15 February 2010

Mad-Crazy Waves

It’s been over a year since I’ve been down to the Monterey Bay Peninsula. As always, I wondered what made me think that the two-hour drive to get here was too labor intensive.

I had been forewarned that it would be a busy weekend what with the AT&T Pro-Am golf tournament at Pebble Beach, the holiday weekend, and Valentine’s Day. But I have a free place to hunker down in solitude, and miles of shoreline to traipse upon, and with sunny skies in the forecast nothing was going to deter me once I committed to the journey.

Right before I left home I heard on the news that the Mavericks Big-Wave surfing competition, held in Half Moon Bay, (about halfway between San Francisco and Monterey), was a go for 13 Feb.

Each winter, during a waiting period typically set for sometime between November and March – if and when conditions are perfect, and giant swells roll in from far across the Pacific – The Mavericks Surf Contest® is held. On just 24 hours notice, two dozen of the surfing community’s bravest and most skillful souls assemble to confront the thundering mountain of salt water many consider to be the most dangerous wave Mother Nature has ever concocted. http://www.maverickssurf.com/

I was thinking that it would be fun to drive down to witness the 50 ft waves and the 24 lunatic surfers but knew that although the waves would not be as massive along the Monterey Coast, they certainly would be impressive. And impressive they were.

One can walk along beautiful coastline trails from Pacific Grove right into Monterey Bay, or ride a bike or tool along in a car on the small winding drive; it is stunning. I tend to drive for a bit, pull over, then start walking. Yesterday, I was pleased to find that the air was a little nippy, but the sun was out and I knew I would soon warm up. The problem was that I stayed cold for longer than usual because I kept stopping to stare out in amazement at the spectacular nature show.

I don’t ever remember seeing something quite so dramatic as those huge, 15 ft waves, rolling in one after another and crashing down on those incredible rocky shores, foam bubbling up nearly to the trails, all of it beneath a brilliant blue sky. I kept screaming in delight at every giant wave curling and breaking. I walked and watched and shared my excitement with others along the path. Back in the car I drove towards Monterey and then strolled along another section of the Pacific coast until I decided I needed a meal on Fisherman’s Wharf.

Back in the day, maybe 20 years ago, it seems you couldn’t miss with any of the restaurants on the wharf. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. I had been craving Fish & Chips; probably because I had recently seen Gordon Ramsey working his magic at a F & C tavern on TV. I was hungry, it was starting to get crowded, so I stopped at the first place that had outdoor dining. Disappointed does not quite convey the quality of the food. It was dreadful. I would have been better off getting something from the frozen food aisle in the supermarket. More disheartening was that I rarely eat out and when I do I have memories of what my food should taste like. When I get rotten cat-food, for which I have paid good money, it sucks.

As I left the Wharf planning to get back to the seaside, the fog snuck in. Time to go back home and tune in the Olympics. Seeing as they are being held in the same time zone as California, one would think that we’d have the best coverage. Not quite. As usual, NBC has decided to broadcast live to New York and let us view their limited coverage after the fact, and at hours when children and a good many adults are in bed.

But I had plans for Sunday, which included heading out to the AT&T Golf thingy. I looked it up and found out I could park for free in downtown Pacific Grove then catch a shuttle into Pebble Beach and back for a mere $15. (This is actually the only way I think you can get into Pebble Beach during Golf Days). I didn’t want to pay to watch the folks hit the balls, but thought I could get some good photos and maybe a fun story out of the trip. But then I read the fine print that said cell phones, cameras, and food were not allowed in and would be confiscated. If you can’t carry a camera, how can you take pictures of Pros and Celebs? It would be another day on the shoreline.

Sunday maybe was even better than Saturday, but this time the beach trails in PG were off limits. It seems that someone in Carmel, just down the road, thought hanging near those bone-crushing breaking waves was a good idea. Not. Still haven’t found his body. However, there was also a 10K charity run underway so that cars were not allowed on the road making it a fine, quiet place to walk. I did a repeat of the day before and headed back towards Monterey, which turned out to be a mistake.

As beautiful and warm and sunny as the day was, there were just way too many people for it to be enjoyable. Then I remembered where I was and it had been years since I had walked around the Monterey State Historic Park, which is right downtown. In fact I had only ever been in a few of the well preserved, clearly marked, old Spanish and Mexican buildings.

Apparently, no one else had thought of doing the history thing on Valentine’s Day; I had the streets mostly to myself. I dropped by one museum to get a map and found out that almost all the historical buildings in Monterey and, in fact, the state, have been closed due to budget cuts. The few places that are open in Monterey are so because they are run with city funding.

Colton Hall is the building where “the signing of California’s First State Constitution occurred on Oct 13, 1849 and on Sept 9, 1850 California became the thirty-first state.” (Colton Hall Museum, 11/07) I actually got goose-bumps when Donna, the docent, told me I was standing on the exact spot where this took place.

From there I followed the Path of History, designated by little yellow circular plaques embedded in the sidewalk, over to the Royal Presidio Chapel which was erected in 1770 and has been in continual service ever since. In 2009 a major renovation project was completed. Seeing at it was Sunday and mass was just finishing and a baptism was about to start, I found lots of helpful people to give me information.

I was especially excited to learn about the stone relief of Our Lady of Guadalupe that adorns the niche above the church entry. I recently returned from Puerto Vallarta where Our Lady is the city’s patron saint, and was fortunate enough to observe the 12 day celebration they have in her honor. I sort of felt like I knew the gal. This particular rendition of her has been on the front of the chapel since 1794. In 2007 it was removed for conservation purposes. After a long process, it was restored to its original incarnation and replaced in its home.

Walking inside the chapel, looking at the colours, designs, the alter and the pews, I felt like I was back in Mexico. They have truly done an incredible job. A really interesting aspect is the small, plexiglas covered sections in the wall that let you see some of the original painted frescoes.

Back outside in that magnificent spring weather I continued to meander around cute, downtown Monterey. I promised myself to get up to speed on my history before my next, more extensive visit to this part of town.

And I am already making plans for the next Maverick’s event.