Love in the Time of Coriander

Thoughts on food & more.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Nothern California Coastline, Cont'd

Santa Cruz
Last weekend, E and I drove to Half Moon Bay then down Highway 1 to Santa Cruz, where awe-inspiring views of the ocean are combined with the hovering summer fog. A little outside of Santa Cruz, we stopped at an unmarked beach that E lovingly termed "4 Mile." It was obvious that surfer's knew its moniker, for we asked a middle-aged man in a wetsuit where we could find it. He pointed us in the right direction.

After ambling through brush behind a family of tow-headed surfers (even the mom had her surfboard), we came upon a beautiful beach. E and I hiked over rocks to a point farther out, upon which waves crashed. The tide was low, and most likely, this spot was semi-submerged at high-tide. There must have been two dozen surfers with bellies on their boards, bobbing as the small waves came and went. All of a sudden, a big one would hit and boarders would paddle backward or forward to catch the wave at the right spot. Every so often, someone would hit the jackpot and ride the wave all the way into the beach.

After 4 Mile, we continued into downtown Santa Cruz, where we window-shopped and people-watched. E, who went to UCSC in the 80s, recalls the downtown before the Loma Prieta earthquake. It's now a semi-fancy outdoor shopping mall, but still filled with the flavor of hippie locals. We stayed only a beat in the downtown, catching a quick bite to eat at a little green kiosk which served fresh Mexican food. We ordered a bowl of warm rice, beans, and sauteed zucchini, topped with green sauce. Nice in a home-style way, but a little pricey ($7) for that sort of thing.

Later, we ended up at the Tea House Spa, only a block away from Pacific Ave., where we entered a strange little universe of bliss, seemingly far away from the downtown reality. The spa has four private rooms, each with a hot tub and a wet sauna overlooking a bamboo garden. For a few moments, before a band nearby started sound-checking for its evening set, we couldn't believe that on the other side of the sublime garden there was a parking lot. Make no mistake, though, the band did not deter us from enjoying ourselves. The hot tubs jets were loud enough to function as a white noise buffer. And, anyway, it was kind of cute. Afterall, we were in Santa Cruz and not some other yuppy locale.

After an hour of soaking and drying ourselves (what a strange thing we do for fun), E & I picked up a few groceries at the Shoppers' Corner, a nice little grocery store downtown, and headed over to Rhys' parent's home. They've been spending a lot of time at her folks' home because her brother and his fiance are about to tie the knot. Guess everyone's jumping onto the marriage bandwagon!

After a simple dinner and some nice wine, E & I headed out to the Boardwalk with our friend, Don. Let me tell you, the peeps were out in full force! E bought each of us tickets to ride the Giant Dipper, an old, wooden rollercoaster on the beach. Though I barely remember the details of the ride--the wine clouding my judgment--I remember how fun it was to suddenly have the wind blowing through my hair while my stomach fell through the seat. We ended the night noshing on a churro and taking photos in a black and white photo booth.

Big Sur

I recovered only for a day before heading out on Monday morning with Kirthi to Big Sur. We had, in our maniacal happiness of taking a road trip, a moment of thinking we'd book ourselves into a B & B in Monterrey. I don't know what I was thinking. A B & B is fine, but Monterrey is an Any Tourist Town USA by the Bay, filled with horribly mediocre seafood and stores that sell junk and t-shirts with rote sayings like "My mom went to Monterrey and all she got me was this lousy t-shirt." Luckily, we quickly nixed the idea in favor of staying at a cabin down in one of the campgrounds in Big Sur.

Given all the epic connotations of the area as the site of one of Kerouac's most loved novels, there was an entry in my Northern California knowledge missing under "Big Sur." I was happy to fill it in with "dramatic coastlines," the phrase most often used to describe each of the hikes in the Big Sur area by one of the guide books we were using. Though Kirthi poked fun at the writer, who possessed only the adjective "dramatic" to describe anything beautiful, it wasn't so far from the truth. The coastline is picturesque.

While I drove South from Monterrey along the scenic and curvy Highway 1, Kirthi read about the "dramatic coastline" at Andrew Molinas State Park. We stopped for a leisurely hike to the ocean which led us to a little beach, where we noshed on some home-made bread, Haig's babaghanoush (the best!), some heirlooms and a bit of baked tofu that we had picked up at Berkeley Bowl. The fog had finally lifted as we watched a few surfers trying to catch a wave. We took the rest of the hike up over the bluffs looking out over the beach. We were filling in "damn!" under Big Sur.

Further down the road, we stopped at Pfeiffer State Park, one of the main attractions in Big Sur. It's got hikes galore, but it's also famous for a river and swimming holes. After asking campers how we could find our way to the swimming, we found the trail and hiked out onto the rocks, where we met with families in bathing suits lounging or diving (where it was deep enough) into the waters. Because it was a river, the water came from somewhere higher up and cascaded over rocks, creating little swimming holes filled with the clearest waters. Upon entry, it was chilling but after a few minutes, it felt wonderful.

Something had possessed me in those waters. I hiked up through the currents and the rocks in nothing but my bathing suit to explore all the nooks and crannies. Finally, after an hour of basking, I was curious about all the young folks who were hiking down from a place farther up the path. I crawled around, with Kirthi following behind, and found that the end of the line was a huge hole deep enough on one side that the daring hoisted themselves up a rope until they could jump into the pool from a height of 25 feet. That, I decided, wasn't for me. I did swim across the pool, enjoying the way the ravines merged around this lovely place. I was so glad to have come this far.

We went to Nepenthe later and had a glass of wine overlooking the "dramatic coastline." The place was swarming with European tourists, and I realized it must be one of those California hotspots that's written up in the guidebooks as "not to be missed," whatever the phrase might be in Italian, German, and French. Aside from the view, the dining experience itself didn't appear to be anything unique. As I said to E, it was sort of like someone plopping a Jupiter's (the Berkeley college bar with outdoor seating whose name was always followed by "to get more stupider") but placed in a location with a to-die-for view.

That night, we made dinner on a gas camping stove -- a simple pasta with blanched arugula, toasted walnuts, parsley and ricotta salata--and played Scrabble before turning in. We talked briefly to the family from San Diego camping next door to us, an Irish immigrant and single mother, her despondent 16-year old boy, and her 13-year old daughter and two friends. The 13-year olds, whose bikinis were laid out to dry on a log, wandered about the campsite, being typical adolescents who stayed as far away from the others. I could see clearly the way the family's various stages of development were catching up to them. They all played out their prescribed roles. I felt sorry for the boy and asked why he hadn't invited a friend. To that, he only retreated further inward, shrugging his shoulders in a way that made it clear that he was horrified that a couple of young woman were harrassing him about his social life. I guess you know you're old when you interrogate a teenager as if he were a 7-year old.

In the morning, we made a yummy egg scramble with leftover heirlooms, parsley, and corn. I had my fake coffee, and Kirthi had a bit of the real brew that I'd stashed in our stuff. We headed out early and took one of the short hikes into Pfeiffer to a waterfall. There were only two other people out on the trail at the time, and the air smelled of morning. We shared the waterfall with no one but each other and talked about yoga and spiritualism.

On our way back up on Highway 1, we were determined to find the Soberanes Point Trail, only a mile and a half loop, leading out to the most "dramatic coastline." Actually, the whole trip will forever be remembered by how incredible this trail was. We walked through poison oak and wildflowers until the scenery suddenly changed. We found ourselves on the edge of bluffs under which a few little beaches lay in little coves where blue waters lapped up onto the shores.

It looked like it was high tide. Regardless, these beaches, we were told by the book, are notorious for deaths. The water crashes onto land much higher than expected and washes people away. The awe in the scenery--and it kept getting more and more colossal as we kept on the trail--was in its ability to swallow us up. As one of our professors in the last quarter had written, awe is in part derived from the recognition that this awe-inspiring thing is so much larger than you and has so much more power than you will ever have.

As we ambled back, satified after having soaked in the most beautiful view of all, Kirthi spontaneously said, "Nature sure does know how to curate itself."


At 5:04 PM, Anonymous siavash said...

i'm jealous!


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