So a little background for this trip:
We are a group of girls who met at a Bible School fairly many moons ago, and I, in fact, was in the same dorm with Jen and Sarah. We are all discovering how much fun traveling is and thought it would be fun to do a big, international trip sometime, somewhere, but we didn’t have enough experience under our belts to do something so big, so we thought we’d practice on a smaller trip.
Easter weekend is a nice, extra-long weekend for some of us so we set that as a date and then came the fun of choosing a location. After coming through a long, cold winter, we all knew we wanted someplace sunny and warmish. So we threw a few ideas around and ultimately ended up choosing the Big Sur area, in California. This area is known for its scenic drive along Hwy 1, and its amazing views. We all booked flights into Monterey, found a cheap motel in Marina, and rented a nice little car for all the sight-seeing.
We flew into Monterey on Thursday afternoon and after eating a delicious Thai lunch and sort of getting our bearings, we hit the road with the first stop being the Carmel Mission in the beautiful town of Carmel-by-the-Sea. This Franciscan mission was the second to be established in California and has beautiful gardens. There’s a history video you can watch, describing the attempts to convert the native Americans to Catholicism and what that all entailed.
It was quite literally a feast for the eyes, all the flora and fauna that are not native to any of our areas. Calla lilies, for example, bloom randomly in ditches in this area. We then headed back to our motel to settle in and then we did a Walmart run for picnic supplies for the next day.
The next day day found us all raring to go at about 7:00, thanks to the time change. But, to our disappointment, there was dense fog, so thick you couldn’t see much of anything. This was the day we had set aside for driving part of Hwy 1, which boasts incredible views. Mountains are on one side, and sheer drop-offs and the ocean lay on the other side. While we were disappointed with the visibility, the fog gave the views an ethereal, almost other-wordly feeling, and Sarah and Jen exclaimed how much it reminded them of Ireland.
In all the research we had done about what to see and do in the area, Calla Lilly Valley came up as a place worth seeing. We knew we were pushing the end of their growing season and so our hopes weren’t too high about how they’d look. But just look!!!!
I think it was a little taste of heaven. The vivid, mossy green of the grasses and hills, coupled with the delicacy of lilies, set against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean had us all rather speechless with awe. It was so amazing, we, in fact, revisited it the next day 🙂
The further south we drove, the more the fog lifted, and when we arrived at Linekiln State Park, it was mostly clear. One of the things I wanted most to see on this trip was redwoods, and while we were a little ways from the legendary, massive, ancient trees, Linekiln gave us a few younger ones. Maybe teenagers, in tree years? Whatever the case, they were beautiful and fulfilled that desire 🙂
We hiked beside a stream that ran through the redwoods and led us to these beautiful falls. We hiked back, following the stream, and found it dumped into the ocean, and we had our picnic lunch on the beach.
Our lunch spot.
We headed back north and with better visibility now, we were better able to see the beautiful panoramas that the fog had been concealing. The following picture is McWay Falls. You can’t make this stuff up, folks. It was one of those places where you just wanted, like Peter, James and John, to set up a tent and dwell 🙂
The famous Bixby bridge. I did a lot of the driving on the trip and while the heights didn’t bother me at the time, I’d dream at nights of getting too close to drop offs and such things.
We then spent the evening in Monterey on the Fisherman’s Wharf, where we ate the legendary clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls. Outside the restaurant, sea lions were hanging out on rocks, barking occasionally.
There were so many places that we could have explored more thoroughly and Monterey was definitely one of them.
The following day dawned bright and sunny. We had a little pow-wow and decided to change plans and drive Hwy 1 again, to really experience the views. But before we retraced our route from the previous day, we headed north to Moss Landing to enjoy a bit of beach time. As one who has spent lots of time on Atlantic beaches, the reality of cactusy succulenty ground cover instead of sea oats was rather awesome.
On this day, we experienced more local culture by stopping in at a few places such as a farm market with fresh strawberries and other produce that was grown in the area. We drove past fields of strawberries with what appeared to be migrant workers out picking them. A lot of strawberries that you buy at the grocery store come from Salinas, which is where we were on this day. Another high light was stopping at this succulent farm. As we were wandering around, admiring all the unique succulent varieties, the owner approached and we chatted for a bit. He asked if he could take a picture with us for Instagram in exchange for a succulent for each of us to take home. We agreed and sure enough, we were on his business’ Instagram page in a few hours 🙂
He got the Idaho part wrong. Jen, in fact, is from Ohio 🙂
We then headed south again, to see the same Hwy 1 scenery in the sunshine. Notice how dramatically different the pictures feel, with blue skies and sunshine.
Our flights home were Sunday afternoon so we decided that it would be special to attend Mass in the morning. We chose a beautiful, historic old cathedral and were disappointed when we got there that morning, that they moved their services to a nearby building to accommodate all the masses of people that were there for Easter Sunday. Before the service started we met the very friendly, and welcoming…. Father or Priest or Pope or whatever he was. He kind of embarrassed us by publicly welcoming us at the beginning of the service, asking us to stand in the midst of hundreds of other visitors and members. I still concur that being friendly and approachable even in travels is key to having a good experience, but sometimes it can bless you in embarrassing ways 🙂 The service was very interesting, and we all ended up getting re-baptized by the same priest and his assistant, who went from aisle to aisle, flicking water at all the people with what appeared to be a little whisk broom. The irony of a few Anabaptist girls, getting “baptized” again, in a Catholic service was not lost on us at all.
We ate a delicious brunch at a nearby cafe before heading to the airport, returning our car and then getting on our respective planes to head home.
It was truly a special trip, and we saw so many beautiful places and encountered so many friendly, interesting people. My memories of trips always include two kinds. The ones where you reap the rewards of doing good research and have those pinch-me-is-this-true kind of moments. Stunning vistas, interesting plants, wonderful food. That kind of thing.
The other memories are the ones you can’t plan and happen organically as a result of experiencing it with people who too see the beauty and humor of situations. They often include lots of laughter. I have two of those memories from this trip. The one happened during our grocery trip, where we discovered, to our dismay, that plastic bags don’t come with your purchase. “We are of good, German stock. We don’t buy bags.”, one in our group was heard to mutter, so we left Walmart with armloads of unbagged picnic supplies which we dumped in our trunk. We then had to reload them all in our arms and carry them through the hotel in front of everyone who was around, which was both hilarious and kind of embarrassing.
It was a good tip for me to remember for any future trips. Take a disposable bag with you. They are usually lightweight, don’t take up much space, and can be used for multiple purposes. Pictured below is my aunt’s Piggly Wiggly bag in Levanto, Italy. Maybe you could even negotiate a deal with your local grocery store. Feature it in a beautiful, foreign locale in exchange for free groceries for a month????
The other funny memory is the evening we decided we were going to watch a beautiful sun set over the Pacific Ocean so we rather frantically looked up the sunset time, as well as beaches nearby. It turned into something of a joke, with some of the beaches being closed or inaccessible, and sunset quickly approaching. When we finally found a beach, we laughed ourselves almost silly with the forthcoming sunset. It was a little……underwhelming for all the work we put into finding a spot to enjoy it.
But those moments are also part of the fabric of a great trip. Learning how to re-calibrate when the unexpected happens, learning how to experience both the beauty and fun of situations out of your control. Understanding that the attitude you take into it determines your level of enjoyment and appreciation. Travel does more than exposes you to new places. It teaches you things about “being” that don’t happen as naturally at home in the familiar, comfortable rhythms of life. It also has a way of putting you and life into perspective. I’m just a small part of a big, beautiful world. My God of the familiar eastern, coastal, sea oats and calm waves is also behind the cactus and the crashing of giant breakers on Pacific sands. I find a bit of comfort in my smallness, because I’ve seen the bigness of my God and His ability to hold everything together. The ache of unexpected beauty, the cramping of a stomach wrecked with laughter from bizarre experiences, the almost palpable nearness of God in a redwood forest- this is why I choose travel over 15 pairs of shoes and daily drinks at Starbucks. It’s why I eat rice and beans frequently and hang my laundry outside. Basically I have become my mother and therefore occasionally get to see the world 🙂
If you are a girl/lady/female and are interested in traveling but want someone else to do the legwork and take care of logistics, check out this post. I don’t know Camille personally, but I think her trip to Italy this summer looks really good. She’s traveled extensively and enjoys the planning/preparing part of it and is passing this love on to others in the form of an opportunity. I’ve been to most of the places she’s going in this trip and I can assure you, they won’t disappoint you!
I hope you enjoyed the post. tt serves as a beautiful memory holder to me, of dear friends and a very special place.