednesday and drove the three-and-a-half hours to Monterey.

What a marvelous time I had. I only stayed one night, but I managed to get some quality time at the aquarium, on a beach, and whale watching. I sat and watched the sun set, and ate lovely meals. There was a lot of walking, and my legs got a good workout on the boat, too.

I left Casa Meg at about 6:30 in the morning--I wanted plenty of time in Monterey and I wanted to miss the worst of Rush Hour. By 9:00, I was stopping for gas in Santa Nella, and having a quick snack of fresh berries I'd brought with me. Though once you leave I-5 for the smaller highways that lead towards the coast, you have your pick of fresh fruit. I stopped at the Merry Cherry but didn't end up buying anything.

By 10:30, I was parked and heading in to the aquarium. I hadn't been in several years, so I was really excited. Monterey Bay Aquarium is a leader in marine conservation, and I love what they do.

Life-size model of an orca.

Sea otter feeding/training time. All of their otters are deemed
non-releasable by the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Kelp forest

A face only a mother could love (an eel).




The aquarium has an outdoor tide pool. It was being used for scuba training, but in the past year or so, it's been a maternity ward for wild sea otters--two have come in out of the ocean beyond and given birth in the calm, predator-free area, delighting aquarium staff and patrons alike. When this happens, they close the viewing area and use long-range camera lenses to capture Mama and Baby.

Kelp forests from above.

The aquarium was crowded, so after a little while, I left to stroll down Cannery Row and find some lunch.

This is one of those pictures where I squatted down, stuck my
phone through a fence, and got the perfect angle.

I settled on Italian, and ordered pasta with artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomato with an ocean view.

I had company. 

Then I walked back along Cannery Row, popping into a couple of shops, but really, I wasn't in the mood for shopping.


A sign pic near where I parked, taken because of my own dear

I had parked on a small street near the aquarium, just past a sign welcoming me to Pacific Grove. My next plan was to drive deeper into Pacific Grove (it's not very big) and find a beach to park my butt on. Lover's Point Beach was perfect--though it was busy, it was clean and cheerful and had a decent enough public restroom where I could change into my new swimsuit.

I stayed about an hour-and-a-half. I had brought a book but ended up just enjoying lying there, listening to the surf hit the shore and children laughing. When I left, I meandered back to downtown Monterey to find my hotel.

Sign pic!

My hotel was small, and one of those older places that's been redone nicely. It was clean, it was quiet, and I wasn't there much.

After checking in and changing out of my swimsuit (and realizing I had burned the back of my shoulders and my upper thighs around the hips, OUCH), I headed back towards Pacific Grove to drive around exploring. California's coastline is so beautiful. This is Asilomar State Beach.

Then it was back to downtown Monterey, to search out some dinner.

I settled on Greek, and a glass of wine.

After dinner I walked some more, down to Fisherman's Wharf. I found a piano on the pier and stopped to play for a moment--my practice for the day--on a weathered, seriously out-of-tune instrument. There's some charm in playing an old piano on a pier, however.

Sea otter

Finally, I drove back to Asilomar State Beach to wait for sunset.

By the time I got back to my hotel, a little after 8:30, I was beat. I had a quick shower and passed out in bed.

Thursday morning had another early start. I had reserved a spot on an 8:00 whale watching tour with Monterey Bay Whale Watching. This would be my third trip with them, and I was excited. I had been told to arrive about 7:15, and ended up being the first one there.

Back to Fisherman's Wharf.

A sea lion

The lady in the shop told me the trip was still on, though the ocean was really choppy and windy. "There might be a small craft advisory later today, but for now, we're good!" As people started trickling in, she advised those who've had motion sickness before to take something now. I never have, so I didn't worry too much.

The ocean was, indeed, very choppy, and while my stomach never rebelled, my legs certainly got a workout!

Our first encounter was a group of Risso's dolphins. One came very close to the boat, which is fairly uncommon, according to the marine biologist we had on board. They're not shy, they just don't show a tremendous amount of curiosity about boats...but this one did.

Next, we saw a lone humpback, but he wasn't overly exciting. He was making long dives, and the crew had seen two others up ahead in shallower waters, so we went off to see them. It turned out to be three humpbacks, one an older calf, and they came pretty near us as they fed on anchovies in the shallows.

From here on out, I didn't take a lot of pictures. The boat was rocking too much and we had to hold on at all times. Besides, there's something nice about just putting the camera away and enjoying the moment.

The captain took us about nine miles out, to the beginning of the deep sea canyon at the edge of Monterey Bay. A few people had sick bags and garbage cans at the ready, but I was fine, happily. The day before, blue whales had been spotted, and our captain hoped we'd see them again.

This is the sixth time I've been whale watching in my life--I've seen humpbacks off of Hawaii, pilot whales in Maui, the Southern Resident orcas in the Puget Sound, and plenty of humpbacks and orcas in Monterey Bay...but I'd never seen a blue whale. They are the largest known animal to ever live on this planet--and I got to see three. Of course, you don't see much of them, just the head as they surface to breathe, and the back as they go back under--but it was so amazing to know that just a short distance away were these massive, awesome creatures. They didn't mind us, but went about their feeding.


When it was time to go back in, the ride was much smoother, as the waves we'd been battling on the way out pushed us back towards the harbor. We saw some Pacific white-sided dolphins. Finally, we were back in the harbor, motoring past a jetty covered in cormorants and juvenile male sea lions.

I'd had only the tiniest of breakfasts, so I was really hungry by now. I walked over to a British-style pub and had a curry, stopping to watch crabs scampering on the rocks below.

Before leaving town, I had a quick peek at an exhibition of works by Dali--most were lithographs of his originals, but some were actual originals. I'm not a fan of Surrealism, really, but because I teach art, I do feel it's necessary to expose myself to as many artists and art movements as possible.

Finally, it was back on the road, with one quick stop to take a few pictures of Mission San Juan Bautista. The cool temps of Monterey were long behind me and it was hot as I came inland.

Due to traffic, it took me over four hours to get home, and I was glad to arrive after waiting in slow-downs for a car fire near Tracy, and an accident in downtown Sacramento.

It was a wonderful little getaway, and a perfect way to start off my summer vacation. Now I'll settle into a routine of working out, making new inventory for my Etsy shop,