Sunday 5th October – Thursday 9th October
Travelling by train and other public transport, rather than hiring a car, means that we sometimes miss out on seeing smaller towns. While we love cities, it is nice to be somewhere a little more relaxing sometimes.
So when we planned our time at Esalen, and realised that the closest town is Monterey (still over an hour’s drive away), we decided to book a few chilled out days at a hotel in this small, tourist-y place.
We got a lift from Esalen to Monterey with Claudine, in her old purple VW van. She’d also been at Esalen for the weekend. We picked up some other travellers on the way through, who had been hiking in the mountains and exploring the natural hot springs in the area.
Monterey is the home of Cannery Row, the location for the eponymous novel by John Steinbeck, a resident of nearby Salinas. Although the book is fictional, it is true that this town boomed in the first half of the twentieth century, on the back of catching and canning sardines (and, towards the end of its success story, the production of fish meal, used for feeding animals and fertilising agricultural land).
The canning plants were close to the water’s edge, and the workers there began their shifts when the catch was landed (around 3 or 4am) and continued until the whole catch had been processed. The canned fish were then carried across to the other side of Cannery Row via covered, elevated conveyor belts. Some of the resulting enclosed bridges can still be seen today.
Sea kayaking, Monterey Bay
My name is Joanna Bromhead, and I love otters. River otters are great (particularly the ones at the aquarium in the Lake District), but sea otters are possibly even better, as they float on their backs and eat shellfish on their stomachs, having smashed the shells off using favourite rocks that they store in pockets under their fore-legs. Yes, really. (Also, they look like swimming teddy bears.)
Sea otters used to be abundant on the California coastline, but they were hunted for their pelts, almost to extinction. They have been protected by law since 1911, but they have only recently made it off the endangered list; no-one really knows why their numbers are not recovering more quickly.
However, quite a few otters live in Monterey Bay, joining together into rafts and winding themselves into the kelp to keep from floating away. We could just about see them from the shore, but it is possible to get relatively close to them by hiring a kayak.
It was fairly windy, so paddling against the current was hard work – I was grateful to Andrew and Scott for their work in teaching me to paddle all those years ago, although I certainly recall less kelp and fewer pelicans in Albert Avenue baths…
“Harassing” the animals can lead to a $100,000 fine, so we had been advised to remain at least 50 feet, or five kayak lengths, away from them at all times, although we were warned that the bay’s resident harbour/harbor seals might be curious about us, and so may come closer to check us out.
However, as we were paddling along close to the harbour wall, we suddenly spotted two otters fighting/playing in the water immediately in front of us. We were probably only 60 feet from them, so we immediately stopped paddling so as not to get too close. The otters apparently hadn’t read the rule book, though, as they swam directly towards us, and one of them popped up immediately beside my boat, putting one front paw onto the deck and sticking his nose up to take a look at me! He then swam under my boat, popped up on the other side and repeated the process.
Getting out on the water also provided us with a great opportunity to see some of the area’s other wildlife in its natural environment, including pelicans and cormorants, seals and sea lions.
Monterey Bay Aquarium, Cannery Row
Not having had enough of sea otters, despite our close encounter, we also visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium. We have been to a number of aquariums over the years (you could say that we are a-fish-ionados…), usually in search of otters of one kind or another, and this one was certainly excellent. In addition to the great exhibits and the fantastic conservation work that they do, it was very interesting to read more about the previous life of the building housing the aquarium, which was formerly a canning plant, until the sardines ran out in the 1950s as a result of both over-fishing and natural cycles.
Overall, our time in Monterey was a lovely chance to relax and to continue the zen mood that we had begun to cultivate at Esalen.
Picture of the day
This artwork was in the Monterey Bay Aquarium:
It is inspired by the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (a massive area of waste plastic in the middle of the ocean) and Hokusai’s woodcut The Great Wave off Kanagawa. It’s made of 2.4 million pieces of plastic – the number of pounds of plastic estimated to enter the world’s oceans every hour.