Monday, 31 December 2012

'Looks Just Like Devon'. Welcome to Californishire.

Shooting across Death Valley, leaving glittering Las Vegas behind, we headed to one of our final states and the Pacific Ocean. California, once governed by Arnie, home to Hollywood, land of sunshine, medicinal weed and beach bums.

The plan was to skirt around Los Angeles and head north, taking our time meandering up the Big Sur coast - a stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway that National Geographic voted a Drive of a Lifetime. 
We had set aside days to visit San Luis Obispo (the happiest place in America) and Monterey on the map, but had a week to fill with whatever else took our fancy.

Along the way, we stopped off at another roadside attraction, an old mining town called Calico, a couple of hours west of Vegas.
It marketed itself as a ghost town but unlike Steins, was still home to a collection of workers and gift shop owners. It was tidy and neat with a wide main street, souvenir shops serving Starbucks coffee and those old time saloon swing doors that we so longed to see. While it was fun to wander around and look at all the Western kitsch for ourselves, it lacked the soul and eerie-ness of Steins, New Mexico.

We stayed until sundown and headed further west, ending up at an appalling dive of a motel out in the Santa Clarita woodlands. The carpet was littered with the detritus of previous occupants that clung to the soles of our feet after we had wrenched our sweaty All Stars and socks off. There was also a mysterious smattering of dried blood in the shower. Luckily the TV offered some respite by allowing us to view the latest episode of Jersey Shore so we could watch Snooki, Deena and Mike 'The Situation' et al and forget about our glum surroundings.

It was probably one of the only mornings we were up, packed and on our way before 9am, such was our desperation to get out of there. We pointed the car up to Lompoc for the night and then San Luis Obispo the day after, where we explored bubblegum alley, a revolting piece of audience participant 'art'.

The short alleyway was completely covered, top to bottom, in millions upon millions of coloured gum. Some had been squeezed into tiny models and statues before being pressed onto the wall, displaying a weak stab at creativity, while others had been allowed to dry and then decorated with permanent marker. I had the strange sensation of being in Ms Trunchbull's torture chamber so hastily took my shots and made like a tree out of there.

The Californian countryside looks a lot like southern England. There was an abundance of lush green hillside from which I expected a Teletubby or Hobbit to come bouncing down, along with paddocks of lazy cows and fields full of chestnut-coloured horses. Very pleasant on the old eyeballs indeed.

We rolled into a car park on the side of the highway, facing the ocean where we had been told a seal sanctuary lay. Sure enough, there they were glistening in the winter sun, fat and slug-like, rubbing their eyes like teenagers suffering hangovers after an illegal house party.

Elderly volunteers in blue windbreakers were on hand with factoids about the creatures - the males entered into vicious battles for sexing rights with the females, and sometimes they broke free of their fenced pads and wiggled along the highway. I never saw this for myself but the lady was the expert so SHUT UP.

We stood cooing and calling to them from the elevated walkway, attempting to engage them in conversation and clapping like excited toddlers when they bothered to raise their heads in our direction.

And then we drove up in a leisurely fashion to Monterey, where using her top notch booking skills, Leah had secured a four night stay in a motel for a ridiculously cheap amount. We took it easy, sliding into holiday mode, mooching in and out of 'treasure' stores (secondhand shops), eating clam chowder on the sea front and fresh samosas in the local market and perching on the bar at various British pubs where the owner got us free entry into the 17-mile drive, a scenic route through the north end of Monterey. All we had to do was say at the gate that we were there to see our Uncle Iain. Easy as.

As the 12th of December 2012 grew closer, discussions of how to mark my 26th birthday became more persistent. What did I want to do?, Leah asked. My mum also rang from India, bellowing down the phone (which is the way most Indians talk to people on international calls) demanding to know the ins and outs of my celebration schedule. In all honesty, I wasn't bothered. I'd be happy stewing in a bar for the entirety, slowly mourning the loss of my early twenties and wondering once more, how I'd become so bloody ancient. Melodramatic.

In the end we settled on kayaking in the open sea and I'm glad we did. We saw a wild seal in action, mauling a crab in its sharp, slippery claws as if it was a cheeseburger. I stuck my feet in the terrifically cold Pacific ocean for the first time, dangling my toes in the seaweed and freaking myself out by imagining a shark gnawing my leg off, while quietly trying to race ahead of the Gass; Expert Kayaker.

the Gass fails to give way. OFFICER!

In the evening we made use of the motel's hot tub and sat drinking $7 Californian champagne under a clear sky, making absurd wishes whenever I caught a shooting star.

'I wish for a tumble in the hay with Captain America!',

'I wish for the power to command all the creatures of the sea!',

'I wish for a real-life hoverboard!',

'I wish for more champagne. We've bloody run out'.

Et fin.

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