Back on the road again. This time for real. After two solid weeks of van work (more time than expected) with only weekends to enjoy myself and a solid bout of cold and sinus infection in there, I was as ready as I’d ever be. I packed the last few things in the van when I woke up and discovered that with the minor shift of the bed frame, my mattress was much too long, hanging over the fridge. The first mishap! I corrected it before I went to bed by cutting it down to size.
I said goodbye to Derek when he went off to work and profusely thanked him for hosting me in his garage for so long. I had breakfast with Emma and then I was ready to get going. Emma wasn’t happy with me leaving, refusing to say goodbye. Not even a wave. Kylie and I tried to convince her, but I was clearly an enemy now that I was leaving. The curly-haired three year old and I had become good friends over the past few weeks. Another goodbye to Kylie and a huge thank you, I will miss them.
Having originally decided to go north straight away, I changed my plans and went south for two reasons. The first, Monterey Bay Aquarium, and second, Joshue Tree National Park. Monterey Bay was first up. It was a gloomy day with lingering clouds that turned into rain, not the best to put me in the mood for my adventure. The drive down to Santa Cruz was familiar and I felt a bit reflective to be leaving for good this time. It took an hour and half to get to the aquarium and I made it by 10:30am, just after opening time. I was astounded to find crowds of people heading to the entrance on foot and more surprised that there was no carpark. I drove around and parked a 10 minute walk away where there were no meters. I reckon I was the only one to do so, everyone else got sucked into paying.
$50 to get in, I would determine if it was worth it. As aquariums go, it was state of the art but smaller than I expected. I learnt that in the place of the now aquarium was a thriving sardine cannery business on the suitably named Cannery Row. They’d refurbished some of the boilers that originally stood where the aquarium is and I learnt all about the manufacturing processes to put sardines in a can. Most of them were gross.
I went to the Open Sea exhibit for feeding time at 11am. There was a swarm of 28,000 sardines in the huge tank along with a hammerhead shark, dolphin fish and a few other big fishies. I would hate to be here on a weekend. The place was absolutely packed, and not just from school groups. I was trying to figure out if it was school holidays, but I think it was just full of tourists like me. The feeding got some action out of the fish but no shark feeding.
I went straight from there to the Kelp Forest for another feeding. This was probably my favourite exhibit with a ten meter tall tank that appeared to breathe in and out as a pump replicated the motion of the ocean. This tank was full of different wild life, including a Giant Sea Bass that was proper bad-ass and only one third fully grown. Dan, the feeder and diver (Diver Dan!!!) talked to us while he fed the fish. The presentations were really well done with a presenter on our side of the tank interacting with the crowd and with Dan.
With no more feedings until after lunch, I wandered each of the exhibits, reading every sign and taking a few photos, taking my time profusely. The jellies were cool as always and the other exhibits were what you’d expect from an aquarium. I kept coming back to the Kelp Forest and actually felt a bit sad as I stood and watched it. The rise and fall of the massive seaweed and a frowning silver fish just slowed me down a lot.
I hit the café at 1:30pm and enjoyed a chicken sandwich for $12. Not bad considering no outside foor or drinks are allowed. But the drinks! They were charging $3.95 for a box of water (like a small milk carton) because “boxed is better than bottled”! Not kidding, I actually saw someone buy a couple of them. I did some planning over lunch of where to head the next day (haha, not last minute at all). I was getting a bit tired of walking around, but only had one quarter of the place left to explore.
I ended up at the bottom floor of the Open Sea exhibit where they had a bubble curtain going which looked very effective. I overheard an employee say that they turn it on whenever they introduce new fish into the exhibit so they know where the limits of the tank are and don’t go bonking into the glass. Probably a good call. The Viva Baja exhibition was really cool, it was all about the wildlife that exists around the Baja California peninsula. It’s very tropical which meant lots of very colourful fish, Finding Nemo style. Seeing the penguins meant that I had now seen it all. It was 2:30pm, so it had taken me four hours to take in the whole aquarium, not the whole day I was expecting.
I went into the auditorium to watch a movie about the migration of animals from Alaskan waters down to Baja California. Thoroughly happy to be sitting in a comfortable seat, I was expecting a movie, which they had, but instead of recorded audio, a presenter narrated in front of the screen. It was really effective and she was brilliant. The presentation went for about twenty minutes and she didn’t trip up once. It was interesting to follow the story of a grey whale and her baby, a flock of brown pelicans which were nearly extinct but now ok but have horrid looking babies, and elephant seals that have the most ugly snout noses and make disgusting noises. I had intended to leave after the movie, but I discovered another area at the top of the Kelp Forest. It was outdoors and you could see the surface of the water at the top of the tank and the giant pump that created motion in the water. I intruded a behind-the-scenes tour so I hung around and got a bit of free knowledge. Turns out they are constantly pumping water through from the ocean and with it comes new wildlife and fauna that it pretty much sustains itself. Pretty cool. On an observation deck, I was lucky to see seal lions jumping out of the water in the bay like dolphins. I used one of the telescopes there to track them for a bit. So gracious in the water, it’s no surprise they move around like toddlers with their arms tied behind their backs and their legs bound when they’re on land.
I hadn’t intended to go to the penguin feeding, but since it was nearing 3pm, I decided to stay for it. Now it definitely was crowded. I seated myself on the floor amongst the families and children, feeling a bit like a 20-something year old in a Grade 3 class. The penguins ate their fill of small fish, full of love for their feeder while two presenters bantered and commentated. Apparently you can watch the feedings on the website every day via webcam if you’re really keen.
I was definitely over it after that so made for the exit. Worth the money? No. I would have said $30 was more fair, but that being said, it is a not-for-profit, so all the money goes to the fishies. But that still doesn’t justify charging $4 for water in a box.
Still pooey outside, I got back to my car to find the fridge had cut-out because it detected low battery voltage. Hmmm…. Looking at my regulator, the battery was at 12.7 volts. When I checked the manual the cut-out was set to 11.1 V. My cigarette lighter socket thingy reads voltage too and was at 11.3 V. That meant I had serious voltage drop between the battery and the sockets. Wires probably too thin. Temporary solution, I set the cut-out down to 10.5 V and I was off.
I head a few miles south to Point Lobos on the suggestion of Kylie. It was a state park so I parked outside and went for a trail run through the park that sits on a peninsula of Monterey Bay with a sea lion colony and birds on an island. It didn’t rain thankfully and the run helped me to get over my first day jitters. During the driving, I’d been having those thoughts of “Am I really going to do this for months?”, “Am I doing the right thing?”. I was feeling lonely, but rationalised that of course I would feel that way because I’d been surrounded by people the last few weeks. Those thoughts disappeared with my run through the forest and beaches on the peninsula.
I was covered in sweat by the time I got back to the car a bit over an hour later, a good feeling. I stripped off and let myself cool down while I checked for some free camps. There was one two hours away that I aimed for if I didn’t find anything before. I was driving along the Big Sur coast and the light was very dim as the sun set behind dark clouds. It was raining now and I was apprehensive about making my first camp in the rain. I found a sweet tucked-away pull out off the highway and made my home there. Before parking, I got out and checked a puddle of mud for bogginess, my previous experience getting stuck still fresh in my mind.
I set up my tarp at the back of the van and heated up some noodles for dinner. I hadn’t had time to do a shop that day so was running on fumes in the food department. The kitchen is solid and the tarp worked, but definitely needs some improvement if it is to withstand real rain instead of just drizzle. I spent the rest of the night writing about Austin then went to sleep with the sound of rain on my roof.
PS, anyone who didn’t get the Diver Dan reference, it’s from an Australian TV show called “Seachange” and he is a wonderful character that my family adores.