Our time in Monterey was a mixture of happiness and sheer frustration. We checked into the Knights Inn which we’d pre-booked via Expedia. As an aside, we’ve been using Expedia quite a lot recently to look for cheaper rooms and have been finding it hilarious. The entries for individual hotels include traveller reviews. Some of them are pretty funny, people giving negative reviews for reasons like, ‘The toilet seat was uncomfortable.’ or ‘There were homeless people in the area.’ Understand that we are generally talking about the budget motel places, not exactly the Hilton.
Our first afternoon in Monterey introduced us to the source of our frustration, the road system. We had some problems finding our way in initially because the exit signs from the freeway didn’t correspond to anything at all on our map. Not such a problem, and we worked our way back in the right direction. The problem was that, this just continued throughout our time in the town, every time we went anywhere, despite having a fair idea where to go, we seemed to spend ages going round in circles. Sometimes I was to blame, sometimes Gemma was to blame, but mostly I blame the street name signs being so small you needed a telescope to see them, random one way streets and seriously strange junctions. Not knowing our way round the city it was very easy to miss a turn-off. Not normally a problem in most grid-layout towns. Here though we’d end up on the freeway going in the wrong direction then have to circle right back through town.
Our second day in the town was quite a full one. We were up and out bright and early for the whale watching trip that we’d booked the previous day. I decided that given our ‘adventures’ with road directions that we’d better leave plenty of time but as it happened we got there really easily and quickly. Because of this we were able to spend some time hanging around on the wharf and watching the birds, sea lions and sea otters in the water. An otter was diving next to the pier, pulling up shellfish which it would then crack against the pilings of the pier. Once the shell was open the otter would float on it’s back chewing happily.
Our trip was with Monterey Bay Whale Watching Centre, the only operator with a marine biologist on board. The boat pulled out into the bay passing the breakwater, every square inch of which was taken up by sea lions or birds. Monterey Bay is a marine park and a haven for marine life of all sorts. Not far out into the bay is an underwater canyon. The waters of the canyon are very nutrient rich and therefore rich in plant and animal plankton. This in turn supports the rest of the food chain including many marine mammals. Not far out into the bay we were joined for a short time by a pod of Dall’s porpoises, they skipped along by the bow, easily outpacing the boat.
The whales however were more elusive. It took about two hours before the boat’s captain announced that he’d seen a whale breach four or five times ahead of us. The captain got us up quite near to the whale, a humpback, which decided to become a bit shy and spend only a short amount of time on the surface. No more breaching, but we did see plenty of blowing, a couple of good views of the tail flukes as it dived and the whale playing with a patch of floating kelp.
If I’m honest, we’d been hoping to get a close up look at a grey whale or a blue whale, both heavily featured in the leaflet that we’d picked up the previous day. I try not to be disappointed with these things though as seeing any wild animal on a trip like this is a privilege.
Back at the wharf we wolfed down fish and chips before moving quickly to the aquarium. I have a bit of a thing about aquariums. The Monterey aquarium was fantastic. Set in an old sardine cannery, the aquarium focuses on the marine habitat out in the bay. It does have a small tropical section so the kid’s can see Nemo, but otherwise keeps it pretty local. It’s a very swish complex, lot’s of interactive exhibits and lots of very interesting marine life. The jelly section was especially fine and had me entranced. It may have been the best aquarium I’ve been to. The aquarium was funded by the Packard family (of Hewlett Packard fame), and David Packard even built some of the equipment in his garage. I think this is pretty cool.