Having spent much of the roadtrip around California in ‘the great outdoors’, it was good, towards the end of our journey, to spend the day at a good old-fashioned seaside town – Monterey. We had parked the RV up at a campsite inside the Laguna Seca racetrack (one of the most notoriously challenging circuits in the world) and decided to get a cab into the city’s downtown – a trip of about 10 miles. By this stage, we had learnt that bringing the 30 foot beast into the centre of cities was not a wise idea. And it was also good to have a day off from driving.
Monterey was built on sardine fishing and canning, but Cannery Row (immortalised in the eponymous novel by John Steinbeck) has, in recent years, eschewed tinning for tourists.
Bars and restaurants now fill buildings that used to house malodorous industry. And at the end of the ‘strip’, the purpose-built Monterey Bay Aquarium houses a vast selection of creatures that call the sea home. Once you’ve smiled at the antics of the oh-so-cute sea otters, you’re encouraged to don a pair of binoculars outside on the deck to see their cousins in the kelp fields just off shore. And then to swing round to where you follow a pointing finger to spot seals.
We grabbed a warm sticky cinnamon roll and coffee each and sat by the Cannery Row Monument – a statue incorporating Steinbeck and some of the inspirations for his novel. Whilst acclimatising to the sugar rush, we got talking to a pair of retired American snowbirds. Their life these days consists of life in an RV for about 40 weeks a year and life on a cruise ship for the remainder. A 20-minute conversation with these two revealed a huge deal about a semi-nomadic life and 50 years in the company of one person. Many Americans don’t travel, but those that do are always full of the best stories.
With sucrose and caffeine still coursing through our veins, we tackled the one thing that has to be done on every holiday – the search for gifts for those that have flown our nest. One shop, three hoodies, two sweatshirts and four T-shirts later, we threw our bundle on the store counter. And then a reminder that it’s important to know where you are and how ‘things are done round here’. I asked for a discount, which seemed reasonable given this may well have been one of his bigger sales of the day. Go to the equivalent establishment in Marrakesh and you’ll be depriving the store-keeper of his fun if you don’t enthusiastically haggle. “We don’t do discounts, sir,” was the rather awkward reply. Oh well.
So weighed down with our purchases, we explored more of the shops and bars, before heading back to Laguna Seca and our home from home.