Sunday, 24 August 2014

Monterey: The Marine Paradise

On Thursday Morning, after spending two days exploring Yosemite, we hit the road again and drove back to the Pacific coast, this time a little bit further south than San Francisco, to the town of Monterey. On the way, we decided to stop for a coffee and we plumped for the familiar and ubiquitous Starbucks. We told the nice American lady at the counter that our names were Charlotte and Vincent, and she clearly felt these weren't proper American names, so she translated them onto our coffee cups as "Charolette and Victor". I quite liked being Char-o-lette, which is a name that can only be pronounced in the drawl of a Deep South accent, but I think Vincent was less enamoured of the appellation Victor.

Anyway, back to Monterey, In the first half of the 20th century, Monterey was one of America's biggest fishing ports and the sardine canning industry in particular was big business. John Steinbeck wrote a novel about it called Cannery Row and described industrial Monterey as "a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream". Today, little of that industrial past remains intact except for the fact that Cannery Row now packs tourists in so tightly that you sometimes feel like a sardine. The reason for it's enduring popularity remains constant however: the spectacular marine life in Monterey Bay.

When we first arrived in the bay, we knew there was a famous aquarium, which we intended to explore, but what we didn't expect was that the wildlife in and around the bay would be so bold and so plentiful. Within minutes of walking down the peer, we saw and heard the first sea lion, honking away happily under the peer. Then, just moments later, we saw a pelican preening itself on a shop roof. Realising that the wildlife in the bay was incredibly cool, we quickly booked ourselves onto a little boat that did a short tour of the bay.

During the boat tour, we got to hang out with about a hundred male sea lions all sunning themselves on a stretch of rocks and we saw lots of beautiful black cormorants flying elegantly over the top of the sea. The best bit however, was getting close to one of the rare sea otters that live in the bay. They are incredibly beautiful, fun and adorable animals and it is very sad to think that they were nearly hunted to extinction in the 19th century for their beautiful fur coats. The otters sleep floating on the surface of the sea, wrapping themselves in sea-weed so that they don't float away and holding hands with each other so that they can huddle together for warmth. The often have their paws out of the cold water because their paws aren't very well insulated, and they generally lie on the backs so they look like the are waving at you and saying hi. The photo here shows an otter tucking in to a tasty clam. They bash the clam shell open by hitting it against the side of a boat or a big stone first, and then eat the flesh inside.

For our second day in Monterey, we took a 3 hour boat tour further out into the pacific ocean in the hopes of seeing some of the enormous humpback whales that frequent the bay. Luckily we saw one near the very beginning of the trip, which jumped high above the sea right near our boat. As with the bear, I didn't get chance to take a photo, so you'll have to take my word for it, but here is a photo of a similar sort of whale jump, courtesy of google images.

Prior to the boat trip, I had been a bit worried about getting sea sick and Vincent had taken great pleasure in teasing me about it, making much of the word play between "chowder" (which was being sold everywhere) and chunder, which he suggested I would soon be doing. The universe was on my side however and I surprised myself by finding my sea legs quite quickly and even enjoying the jolting motion of the boat as it skimmed over some pretty big waves. The same could not be said for Vincent however, who soon found that the tables had turned and in fact he was the one feeling sick. Actually, poor old Vincent spent nearly the entire 3 hour trip hanging off the back of the boat feeling really ill. It's not something I would wish on anyone, but at least Vincent appreciated the irony of the situation and has now pledged never to make fun of me feeling travel sick again. Thankfully, although I saw several whales during the course of the trip, none of them jumped as spectacularly as the first whale, so Vincent got to see the best bit.

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