California has been suffering drought conditions all year… and then we showed up. In the last ten days a third of its annual rainfall fell from the skies and each evening we have been tuned into the Weather Channel on TV in our motel room in an attempt to dodge the downpours. And by and large we have been successful.
Locals we have encountered, as we have have made our way north from Los Angeles to Vancouver have inevitably commented “You guys must right at home with this weather”. It’s certainly been colder than home, that’s for sure.
Our first day driving north from LA up the Pacific Coast Highway to Morro Bay was amazingly dry though, but pretty overcast, but by day two, after a night at Morro Bay, a rock slip closed Highway One, a few miles short of Big Sur, and we had to make a 50 mile detour to get round it.
|We check out Muscle Beach, below the pier at Santa Monica|
|In Morro Bay with Morro Rock in background|
|Morro Bay with our Chevvy Equinoz SUV|
We rolled along in a big Chevvy Equinox SUV; a bit of a gas guzzler compared to what we are used to at home, but very comfortable and it stuck to the wet road like glue, which was just as well, with the dozens and dozens of hairpin bends we had to negotiate, often with a big drop down a sheer cliff and not much of a barrier between you and the roaring Pacific.
We got to Santa Cruz on my birthday. I know Santa Cruz as the Ukulele capital of the US, though we saw no evidence of that as we roamed around, just an awful lot of elderly men and women looking for hand-outs in around its famous boardwalk.
The following day we arrived in the Bay area of Oakland for the weekend. We have been to its more famous neighbour San Francisco, across the water, so were delighted when a family friend in the city of Oakland invited us to stay. Carolyn turned out to be a great tour guide and pulled out all the stops to show us the area, despite student riots upsetting her schedule.
Her pal Kate popped over bearing a variety of acoustic instruments, which included a uke. Being a Beatles fan we found a number of tune to play together and it was great to get my hand around a guitar again – it’s been a while – especially her very rare 1938 Martin which sounds fabulous and is in great condition. She thinks it is worth several thousand dollars! We had a great weekend with Carolyn, went to a concert in somebodies house, which was unique and very intimate, visited Berkeley and the old state capital Benicia and even found time for Sunday lunch in a traditional American diner.
|Lunch in diner in Oakland. Not too sure about having fruit on the plate, but this is California|
|Kate on her 1938 Martin and me go through some old Beatles tunes.|
We swapped the very “hairy” Highway One for Highway 101 on leaving Oakland, after a quick stop in Sonoma in the driving rain. 101 swoops between hugging the coast and cutting though the forests of giant redwoods which line the road and are a feature of the coastline. It certainly is a spectacular route, rain or sun. We drove some of this road back in 2003 but I couldn’t remember much of the detail. However, we did stay one night in the same motel that we did 11 years ago, for it was difficult to forget it. The Curly Redwood Lodge in Crescent City is constructed from a single giant redwood, so was a refreshing change from the Motel 6’s and Days Inns we were inhabiting most evenings.
|Cruising through the forests of Giant Redwoods|
By the time we crossed into Oregon and got to Florence, the weather was really starting to be a concern, so we ditched our coastal road and heading inland to pick up Interstate 5.
Now we were really moving and soon got to Portland and into Wahington State. We overnighted in its neighbouring city of Vancover, Washington. The city father’s there crow in their tourist literature that their Vancouver was founded 30 years prior to its Canandian upstart 150 miles to the north over the border. It was a pleasant stay and we could escape the rain in the giant Mall, beside the hotel.
|An early morning journey on the Amtrak Cascades service from Seattle to Vancouver|
And to finish our US leg we spent much of last Friday in Seattle, a city we have visited several times. Amazingly (for Seattle) it didn’t rain until we left the following morning. I like Seattle, though not driving around it. Pat is not quite as much a fan as I am. It’s the home of Boeing, Microsoft, Kurt Cabain and Starbucks though it’s main tourist claim to fame is Pike Street Market where they have turned selling fish into a comedy routine that involves a lot of throwing salmon, crabs, and other creatures of the sea huge distances between the traders to great cheers from the assembled crowd. Our overnight accommodation was in Chinatown and we had a crazy meal, ordering stuff we were not at all sure about, though we gave the “Bulls Balls” and “Pork Bladders” a miss. We worked those out. Everything we had ordered arrived in one huge bowl. Very tasty is was.
|Part of the entertainment at Pike Street Market in Seattle|
A three-hour train journey on the Amtrak Cascades line, brought us very comfortably, but very slowly into Vancouver Saturday lunchtime. Our internet research into how to get from the station to the ferry terminal north of the city, helped us considerably and despite driving rain, it was a smooth crossing across to Vancouver Island.
So now we are in Parksville, which is a few miles north of Nanaimo, on the islands west coast, where we are staying for Christmas and New Year with Pat’s sister Monica, Garry and all their family, who we will see over the next few days. Parksville is a coastal resort and I am looking forward to seeing it, if it ever stops raining.
Finally, I spent much of last night playing with my new uke, which I had built in the US and shipped here. I have been hoping that I would not be disappointed with it. I had high expectations… I was not disappointed.