California Dreamin’

School starts tomorrow and before my life gets sucked into the world of books and papers, I thought a 10 day vacation would be a good idea. California is always my fall back vacation since I love the dang state and I’ve got friends to stay with in LA & San Fran. MoJo & I went for our very first “faraway, get-there-by-plane” vacation. The plan: 10 days from LA via the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway 1) to San Fran with pit stops in Santa Barbara, SLO (San Luis Obispo), San Simeon, Big Sur, Salinas, and Gilroy.

Here we are in Muscle Beach in Venice. Check out our hairdos!

We stayed with Angelito in LA. It was good to see him and catch up! Drama and gossip were exchanged at record speeds since there was much to tell. I miss him since his departure from NYC but I have a feeling he’ll be back.

Visits to other friends and family occured including one at a chinese buffet with the A clan on MoJo’s big birthday!! He seemed a little sad at turning a big number but I know he will come to embrace his wise age. I love you honey!! Old man or not! Just kidding. LOL 🙂 We also got to see friends that I consider family. Three G brothers were present with their spouses/significant others; unfortunately the eldest and dad were missing from the group. Fun times and tons of laughter were had by all.

Up to Santa Barbara we went where we were greeted by amazing weather typical of Southern California minus the glitz and facade of Los Angeles. Rosemary and lavender were growing in bushes along the sidewalk and in spite of its touristy feel, Santa Barbara still felt quaint and provinical. MoJo & I thought it would be a nice place to retire.

On the right is a picture of Mission Santa Barbara, one of the many missions built by Franciscans in CA all forming a chain in the state. These missions were similar to the ones I saw in Argentina.

North of Santa Barbara, we stayed in SLO (as the locals call it) as our home base for exploring Hearst Castle in San Simeon. En route to San Simeon, we drove by a sign pointing towards the town of Harmony, so of course I had to take a picture and pose somehow in relation to the town’s name (I have other pictures of me at The Gap, AZ and Paradox, NY. A little quirk of mine, I know) so here I am doing a variation on Vrksasana (Tree Pose); I am one with the earth. Ommm….

A trip to the central coast is incomplete without a visit to Hearst Castle. Worth a look if you’re in the area.

Next stop Big Sur for 2 days of hiking and enjoying the striking beauty of the jagged coastline. Too bad it was foggy the whole time. The sun evaded the coast but was found a bit inland. I had done this trip 5 years ago and the weather was perfect. I was sorely disappointed this time since it wasn’t how I hoped it would be especially since MoJo had not done this drive before. If visibility is really good, you can see miles ahead of you and perfect sunsets too. When you drive the windy roads, it’s just you and the road along the edge of a huge cliff with the ocean to one side and the cliff on the other. We did not see sunsets nor stars. The plus side was that we stayed at Kirk Creek Campground, a first-come, first-serve campground of only 35 sites that is located at the top of a cliff right by the ocean. It was still really nice nonetheless. And sweet MoJo reassured me that the drive, in spite of the fog, was still spectacular. “Mysterious” was how he described it.

The next day, we were off to the north for SF. Unlike other tourists who probably would’ve gone to Monterrey and Carmel, we decided to go a different route and head towards Salinas where Nobel Prize winning writer John Steinbeck was born and raised. We visited the Steinbeck Museum and I come away with a whole new appreciation for Steinbeck. I read Of Mice and Men and The Red Pony in HS (on the left is me on the red pony…maybe I should send it to my HS English teacher?) but never really liked his work. I think it was because I couldn’t really relate to the people in his stories (the farmers, the migrant laborers) and therefore couldn’t fully imagine the story in my head. Now, I am looking forward to re-visiting Steinbeck and reading The Grapes of Wrath, The Pearl, The Winter of Our Discontent, or even his non-fiction books like Travels with Charley or America and Americans. *sigh* So many books…so little time.

One gallery at the museum had a traveling exibit called “The Graceful Envelope”. The Smithsonian’s Postal Museum encouraged artists and calligraphers to decorate envelopes and mail it to the Smithsonian for entry into an annual contest. Each year, the contest may have a different theme like this one on the left, which was “Pushing the Envelope”. You see Paul Bunyan in the top envelope (don’t forget to look closely at the stamp) and another equally good entry on the bottom. Quite ingenious and beautiful were many of these graceful envelopes.

With our tummies growling, we headed 20 miles northeast to Gilroy, the “Garlic Capital of the World”. You can tell by the smell in the air when you drive into town. Since MoJo & I are huge garlic lovers, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to sample heavenly, garlicky dishes. Below is MoJo enjoying a delicious Gilroy Garlicky Chicken dish at Mama Mia’s. I had the winning 2005 Garlic Festival Cook-Off dish, Basil and Garlic-Stuffed Sea Scallops Wrapped in Prosciutto. We even had a chance to sample garlic ice cream. Amazing!!!

Before (see his look of anticipation) & After (see his sad yet satiated look)

The final stop after Gilroy was San Francisco! We stayed with friends I had met 2 years ago at this time while hiking the Inca Trail. The Acupuncturist in Training & The Journalist (see our picture in my previous entry) were, like Angelito, the best hosts. They were welcoming and generous with their time, their food, and their space. Their little bungalow in Oakland was so cozy and we were happy to call it home for the next several days.

MoJo & I ate our way through the Bay Area, taking in Ethiopian, Vietanamese, Japanese, and oh, the heavenly Mexican food. Yum. I don’t know what it is out west, but the Mexican food is sooo much better than home.

We schlepped the hills of San Fran to visit Chinatown, North Beach, the downtown area, and we even stumbled upon Little Saigon! We visited Alcatraz and imagined what it would be like to be a prisoner. And after a trip to just two Sonoma vineyards for some wine-tasting, we came away with 4 bottles of wine. Now MoJo has begun to discern the different nuances of wine and can move beyond his usual, “it’s fruity” description. All in all, a wonderful trip which already seems like a distant memory.

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