It was November 17, 2004, and I had followed my back-up plan, followed it to Monterey.
I'd originally planned to be somewhere else, though I wasn't sure exactly where. I'd visited a number of websites claiming to sell discount last-minute airline tickets. In theory, airlines offered big disounts on last-minute fares for half-empty planes. In theory, if I wanted to get out of town for the weekend, but didn't much care where, this would be a good chance to get do so cheaply. But I'd doublechecked the fares that these sites were offering, and they were not so cheap. If I ever do have a chance to get a cheap flight to Des Moines, to finally see the Pork Industry Hall of Fame, you know I will take that chance. But that did not happen.
So I went to Monterey instead. It was close, easy to set up. Not much anecdote-worthy happened, but I took some notes anyhow.
Amtrak was late picking me up in Oakland. Amtrak was always late. I wasn't sorry--I went to the Cuckoo's Nest for a second breakfast. Amtrak was always late, and I was never sorry. There were always friends to hang out with or restaurants to visit.
A few hours later, I was checked into the Monterey Travelodge, had dropped off my luggage there, and was wandering the Monterey waterfront.
Riddle: How does a harbor seal say "It would be awesome
if you dropped some fish"?
I was glad that I didn't walk under this thing while it was doing
whatever it does. I guess it drops fish:
Standing at the end of Fishmerman's Wharf, I looked down. There were many dinghies tied to the wharf. Looking out, I saw many sailboats moored in the harbor. I guess that was the favored place to row your dinghy from the mooring area.
Every so often, space-wise, a rock jutted up from the harbor waters. They no doubt gave pause to sailors; they also gave a pausing-place to wildlife. I saw cormorants, pelicans, gulls, and pigeons. I saw an otter, sea lions, seals. I noted when various attractions opened, made plans for the next couple of days.
I was amazed to see Cannery Row with no traffic. I remembered visiting Monterey with my high school chums on some school holiday. The town had been packed with tourists. Turning your car onto Cannery Row was asking to sit in traffic for half an hour. But today, there were almost no cars, almost no tourists.
For dinner, I had a good burrito at Papa Chano's on Alvarado Street.
The next day, I set out a little after dawn, walking East to
reach the butterfly habitat. I walked along city streets,
since I'd already seen the sights along the coast. While
there were different things to see away from the coast, they
were not that exciting. Check out the Kinkade National Archive,
and a house with a "Turn Back" scary Hallowe'en paint job:
When I reached the butterfly habitat, I saw no butterflies. In theory, lots of migrating monarch butterflies live for a few months each year in Pacific Grove. (I'd walked into Pacific Grove.) They stayed in the trees in a couple of local parks. Surprisingly, they liked the non-native Eucalyptus trees. At least, that's what my guidebook said.
I saw no butterflies. Maybe that's because it was so foggy that
I could not see to the tops of the trees.
Wandering around the area a bit, I came up with three theories
about what might have happened to the butterflies: eaten by spiders,
eaten by cats, or eaten by cadets of the Del Monte Military Academy.
The lighthouse was closed. So I visited its parking lot.
I walked back towards Cannery Row by way of the coast.
It was beautiful, of course.
I breezed up to the Monterey Bay Aquarium a few minutes after it opened.
There was no line of screaming tourists waiting to get in.
I rubbed my eyes. There was still no crowd of screaming tourists
waiting to get in. I almost didn't recognize the place.
I snapped a photo of the no-line waiting to get in. (I took it in similar spirit to my photo of the Mona Lisa in a room not-overflowing with tourists)
Thanks to the lack of crowds, I saw three otter feedings that day. Each time, I was able to get a prime viewing spot by just walking up at the start. The second time was a bit more crowded, and I gave up my prime spot to someone else who showed up a little late. I could afford to be generous.
Here we see some aquarists feeding the otters. In the second
photo, we see that one of the aquarists has a net. That is the fecal
net. She was watching to see any of the otters was going to poop. If
so, the aquarist was going to catch the poop in a net for later
analysis. You might think it would be tough to spot otter poop in
that dark water, but as I later learned, otter poop is bright yellow-green
and is very visible.
Michelle the aquarist talked to the audience about how one could get a job tending otters at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. She outlined a course of study and volunteering. She finished it off: "...and you can have squid bits in your hair at the end of the day."
I watched a feeding at the kelp forest tank. A diver
entered the tank and distributed food to the fish. I saw feedings
at three tanks during that day. In two places, where the feeders
were on land, you could see the feeders very well. In these cases,
the feeders were hot chicks. But in the kelp forest, you couldn't
see the feeder--he was in a diving suit. This made me wonder: if the
mission of the Monterey Bay Aquarium was "to inspire conservation of
the oceans," did they choose their aquarists for inspiring looks?
Surely, there must be plenty of well-qualified marine biologists who
wanted to work at this place. For high-visibility jobs, why not
choose good-looking ones? Was that the story? What was up with
this feeder-dude? Maybe he didn't look very good. Maybe the
Aquarium's hiring committee said "OK, you can work here. But to
make sure that no-one sees you, you need to wear this diving suit.
And surround yourself in a cloud of fish."
That's probably not how they make their hiring decisions at all.
I must remember that those little blue things that wash up on ocean beach in huge numbers are by-the-wind sailors. By-the-wind sailors. Remembering. Yes.
On the dangers of littering: albatrosses eat Bic lighters.
Monterey's Petra Cafe had bland lentil soup and OK falafel.
On Friday, I woke up and had breakfast at Margie's Diner. It was about Denny's quality, but it was a 50's retro diner, so they were playing the standard 50's retro soundtrack music in the background. Maybe I should have gone to Denny's, just a few steps further away.
I went down to the end of Fisherman's Wharf and into the shack of the Monterey Bay Whale Watch and Monterey Bay Boat Charter Company. There I signed up for a whale-watching tour on the Pt Sur Clipper.
This was a fairly standard whale-watching outing. There was
a fast boat ride. We saw some Risso's dolphins, some
Pacific white-sided dolphins, some other dolphins. We saw
some humpback whales. Close to shore, we saw some bottlenose dolphins
and a couple of otters.
A couple of people got seasick, and I was not one of them, for
which I felt absurdly proud of myself. I didn't take many photos,
because I wanted to just watch, rather than try to set up shots.
Plus, my skills at photographing wildlife in the water is not so great:
After spending most of the day on a fast-moving boat, I was pretty tired when I hit the Monterey Maritime museum, and I didn't get a lot out of it. There was more information than I expected about dirigibles. Yes.
At the bagelry, I order a hummus bagel. "What?"
"What number is that?"
"Your menu doesn't have numbers."
It was like Boston all over again. Once again, the fact that the server didn't know what hummus was meant you did not want the hummus. It had probably been sitting there undisturbed since 1998. I had the hummus bagel. It was not very good.
Amtrak was late getting back to San Francisco, but not very late.
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