|Bucket of lard? Karl was tempted..|
The lift we wound up taking was with a guy called Bill with some very interesting stories. Bill had recently turned 70, but that certainly wasn't stopping him. He was in Lone Pine to climb Mount Whitney in a day- quite a feat in itself. Bill only started to climb after retirement, and since then has become the only person over 60 in the world to climb the 7 summits (the highest mountain in each continent), and the oldest American to climb Everest. He had recently returned from another record breaking Everest attempt which hadn't succeeded, but that's no big deal- he'll just return next year. Quite a guy- and he was kind enough to go out of his way to deliver us door to door to Karl's uncle Fred and wife Joyce in Orange County.
|Karl with his new-found cousins|
The Orange County lifestyle is seductive- the beach practically on the doorstep, drinks on the balcony, oranges growing in the garden, barbecues never rained off and the door always open.
It was at thursday evening martini club with Fred and Joyce that we sat next to a couple called John and Penny. Demonstrating the generosity of so many Americans we met, within minutes they had offered to lend us a car so we could explore California. The next day we had the keys to a VW Passat and plans to head up the coast.
|A church in Santa Barbara|
Back on the coast began a series of marine mammal sightings that would continue over the next 24 hours. Stopping to view an offshore rock covered with rowdy pelicans, a photographer informed us a humpback whale had just been sighted a little further along the coast. We jumped in our car and drove to a point where a small group of binocular wielding people were gathered on the cliffs. Joining them, it took a moment to establish what we were looking at. Some sort of feeding frenzy was going on- the surface of the water was alive and the sky was swarming with sea birds, splashes all around as pelicans dived and fishes jumped. Small pods of dolphins moved through the slick of birds, and as we watched a humpback whale surfaced in the midst of it all.
|Spot the humpback whale|
There were actually two whales, but they kept us guessing as to their entire size as we'd only get a view of one body part at a time- sometimes a humped back- mist spraying from its blowhole,occasionally a tail and, most impressively, an open mouth erupting through the surface, no doubt full of fish, sending birds flying, before slamming closed and disappearing below once more. It was a beautiful evening to sit on the cliffs bathed in soft light as we watched for the whales' next appearance.
|Elephant seal on the beach|
|Big Sur rises out of the fog|
|Big Sur coastal scenery makes for spectacular driving|
|Heating up in Sykes hot springs|
Becoming carless in California almost floored us. There was no way we could afford rental rates, realising after a false start that the internet 'total price' is more than doubled when you add on taxes and compulsory insurance. Yet there seemed to be nothing we could do without a car. Nearly all the national parks and wild areas we'd read about were entirely inaccessible. We'd hoped to visit places like the Grand Canyon, but this was a pipe dream without private transport. A real downside of America is its lack of a public transport network. The only places we could get to were cities- and we neither desired nor could afford to spend our time city hopping by greyhound bus. We were really stuck, and were actually contemplating leaving the country.
Luckily, yet another act of kindness would save the day and get us back on the road....