Tharrrr she blows!

Aye matey’s, raise the anchor, clean the decks, we’re going whaling!
Oh well, whale sightseeing then.

A short drive from Santa Maria to Santa Barbara brought us to the Condor Express, a twin engine hydro propelled catamaran operated entirely for the whale watching business. It a 75 foot long vessel equipped for the scientific and touristic spotting of all kinds of whales visiting the channel between the California Channel Islands and the mainland.

Usually, the boat sees Humpback whales, the occasional Blue whale, Sperm whales, Killer whales, Grey whales, all kinds of dolphins, California sea lions, and regular seals. And a lot of birds as well; of which Pelican are the most interesting for us.

We set out to sail the Channel around 10, and with a warning from Tue captain that we were likely not going towards the Islands, the chances of running into a Blue whale were really slim. We were far more likely to see Humpback whales, so we’d have to settle for those.

So we did. And to not only our, but also the captains amazement we ran almost immediately into a mother calf pair of Blue whales, with the calf showing an remarkable amount of interest in the boat. Remember, the boat is 75 foot long, the baby Blue whale about 35 and mom about 80 feet. That is huge!

BTW: when the captain and his crew get really excited about what you are seeing, you know you are part of something special.
We saw the calf playing with the boat, by swimming underneath it and trying to get it to play by swimming upside down alongside it! It was great!

We did not see any Humpback whales though, so that was unfortunate, but all in all the sighting of the majestic Blue whale and even a calf was just awesome! We’d do it again tomorrow if possible…

The long drive south

Right after our spectacular day in San Francisco, we were forced to leave town to head towards Los Angeles.
We have been planning on doing so via the renowned Highway 1. This is said to be the most beautiful road in the entire United States.

It turned out to be the best road ever, albeit curvy, steep and really slow. For the 90 miles of Interstate, there’s about 200 miles Highway 1 and it takes you at least 6 hours to drive. Not because you have to drive very carefully, but because there is hardly and room to pass slower traffic, and you’re driving as slow as the first in the string of cars you happen to be in.

We started our day with driving to Año Nuevo State Park where we were told we could find Elephant Seals. These weird looking creatures can be found there for 3 periods per year, we happened to be in the period where there are only males present and they are there for 4 to 6 consecutive weeks to molt. They shed their old hair which comes off in small patches, after which they migrate back north to feed again. The seals are fasting during the time they are ashore and live entirely off of their blubber.

The State Park was well equipped, and with a 2.5 mile walk to the seals with two strategically placed volunteers to answer any questions, was a fun place to be. As the walk turned out to be pretty long due to steep sanddunes and a lot of wildlife to see, we were running out of time! While we still wanted to drive the 17 mile drive at Monterey and reach our hotel the same day, we started to get a move on. Luckily, it was still early in the day, so we hare time.

So we thought. When we arrived at Monterey, we were strongly discouraged from driving the famous and really scenic 17 Mile Drive as it alone took 2 hours, and as it already was 4 pm and with another 4 hours to drive to Santa Maria where the hotel was located, we decided to skip the d-tour and go straight for Santa Maria.

Right in the very last leg of our journey that day, we saw a big crowd at one of the Vista Points that were created alongside the Highway 1. So we stopped, and to our amazement found a whole lot more Elephant Seals! These were even closer than the ones we saw at Año Nuevo SP, so we stood there in awe for some time to gaze at the marvellous weirdness of the creatures.

When we arrived at the hotel, the Historic Santa Maria Inn, it was already half past 8 which meant that we could not fully enjoy the hotel itself. It is great! Built entirely in “ye olde” style, it offer a good view into the American hotels of the 40’s and before. Wonderful!