SeaSalt Chronicles 2: Who’s Down For A Road Trip?
I used to go outside my room every night, when I was still living in Portugal, I used to climb to the rooftop using the balcony of my room, and I used to sit there contemplating the stars and the moon. As clichéd as this may sound, it’s actually true, I used to talk to them and pray for it to take me away, somewhere. My room was facing the sea, the horizon, and there was a lighthouse right there in front of me. So every night, I spoke to them and asked them to give me a chance to see what lies beyond that blurry line that separates the horizon I saw from the world beyond it. When I left that house that’s when I knew my wish had come true and ten years later here I am in California. If you ever make a wish upon a star, please never doubt that it will come true. I’m living proof that dreams do come true.
So much has happened since I arrived in California. I’ve met more people in a month than I did in my life. I can honestly say that I’ve been living life to the fullest. I’ve made some pretty amazing friendships so far, other exchange students from the UK to Americans and even people from Mexico, Brazil and Hong Kong. They’ve changed my perspective about many things but especially about how one chooses to face life. Finding myself entirely on my own in a place so far away from home has given me freedom, the kind you don’t get back home. It takes time for your brain to process and adapt to so much newness. Before it has even time to process and adapt, something new is already happening. It gets scary at times. However, I’ve learned something about freedom, you can either let it take you downhill and start doing things you’ve never done before, the life you want to try but you don’t want to have, or you can take it back and make the most with it by travelling and exploring, do things that will actually benefit you in the future, making friends. After a couple of intense weeks, that’s exactly what I decided to do. A couple of friends and I decided to go up the coast to Monterey and Big Sur. Santa Barbara is beautiful but is tiny, especially Isla Vista – where UCSB is located. After a while, it feels like a bubble, it absorbs you to the point you need to get out. Always the same things, the same places, the same people, it starts to grow on you, so we decided to take a break. One of our friends is from Monterey, she lives in Salinas in North California, just before getting to San Francisco. We planned ahead, and she decided to take us on the weekend of Veteran’s Day on a road trip. This means we would have four whole days to explore:
It’s Friday afternoon, we’ve got our suitcases and pillows with us. We’re so ready for a road trip! We step into the car, put our belts on, music on the radio, and we drive away. The sensation of pulling the wheels and drive away makes me feel like floating, to a distant place away from drama, away from any responsibility, away from home. And I honestly wished my body to get lost, to be carried away somewhere. Just me and my girls, riding away. Hitting the road rouses the adventure, as the car turns and returns from the curves it makes, I let go. I can breathe now. It’s going to take us about 3 hours to get to Monterey. As the car moves along, we drive by the coast, where the shattered evening light reflects on the water back at us. It’s warm and comforting. We carry on through mountains, valleys and plains, some deserted places even. It’s getting darker and darker, the two girls at the back are falling asleep. By the time we arrive at my friend’s house, it’s late in the evening. We can barely see anything. When the sun finally begins to shine again, I wake up to see the beautiful neighbourhood in which she lives. Her house is actually inside a Ranch. Before going inside, the gate looks like one of those wooden gates that you’d get at a stable. Inside, the houses look all the same, nice and cosy. Outside, pretty close to her house, there’s a big paddock with horses and some cows. Everything has the looks of a typical American countryside lifestyle.
On our first day at Monterey, we wake up early in the morning for breakfast. Her house has one of those kitchens that give direct access to the living room with a massive balcony in the middle. We had cereals for breakfast, and while I’m sitting down, I feel something soft brushing off against my legs, it’s a dog! Her name’s Conda, my friend’s dog, she’s pretty old and fragile but so sweet. And then there’s Bruce, the cat who, as most cats I suppose, goes about his own life and doesn’t like to be disturbed. We leave by 10 am and drive up to a Natural Reserve called Point Lobos. Firstly, when we start hiking, it’s all woods, some logs on the floor and pine trees around us. Then we get to a point closer to some cliffs and looking beyond, you can see and even hear the seals barking. You can see the reefs that extend beyond the shore. The weather is cloudy, which gives the whole landscape a sense of sadness and nostalgic feeling when, in fact, the place is absolutely stunning, and the water is so clear and green.
We continue through a steep path, going around the Reserve to get back to where we came from, and as we do, we can see Carmel beach at a distance. Looking down, I realised how easy it would be for one of us to slip and fall into the abyss, to the sharp deathly rocks under us, where the waters fight against the shore. We walk back to the car and make our way to Carmel. Carmel-by-the-Sea is one of those places that look like they were invented out of a fairytale. Its geography, located less than 3 hours away from San Francisco and surrounded by the Silicone Valley, makes Carmel an extremely posh and expensive place to live in. The houses are all quite big and flat. Some of them are made of wood, others of stone but most of them look like fairy houses, thatched with the typical curved glass windows barred outside. Before going downtown, we stop by a house where there lives Bob, the cat, striped yellow and meowing when we arrive. We pet him for a bit and then carry on through a street of fairy and wooden houses on each side of the street. Downtown is unstained and has a variety of boutiques and prêt-à-porter as well as a lovely traditional bakery, where we decide to chill for a while, and I get myself a cup of tea (British habits die hard). It feels so cosy and warm. The weather has been overcast and cold, I mean I’m not surprised as it’s November, but being in California sets my expectations high.
Next day, we set sail on a boat to whale watching. As the boat drifts away towards the open sea, I feel the cold wind on my neck and a shiver down my spine. At the same time, a flock of seagulls that accompany the boat’s pulsation follow forth, towards the whales. The staff in the boat recommend us to sit down to avoid any seasickness, but I stay standing. I want to feel the boat bouncing underneath my feet as the waves come and go. At this point, we are so far away from the coast. Once we arrive at the high sea, we’re staying for a while waiting to see a whale. Suddenly, there it is, I can spot at a distance its torso emerging out of the water and one of the fins, as the whale gets ready to plunge back in again. It is hard to see the whales because apparently, they had a late night and now are resting, so tend to be quieter. At some point, we see them coming. I only have time to swing to the other side of the boat to get a glimpse at what it’s a blue whale. Amazing, the sensation of seeing one. Just to imagine how enormous they must be, diving in these deep waters. Did you know that in Monterey it can get as deep as the Grand Canyon underwater? We spend the rest of the afternoon exploring Monterey, which is itself an old fishing village, so the theme around here is the sea and fishing. However, to be honest, now Monterey is more about candy and gift shops than necessarily an old town village. Carmel is more interesting for shopping.
We are back to Monterey the next morning for kayaking. Definitely a lot better than whale watching. At least we manage to see a lot more marine animals including otters, sea lions and even dolphins, without having to freeze to death and be inside a boat for 3 hours. We got to see a sea lion catching a fish and then throwing it in the air trying to rip its skin apart to then eat it. When he couldn’t do it, we would know as the fish would be floating dead around us. Kayaking is a whole different experience. Being in a single boat in the middle of the open sea. Everything is so quiet and peaceful. This is precisely what I’ve been needing. To become a dot in a vast oceanic view. To be part of the landscape when you want to escape life and take the weight off your shoulders. I start crying, not because I miss home – wherever that’s supposed to be – but because until this point I haven’t realised how much it has taken from me, but at the same time, it has given me a chance to reset. I almost forgot how these sea salt waters make me feel, the comfort they fill my soul with. I missed the freedom that lies in these waters that carry on my dreams and make me feel so safe and at ease with life. Yet, brave enough to take on adventures.
On our way back to Santa Barbara, we decide to take the highway 1 and have the adventure of a lifetime going down the Pacific Coast through Big Sur. As we start making our way down, we start looking to the right side of the car, and there it is, from a distance the grand and extended range of cliffs that accompany the coastline become craggy as we approach them. In between curves and counter curves, we go silent, absolutely mesmerised by the bare view right in front of us. I can only think about how lucky I am that destiny brought me on this trip with this incredible group of girls that I’m proud to call my friends. They’ve been my anchor during my time in California so far, always pulling me back together whenever I feel low. In this moment of gratitude, I begin to think, I’m going to miss them a lot when this is all over. We’re the feminine power embodied in the friendship that unites us.
At some point, I had the sensation that if I looked too much at the landscape beneath me, I would be pulled into it and fall, not only for its beauty but for the danger that those waters whisper to me. I would become a part of the rocky mountains and the deep sea off that road. The angry waters under us calmed the storm that had been stirring up inside me for a while now. Watching the waves crash against those magnificent cliffs, it’s no different from trying to aim for something that can never be yours. The determination of these waves in working so hard to surpass the height of the cliffs surprise me, inspire me. We stop halfway through our journey to take pictures of the Bixby Creek Bridge, and that’s when I’m standing really close to the stepping stone of one of those cliffs, and I can’t stop imagining myself spreading my arms and let go. What was the worse it could happen? Would I feel any pain? Maybe I would just fade or turn into dust even before hitting the water. Or maybe, I would become a seagull and fly away somewhere towards the horizon.
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