Sunday, October 30, 2011

Monterey - a Steinbeck pilgrimage - day 2

So, we're still in Monterey and taking in the sights and sounds of a town I've imagined going to for 15 years. Having walked the boardwalks and taken in the lingering smells from Cannery Row's history I was ready to do some more exploring.

I spent the morning back in the aquarium which has enough to keep anyone occupied for a good few hours. The current highlight is the 4ft great white shark in the main tank and there's a constant crowd watching to catch a glimpse as it slowing glides around the enormous tank. The tank includes sun fish, hammer head sharks, tuna and a miscellany of other smaller fish.

As an aside, somebody sent me the following video when we talked about the speed of fish. Watch until the end, I can just about guarantee astonishment:

Anyway, given the low light levels in the aquarium I was having trouble getting sharp shots of the fish through the glass and so went for a long exposure, atmosphere picture, rather than something super sharp. The neon light shining through the water gave a lovely tinge to the fish trails and so I took a few shots of the crowds watching over a 20 second exposure:

The fog was still hanging over the bay at this time which made for some fantastically surreal scenes, looking out from the jetties at Cannery Row:
ocean fog
That afternoon I had no plans and so headed out on one of the whale watching boats to try my luck. Although the time of year is good for whale watching, there hadn't been much success that morning and so we were warned that we may not see anything. Our guide, a hugely enthusiastic woman transmitted her love for all things maritime with shouts and whoops of laughter along with a good dose of fascinating information about whale migratory patterns, the topography of Monterey bay, and the scientific research she does into a variety of cetaceans.

Our first find was a sun fish which came to eye us warily. These fish (also called Mola Mola) can grow to up to 2 tonnes and be 4 meters across . The one we came across was only a baby, at perhaps a meter or so across and quickly tired of our photo taking and took off. Shortly after we found a seal, hiding in some kelp, disguising itself from hungry killerwhales:
hiding seal

We carried on for another hour or so without any luck. We were about ready to head back when a scream from our guide told us that something had been spotted and we raced off out into the ocean to see what it was. Before any of us could see anything at all she was screaming excitedly that it was a humpbacked whale and indeed our first sight of it was the burst of vapour from its blowhole. For 20 minutes or so we watched as it came up for air and then dived down for a couple of minutes before we had to search around to work out where it would next surface.
humpback whale

The whale only breached once while we were watching it, and sadly with the zoom lens I didn't manage to find it, focus and take the picture before it was gone, but it was a truly beautiful thing to see the tail come out of the water and slip silently down. The highlight for our guide was that the wind direction was right to send the plume of vapour our way on one breath and so we were, for a few seconds, surrounded by the stench of whale breath. This is certainly not one of the experiences I'd expected from the California trip.

Another highlight and perhaps for me a bigger surprise was the sighting of a black-footed albatross. These mythical birds have always held a fascination for me since I read at a young age that they could grow up to 10ft across. The occupants of the other boat which came out to see the whale when we radioed the surrounding tour groups, seemed to miss the albatross, but I got a nice shot as it sailed by their boat.


After all the excitement we headed back inland and I made my way to the hostel that I was going to stay in for the next couple of days. Getting into the hostel was a great disappointment frankly. Though it was a beautiful hostel, things have changed hugely from a decade ago when I was  frequently staying in hostels. It used to be that you'd arrive in a hostel and there would be people from all around the world, sharing stories and making new friendships. Arriving into the hostel in Monterey (and I understand that this phenomenon is now largely universal) I found a half a dozen people sat silently, each one of them plugged into a computer somehow, talking on facebook, typing on skype, reading the news, but not a single person interacting with anyone else.

This seems like a really sad state of affairs but rather inevitable as we become more and more used to having our lives split between the real and the virtual world. This is precisely the reason that I don't have the internet at home (or at least not easily accessible). When I have couchsurfers, or friends around, it's all too easy to get sidetracked from real interactions by the internet and I much prefer to make it as hard as possible to get online when I'm at home. I have neither TV nor wifi at home and so spend a lot more time talking, cooking, reading and generally feeling like I'm interacting physically rather than virtually with the world around me. This isn't to say that I shun such things - it's pretty clear that I don't, but I make a big effort to leave parts of my life where these forms are less pervasive.

I stayed in the hostel for three nights in the end and met three interesting people in that time. Back in the day it would have been a constant stream of interesting meetings, but now I felt like i was being intrusive if I tried to start a conversation with someone who was plugged in, so I sat and read my book in the evenings while everyone else typed away.

Anyway, next comes a mammoth adventure on highway 1 but I'll leave that for the next post.