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  • Day20

    The Big Sur

    September 18, 2019 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 19 °C

    Our day started in Carmel, just down the road from Monterey, before we tackled our long drive. It is heavily talked up as a beautiful unspoiled town, that had the temerity to elect Clint Eastwood as its Mayor some years ago. Like a lot of the Monterey area, it has some lovely properties (at a price of course) and upmarket shops galore, which probably reflect its inhabitants. We walked down to the beach which is truly glorious; white, white sand, blue, blue sea, vegetation to the beach edge and not a hint of commercialism in sight. That has been left for downtown, cleverly and artfully done, but somehow soul less. We were disappointed and didn’t stay long.

    The Big Sur is the regional name for the spectacular ninety miles of cliffs and crashing seas along the California coast between Monterey and San Simeon in the south. The coastline is jagged and dramatic and either collected into States parks of one form or another or in private hands. Yet again it is a drive to savour. The sea is blue and sparkling in the sunshine, mountains flow down to the sea, redwoods tower above you in the southern most groves of the trees long coastal chain and the Rte 1 road hugs the shoreline with gritty determination, sometimes at sea level, other times clinging to the rock face several hundred feet high. All the books tell you to take your time and spend days exploring, hiking, nude sunbathing(well of course!), swimming in rivers and the rest of it. All very well if you have days to spare and can yomp for California, some of us have to be more circumspect and a day is all you have. We had to avoid the hikes, both on the time front and the risk of further damage to my knee, but decided we would use the many Vista pull offs to good effect. Travelling north to south, made it easy as we were on the correct side of the road to facilitate this and the views just opened up in front of us all the way down. It was absolutely stunning.
    Yet another drive of your life!
    The road was completed in 1937 and took eighteen years to build. Prior to this, the inhabitants of the Big Sur had to be almost entirely self sufficient, by farming, raising cattle and trapping sea otters for their fur. The only connection with the outside world was the occasional call of the steamship line to Monterey, or a nearly impassable trail over the mountains to the Salinas Valley. This was spectacular wilderness country and in truth still is. Despite the improved transport links, fewer people live here today (approximately 1000), than in 1900. Most of the ranches remain the the hands of the original pioneer homestead families and they have successfully fought off obtrusive development and government plans to allow offshore drilling. Climatic conditions are harsh, hot, cold, windy and the Flora colonising the cliff tops and mountain sides have to be tough and well adapted to survive. Growing wild was pampas grass and fennel, erica ceanothus and mesembryanthemum flowering bright pink all over the salt sprayed cliff tops. I gather in the spring there are wildflowers everywhere, but the fog which drifts on to the coast is more prevalent. You can’t have everything!
    As you reach San Simeon the mountains retreat and the road flattens out. Our final stop was at the Elephant Seal Colony at Piedras Blancas.
    The boardwalk overlooks the beach and there spreadeagled on the sand are these huge torpedo like creatures snoozing. Every now and then, one of them flips sand over its skin ( think sunscreen for the uninitiated!). We watched them for a couple of minutes and then Peter said “is this it - all they do”. ‘Well yes, at the moment’. I replied. “Ok, we’re off”, came the retort. I get it, they’re probably an acquired taste.
    We arrived here in Cambria around 4pm. The Fog Catcher (yep, unusual name for a hotel) is right on the beach and our room overlooks it.
    The sunset over the ocean was breathtaking. This small town is as genuine as Carmel was not. It is quiet and completely different from anywhere else we have been, but then they have all been different! We are booked to visit Hearst Castle tomorrow, but otherwise I sense chill time is coming. Not before time do I hear you say?

    I’m going to upload this footprint without photos, as the internet is weak here - must be the sea breezes!
    I’ll try to add some pics later.
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