Departures: Monterey 2004

[photo: Monterey Bay Aquarium, as seen from a whale-watching boat]

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.

Waterfront Notes

Riddle: How does a harbor seal say "It would be awesome if you dropped some fish"?
Answer: constantly

I was glad that I didn't walk under this thing while it was doing whatever it does. I guess it drops fish:
[photo: fish dropper or something]

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.

Mystery Monarchs

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:
[photo: Thomas Kinkade National Archives] [photo: Hallowe'en House 'Turn Back']

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.
[photo: What's orange and invisible? No Butterflies]

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.
[photo: spiderwebs] [photo: Cat sniffing my shoe] [photo: sign for the Del Monte military academy]

(Almost) To The Lighthouse

The lighthouse was closed. So I visited its parking lot.
[photo: Poit Pinos Lighthouse, through the trees]

Gratuitous Photos of the Monterey Coast

I walked back towards Cannery Row by way of the coast. It was beautiful, of course.
[Photo: please pardon this poorly stitched-together panorama of waves and rocks on the Monterey coast] [Photo: cliffs, rocks, and waves on the Monterey coast] [Photo: if you're a dead marine mammal, birds will sit on you to eat you.  And they will poop on you.  Even after they poop on you, that will continue eating you.] [Photo: please pardon this poorly stitched-together panorama of a seawall and rocks on the Monterey coast] [Photo: rocks and a wave on the Monterey coast] [Photo: et in Monterey pigeons] [Photo: Please pardon this poorly stitched-together panorama of plants and rocks on the Monterey coast.]

At the Aquarium

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)
[Photo: Main entry area of Monterey Bay Aquarium, no line.  No, really]

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.
[Photo: Cecilia and Michelle feeding the otters] [Photo: Alisa and Michelle watch the otters while Cecilia readies the fecal net]

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."
[Photo: I have no idea how ugly this guy was; he was covered in fish and a diving suit]

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.

Back to the Touristy Bits

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:
[Photo: It is wildlife!]

Yet Another Maritime Museum

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.

Last Bits of Tourism Notes

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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