Thursday, September 5, 2013

Adventures in Monterey

After some extremely busy weeks at work, watching everyone else go on summer vacations, I became obsessed with the idea of needing a vacation myself. A few days before Labor Day weekend, I realized that a 3 day weekend could at least partially fill that need, so Matt and I booked a last minute hotel in Monterey.

We drove down Saturday morning, along with the rest of the Bay Area apparently. First stop - CSU Monterey Bay for some disc golf. What a weird place - the campus appears to be built on old military grounds, and contains vast open spaces with random deteriorating foundations and pavement (and fire hydrants under trees in the middle of empty fields). There are millions of parking spaces, but all require campus parking permits. All of the buildings appeared to be dorms, and I have yet to figure out where they attend classes, but I'm sure they must have to drive.

The next explicitly Monterey experience was heading out to dinner to get Matt some pasta for his pre-ride meal, only to be told that there were no tables available that night. We had arrived before 6pm, and at least half the tables in the restaurant were empty. We went across the street and had some less than mediocre food. Matt for some reason claimed he would still rate them 4 stars.

We then wandered down to the coastal access point at the Aquarium, and saw several cute sea otters through the scope, as well as a lovely sunset. Sea otters are my favorite.

The next morning we got up early - me to run 9 miles and Matt to ride 70 miles. My run took a little longer than usual given that I stopped every 50 feet to look at the all the seals and take pictures of gorgeous views. I decided to not worry about meeting my pace and just enjoy the run, and it turned out my pace (not including picture stops) was actually just a few seconds off from goal. I covered the Coast from Lover's Point to the end of the boardwalk inside the 17 Mile Drive.

After my run, while waiting for Matt, I walked back down to Point Pinos and explored some tidepools. I didn't find too much exciting except for some crab wars. I had settled in to watch a crab about the size of my hand try to pry something open, while dozens of hermit crabs in snail shoes followed it around. Eventually another larger crab sidled over and made a quick play for the first crab's prize. After some claw snapping and scurrying around, the second crab sidled back off. I was fairly certain that the thing the crab was trying to pry open was in fact another crab, but the internet does not seem to indicate that this is something they do.

After tidepooling, I headed into downtown Pacific Grove for a lovely lunch outdoors at a bakery, and then wandered back to my hotel via the long route on the Coast. I had run in the same location that morning, but enjoyed it even more. Just past Lover's Point, there were several seals hanging out on rocks, mostly just one or two per small rock. As I was walking past one, I saw a seal head emerge from the water and appear to take a nip at the tail of a seal that was on the rock. The seal immediately swung around and started growling at the interloper. It maintained its place on the rock. The losing seal swam away, slapping its fin on the water every so often, which apparently is a sign of aggression. By this point I had settled in by the side of the trail to watch the seal wars. I was soon rewarded as another seal made a successful attempt on the same rock. For awhile they shared the rock, but eventually the original seal was forced off. Another rock was in contention also. Apparently in that location, there just weren't enough rocks to go around.

After Matt came back from his ride, we headed down to the Aquarium. We had been able to purchase tickets from our hotel, thus skipping the line and walking straight in. It was a nightmare. Screaming children everywhere. There is a chance that 3pm is nap time. We first hit up the sea otter feeding, which was pretty great, except for several adults who had places at the glass and refused to let any small children in front of them to see. We then pushed through masses of humanity to see puffins, seahorses, and some weird disco-themed jellyfish exhibit. I think my favorite was the Octopus, which delighted us by crawling all over the window of its tank. The octopus as the Cal Academy was always holed up in a corner. Poor things. Also, I just learned that sea otters sometimes actual eat giant octopus. Yikes. 1.5 hours and we were done. I remember loving the Aquarium the first time we went, largely because of the emphasis on conservation. I felt that message was lacking this time, especially because we couldn't find a recycle bin anywhere on the premises. However, perhaps it was just too crowded for me to read the messaging.

After the Aquarium, we headed to a non-pretentious pizza place with red and white checked table clothes that let us in without thinking twice. Still cost an arm and a leg though.

The next morning I think was the highlight of the trip, for me at least. We again woke up early and hit the stretch of the 17 mile drive along the coast, skipping the fee by taking our bikes. The roads were empty and the sky a gorgeous morning overcast blue. We saw a large rock so covered with brown seals that we didn't notice them at first except for the sounds. We rode past cypress trees and rocky outcrops. We stopped for awhile to look for otters in the kelp forest, only to be rewarded with the sight of 3 dolphins. I happened to see a fin pop up out of the corner of my eye as I was turning away, and sure enough some dolphin heads and tails followed as they arced through the water in front of us. Beautiful! We did see some otters also, but they were pretty far away. On the return trip we were sprinkled on a bit, but it was so beautiful even I didn't mind.

For our final vacation outing, we headed up to Elkhorn Slough to go kayaking with the sea otters. I have to say, I was slightly disappointed by this experience. I'm sure Matt would tell you it was because of my constant complaints about how uncomfortable the sea kayak was (I prefer sit-on-tops), but I also felt like the (non-animal) scenery was depressing, and I felt rather uncomfortable about how many kayaks were out on the water and how close we were to the animals. We were told to stay 100 feet away from the animals, but it is often impossible when there are seals and otters popping up all around you. However, that part was pretty awesome. We saw otters, much more close up than any others that weekend, cleaning themselves, eating, and one even carrying a baby around on its stomach (we think at least). I found the seals rather frightening, as they would pop their heads up, stare at us for awhile, and slink away. I always felt they were lurking. We also saw lots of pelicans fishing and flying low overhead which was also amazing. Luckily my elbow was functional, because we may not have made it back to the dock against the current if only Matt had been paddling. The other crazy part of this trip was the jellyfish - they were giant! After I saw the first one awfully close to the kayak, I made sure to keep my elbows far away from the water at all times. They were pretty neat to look at, but also terrifying - and I don't even know if they are harmful ones. But the last thing I wanted was one in my spray skirt.

To wrap up the trip, we had an amazingly smooth trip back home, where I promptly showered and climbed into bed for the rest of the evening. Vacations are hard work.

You can see the rest of the pictures here.