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Saturday 2 Nov 2013
Monterey, USA

Jellies and butterflies on the Pacific Coast Highway

We started with breakfast at Lori's Diner, sitting at the counter just like they do in the movies.  Then Ailsa and I hit the shops to make up for missing them yesterday, in particular a great little yoga shop called Lululemon.  We finally dragged ourselves out of town and headed south towards Santa Cruz.  

Our road trip down the coast had hit a snag when we started looking at the itinerary in more detail.  As it was now November, two of our key destinations had moved to their winter opening hours. The aquarium at Monterey was our goal for today, but it closed at 6pm, which meant we had to get there by 3pm to get a decent amount of visiting time.  Unhelpfully, it did not open until 10am, which meant we couldn't fit in a morning visit and still make it to Hearst Castle in time for the afternoon tour there, as they were a three hour drive apart.  That three hour drive took in the stunning Big Sur stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway, one of the trip highlights, so we didn't want to have to rush that either.  

We made in to Monterey about 4pm in the end, paid our entry and dashed around the aquarium as quickly as we could.  It was a brilliant place, well worth the visit, but it would have been great to have had an extra couple of hours there.  I was keen to see the Deep Sea tank, with its hammerhead sharks, stingrays and giant blue and yellowfin tuna.  However, it was the jellyfish exhibits that really stole the show. They had so many different varieties on display, all in illuminated tanks to make their vivid colours stand out.  Everyone thinks of the classic jellyfish shape, but these displays showed they come in a hundred different shapes and sizes.  The kelp forest tank was full of interesting creatures, such as leopard sharks and sea bass, while the tropical reef sections were full of the fish I'd become familiar with while diving in Indonesia and Malaysia, such as clownfish and cleaner shrimp.  One of the most impressive displays was a giant red octopus climbing up the wall of his tank.  I am still unsure about seeing such beautiful creatures in captivity, but the educational aspects of this aquarium were well presented.  There were guides around to answer questions and information boards everywhere.

We clung on as long as possible before being turfed out with the last of the visitors, then wandered along the quay.  The aquarium is housed in a former tuna cannery and the whole wharf has been developed to house shops and restaurants in the former factory buildings.  We had dinner in an italian place overlooking the sea, before working our way back across town to find our motel for the night.  

In the morning, we left Monterey and heared up to Pacific Grove in search of a Monarch Butterfly grove.  Monarchs are migratory bitterflies, which have a peculiar and fascinating life cycle.  One generation flies south from Canada, living about 8 months, until it reaches this particular area of the coastline.  The climate here is perfect for breeding and the butterflies target a particular grove of eucalyptus trees, so the butterflies mate and reproduce.  The next two or three generations live 4-6 weeks each, until a new migration generation is born, who then undertake the long flight back up to Canada.  Nobody knows how they know the route, because it was their great-grandparents who flew south.  It could be that they follow magnetic fields or that they have some sort of ancestral memory which passes down through the generations.  Alisa and I were a little early to see the butterflies fully active, as they have to wait for the sun to warm their wings each morning, but we could still see quite a few flying about and hundreds more hanging in the trees like clumps of orange leaves.  In the middle of the day, there can be several thousand of them flying about.

We carried on along 17-Mile Drive, a private road which hugs the beach around the tip of the Monterey Peninsula, stopping to watch the waves crash against the shore and try to spot seals in the surf.  We also passed through the little artist community at Carmel by the Sea.  It would have been fun to stop here too but the Big Sur coastline was calling...

...And what a drive it was. The narrow road clings precariously to the side of the steep cliffs and wraps around each headland with tantalising glimpses of the next stretch of road or series of tight bends.  As the road rises up around a bluff, the only thing ahead seems to be open sky, before you're suddenly whisked around a corner and given another stunning view of the Pacific Ocean far below.  We did our best to stay ahead of a winnebago to avoid having our view ahead blocked, but eventually had to pull in and take some photos.  We almost beat the mobile home back onto the road, but not quite, so let him get far enough ahead that we could still enjoy the drive.  After a while, enough cars stopped to enjoy the views that we ended up at the head of the line of traffic - this is not a road for overtaking, no matter how kamikaze you might be feeling - and I am not ashamed to admit that I stayed at the head of that line for the next 45 minutes, enjoying the blissfully clear road ahead of us.  It was such a fun road to drive along.  Next time, I will get that convertible and get the full experience!  Ailsa rose to the task of chief photographer magnificently despite being a little less than comfortable sitting that close to the edge of the cliff at times. Can't imagine why...?

Sadly, the coastline didn't last long enough for the driver in me, but we were still on a mission to reach Hearst Castle in time for our tour.  







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