But I’m getting ahead of myself. One bright, sunny California morning Chris and I stuffed our bags into the back seat of our grumpy-faced rental Camero, rolled down the roof, and joined a little road called Highway One heading north out of LA towards Monterey. We took our time, meandering along the coast for a stopover in San Simeon, before winding our way through Big Sur. By the time we passed out of Santa Monica we had passed into another world. One populated by many wondrous and strange creatures.
I will admit to getting a little emotional at seeing a colony of elephant seals. If you will permit me a small geek out, these animals were the stars of my biology text books and of every Attenborough documentary worth watching. All my scientist DNA goes into mad overdrive seeing these guys in the wrinkly, wobbly, stinking flesh.
Highway One hugs the Pacific coast all the way to Monterey, and on the way passes through the incredible scenery of Big Sur. During our travels Chris and I had been privileged enough to see some beautiful views, but Big Sur really took my breath away.
They are quite literally the best animals I have ever seen. So curious and playful and just brilliant. And everywhere you go in Monterey you have a good chance of seeing them, either frolicking in the harbour, or along the coast of 17 mile drive, or a short drive to the north where the Research Institute operate their otter release programme. I was in otter heaven.
In fact enjoying the wildlife is one of the best things to do in Monterey. It’s actual biologist heaven. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is amazing, housing everything from sea otters to hammerhead sharks. In the past they have also housed great white sharks, but they are extremely difficult to keep in captivity so the animals tend to be short-term exhibits on their way to being released back into the wild.
And finally, as if I wasn’t in zoology heaven already, the other big activity for Monterey is whale watching. Tens of different species pass through the bay on their migration, and so spotting some is almost guaranteed. When the first grey whale rose out of the water next to our boat, puffing spray and stinking fishy breath, I burst into tears. I’m naturally given to having all the feels, and coming (almost) face to face with some of the largest animals in the world sent me into an emotional joy spiral. Getting excited about biology and the natural world is definitely one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself.
Oh, and as the final icing on this zoology cake of awesome, as our boat came back into the harbour we encountered two grey whales swimming together, waving their fins out of the water and generally looking rather frisky. Yes my friends, this is what two sexed up whales gettin’ they freak on looks like from a boat. Giggedy.From Monterey we planned to drive on to San Francisco. But something stopped us. We had just over a week left, and we couldn’t face spending all that time split between two cities (San Francisco and New York). We wanted one last wilderness adventure before returning to the concrete and the traffic. So we turned the car eastwards, and started to drive in land towards to mountains, and towards Yosemite valley. But more on that story later. For now I shall leave you with one last raunchy whale picture. Oh yeah.